Crystal (base)ball, NL edition

What do you mean the season has already started? Student writers Zane Cawthon and Joe Edmunds lay out the 100 percent accurate National League standings for 2018.

NL East

1. New York Mets
I’m probably stretching with this pick, too, but at the very least, the Mets will be a far better team than the injury-riddled, underperforming, unlucky squad that cast a gloom over last season. It’s easy to forget that this team was in a World Series only three years ago, but there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind of the caliber of this team once the bullpen really hits its stride. There’s no way Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Yoenis Céspedes and Michael Conforto all get struck with the same unfortunate injuries that plagued this team in 2017. They have effectively the same roster as the squad that nearly won a Wild Card game in 2016, they know how to put plenty of runs on the board and I’m confident they will win more than 82 games. A lot has to go wrong in D.C. for the Mets to win the East pennant, but while most people are looking for the Phillies to make a splash in this division, I’m looking no further than the sunny streets of Queens.

2. Washington Nationals
Speaking of things going wrong, the air around Nationals Park is filled with a frantic buzz that has been steadily building in intensity the past few seasons. In 2018, it’s finally reached a fever pitch (pardon my pun). This may be the deepest and most talented overall roster the Nats have ever assembled: Max Scherzer, Adam Eaton, Stephen Strasburg and of course Bryce Harper. However, this team is also under enormous pressure to win the first playoff series in franchise history. They have made four NLDS appearances in the last six years and have won a grand total of zero, including two consecutive Game 5 heartbreakers. Harper will be a free agent at the end of this year, and the outcome of this season will almost certainly decide his fate. If the Nats can finally climb Mt. October and make it to the League Championship Series, Harper and the Nationals could work out a deal to keep him in D.C. But if a playoff curse really has gripped the Nationals firmly by the goat and they lose yet again, what would the motivation be for the best outfielder in baseball to stick around? Teams dogged by a demand for greatness either rise to the occasion or crumble under the weight of their own destiny. I can easily see Washington panicking in June and stumbling to a Wild Card berth. I can also easily see them winning 100 games and taking the NL pennant. Only time will tell.

3. Philadelphia Phillies
Fans have raved about Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton as the big waves made this offseason, but how about Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana both finding their way to Philadelphia? I won’t go as far as some people and crown them Wild Card contenders just yet, but they are certainly in a much better position to end leaps and bounds ahead of their 66-96 finish in 2017. Their lineup, led by OF Rhys Hoskins and now anchored by Santana, is fun, young and full of potential. With Arrieta, the rotation finally has some star power. Give them another year to develop a solid rapport and find a couple of more consistent options on the mound, and this team could be downright dangerous. For now, though, I think Phillies fans will be happy with a 74-win season and a bright future.

4. Atlanta Braves
This is another team with several young players ready to blossom into superstars, most notably Ronald Acuña, who will continue to rack up experience points in the minors until the front office picks him up, puts him in a uniform, takes a step back, sighs contentedly and whispers, “It’s time.” Just like in the movies. But that won’t happen until the Braves are ready to make a push for the postseason, and with manager Brian Snitker still ironing out the kinks in the bullpen, that magic moment will probably not happen until later this year. Still, expect the 1-2-3 lineup of Ender Inciarte, Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman to produce some fun at-bats and for Atlanta to at least be an interesting team to keep an eye on.

5. Miami Marlins
Yikes yikes yikes yikes. Each of those “yikes” stands for a world-class outfielder who was traded away by Miami this offseason for … what was the reason exactly? Was it so CEO Derek Jeter could feel like he was laying down the law with a fan base that at this point actively hates him? There are less costly ways to proclaim, “It’s my team now, get used to it.” Dee Gordon was the first player to get the axe when Jeter and co-owner Bruce Sherman decided to send him to Seattle to unload his large contract from the payroll. Then came the news that Giancarlo Stanton, THE NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP IN 2017, would be dealt to the New York Yankees. That’s an outrageous move but a defensible one if the Marlins were interested in using him to turn around and flood their farm system with young talent acquired in the trade. But the returns on that trade were meager … and then Marcell Ozuna was traded to the Cardinals for a similarly paltry amount … and then Christian Yelich was traded to the Brewers for almost nothing. Noticing a pattern? All of the massive contracts these players had were wiped off the payroll, so saving money is good, I guess. Never mind the fact that the 2017 outfield was probably one of the best of all time. So what did they do with the influx of cash? Nothing. No pitching improvements, no big-name prospects. It’s sad that a future Hall of Famer allowed greed to get the better of his decision-making skills and turn a once-promising organization into a raging dumpster fire in less than a year. Now he will have an entire season to sit in the cushy owner’s suite at Marlins Park and wonder if all this was worth it. Oh yeah, in case you didn’t catch on, the Marlins are going to be the absolute worst. They’re going to be the baseball equivalent of sitting inside studying for a test while your friends play Spikeball on the New U. It’ll be a 60-win season at best. My condolences to Marlins fans. No one deserves what they’ve been through this offseason.

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs
Another year, another painful prediction that I have to make of the Chicago Cubs winning the NL Central. They had a couple of large changes to the rotation in the offseason, including the signing of free agent Yu Darvish and their ace Jake Arrieta departing for Philadelphia. But with strong pieces still in place all over the roster, it’s hard to see anyone competing for the division title with Chicago this year.

2. Saint Louis Cardinals
I can only hope that the Cardinals have figured out the disaster that was last season and fixed their issues in the offseason. Mike Matheny seems to have a hard time managing his pitching staff, which is strange considering he was a great catcher in his playing days. The core of the rotation remains the same from the past couple of years with Adam Wainright, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, and the addition of outfielder Marcell Ozuna makes the lineup more potent this season. Bad managing from Matheny aside, this team has enough talent to finish second behind Chicago and compete for a wild card spot.

3. Milwaukee Brewers
Predicting the Brewers’ season is tough this year. They made a surprising run into playoff contention at the end of last season with a lineup that most would have predicted to find little success. Their pitching staff remains much the same, but they did add a few strong bats to the lineup with Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. I don’t trust the pitching staff to come up with as strong of a season as last year, so the Brewers likely won’t make the playoffs this season.

4. Cincinnati Reds
Between the Reds and the Pirates, it’s a crapshoot for who will finish last in the division this year. The only reason I think Cincinnati will finish ahead of Pittsburgh is because they have one of the most similar lineups from last season. Hopefully for them, the consistency will help them improve this year, as they will not need any time to get used to playing together.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates were among the biggest sellers this offseason, dumping their top two players from the past couple of years. Andrew McCutchen was traded to the San Francisco Giants, and Gerrit Cole was traded to the Houston Astros. They picked up a number of pieces from those trades, but almost all of the players are young. The Pirates are going to have to go through both the growing pains of having inexperienced players and the growing pains of those players learning to play together. The sale of their two starters essentially signaled to the league that they don’t plan on competing this season and want to rebuild around a new, young core.

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
After losing the World Series to the Houston Astros last season, the Dodgers are poised for another deep playoff run. Though they lost Yu Darvish to free agency, fans won’t be upset with that because of his woeful performance during the World Series. Staff ace Clayton Kershaw is still there, and he will likely perform close to his past Cy Young form that we are accustomed to seeing. The playoff run last year featured some breakout performances from young players like Cody Bellinger, who will continue to get better as he gains more experience. This Dodgers team is my favorite to win the NL pennant this season.

2. San Francisco Giants
The Giants team that finished in the basement of the division last season made some significant moves in the offseason to bolster their roster. Andrew McCutchen arrives from Pittsburgh and Evan Longoria arrives from Tampa Bay to add a few consistent bats to a lineup that scored the second fewest runs in all of baseball last year. Derek Holland is a welcome addition to the pitching staff, especially because he will help prop the team up while they wait for ace Madison Bumgarner to return from injury. If they can hold it together while he heals, the Giants will be the most improved team in the league and will compete for a wild card spot.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks did little to change their roster from last season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The team managed to claim a wild card spot last season and defeated the Rockies to make it to the divisional round of the playoffs. What you want to watch for with this team is to see if that stagnation hurts them. Did the rest of the division improve too much for them to come back with the same team? They will compete for another wild card spot, and maybe the gel from last season will be enough for them to make the playoffs again.

4. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies lost Greg Holland in the offseason but managed to pick up Wade Davis to replace him. Apart from that, they find themselves in a similar situation to that of the Diamondbacks: returning much of last season’s wild card roster and hoping that they can find success with it again this season. The Rockies will probably fall a few games from last season’s 87 wins and miss the wild card this year.

5. San Diego Padres
The Padres are in a pattern of poor seasons currently, and this offseason likely did not fix the issues. After finishing at the bottom of the division and making no significant offseason moves, expect a poor season from San Diego once again.

Post Author: Zane Cawthon