SantoSports National League Baseball Preview
By Jackson Posnik
With Spring Training underway, it is time for SantoSports’ predictions for the 2016 baseball season. We will start with the National League today, and continue tomorrow with American League predictions, followed by pennant winners and world series predictions.
The NL East:
The Winner: New York Mets. The Mets are for the most part the exact same team this season as they were last season; especially where it counts. The young core of stud pitching is the same, and the Wilpons actually spent money this offseason on Yoenis Cespedes. The young guns will have another season to mature and Zack Wheeler should be back from Tommy John surgery early in the season. The rotation is Jacob Degrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Bartolo Colon. Wheeler will be able to slowly work his way back into the rotation because of how rock solid the pitching already is. The only real concern is the bullpen; but give Jeurys Familia the ball with a lead and the Mets should come out with a win.
Runner Up: The Washington Nationals. After a season that can only be described as a disappointment, this year will be all about redemption. Sadly for the Nationals, I don’t see it in the form of an NL East crown. The offense and pitching are both questions for me. The Nats lost Ian Desmond and Yunel Escobar, two of the best hitters they had. Of course Washington does have reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, but offense in baseball is all about stringing together hits and besides Harper the Nationals don’t really have a reliable offensive option. Ryan Zimmerman is a shell of his former self, Jayson Werth cannot be trusted to stay healthy, and while the additions of Ben Revere and Daniel Murphy are nice I have trouble imagining a Nationals offense that is anything better than slightly above average. The pitching is a similar situation. They have a surefire ace in Max Scherzer. Jayson Werth is like Stephen Strasburg, a potential all star when healthy, but he can’t be relied upon to stay healthy. And like Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez was at one point very good, but no longer is. And like the offense lost Desmond and Escobar, the rotation lost Jordan Zimmerman. That being said I still like the Nationals overall and expect them to push the Mets for the NL East at least a little bit.
The Rest: The Miami Marlins will be very bad. The pitching will not be good. The only good starter is Jose Fernandez, who can be electric, but is injury prone. The offense can perform at a high level, but Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are both still young and figuring it out. And while Giancarlo Stanton is one of if not the best hitter in baseball, I would bet he misses at least a month from some type of injury. The infield has Dee Gordon, Adeiny Hechavarria, Martin Prado, and Justin Bour who can all be valuable, but in baseball down years are very much a real thing. Don’t expect the Marlins to do much.
The Braves will also struggle. Shelby Miller is gone, leaving Julio Teheran as the only talented starter and he is still young and has some kincks to workout. The offense has Freddie Freeman who will probably be an all star, and the outfield can hit for some average with Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, and Michael Bourn; but nobody else is anything remotely special when it comes to hitting. I expect the Braves to be one of the worst teams in baseball.
The Phillies will be a dumpster fire. After looking at the pitchers on the active roster I quite honestly have no idea who will start for this team besides Jeremy Hellickson, who is at his best a decent starter. The Phillies also employ Matt Harrison who for some reason has a job despite not pitching the past two seasons due to back surgeries and is slated to miss this entire season due to another back surgery. In short the pitching will be abysmal. The only hope this team has is Maikel Franco, who was great as a rookie last season.
The NL Central:
The Winner: The Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were a young talented team last year that were a couple years ahead of schedule and are now looking to win a World Series. They made a huge splash during free agency and now have one of the most complete lineups in baseball. The rotation will be the same as last season plus John Lackey, who has been great the last couple of seasons and would be a number two starter on most teams. Jake Arrieta won’t be as good as last season, as that level of performance is almost impossible to sustain, but the rotation will be among the best in baseball. The lineup which was already terrific will become one of the best in baseball with the additions of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. The Cubs built a home run slugging trio with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber; and Miguel Montero is already one of the better offensive catchers in baseball. Heyward is one of the best young hitters in baseball as well as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball; and Jorge Soler is one of the most raw young outfielders in baseball. The bullpen is also great, featuring Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Rex Brothers. The team is so complete on every level I have trouble seeing them not win the NL Central.
Runner Up: St. Louis Cardinals. In any other division the Cardinals would be the winner of their division. The NL Central is not every other division in baseball; featuring three of the top teams in baseball and three playoff teams from last season. Pitching will be the strength of the Cards. The rotation was among the top in baseball last season with Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, and a healthy Jaime Garcia. The rotation will be very much the same this season plus the return of ace Adam Wainwright. That means a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia. Talk about a rotation. Behind the Mets this is in my opinion the best line of starters in baseball. The offense should be good as well, with Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta, and Kolten Wong, who broke out last season. The always reliable Matt Holliday will be in left field again after being sidelined with a strained hamstring most of last season. The only real concern is Yadier Molina who is coming off a second thumb surgery and may not be ready for the season opener. His production was down considerably last season, so I really look forward to seeing if he bounces back.
The Rest: The Pittsburgh Pirates will be good. The hitting and pitching will both be above average and the Pirates always seem to do better than I think they will. The pitching has ace Gerrit Cole, one of the better number two’s in the league in Francisco Liriano, and a pretty good number three in Jeff Locke. The bullpen will be anchored by Mark Melancon and should be another strength. The offense will be led by former MVP Andrew McCutchen and speedster Starling Marte. Gregory Polanco is one of my breakout candidates this year and with a productive Josh Harrison this team should be plenty good on the offensive end.
I predict the Cincinnati Reds will be an average team this season. Joey Votto will be great like he always is and if Billy Hamilton can get on base more he can be extremely valuable. Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce can be all stars but they both had lackluster seasons last year and I do not believe that even with them at the top of their game the Reds can really contend for an NL Central title. The pitching will also be okay with Tony Cingrani looking to build off of last year and Homer Bailey should be back to his old self when he returns from Tommy John surgery.
The Brewers will be horrible. They have absolutely no pitching. Their number one starter will be Matt Garza and at one point that was a good option, but this is not 2008. The offense won’t be much better; with only Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun being the only productive hitters. It won’t be pretty.
The NL West:
The Winner: The San Francisco Giants. Well this is an even year so if we’re going off of that the Giants should win the World Series. The reason that could happen is this team is generally complete from top to bottom. They don’t have the great pitching of the Mets, they don’t have the incredible hitting of the Cubs, but they will excel at both of those and be well rounded. The top of the rotation will be Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, all probable all stars; and will be rounded out by Chris Heston, who threw a no hitter, and Jake Peavy, who still can bring it though not at the same level as earlier in his career. The team can hit too. Though home runs will be few and far between, nearly every starter on the Giants can hit for average. The outfield of Hunter Pence, Denard Span, and Angel Pagan all have lifetime averages of at least .280 and provide speed. The infield is similar with Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, and Matt Duffy who will all hit between .280 and .305. The only outlier is Brandon Crawford who hit a career high 21 home runs last season as well as a career high for average of .256; and is one of the better offensive options at shortstop in the majors. Though not the best in the league at either offense or pitching, the Giants are plenty good enough to win the NL West.
Runner Up: The Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks are among the most improved teams in baseball adding Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, and Jean Segura. The pitching should be good for the D-Backs, as Greinke is one of the top pitchers in baseball and will be paired with one of the most talented young pitchers in Shelby Miller. Add in Patrick Corbin, an all star before going down with Tommy John; who regained form last year and one of my favorite breakout candidates Rubby De La Rosa, Arizona could have a potentially fantastic rotation. But I have some doubts, the first being it will be nearly impossible for Greinke to replicate his 19-3 record and 1.66 ERA. He will regress, it’s too difficult to maintain that level of production. And unlike the pitchers on the Giants who are established aces, Miller and Corbin have had success but have not done so on a consistent basis which worries me. De La Rosa is somebody who I’m high on but he hasn’t even performed well yet, and there is distinct possibility he may not. Another reason I’m not higher on the Diamondbacks is the hitting. Of course there is MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt who is one of the best hitters in baseball, but there isn’t much else. There is also relatively unknown five tool stud AJ Pollock, who hit .315 with 20 homers, 76 RBI and 39 stolen bases; but that is only two out of a nine man lineup. The offense will significantly improve if Jean Segura can regain his 2013 form when he hit .294, but the past two seasons Segura has hit closer to .250, so his productivity is no guarantee either. Still if a couple guys step up and the pitching performs as well as it can, the D-Backs could make a real run at the NL West.
The Rest: The Los Angeles Dodgers. Some may be shocked I don’t have the Dodgers in one of the top two spots, but they just have too many question marks. I’ll begin with the outfield. There are four outfielders that could start for the Dodgers; Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig. Carl Crawford is going to be 35 and had a down year last season. While he has recovered before, specifically after hitting just .255 for the Red Sox he went to the Dodgers and hit at least .280 the next three seasons, I think at 35 we are beginning to see the decline of Crawford and my guess is he will be used more as the fourth outfielder. The next guy I have an issue with is Andre Ethier. After doing poorly and becoming the fourth outfielder for the Dodgers in 2014 he bounced back last season and had the highest average in his career since 2008. I expect a steep regression from Ethier, and he is going to turn 34 this season, which can mean only bad things. Joc Pederson was extremely good as a rookie the first half of last season, but then fell off a cliff the second half and was benched for a period. He hasn’t proven he can be consistent either. The same unreliability applies to Puig, who was one of the most electrifying outfielders in 2013 and 2014, but hit just .255 last year and has always had attitude issues. Of all the guys I have been tearing into Puig is the one I think has by far the best chance to succeed, but I’m not convinced yet. Moving onto the infield I also have some issues. The most prominent being Justin Turner. I refuse to believe that Justin Turner will hit .294 with 16 homers again. I firmly believe he will regress to the mean again. Then there is Corey Seager who was fantastic as a rookie, but he hasn’t even played a season and will have to prove he can perform at a high level consistently. Adrian Gonzalez will be reliable, but his average has dropped to .275 the last two seasons after usually hitting at least .290, so even Gonzalez is not the player he once was. The only guy I fully trust to perform well is Howie Kendrick who has hit at least .290 nearly every season of his professional career. The pitching has also gotten worse too. Of course Clayton Kershaw will be incredible, but there is no Zack Greinke. Hyun-Jin Ryu while good is coming off of missing the entire season from shoulder surgery. The addition of Scott Kazmir is nice, but Kazmir has a tendency to tire out and be a different pitcher during August and September. There are just too many holes and questions for me to think the Dodgers will play well on a consistent basis.
The San Diego Padres went big last offseason signing many big name free agents, but it only resulted in another lackluster season, so the Padres cleaned house and looked to rebuild and improve. I don’t see it. The rotation could be good, as Tyson Ross is consistent and has an ERA around 3.00, and James Shields though not a true number one is still a better option than most pitchers. Andrew Cashner had a terrible season but could bounce back for production similar to Ross’s. I’m excited to see how Drew Pomeranz does in his first full season as a starter, he was great as a spot starter and reliever for the Athletics and I think he could potentially be a hidden gem of a pitcher. The offense won’t be anything special, the infield is a mish mash of players who aren’t worth talking about and the outfield probably won’t be much better. Matt Kemp has been bad since coming back from all his injuries and Wil Myers can’t put together a full season. I’m not expecting too much from the Padres
The Colorado Rockies will be the same as they were last year, a good offense with absolutely no pitching. Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, DJ LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, and Nick Hundley all played well last season which can be expected this season. That being said the pitching is bad enough where this team won’t even be .500. The rotation is that awful. This team will not be good.