2016 National League Preview & Predictions

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The Major League Baseball season is only four days away, so as Opening Day rosters get their final tweaks and additions, is there a better time than now to preview the season for the National League?

There is a lot of disparity between the American and National League this season, as almost every team in the American League is in position to attempt to compete for a playoff spot, while several National League teams are in rebuilding mode.

NL EAST

1. New York Mets (95-67)

The Mets are built to win now. They have one of the deepest, if not the deepest, starting rotations in baseball. It will only get boosted further when P Zack Wheeler returns mid

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Mets’ 3B David Wright will be a key player for the team this season.

season after recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The team added SS Asdrubal Cabrera in the off season, and he will prove to be a major upgrade both offensively and defensively. With OF Yoenis Cespedes returning and a full year of OF Michael Conforto in the outfield, the Mets’ offense should be improved. The X-Factor for the team will be if 3B David Wright can stay healthy and contribute at a competent level. It will be interesting to see if back injuries have sapped Wright of his power.

2. Washington Nationals (85-77)

I’m not as high on the Nationals as most are. First off, they are a perpetually injury plagued team. 1B Ryan Zimmerman will inevitably miss some time. OF Jayson Werth, P Stephen Strasburg, and 3B Anthony Rendon have shown themselves to be injury prone as well. Without P Jordan Zimmerman, the Nationals are down a No. 2 starter, putting a lot more pressure on Strasburg to perform in a contract year. With one of the game’s best pitching prospects, P Lucas Giolito, set to debut at some point in the summer, the Nats will receive some reinforcements, but I don’t believe it will be enough to make the playoffs.

3. Miami Marlins (81-81)

The Marlins are a work in progress. They are moving in the right direction, but it will take another off season of positive momentum to put this team in position for the playoffs. First, the Marlins must get OF Giancarlo Stanton and P Jose Fernandez through the season healthy. While I believe they will make it through 2016, I don’t see the back end of the Marlins’ starting rotation or bullpen holding its own through the year, limiting the team to a .500 record.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (73-89)

Fresh off a season as the worst team in baseball, the Phillies are primed for an improvement. It’s not a monumental improvement, but one nonetheless. This season is a critical one in the rebuilding process for the Phils, as many of their top prospects will debut one after another during the summer. If veteran players perform, like 1B Ryan Howard and Ps Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, expect Philadelphia to be players at the Trade Deadline to add even more depth to an already deep farm system.

5. Atlanta Braves (62-100)

The Braves are built to lose. The goal for the season is to continue to build the farm system in hopes of building a semi-competitive team for the opening of a new ballpark in the coming seasons, in order to build a winner in the future. 1B Freddie Freeman and P Julio Teheran are the best pieces that the team has, and while they have repeatedly said that neither will be traded, if they receive an offer that blows them away, they will take it. I fully expect the Braves to be the worst team in baseball this season. Expect them to be players at the Trade Deadline, shipping any and every veteran with value away for prospects.

NL CENTRAL

1. Chicago Cubs (98-64)

I believe the Cubs will be the best team in the National League. They are too deep to not win. This is the best team that manager Joe Maddon has ever had, and he will be able to

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The Chicago Cubs are looking to build off of their success from 2015.

mix and match his way through the season. The team added OF Jason Heyward and P John Lackey from the rival Cardinals, and both moves will prove to be critical down the stretch. This team could be an offensive juggernaut that has just enough pitching to make a deep October run. I’d expect the team to add a relief arm or two around the Trade Deadline to solidify the end of games.

2. St. Louis Cardinals (95-67)

The Cards are in the middle of one of the best divisions in baseball. I believe they will come up just short of the Cubs for the division crown, but still have what it takes to take a Wild Card spot. In comparison to the Cubs, the Cardinals don’t have the same offensive firepower, but have great starting pitching depth. If P Adam Wainwright can make it through the season healthy, the Cardinals top four starters rival any other team’s foursome in the game today. That will be enough to carry them through most of the season, as Cardinals’ hitters are notoriously timely and clutch, with OF/1B Matt Holliday leading the way offensively.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates (93-69)

Another year, another spot in the Wild Card game for the Bucs. While this team doesn’t have the financial power that its rivals do, the Pirates may still manage to have the most balanced squad in this division. The pitching staff is led by P Gerrit Cole, who is looking to cement his ace status with another terrific performance this season. The team will receive a boost from top pitching prospects, Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon debuting at some point this summer, giving the Pirates the potential for a deep rotation. On offense, the team is led by OF Andrew McCutchen, but it is OFs Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte that are primed for big, breakout campaigns. Look for the Pirates’ outfield to be one of the best in baseball.

4. Cincinnati Reds (70-92)

The Reds have the unfortunate task of rebuilding in one of the deepest divisions in baseball. The team’s pitching staff is young, but extremely inexperienced. This will hurt the team all season long. With aging veterans 2B Brandon Phillips and OF Jay Bruce occupying roster spots that are better suited for prospects needing to prove themselves, expect the Reds to move them at the Trade Deadline. 1B Joey Votto is still one of the best hitters in baseball, but will be plagued by having no help around him offensively.

5. Milwaukee Brewers (64-98)

Baseball won’t be fun to watch in Milwaukee this summer. Another team in rebuilding mode, the Brewers are even worse off than the Reds in this division. The Brewers have little to no starting pitching depth, and boast only OF Ryan Braun as the lone intimidating offensive threat. C Jonathan Lucroy is a valuable piece, but I fully expect the Brewers to move him before the Trade Deadline for a return of prospects. It will be a few seasons before the Brewers are in position to compete again.

NL WEST

1. San Francisco Giants (94-68)

It’s an even year, so the Giants are set to win the World Series, right? Well, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility, as the Giants have one of the best starting rotations in

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Giants’ OF Hunter Pence plays a vital role in energizing the team.

baseball. Led by P Madison Bumgarner, the Giants added Ps Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardizija to the mix. With P Matt Cain returning from injury and Jake Peavy as a holdover the Giants have the makings of a dominant rotation. On offense, the team is led by C Buster Posey and OF Hunter Pence. The team is depending on Pence remaining healthy through the summer, but also betting on repeat performances from SS Brandon Crawford and IF Matt Duffy. I like those odds, and believe the Giants will find their way into the playoffs.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (89-73)

The Dodgers aren’t a bad team, but just not good enough to make the playoffs. Unable to make it out of Spring Training without a significant amount of injuries to its starting rotation, the Dodgers are already starting off the season in a deficit with a first-year manager. P Clayton Kershaw will still be a dominant force, and I expect P Kenta Maeda and SS Corey Seager to compete for Rookie of the Year honors, but pitching is what will ultimately keep LA out of the postseason.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks (83-79)

All of Arizona’s big, flashy moves in the off season have to work, right? Wrong. Yes, bringing in P Zack Greinke is a huge plus, and P Shelby Miller would’ve won 10 more games had he been in Arizona last season, but the team still plays its home games at Chase Field. That is not the easiest place for pitchers to succeed, and I believe their additions will find that it is a bit difficult to perform in that environment. On offense, 1B Paul Goldschmidt is still carrying the load, and I don’t believe that DBacks have added enough around him to make a truly elite offensive club. The team is hoping for 3B/OF Yasmany Tomas to have a big season, but I don’t think that will be enough in this pitching heavy division.

4. San Diego Padres (73-89)

The Padres are in a curious position. After GM A.J. Preller made moves like acquiring OF Matt Kemp and P James Shields last off season, the team appeared to be primed to compete. However, when those moves proved to be faulty, as Shields gave up far too many home runs, and Kemp showed that he may never truly regain his previous form from his heydays in LA. Now, I expect the Pads to try and move veterans, like Shields and Kemp, in an attempt to offload payroll and acquire prospects. This team is simply not good enough to compete in any facet of the game.

5. Colorado Rockies (68-94)

The Rockies are stuck in the cellar of the NL West. It isn’t necessarily their fault, as they are in the midst of a rebuild without much good pitching. The team is hoping for P Jon Gray to get healthy and on track to make good on his previous top prospect form. P Jeff Hoffman, acquired in last season’s Troy Tulowitzki trade, may very well debut this season, and outside of 3B Nolan Arenado, that is the most excitement that Rockies’ fans will have this season. Wait on those prospects, they’re coming.

Look out for my American League preview & predictions, which will be followed by my 2016 MLB Postseason Predictions.

The Big Plan: Philadelphia Phillies Rebuild

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If you know anything about baseball, even the most simple of fans can notice that the Philadelphia Phillies are one of the worst, if not THE worst, teams in Major League Baseball. Of course, that is by design, as the team is in full “rebuild-mode” in 2015.

The every day lineup is filled with leadoff, No. 2, and No. 8-type

Chase Utley (above) is having a career-worst season in 2015.

Chase Utley (above) is having a career-worst season in 2015.

hitters, and is lacking any serious power threat outside of the shell of old 1B Ryan Howard that bats cleanup everyday. 2B Chase Utley is having a career-worst season, just getting his batting average above .200 on June 2. Needless to say, runs are few and far between for this team.

The pitching staff matches the offense, and features two reliable starters who will be both traded by the Trade Deadline, in P Cole Hamels and Aaron Harang. Closer Jonathan Papelbon is the most consistent arm in the bullpen but is also rumored to be in trade talks, with his contract being the main hurdle. The Phils trot out journeyman pitchers Jerome Williams and Sean O’ Sullivan every five days to soak up innings until the team’s younger pitching prospects are ready to compete at the major league level.

With the team ready to potentially trade six players (Howard, Hamels, Harang, Papelbon and OFs Ben Revere and Domonic Brown) before the trade deadline, there will be an influx of young players from the minor leagues, new talent acquired from other teams, and fringe-major league veteran types that will fill the void until next season.

3B Maikel Franco (above) is the latest top prospect to reach the big leagues with the Phillies.

3B Maikel Franco (above) is the latest top prospect to reach the big leagues with the Phillies.

So, the Phillies have the potential to get even worse as the rest of 2015 plays out, but that will open up playing time for their young players, like LF Cody Asche, 3B Maikel Franco, P Severino Gonzalez and OF Odubel Herrera. It is believed that if P Aaron Nola continues developing this season, he could make some starts in September for the non-competitive club. At best, oft-injured prospect P Adam Morgan and P David Buchanan get their arms right and come up to gain some experience against big league competition. Yet, the team should still finish as one of the bottom three teams in all of MLB.

So, what is the big picture? Developing young talent, shipping out the old, overpriced veterans for prospects, and acquiring key veterans to help build the club for the future. This process will really take shape after the Trade Deadline, when we are able to see what talent GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. is able to add to the farm system. After that, it will be determined where the acquired players will play, whether it be the major or minor leagues. Obviously, based on the players’ performances for the rest of the season, it will set the team up for the beginning of next season.

I’d expect Nola, Buchanan, Morgan and Gonzalez to be competing for rotation spots next year, with an outside shot of P Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Philippe Aumont pushing for a chance to be starters if they can finally figure themselves out. I’d expect that one of the prospects the Phils acquire will be a nearly-ready major league starting pitching, and I would expect him to be in the mix for the rotation next season. Top prospect Ps Ben Lively, Zach Eflin and Tom Windle all could make their major league debuts in the latter portion of 2016 and have the potential to be impact arms down the road. In terms of free agent additions, I could see the team signing a veteran pitcher in the mold of the Harang move this past off season. Think Ps Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada, or Bud Norris. These are veteran pitchers that probably wouldn’t cost more than $5-8 million on a one-year deal, have the ability to pitch a lot of innings, and if they are pitching well, can be used as trade chips come trading season when contenders are looking to top off their teams.

Franco, Asche, Cs Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz, Herrera, IFs

J.P. Crawford (above) represents the next wave of Phillies' players, as he is the organization's top prospect.

J.P. Crawford (above) represents the next wave of Phillies’ players, as he is the organization’s top prospect.

Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Darin Ruf and Utley will be the main holdovers beginning next season, which leaves a lot of at-bats for young players to come up and get experience at the big league level. Top prospects SS J.P. Crawford and OF Roman Quinn should be ready to make their respective major league debuts sometime in 2016, but surely not to begin the year. Oft-injured prospect OF Kelly Dugan has shown his potential in flashes, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field consistently. His bat could definitely find a place in the Phils’ lineup. As part of the team’s 2015 Trade Deadline haul, I would expect a nearly-ready major league position player to be in the mix for at-bats this year and in 2016. Outside of that, most of the Phillies’ hitting prospects are more than a year away from possibly making an impact at the major league level. The team will probably take a similar route in free agency towards veteran hitters that they currently do pitchers, signing players that have the potential to be trade chips down the line. While I’m one that would pine for SS Jimmy Rollins to return on a one-year deal to help mentor the younger players (especially Crawford), I’m sure the team is thinking someone along the lines of IF/OF Daniel Murphy, utility men Sean Rodriguez and Jeff Keppinger, and OFs Gerardo Parra and Matt Joyce.

Overall, the plan is to bide time while sprinkling in the major league debuts of several top prospects over the next 2-3 seasons. If all goes well, I fully expect 2015 to be the low point of this Phillies’ rebuild, with exciting steps moving forward in the rest of 2015 and 2016, as younger players of the next up and coming core will get to mature in front of our eyes at the major league level.