With games starting as Sunday night when the newly minted American League Houston Astros host their cross-state rival Texas Rangers on Sunday night, the 2013 Major League Baseball season is upon us. No more talk about the Hot Stove, no more trade or free agent speculation, just baseball. Pure and simple.
But we still have a few days left before the first pitch is thrown and the long, arduous season is underway. That means we have a few more minutes to make some predictions and assumptions about how things will play out and who will be wearing the crown when the dust settles.
In case you missed it, we started with the American League yesterday. Tonight, we're going to move forward with the National League, and then close things out on Monday with an Awards prediction.
So, let's open this up shall we?!
National League East
1.) Washington Nationals
2.) Atlanta Braves (WC)
3.) Philadelphia Phillies
4.) New York Mets
5.) Miami Marlins
The Washington Nationals were the toast of baseball in 2012, putting together baseball's best record during the regular season at 98-64. However, their postseason dreams were short-lived when the Cardinals came back from a 0-2 deficit during the divisional series to send them home. So the strong went and got stronger. Washington added Dan Haren to replace Edwin Jackson, Denard Span via a trade with Minnesota, and shored up at closer with Rafael Soriano. Oh, and they get some guy named Stephen Strasburg for a full season. Yeah, this team is sick and should be considered a favorite, not only for the divison, but the World Series as well.
Playing second fiddle will be the Atlanta Braves, who had a solid offseason of their own. The Braves knew they needed more thunder in their line-up, so they signed B.J. Upton and then acquired Justin Upton in a trade with Arizona that cost them Martin Prado and a slew of prospects. That said, Atlanta is now home to one of the best outfields in baseball, with the Upton brothers and Jason Heyward holding down the fort. The team is also strong in the pitching department, with a solid rotation and a stellar closer in Craig Kimbrel. That will all be good enough for the Wild Card, but not the division title.
Speaking of better, but not quite good enough, we have the Philadelphia Phillies. Philadelphia is still lead by its pitching staff, but the entire roster is aging in a hurry. Ryan Howard looks at leas 5 years older after an Achilles injury last season, Roy Halladay looks like years of high innings totals are finally catching up to him, and you never know how healthy Chase Utley is going to be. The Phillies did make two solid additions in Ben Revere and Michael Young, but this is a team in its last year of contending before a tear-down is in order.
Tear-downs are exactly what has been going on with the New York Mets. Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey are three solid young arms, but what looks to be a possible career-ending injury to Johan Santana may doom this team from the start. After trading R.A. Dickey this winter, the Mets are as thinner in the rotation that any team in baseball outside of Colorado. Additionally, outside of David Wright and the inconsistency of Lucas Duda and Ike Davis, this offense it a mess. The only reason they don't finish last is that they play in the same division as....
The Miami Marlins did what is practically inexcusable in baseball. They finally get the brand new stadium they were clambering for and then screw the fans by dismantling the team in one broad stroke. Yes, the Marlins got some solid prospects in return from Toronto in Jake Marisnick, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Justin Nicholino, but outside of Hechavarria, the rest of the lot is at least 3 seasons away from being Major League ready. Can the people of Miami really wait another three seasons to see a return on their investment before they lynch Jeffery Loria in the streets?
National League Central
1.) Cincinnati Reds
2.) St. Louis Cardinals
3.) Chicago Cubs
4.) Milwaukee Brewers
5.) Pittsburgh Pirates
You really have to appreciate a team like the Cincinnati Reds. They play the game the way it is meant to be played, with passion and fun. That formula lead them to a 97-65 record last season, and the team made a few small tweaks in 2013 to help make them just a bit better. Adding Shin-Soo Choo will be an experiment in center, but having his bat in the line-up alongside Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce will be solid. The only question with the Reds is why they signed Jonathan Broxton to close and then keep Aroldis Chapman in the role. Regardless, this is a team that is on the cusp of making a real playoff dent.
The Cardinals are my choice for runner-up in the division, but not because I believe they are as good or better than the team that won 88 games a year ago. I just feel this is a weak division, again, and the Cardinals always seem to prosper from that. They signed Adam Wainright to a long-term extension, but they also let Kyle Lohse walk without replacing him adequately. Furthermore, I'm not convinced that Jon Jay is the right choice in centerfield, especially when Oscar Taveras is knocking on the door.
One team that made some solid noise this winter in this division was the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are still in a rebuilding phase, but they made some decent moves to make them at least more competitive this season, adding Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, and Carlos Villanueva to the rotation and Nate Schierholtz to the outfield. A full season of Anthony Rizzo will provide needed punch. That all said, if the Cubs should falter, watch them closely. With a trade chips in Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano to flip, there is a move to be made there. And is it too early to think they may consider a blockbuster trade for Starlin Castro with Javier Baez making some noise in camp and expected to start the season at Double-A.
When I orignally wrote these rankings, I had already written off the Milwaukee Brewers. Then they signed Kyle Lohse to a three-year deal. Well, I still think they are going to struggle in 2013. The loss of Corey Hart is going to be tough to replace, and the platoon of Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt at first isn't going to get it done. Additionally, the long-term extension the team signed with Carlos Gomez looks like a stinker right out of the gate. I just don't think this team has what it takes to play as a cohesive unit.
Finally, we have the Pittsburgh Pirates. I actually the Pirates as a team and wish they could figure it out. With a collection of young talent that is enviably, and a pitching rotation that should be better than it is, the Pirates should be easy to root for. Unfortunately, they cannot play ball for an entire season and are consistently tripping over themselves. Andrew McCutcheon, Neil Walker, and Starling Marte may be fun to watch, but until James McDonald becomes the ace he should be and Pedro Alvarez figures out how to be a Major Leaguer, there is going to be more years of losing in Pittsburgh.
National League West
1.) Los Angeles Dodgers
2.) San Francisco Giants (WC)
3.) Arizona Diamondbacks
4.) San Diego Padres
5.) Colorado Rockies
Don't tell me that the ghost of Frank McCourt doesn't still haunt the Dodgers. There is no other reason to justify why this team is spending money the way they are. First it was the big trade with Boston last August that brought in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and their millions of dollars in contracts. Then it was a stupid big contract to player like Brandon League. Finally the Dodgers capped it off with a huge deal with Zack Greinke. The Dodgers are trying to buy themselves a championship. It'll likely be enough to buy them a division title, but until Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier can stay on the field for an entire season, that's all it will be.
The San Francisco Giants are the perfect example of a team that turns it on when they need to. Both of their titles in 2010 and 2012 came from strong runs to the postseason and then bursts to the title. The recently extended Buster Posey is now the face of the franchise and rightfully so, and the pitching staff isn't too shabby either (read here as stellar) with the likes of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelson, Tim Lincecum, and Barry Zito. Still, I see a lot of similarities between this team and the 2011 Giants, a team that stood pat with streaky players and got burned. Of course, that team also lost Posey for an entire season due to injury, so maybe I'm being too critical.
Call me a fool, but I love the new-look Arizona Diamondbacks. Funny how the loss of one player and the addition of two known scrappers, Prado and Cody Ross, and you change the entire look of a team. This D-Backs squad is carved right in the image of manager Kirk Gibson and they will play their hearts out night in and night out. Do not be surprised if they leap either San Francisco or Los Angeles, especially if their pitching staff throws like it did in 2011.
The San Diego Padres are moving in the right direction, but these things take time to build. The prospects keep coming with the addition of Jedd Gyorko and he'll help weather the burden lost with Chase Headley out for the first few months. Another year of experience for Yonder Alonso may also help him break out. The true enigma is Carlos Quentin. When he is in the line-up, he's been tremendous, but it's getting him there that is the hard part. Admittedly, I know nothing of their pitching staff outside of Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard, but I don't take that as a good sign either.
Speaking of pitching staffs and bad signs, our final team is the Colorado Rockies. This team is going to be dreadful. When Jhoulis Chacin and his lifetime GO/AO ratio of 1.57 is your staff ace in Mile High country, then you know things are going to be rough. This is a team that is hampered by huge contracts to Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitski, and Todd Helton. Helton's will come off the books this winter, but Tulo and CarGo should be trade candidates for a team badly in need of a rebuild.