The National League teams ranked by division. graphic by Conner Maggio

Professional baseball preview: NL edition

Editor-in-Chief Justin Guglielmetti delivers a comprehensive breakdown of what he thinks will happen in the National League’s regular season.

NL East
Philadelphia Phillies: If I had my way, the city of Philadelphia would never field a competitive sports team again. Alas, the Phillies’ ownership group broke out the big bucks over the offseason, revamping their roster and making their team true World Series contenders. Bryce Harper was obviously the biggest move and will be a huge upgrade for the lineup even if he never recovers his transcendent 2015 form. He’ll be surrounded by veteran Andrew McCutchen, All-Star shortstop Jean Segura, emergent slugger Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, who only established himself last season as the best catcher in baseball. Aaron Nola has seized the ace reigns from the declining Jake Arrieta to lead a talented (if underachieving) rotation, while David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez highlight an excellent bullpen. Even with intense competition, anything short of a division crown will be a disappointment.

Atlanta Braves: After arriving ahead of schedule and winning the NL East in 2018, most experts are now picking the Braves to experience a bit of a backslide. There is legitimate cause for concern given the age and inexperience of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, the questionable underlying statistics of ace Mike Foltynewicz and new acquisition Josh Donaldson’s injury history. I don’t care. Acuna and Freddie Freeman are both going to be in the MVP conversation at season’s end and Atlanta will be looking at 90 wins.

New York Mets: Seasons come and go, and Mets fans will always wonder what could be if their team’s starters stayed healthy and maximized their potential. If Zack Wheeler builds off last season’s success and Noah Syndergaard doesn’t strain his back lifting Thor’s hammer, they will join Jacob deGrom (last year’s Cy Young winner and my pick for 2019 as well) to form the best starting rotation in MLB. Then they’ve got Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia locking things down in the pen and sweet-swinging lefties Michael Conforto and Robinson Cano bolstering the lineup. All the talent is there for a return to the playoffs, the Mets just need consistency and a well-kept stock of healing potions.

Washington Nationals: Many have predicted a demonstration of the Ewing Theory in Washington, where the Nats will avenge their disappointing 82-80 finish and the loss of Harper by becoming World Series contenders. This will hinge on the immediate success of Victor Robles and Juan Soto, who are an even younger and more talented pair of dynamos than Acuna and Albies in Atlanta.

Max Scherzer has officially seized the “Best Pitcher in the Game” championship belt from longtime titleholder Clayton Kershaw and, at 34 years old, is more terrifying to opposing hitters than he’s ever been. We’ll see if newly acquired Brian Dozier and Patrick Corbin are enough to put this team over the top, but I predict that they will fall just short in what should be an absolute dogfight of a divisional battle.

Miami Marlins: Oh yeah, the Marlins exist. I have an enduring affection for Starlin Castro from his brief tenure on the Yankees. If he scrapes together 170 hits, you’ll hear sleepy broadcasters commenting on his “slim but not impossible” chances to reach the hallowed 3,000 total by the end of his career, so that should be fun. Brian Anderson, who isn’t a stock video game character, finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting and could be a competent baseball player. Jorge Alfaro is no guarantee to bat even .200, but hey, he’s my fantasy league catcher and has an absolute cannon strapped to his right shoulder. Miami will struggle to win 60 games.

NL Central
Milwaukee Brewers: I was firmly on the Christian Yelich will regress bandwagon, but through Spring Training and the early days of the 2019 season, it looks like the MVP’s power stroke might be for real. Lorenzo Cain is a two-way weapon and one of the most exciting players in the game to watch. Yasmani Grandal was an absolute steal of a free agent signing. The rotation is a bunch of no-names like Jimmy Nelson and Jhoulys Chacin, but it’s fairly deep. Finally, a Craig Kimbrel signing (mark my words, it’s coming) would take an imposing but banged-up bullpen and make it one of baseball’s best. The Central could go to any of its top three teams, with one or both of the runners-up making a play for a Wild Card spot, but this is the Brewers’ to lose.

Chicago Cubs: Despite making the playoffs for four consecutive years (which included a 2016 World Series win that was supposed to erase all negativity from the city of Chicago for the rest of time), the Cubs enter the new season with a shocking air of negativity surrounding the organization. Why? A healthy Kris Bryant is almost a guarantee to play like an MVP, Javy Baez just finished runner-up for that award and is must-see TV, Kyle Hendricks continues to defy sabermetrics predictions. It’s true that the Cubbies have a questionable pen and Jon Lester’s impending decline highlights a rotation that might not be handing down many leads to begin with. But let’s wait and see if the house of cards actually collapses before we write off such a battle-tested group.

St. Louis Cardinals: Count me a big fan of the Paul Goldschmidt trade that gave St. Louis its first true superstar since Albert Pujols left. Jordan Hicks is going to find a way to leverage his Chapman-in-Cincinnati velocity into more missed bats before long. Miles Mikolas’s unexpected breakout at 30 was a terrific story, and I’m a firm believer that the dude’s nickname should be “the Czech Spider-man.” Something just feels off with the rest of this roster, whether it’s the unproven track record in the rotation or the threat of decline from mainstays Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina, both of whom are on the wrong side of 30.

Cincinnati Reds: One of the few teams that exists in the nexus between obvious contender and tanker, the Reds could be a playoff sleeper under the right circumstances. Joey Votto will need to bounce back; walks are well and good, but 12 homers and a .417 slugging average aren’t going to cut it. We’ll see if a change of scenery sparks the superstar potential that Yasiel Puig demonstrated earlier in his career. Luis Castillo shows a lot of promise and will make his first All-Star team, while infield prospect Nick Senzel waits in the wings. The bullpen past Raisel Iglesias will continue to be a major concern.

Pittsburgh Pirates: When your yearly payroll amounts to just $62.8 million, I’m not sure you even deserve to call yourself a Major League Baseball team. The Bucs aren’t faced with a total lack of talent; Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon are both well-above-average starters while Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson and Jung Ho Kang all possess All-Star upside. It’s merely the other 21 minor league caliber players on the roster who should sink this ship to the division floor.

NL West
Los Angeles Dodgers: This is a very different Dodgers team than the one that has made two consecutive trips to the World Series. Gone are Manny Machado, Yasmani Grandal, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood. Clayton Kershaw is shelved with a shoulder injury to start the year, and though his return is imminent, no one knows how close he’ll look to the Kershaw of old. Still, the overall collection of talent in the lineup — Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, new centerfielder A.J. Pollock — is better than anyone else’s in the West. The rotation is deep and includes a budding young ace in Walker Buehler who provides a pretty picture for the team’s post-Kershaw future. Even after a down year with decreased velocity, closer Kenley Jansen should still be one of the better relievers in the game and anchors a good bullpen. A seventh consecutive division title seems imminent.

San Diego Padres: This franchise has stunk for a long time, last having put up a winning record in 2010, and their attempts at roster construction in that time span have been laughable (no team has ever been so insistent on stockpiling mediocre right-handed power hitters in a pitcher’s park that favors lefties). But these aren’t your dad’s Dads, and the Padres have stockpiled the young talent to finally make some noise. Much as I think he’s a douchebag, Manny Machado is a superstar, and his agreement to move back to third base in order to clear room for uber prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities. Keep an eye on two other exciting infield rookies, Luis Urias and catcher Francisco Mejia, as well as stud-in-the-making Joey Lucchesi heading up the pitching staff.

Colorado Rockies: What kind of bizzaro world do we live in when it’s the Rockies’ pitching staff that is keeping the team afloat? Kyle Freeland is coming off one of the best seasons in team history, German Marquez has the potential to be even better and Jon Gray’s biggest weakness in his awful 2018 was his paradoxical inability to perform away from Coors Field. Meanwhile, the lineup is awfully thin after the left side of the infield, which features all-around wizards Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story. Even Charlie Blackmon, though he remains an excellent fantasy player, can’t be counted on at this point for much more than league-average production.

San Francisco Giants: This will be the last stand of the Giants’ mini-dynasty that won three World Series earlier this decade, as it is manager Bruce Bochy’s final season and playoff legend Madison Bumgarner’s last year before free agency (one that probably won’t be kind to the former ace given his injury history). A resurgence from Buster Posey and Evan Longoria could keep the team semi-relevant until the dog days of summer and human highlight reel (mentioned earlier in the Blue Jays’ preview and traded within the first week of the season) should help the watchability factor.

Arizona Diamondbacks: What a bizarre organizational decision for this still-young franchise. Two years after winning 93 games and bowing out in the NLDS, the D-Backs said goodbye to their homegrown core of Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock and replaced them with two out-of-work actors from the Phoenix area. Wait no, that’s just the corpse of Adam Jones! The rotation still features two nominally elite arms in Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray who should help elevate Arizona above the true dregs of the league, but I foresee even those guys taking a step back.

Post Author: Justin Guglielmetti