2016 National League Preview — Profiles, Promises & Predictions for Every Team
Unfortunately there isn't much suspense this year. It's 2016, so the San Francisco Giants will win the World Series just like they did in 2010, 2012 and 2014 -- the #EvenYear rule, as some have jokingly called it. (Though if you want to see how the American League will turn out, read this.)
Of course, it's not really a "rule," probably just a random series of coincidences, but there are analysts who've tried to dig a little deeper. What they've found is that playing an extra month in the fall may have a detrimental effect on a team's starting pitchers the next season, which would explain why the Giants dominate one year, then look mediocre the next. The Giants not only didn't win it all in 2011, 2013 and 2015, they failed to even reach the postseason, a significant drop-off in performance.
There's a second team that will be putting that idea to the test this season. We're talking about the defending National League champion New York Mets, who have a starting rotation that's the envy of everyone in baseball. A collection of young flamethrowers (and Bartolo Colon) named Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitched the Mets into the 2015 World Series, with each of them reaching a new high in innings last year.
Could all that extra work in October actually weaken them this season? We'll soon find out, as the Mets take the field against the Kansas City Royals this Sunday night, kicking off the 2016 Major League Baseball season. Matt Harvey will be on the mound, a full year removed from Tommy John surgery and looking to return to the Fall Classic and flip the script -- just like the Royals did in 2015.
Now, onto the predictions that we 100 percent guarantee will come true!
Everyone talks about the Mets' pitching, and with good reason, but the offense this year should more than hold its own. The Amazins will trot out above-average hitters at every position on the field, thanks to middle-infield imports Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker, plus the return of trade-deadline hero Yoenis Cespedes in the outfield. The bullpen added lefty Antonio Bastardo, who'll help set up dominant closer Jeurys Familia. Overall, the Mets don't have any real weak spots. The bench is deep, so they should be able to resist whatever bad injury luck they endure. A second consecutive division title would be a safe bet if it weren't for...
The Washington Nationals are a team on a mission this year. All the smart folks had them picked to win it all last year (even us), but the 2015 season was a massive letdown -- despite Bryce Harper having an MVP year and Max Scherzer finishing top 5 in the Cy Young. Manager Matt Williams has been replaced by Dusty Baker, with the goal of settling down what was an out-of-control clubhouse at times, most memorably when Jonathan Papelbon got mad at Bryce Harper and decided to literally start choking him in the dugout during a game. That's not what baseball men would call "good chemistry." The Nats could easily win 95 games this year, if Baker does his job and Harper and Scherzer repeat their prior success. "No Choking" would be a unifying team slogan for this year's club.
Another year, another bout of strangeness in Miami. There's a new manager, Don Mattingly, and a new hitting coach, Barry Bonds, and if those two can somehow get the Marlins to play as well as Mattingly and Bonds did, then look out. But that probably won't happen. The Fish possess two of the biggest talents in baseball, Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, but in order to compete they both need to avoid further extended trips to the disabled list. Even with full, productive seasons from Stanton and Fernandez, it's a long way back from 20 games under .500.
The Braves were bad last year and will almost certainly be bad again this year -- which isn't to say that things will stay bad. The Braves continued emptying out their roster of its talent, trading away defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons to the Angels and starter Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks. They got back some excellent talent in those trades though, especially from the D-backs, but the help won't fully arrive for another year or two. Braves fans this year might want to take up painting or something. Maybe Freddie Freeman should too, once he's done wondering why all of his buddies got dealt but he had to stay.
Speaking of bad teams, now we come to the Phillies. They managed to avoid losing 100 games last year by just a hair, but repeating that feat could be a challenge for this club. Looking around for talent, uh, we guess there's third-baseman Maikel Franco and center-fielder Odubel Herrera? They could be good. Or not. As for the rest of the team, well, it's gonna be a long season in the City of Brotherly Love. But hey, the Olympics will be on, so Phillies fans can watch that instead of the "baseball" their team will be playing.
Predicted order of finish:
For a team that won 100 games last year, it sure seems like the Cardinals have been written off a bit early this year. They did lose two key players, right-fielder Jason Heyward and pitcher John Lackey, to their archrivals, the Cubs, they'll also be getting back ace Adam Wainwright, who missed pretty much the whole season with an Achilles tear. The club has won the Central Division three years in a row, and we see no good reason to think they won't be in the hunt for a fourth straight title. There's just too much talent in St. Louis.
The team that has probably suffered the most during the Cardinals' three-year run atop the Central is the Pirates, who've been almost as good but keep getting bounced from the playoffs in the wild-card game. The only significant loss from a team that won 98 games last year is starter A.J. Burnett, whom the Bucs replaced with Jon Niese, whom they acquired from the Mets for Neil Walker. (Walker will be replaced at second by Josh Harrison, which is pretty much a wash.) As long as the Pirates have Andrew McCutchen in center and Gerrit Cole atop the rotation, they should be able to hang in there with anyone -- which is more important than ever this year, as the N.L. Central is the class of baseball.
Now we get to the sexy pick to win the World Series: the Cubs. No, seriously! The Cubbies haven't won a world title since 1908, so naturally everyone thinks they're a lock this year. That ... makes sense? Actually, yeah. After winning 97 games last year, the Cubs made some serious upgrades this off-season, snatching Heyward and Lackey from the Cardinals and signing Ben Zobrist to play second. The lineup is straight-up deadly, and the rotation features Cy Young-winner Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in front of Lackey. Even the bullpen is solid. This team looks built to compete not just this year, but for a long time to come. Will they win it all? Too many strange things have happened to the Cubs over the years to anoint them as favorites, but with a roster like this, they're as likely as anyone.
The Brewers bottomed out last year, losing 94 games -- unless they get worse this year, which is possible. It's hard to find too many bright spots on the Major League roster, though catcher Jonathan Lucroy could have a bounce-back year. The Brewers' minor-league system is their future, and they added several key pieces this off-season and last year in the Carlos Gomez trade. Unfortunately those players are still a few years away from the big leagues, so Milwaukee fans may not have much fun watching the club in 2016.
And speaking of clubs who dealt away their best talent, the Reds will start 2016 without All-Stars Todd Frazier or Aroldis Chapman. That would be fine -- the Reds weren't going to win anything even with them -- the problem is that, according to most evaluators, the Reds just didn't get back a whole lot for either player. That makes it hard to compete not only this year, but also next year and the year after. The offense, aside from Joey Votto, is weak, the starting rotation is meh, and the bullpen, well, there's no Aroldis Champman anymore, is there? Bleak times in Cincy, these.
Predicted order of finish:
Three straight years the Dodgers have captured the N.L. West title, but they've failed to capture a pennant, losing in the Division Series the last two trips. This year, Zack Greinke has jumped ship to the Diamondbacks, costing the Dodgers half of their two-headed pitching monster. Fortunately they've still got Clayton Kershaw, so every fifth day they'll be fine. It's the other pitchers who'll need to pick up their game and give Kershaw some support. The lineup has depth and high-quality talent, from first-baseman Adrian Gonzalez at first to future-star/rookie Corey Seager at short to Justin Turner at third. The outfield has some question marks -- Can Joc Pederson overcome his strikeout issues? Will Yasiel Puig return to form? Who's playing left? -- but the ceiling is high, as it is all throughout the Dodgers roster. With by far the highest payroll in baseball, it should be.
On paper, the Giants have as good a roster as anyone in baseball. Any club returning Buster Posey behind the plate; an infield of four potential All-Stars; and a starting rotation led by Madison Bumgarner and new arrivals Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija would look ready for postseason action. The team had a good, but not great, 2015, underachieving a bit, considering the depth of high-quality talent. It would hardly be a shock to see the Giants surpass the Dodgers and reclaim their first N.L. West title in four years. As we mentioned, it's an #EvenYear, so you should obviously bet your house on the Giants winning it all. (Don't actually do that.)
By far the biggest free-agent splash of the off-season was the Diamondbacks' giving Zack Greinke a six-year, $206 million contract to pry him away from Los Angeles. The Snakes also got a solid No. 2 to slot in behind Greinke in Shelby Miller. Unfortunately they had to give up one of their best players, right-fielder Ender Inciarte, plus the top overall pick in the 2015 draft (Dansby Swanson) to acquire him from the Braves -- a trade most of baseball thought Atlanta absolutely stole. The pitching now bolstered, the D-Backs look to ride that and perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and rising star A.J. Pollock to their first division title since 2011. It'll be tough to overcome the big two teams ahead of them, though.
What to make of the San Diego Padres? The so-called winners of the off-season two years ago, the Friars struggled greatly in 2015 on both sides of the ball. The team's strength, if it has one, is its starting pitching, with Tyson Ross, James Shields and Andrew Cashner leading the way. Unless the Padres somehow manage to find themselves in playoff contention, look for them to deal Ross by the deadline to shore up a depleted minor-league system. The Padres sure could use some help, as they don't have any top-quality talent anywhere in the lineup. This season might be even harder to watch than last season.
The Rockies made some strange choices this off-season, electing not to trade Carlos Gonzalez and signing outfielder Gerardo Parra to a three-year deal. Although maybe the stranger choice is why Parra would choose the Rox, who are in rebuilding mode after dealing away Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays last year. The biggest loser in all of this is probably third-baseman Nolan Arenado, a true star who's stuck on a team going nowhere. The Rockies gave up the most runs in all of baseball last year (844), and it's hard to see how they plan to improve on that much.
Predicted order of finish:
Division Champions: Mets, Pirates, Giants
Wild Card Game: Cubs defeat Dodgers
Division Series: Mets defeat Cubs, Pirates defeat Giants
NLCS: Mets vs. Pirates
2016 National League Champions: Pittsburgh Pirates
World Series: Pirates vs. Blue Jays