ICYMI, I previewed the American League in Part I here. On to the NL!
- New York Mets (88-74)*
- Washington Nationals (86-76)
- Miami Marlins (80-82)
- Philadelphia Phillies (70-92)
- Atlanta Braves (65-97)
This might have been the toughest out of the six divisions to call. On one hand, the Nationals are still super talented even if they’re not getting buzz to win 100 games this season. Bryce Harper, fresh off the best offensive season since peak Barry Bonds, will be patrolling right field. Additionally, the Nats brought in Mets defector Daniel Murphy and Ben “The Human Empty Calorie” Revere to aid a lineup that was submarined by too many holes last year, though how much impact those players will have is up for debate. While Jordan Zimmermann bounced to Detroit, Washington still has a formidable rotation with the Max Scherzer/Stephen Strasburg/Gio Gonzalez trifecta. They’ll be especially counting on Strasburg to rebound after a season where he pitched more like Steven Glansburg than his usual self. Jonathan Papelbon is still here, and it’s worth watching whether he literally chokeslams the entire team’s chemistry like he did last year after the Nationals acquired him post-deadline.
But the Mets are going to be a formidable foe once again, and it’s really hard to bet against that quartet of power arms (plus Bartolo Colon). Plus, I’d be willing to argue that Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker are an upgrade over Rueben Tejada and Murphy at the middle infield spots. Full seasons of Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto means the Mets lineup that was so effective in the second half of 2015 will be more or less intact. Jeurys Familia and his world-collapsing splitter still loom at the end of games, too. All of that should be enough to win the East. As for the bottom three spots, the Marlins will look to rebound on last season’s disaster of a campaign, and a return to prominence by their two franchise cornerstones (Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez) could allow them to spoil the Mets’ party. The Phillies should be better than last year (how could they not be?), and the Braves continue to tank, meaning that neither club is really worth talking about for 2016.
- Chicago Cubs (96-66)*
- Pittsburgh Pirates (89-73)*
- St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
- Milwaukee Brewers (69-93)
- Cincinnatti Reds (62-100)
The best division in baseball features three teams who won 96+ games last season, though only one of those squads has a chance to reach that mark again this time. The Cubs are stacked and have made the leap from “long term rebuilding project” to “World Series favorite” faster than anyone could have imagined. After shocking the baseball world by ripping off 97 wins en route to a NLCS birth last season, the Cubs reloaded, adding veteran talent to their impressive young nucleus. Ben Zobrist and John Lackey, two guys who epitomize the word “crafty”, have come aboard via free agency to bolster the infield and rotation. The Cubs also made a huge splash by signing Jason Heyward away from the Cardinals, a move which caused the Best Fans in Baseball to act like a kid who just lost Xbox privileges for a week. Heyward is one of the most polarizing players in baseball, a guy who’s value comes almost exclusively from those hard-to-quantify metrics that people over the age of 60 seem to hate more than Bernie Sanders. Chicago is almost a lock to win the most games in baseball, though if they have a weakness, it’s a bullpen that doesn’t quite stack up against some of the other contenders.
The Pirates have the best outfield in the major leagues, a rare mix of power, speed, and defense. Andrew McCutchen is a perennial MVP candidate, and the Buccos’ rotation, headed by Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, is solid, though they’ll miss Neil Walker more than I think people realize, depending on where they plan to play Jung-Ho Kang when he comes back from his knee injury in a month or so. The Cardinals are always going to be in the thick of things, and this season will be no exception, However, I find it hard to believe they’re going to win 100 games again this year, I mean, how many top players can you replace before the player development pool runs dry? I know they have a cloning machine stashed away in one of their Single A affiliates’ facilities that just churns out the same 5-11, 190-pound, gritty white guy. Maybe that’s the technology they were stealing from the Astros last season. Anyway, #CardinalsDevilMagic has to run out eventually. The Brewers and Reds bring up the rear in this division, because I guess someone has to. It’s going to be a fun time watching A: who Jonathan Lucroy gets traded to and B: whether or not the Reds or Braves end up with the MLB’s worst record.
- San Francisco Giants (94-69)*
- Arizona Diamondbacks (87-75)*
- Los Angeles Dodgers (83-79)
- Colorado Rockies (68-94)
- San Diego Padres (66-96)
It’s an even year, so my hands are kind of tied here. Fortunately, the Giants have made things easier by fielding a really good team for 2016. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are leading the charge once again, but Brian Sabean and GM Bobby Evans put a lot of work (and money) into fleshing out perhaps the most balanced roster in the majors. Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto returned to the NL for a combined $220 million, buffing a rotation that struggled last season behind MadBum. Hunter Pence is the engine that drives the Giants, and he’ll be around for more than 52 games after an injury plagued 2015. Outside of the stars, though, the Giants have insane depth. Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford form one of the best left sides of the infield in the majors, and Joe Panick and Brandon Belt are solid on the right side. Denard Span signed a three year, $31 million contract to play center field, and while he and Angel Pagan won’t win any MVP awards, you could do a lot worse, especially if Pagan bounces back from a down season. Even the back end of the bullpen, with Sergio Romo setting up Santiago Casilla, is formidable. In other words, the Giants have plenty of strengths and few weaknesses, a pretty good combination for a team that retooled for a deep playoff run.
I picked Arizona to make it to the postseason before A.J. Pollock‘s devastating elbow injury possibly knocked him out for the entire season. Even in the face of this new evidence, however, I’m sticking with the D-Backs based on two factors. First, I think the Dodgers are headed for a mini-implosion because Clayton Kershaw can’t start 162 games. Second, I like the moves that ‘Zona made this offseason for 2016, starting with the additions of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. Greinke is obviously amazing, and while the advanced metrics don’t look as favorably on Miller as his ERA does, he’s a solid number two starter. The Diamondbacks also brought in Tyler Clippard to help with the bullpen, a move I like less thanks to his 5.30 xFIP, but I still believe he can help. And of course, Paul Goldschmidt is the best player in baseball not named Trout or Harper. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are on the cusp of finally collapsing. There are a ton of question marks after Kershaw in the rotation. Japanese import Kenta Maeda is an unknown, and Scott Kazmir was brutal down the stretch last season. They’re still going to hit, but a lot is riding on Corey Seager meeting expectations, Joc Pederson not sucking like he did post All-Star Break, and Yasiel Puig showing up. If two of those things don’t happen, LA could be in trouble. In other news, the Rockies are rebuilding (though Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado do give them some upside for this season) and their rotation is predictably a mess, and the Padres have the All-Star Game but likely no true All-Stars. Having said that, if they trade for Pablo Sandoval they’ll win 100 games, so A.J. Preller get on that please.
MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (If Pollock really is going to miss the entire season, Goldschmidt is going to have to have a monster season, even by his own lofty standards. I think he does it.)
CY YOUNG: Clayton Kershaw (And he should have won last year, too.)
ROY: Corey Seager (I feel like it’s just destiny at this point.)
LEAGUE CHAMPION: Giants over Cubs in 7 (Probably in the most heartbreaking way possible.)
WORLD SERIES PICK: Giants over Astros in 6 (#EvenYear)
There you have it. The San Francisco Giants are going to be the 2016 World Series champions. Of course that begs the question: #EvenYear or the Greg Habeeb Jinx, who ya got?