2016 MLB Preview: National League
By RYAN KAMBER
The 2016 Baseball season begins on Sunday, and as we learned last season, anything is possible. Our last year’s guesses were downright comical to put it nicely (yes, I too was surprised when the Mariners failed to win the American League). Hopefully this year’s predictions will be a little more accurate. If not at least we’ll all have something to laugh at come September.
- New York Mets
Rejoice Met fans! Last year was not a fluke, but rather a sign of things to come. The Mets have arguably the best rotation in baseball that includes aces Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, young flamethrower Noah Syndergaard, and rookie of the year candidate Steven Matz. A remade middle infield of Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker combined with the returns of slugger Yoenis Cespedes and ageless wonder, Bartolo Colon, made for a successful offseason. After surprising critics by capturing the NL Pennant, the secret is out and the Mets are clear favorites to win the East for the second straight year.
- Washington Nationals
Easily the biggest disappointment of 2015, perhaps the Nationals will fare better this year with less pressure and fewer expectations. However, one player on this team enters the 2016 season with nothing but expectations. Reigning MVP Bryce Harper put together one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory, leading the league in home runs, and runs scored. His OPS of 1.109 was the league’s highest since 2008. Outside of Harper the offense will look forward to getting a healthy season from Silver Slugger Anthony Rendon as well as the additions of leadoff man Ben Revere and postseason hero Daniel Murphy. The Nats’ staff may have lost a key piece in Jordan Zimmermann, but the rotation that had the 7th lowest ERA in baseball last year is still in good shape with aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, as well as southpaw Gio Gonzalez. The Nats will challenge the Mets for the NL East and will once again find themselves in the thick of the wild card race.
- Miami Marlins
A team expected to take the next step last year finished a very unimpressive 20 games under .500. They look to improve on that this year with new manager Don Mattingly and a decent young lineup that has the potential to surprise some people. The $325 million dollar man Giancarlo Stanton has arguably the scariest power in baseball and if he can just stay healthy for a full season he can easily hit over fifty homers. Leadoff man Dee Gordon had a solid first year in Miami, all he did was lead the NL in batting average, stolen bases, and win a Gold Glove. After ace Jose Fernandez the rotation won’t blow you away, but it has the potential to be better than anticipated. The Marlins don’t look like your typical contender, however there is a chance that they surprise some people.
- Atlanta Braves
Patience. That is the one word that will define the Atlanta Braves this season. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Things are going to get ugly at Turner Field this year. That being said, the Braves had as good an offseason as any rebuilding team could have. They acquired a multitude of prospects by trading away gold glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons and ace Shelby Miller. Among those young talents are top 100 prospects Aaron Blair, Sean Newcomb, and Dansby Swanson who was the first overall pick in last year’s draft and projects to be a franchise player. Speaking of which, All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman is still only 26 years old and very much in his prime, so I guess you can say the Braves won’t be totally unwatchable.
- Philadelphia Phillies
It’s been a rough stretch for the Phillies. They haven’t finished over .500 since 2011, and this season does not look like the one to break this trend. Fortunately for the city of brotherly love, the future is nothing but bright. The Phillies will use 2016 to continue developing one of the best farm systems in baseball as well as some young studs currently in the majors. Among them are slugging third baseman, Maikel Franco (14 HRs in just 80 games last season) and righty Aaron Nola (3.59 ERA in 13 career starts). The youth movement in Philadelphia is certainly underway.
- Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are the real deal. No, that was not a misprint. The Chicago Cubs, the lovable losers who haven’t won the World Series since 1908, seem to have a legitimate chance of ending their century of futility. After winning 97 games last year, the Cubs somehow found a way to improve during this offseason. NL Cy Young award winner, Jake Arrieta, All-Star John Lester, and new addition, John Lackey, headline a rotation that figures to be one of the best in the National League. The additions of super utility man, Ben Zobrist, and crown jewel of the offseason, outfielder Jason Heyward, to a lineup that already includes Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and superstar first baseman, Anthony Rizzo are any pitcher’s nightmare. The Cubs don’t just look good. They look like the super team Cubs fans have been waiting on for decades. Not to jinx anything, but this looks like it can finally be their year.
- St. Louis Cardinals (1st Wildcard)
Yes, they lost Jason Heyward and John Lackey. Yes, All-Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta is due to miss 2-3 months with a thumb injury he suffered this spring. And yes, the Chicago Cubs are a force to be reckoned with. But at the end of the day, the St. Louis Cardinals will be the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards’ “next man up” mentality year after year is what makes them one of the most well-run organizations in baseball. The offense isn’t great, with veterans Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday appearing to be past their primes. The Cardinals will rely on their younger guys such as third baseman, Matt Carpenter (28 HRs last season), and outfielder Randall Grichuk (17 HRs in just 103 games). Never short on arms, the Cardinals boast one of the best staffs in the NL, that is almost guaranteed to carry them through the season. Led by 34-year-old frontman, Adam Wainwright, the rest of the rotation includes lefty Jamie Garcia, 2015 All-Stars Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, and free agent acquisition, Mike Leake. St. Louis has been to the Postseason every year for the last half decade. There’s a very good chance that they will keep that streak alive.
- Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh has been one of the best teams in the regular season in each of the past three years. Unfortunately for them, they play in the same division as St. Louis. The Buccos won 98 games last season, the second best record in baseball, yet still had to play in the Wildcard game (where they fell to the Cubs and Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta). Is this the year the Pirates finally win the division? The pitching rotation is one of the more underrated staffs in the league. Veteran Francisco Liriano is set to start opening day and Gerrit Cole will look to build off a fantastic 2015 campaign that saw him finish 4th in Cy Young voting. The offense is more of the same. 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen is at the center of a young order. Starling Marte is one of the best left fielders in the league; he gets it done with both his glove and his bat. Another strength for the Pirates is their bullpen, the Central is deep as ever this year, but the Pirates will still contend.
- Cincinnati Reds
Let’s just say that there’s going to be a rather large gap between third and fourth place in the NL Central. While the Reds will not contend by any means in 2016, they still have some very decent players. Second baseman Brandon Phillips and right fielder Jay Bruce are still very good players, so they figure to be on their way out via trade at some point this season. First baseman Joey Votto finished third in MVP voting last season and is one of the premier players in this league. The Reds will likely retain him as he wants to stay in Cincinnati. His veteran presence will definitely help young players over the next few seasons. Rebuilding is a long and grueling process; the 2016 Reds will be no exception.
- Milwaukee Brewers
Here is yet another rebuilding team. Which is amazing considering the fact that in 2014 the Brewers held first place in the Central for the majority of the season before eventually collapsing and missing the playoffs altogether. Rather than build on a solid season during which they defied expectations, the 2015 Brewers hit a wall finishing 68-94. The good news is that they’ve got a top 10 farm system according to “Baseball America.” As for top prospect Orlando Arcia, MLB.com ranks the young shortstop as the 6th best prospect in all of baseball. Outfielder and former MVP, Ryan Braun, hasn’t been the same since he was suspended for steroids a few seasons ago (shocker). Catcher Johnathan Lucroy is coming off a down year, however he is still a valuable trade chip. Especially if he has a good year and builds up his value, Milwaukee could add even more prospects to their collective pool.
- San Francisco Giants
It’s an even year. Simple as that. The Giants have won titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. To many baseball fans this is a well-known pattern. Not convinced? Well consider the fact that the Giants spent a combined $220 million on All-Star pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to bolster a rotation that is already headlined by postseason hero Madison Bumgarner. Pair that with an offense led by MVP catcher Buster Posey, Silver Slugger winning shortstop Brandon Crawford, a healthy Hunter Pence, Rookie of the Year runner-up Matt Duffy, and a bullpen that finished third in ERA in the National League and the Giants may have another run in them. Did I mention it’s an even year?
- Los Angeles Dodgers (2nd WC)
It’s been a relatively good run for the Dodgers, winning the West in each of the past three seasons, yet never getting past the NLCS. Zach Greinke fled for the rival Diamondbacks, and while LA signed veteran southpaw Scott Kazmir as well as righty out of Japan Kenta Maeda, this is still a big loss for the Dodgers. The good news is that Clayton Kershaw remains the best pitcher in the world and he helped strengthen his case last season with a 2.13 ERA and 301 strikeouts (first to strikeout 300+ since 2002). The offense is a mixed bag, however. Rookie shortstop Corey Seager has the makings of a star in this league and he should be the favorite for Rookie of the Year. Adrian Gonzalez can still mash homers and Justin Turner continues to be one of the more underrated commodities in the game. Yasiel Puig is a huge x-factor, coming off a down year, his performance is key to this Dodgers’ lineup if they want to have any chance at taking the next step.
- Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs sent shockwaves through the baseball world this offseason when they managed to lure prized free agent Zach Greinke away from the rival Dodgers to the tune of $206 million. Arizona didn’t stop there as we saw them trade for Braves’ righty Shelby Miller less than a week later. Greinke, no longer playing second fiddle to Clayton Kershaw, had the lowest ERA (1.66) in baseball since Greg Maddux in 1995, so I guess you can consider him a legitimate number one starter. He and Shelby Miller are certainly upgrades to last year’s subpar pitching. One place they shouldn’t have any problems is at the plate. D-Backs’ hitters quietly finished last season with the second most runs scored in the National League. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is a perennial MVP candidate and is about as good as any other hitter in baseball. He is joined by centerfielder AJ Pollock who broke out last year (20 HRs, 39 SBs, and .315 BA) making his first career All-Star game appearance and winning a Gold Glove.
- San Diego Padres
How the Padres fooled us all last year! Last winter they captivated the baseball world by adding All-Star after All-Star (Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Craig Kimbrel just to name a few). This was followed by an incredibly disappointing season in which they finished 74-88. Upton left for free agency, Kimbrel was traded for prospects, and poor Matt Kemp remains with the team. This season looks to be more of the same in San Diego. Tyson Ross continues to be one of baseball’s more underrated pitchers (3.26 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 2016) and Matt Kemp still shows flashes of his old self. However, the fact of the matter is that the hapless Padres haven’t made the playoffs in a decade. Last year’s gamble has set them back even more. The postseason can’t possibly seem farther away for San Diego.
- Colorado Rockies
Speaking of far from the postseason, The Rockies have finished last place in the NL West in three of the last four seasons. It’s the same story every year for Colorado: fantastic offense, abysmal pitching. Why would this year be any different? On the bright side, 24-year-old third baseman Nolan Arenado is already one of the best players in baseball. Last year he led the NL in both homers (42) and RBIs (130) batting a solid .287. He also dazzled in the field winning his third Gold Glove in as many seasons. Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez hopes to build on a Silver Slugger winning 2015 that saw him hit 40 bombs. Additionally, Charlie Blackmon is quietly turning himself into one of the best five tool players in the game. Of course as good as these hitters are, we can’t ignore the fact that they play at the high altitude of Coors Field which boosts their stats. As for pitching, it’s really not their fault. The ball just travels farther in their home ballpark, it’s a scientific fact. What pitcher in his right mind would choose to pitch half his games there?
MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Dodgers
Manager of the Year: Terry Collins, Mets
Wildcard Game: Los Angeles over St. Louis
NLDS: Mets over Giants, Cubs over Dodgers
NLCS: Cubs over Mets