Are the San Francisco Giants a dynasty? Will the Nats or Dodgers finally play up to their talent level and make it to the Fall Classic? How will Giancarlo Stanton react mentally when he steps into the box after his gruesome injury last season? Compelling stuff, no? The National League has a few teams (just a few) which can be considered “powerhouses,” but 2015 also offers few surprises in my opinion. Some teams definitely improved, but are not yet ready to knock off the teams that are the class of their respective divisions. Joe Maddon moving over to the National League is an intriguing storyline, taking over a team that been waiting for glory for over a century. Here’s how the NL will shape out. Getcha popcorn and pitchforks ready…
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
1st Place- Washington Nationals
This is probably the easiest, sexiest pick in the National League- a loaded team playing in a piss poor division usually equals a playoff berth in October. Washington will wrap up this bucket o’ crap NL East division by Labor Day. The lineup will score its fair share of runs, with Denard Span (.302 BA/.355 OBP/31 steals) leading off playing centerfield, and their 3-4-5 hitters from 2014 are all back: Jayson Werth (.292/16/82), Bryce Harper (.273/13/32 in only 100 games), and shortstop Ian Desmond (.255/24/91). The bottom half of the lineup is nothing to sneeze at either with Ryan Zimmerman at first base (.280/5/38 in only 61 games), Anthony Rendon at third base (.287/21/83), and Wilson Ramos doing the catching (.267/11/47). The Nationals’ pitching staff is what is going to set Washington apart in the National League in general and in the NL East in particular. The starters who were returning from last year were solid in their own right, a staff that includes Jordan Zimmerman (14-5, 2.66 ERA, 199.2 IP), Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14 ERA, 215.0 IP), Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41 ERA, 164.0 IP), and Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57 ERA, 164.0 IP). Then in late January, they went out and signed the best starting pitcher on the free agent market to a seven-year, $210 million deal- right hander Max Scherzer (18-5, 3.15 ERA, and career highs with 220.1 IP and 252 Ks). With the addition of Scherzer to an already capable staff, the Nationals now have the arms to go into a series against Los Angeles, San Francisco and St. Louis and come out victorious. The bullpen is their potential weak spot, especially after losing closer Rafael Soriano in free agency. Drew Storen should be the most-likely candidate to handle the 9th inning. Last season, Storen saved 11 games with a sparkling 1.12 ERA. The wild card for the Nationals is right hander Tanner Roark, who went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA last year in 31 starts. If he comes anywhere close to those numbers again, this is a team that can win the whole thing. This will make the folks up in Montreal cringe in disgust, but the Washington Nationals are the best team in the National League.
2nd Place- Miami Marlins
There’s one unique stat about the Florida/Miami Marlins that has always struck a chord with me: they have been in existence for over 20 years now, and have only made the postseason twice. However, in both of those seasons- 1997 and 2003 –the Fish have run the table and won the World Series. They’re batting 1.000 in postseason play! It won’t continue in 2015 because there are too many other strong teams in the Central and West that will vie for the NL Wild Card spots, but the Marlins are getting better every season (really). The batting order with the exception of Giancarlo Stanton (.288/37/105) is average, but has the potential to be very good. They did go out and add Michael Morse (.279/16/61 w/ SF) and Martin Prado (.321/12/58 w/ Arizona and NYY) which should improve their run production, but this team has some question marks in the every day lineup. Stanton is joined in the outfield by 23-year-old Marcell Ozuna in center (.269/23/85) and 22-year-old Christian Yelich in left (.284/9/54). That’s a spectacular young outfield that will continue to get better. Their starting rotation, at least on paper, is pretty solid and should help them finish a distant second to the Nats. Jose Fernandez is a stud who was limited to only eight starts in 2014, but the year before on a bad team was an All-Star and was voted NL Rookie of the Year (12-6, 2.19 ERA, 172.2 IP). Fernandez is surrounded by Henderson Alvarez (12-7, 2.65 ERA, 187.0 IP), veteran Mat Latos (5-5, 3.25 ERA in only 16 starts for Cincinnati), and Jarred Cosart (4-4, 2.39 ERA in 10 starts last season). As insurance for their rotation, the Marlins swung a trade for Dan Haren, who won 13 games last season for the Dodgers. That’s a good starting staff, one that makes me believe that a winning season is on the horizon. The bullpen is average, last year Steve Cishek recorded 39 saves but had an ERA of 3.17, and his set up men include left Mike Dunn (3.16 ERA in 75 appearances), A.J. Ramos (2.11 ERA in 68 appearances), and Bryan Morris (0.66 ERA in 39 appearances). The wild card for the Marlins is right hander, Tom Koehler, who went 10-10 with a 3.81 ERA in 32 starts last season. For the Marlins to challenge the Nats (impossible, but humor me), he needs to have an even better showing than his 2014 season. The Marlins won’t win the World Series in 2015, but they’re due to run the table and win it all any year now. And when they do…. FIRE SALE!!!
3rd Place- New York Mets
Okay, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for the fans in Flushing. The good news is that Matt Harvey appears to be healthy and ready to go, and they are trending in the right direction. The bad news? The Mets are still nowhere close to challenging for this division (I think I’ve made that point at least 37 times already with my feelings for Washington). Nonetheless, the Mets aren’t too far off from contending for the playoffs again. Matt Harvey is back (9-5, 2.27 ERA, 178.1 ERA, 191 Ks in 2013), and assuming he’s healthy is surrounded by a good starting staff in Jacob deGrom (9-6, 2.69 ERA, 140.1 IP), Zack Wheeler (11-11, 3.54 ERA, 185.1 IP), and lefty Jon Niese (9-11, 3.40 ERA, 187.2 IP). And if all else fails, 72-year-old, 468 pound Bartolo Colon can eat up innings, pun very much intended (202.1 IP last year, 15 wins). The bullpen is good, not great. Closer Jenrry Mejia saved 28 games last year but had a mediocre ERA for a closer (3.65). Now, will the Mets score runs? They have some good hitters, but third baseman David Wright is coming off of probably the worst season of his career (.269/8/63). He will need to rebound for the Mets to improve upon last years 79-83 finish. Sensing a need for some offense, the Mets signed 35-year-old Michael Cuddyer to protect Wright and first baseman Lucas Duda in the lineup. He played well in limited action for Colorado last year (.332/10/31 in 49 games) but it seems like a reach to expect him to be the player he was in Minnesota. The Mets don’t have a traditional leadoff guy, but they could turn to Curtis Granderson (.227/20/66, .326 OBP) or second baseman Daniel Murphy (.289/9/57, .332 OBP). The wild card for the Mets is first baseman, Lucas Duda. He needs to repeat his 2014 season (.253/30/92) for the Mets to remain competitive, because the lineup lacks depth. Harvey, deGrom and Wheeler aren’t exactly Seaver and Koosman, but you gatta start somewhere.
4th Place- Atlanta Braves
I would say that the Braves fans won’t have much to cheer about in 2015, but most natives of Atlanta would undoubtedly respond by saying “we have a baseball team?” Hahaha I’m sorry, they’re the worst pro sports fans in the country and I couldn’t resist the jab….forgive me. Let’s look at what they did this offseason first. They signed Nick Markakis as a free agent. He’s a good player, but he’s not the guy who will lead you to the Promised Land. Baltimore knew that, and also saw his slight decline over the past few seasons and decided to let him walk. Reliever Jim Johnson put up gaudy save totals with the Orioles (101 saves in two seasons), but his ERA ballooned to over 7.00 last season for Oakland and Detroit. Not an upgrade by any means. On the flip side, they traded right fielder Jason Heyward (.271/11/58, 20 steals in 24 attempts, Gold Glove right fielder) to St. Louis, and lost starter Ervin Santana to free agency. The only players to hit over 20 home runs for the Braves last year- Evan Gattis (22) and Justin Upton (29)- are both gone. Unless the Braves’ brass knows something that we all don’t, this team isn’t going to score runs at all. The rotation is a far cry from Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz. Julio Teheran (14-13, 2.89 ERA, 221.0 IP) and Alex Wood (11-11, 2.78 ERA, 171.2 IP) are good, but after that there isn’t much there. They made a trade with the Cardinals for Shelby Miller, who was average for St. Louis in 2014 (10-9, 3.74 ERA, 183.0 IP), but won’t be enough to keep the Braves around the .500 mark. Atlanta has an okay bullpen, but the only sure thing is closer Craig Kimbrel at the back end (47 saves in 63 appearances, 1.61 ERA). How often are they going to hand him a lead? The wild card for the Braves is centerfielder B.J. Upton, who had a miserable 2014 (.208/12/35). If he can get himself back to the player he was in Tampa Bay and sock 25 or more home runs with 80+ RBIs, it will help keep the Braves’ offense from being historically anemic. The Braves are rebuilding, and they’re a bad club. But they’re still better than these guys that I’m about to talk about….
5th Place- Philadelphia Phillies
In a rabid city with psychotic, passionate fans who once booed Santa Claus, I can only imagine what the Phillies are in for this season. The Phillies have FINALLY started selling off pieces of the 2008 World Series Champions, shipping shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers in December, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. needs to pull the trigger this summer on a number of guys. Cole Hamels (9-9, 2.46 ERA, 204.2 IP) should be the first to go, as he should bring the best return of prospects. Cliff Lee (4-5, 3.65 ERA, 81.1 IP) has almost no value at this point, as the 35-year-old lefty was just put on the 60-day DL to rehab his elbow and probably to avoid surgery, but he looks close to done. Amazingly, even with the trade of J-Roll, the Phillies still have three regulars from their 2008 World Championship team: second baseman Chase Utley (.270/11/78), catcher Carlos Ruiz (.252/6/31), and first baseman Ryan Howard (.223/23/95- and a whopping $50 million over the next two seasons….in other words, untradeable). The starting rotation after Hamels is sub-par, and the bullpen has Justin De Fratus (2.39 ERA in 54 games) and closer Jonathan Papelbon (39 saves, 2.04 ERA), but little else. The Phillies are a mess, and waited far too long to unload their aging stars. After 2011, it was time to sell high. Here we are, FOUR years later, and the Phillies are one of the worst teams in the Major Leagues. The wild card for the Phillies is left fielder, Domonic Brown. The 26-year-old had a breakout, All-Star season in 2013 (.272/27/83) and followed up with a disappointing 2014 (.235/10/63). With so many veterans likely out the door by July 31st, the Phillies need a big bat in the middle of their lineup. Rough times for Philly fans….Chip Kelly is insane, the Flyers are on the outside looking in, the 76ers are TRYING to lose, and the Phillies are trying to win but are failing miserably at it. Do you guys miss Mitch Williams, yet?
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
1st Place- St. Louis Cardinals
Death, taxes, and the St. Louis Cardinals winning the NL Central.…lather, rinse, repeat. Many prognosticators and so-called baseball experts actually picked the Cubs to win this division. This is living proof that we need to get crack off the streets. The Cardinals won 90 games last year and knocked off the National League favorites, the Dodgers, in the division series last fall. They dropped the NLCS to the eventual champion Giants, but each game was close.…including two excruciating losses in San Francisco in games 3 and 5. St. Louis is the model franchise in Major League Baseball; they don’t have a payroll that’s out of site, but they draft, develop, and produce excellent major league talent- especially pitchers. The lineup is basically unchanged, with Matt Carpenter (.272/8/59- and the NL hits leader in 2013), who will likely shift over to third with 23-year-old Kolten Wong (.249/12/42) taking over at second base. Matt Adams (.288/15/68) is at first, Jhonny Peralta (.263/21/75) is at short, and perhaps the best catcher in the game Yadier Molina (.282/7/38 in 110 games) behind the plate. The rotation is rock solid and consistent: Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA, 227.0 IP), Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74 ERA, 203.3 IP), John Lackey (3-3, 4.30 ERA, 60.2 IP after the trade from Boston), Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.20 ERA, 107.0 IP), and Carlos Martinez (primarily a reliever, but St. Louis will stretch him out to round out the rotation). The bullpen has live arms, but their best reliever from last season, Pat Nesheck, was lost in free agency. And with Carlos Martinez moving into a starting role, the pen could be the weak link. But since the Cardinals seemingly grow 22-year-old kids that throw 97 mph on trees, I’m sure they’ll plug the leaks. The wild card for the Cardinals is newly-acquired right fielder, Jason Heyward. Despite winning 90 games and winning a playoff series last fall, St. Louis had only a plus-16 in run differential for the season. The tragic death of their outfield prospect Oscar Taveras in October made such a deal mandatory, and Heyward will need to produce in a big way in the middle of their lineup behind left fielder Matt Holliday. The NL Central is a decent division, but in the end the Cardinals will be spraying the champagne as division champs in September. Ho hum…
2nd Place- Pittsburgh Pirates
If there is a team in the NL Central who has any chance to knock off the Cardinals, it’s Pittsburgh. The only significant loss for the Buccos over the winter was the defection of catcher Russell Martin, but they traded for former Yankee backstop Francisco Cervelli in November to handle their pitching staff. Cervelli is not a household name but he’s a good defensive catcher, and hit .301 for the Yanks in 49 games last season. Josh Harrison had a big year in 2014 (.315/13/52) and will hold down third base to keep his bat in the lineup, with Jordy Mercer at short (.255/12/55), Neil Walker at second (.271/23/76), and Pedro Alvarez moving from third base to first. The Pirates may very well have the best outfield in baseball, with 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen in center field (.314/25/83), Starling Marte leading off and playing left (.291/13/56), and 22-year-old Gregory Polanco (.235/7/33 in 89 games) in right. The rotation is okay, but by no means dominant. Young fire baller Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.65 ERA, 138.0 IP) is backed up by Francisco Liriano (7-10, 3.38 ERA, 162.1 IP), lefty Jeff Locke (7-6, 3.91 ERA, 131.1 IP), and Vance Worley (8-4, 2.85 ERA, 110.2 IP). The Pirates are known for their bullpen, which led the Major Leagues in ERA in 2013 (2.89). Those number were up in 2014 (3.29), but Mark Melancon (1.90 ERA), Jared Hughes (1.96 ERA), and Tony Watson (1.63 ERA) had fantastic seasons. If the starters can go six innings or deeper, they should be in good shape. The wild card for the Pirates is first baseman, Pedro Alvarez. If Pittsburgh is going to topple St. Louis instead of settling for a Wild Card, Alvarez needs to forget about his abysmal 2014 season (.231/18/56) and revert back to his 2013 All-Star form (.233/36/100). I still expect the Cardinals to take the division because they’ve been there so many times. But the Pirates have so much young talent that I wouldn’t be surprised if they claimed their first division crown since Jim Leyland and Barry Bonds were in the Steel City.
3rd Place- Milwaukee Brewers
This team is coming off of a disastrous second half last year for one reason: they’re not that good. Baseball fans, including myself, were amazed last season when they had a record of 51-32 on June 28th and held a 6.5 game lead in the Central. Predictably, the hot streak didn’t last, and the Brewers came crashing back down to reality with a 29-47 record after July 1st. The Brewers have some good bats; Ryan Braun* (.266/19/81), Khris Davis (.244/22/69), Carlos Gomez (.284/23/73), an aging Aramis Ramirez (.285/15/66), and had a phenomenal offensive output from their catcher, Jonathan Lucroy (.301/13/69). Despite the fire-power, Milwaukee scored just 227 runs after the All-Star break, the third-worst total in the National League. The rotation is still in one piece, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yovani Gallardo (8-11, 3.51 ERA, 192.1 IP), Matt Garza (8-8, 3.64 ERA, 163.1 IP), Wily Peralta (17-11, 3.53 ERA, 198.2 IP), and Kyle Lohse (13-9, 3.54 ERA, 198.1 IP) all had decent seasons in 2014. The bullpen will not be as cut and dry as the rotation. Jonathan Broxton came over in a trade from Cincinnati last season (1.86 ERA with the Reds, a horrific 4.35 ERA with Milwaukee), and will be the team’s closer, at least for now. Should he completely fail, the Brewers resigned veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez a couple of weeks ago….and it may very well come to that. The wild card for the Brew Crew will be first baseman, Adam Lind. Milwaukee acquired Lind in a trade with Toronto to spark the lineup but Lind is coming off of an injury-plagued season (.321/6/40 in 96 games) and is basically a DH that they’re sticking at first base. The Brewers are a flawed team but their reliable if not spectacular staring pitching will keep them hovering right around respectability, but no higher than that.
4th Place- Chicago Cubs
The fans of the Chicago Cubs who are dreaming about a division title need to wake up and smell the pine tar. No friggin’ chance that they come anywhere close to winning the NL Central. I will say this, though- not only are they better than they were a year ago, the Cubs are going to be a very good baseball team for years to come. The first thing the Cubs did this winter that instantly made them batter was prying the best manager in the game, Joe Maddon, from baseball Hell (Tampa Bay). That move alone guarantees that you’re not going to finish in last place. The next thing the Cubs did was to add something that they haven’t had in over a decade: an ace. Enter, Jon Lester. It took six years and $155 million that the Red Sox weren’t willing to cough up a year ago, but Chicago now has a leader in the rotation, a guy who you know can give you a quality start every fifth day. But get serious, Cubs fans; there isn’t much after Lester. Jake Arietta has pitched well since being traded over to the National League, but he was abhorrent in Baltimore (20-25, 5.46 ERA in four seasons), same for Jason Hammel (2-6, 4.36 ERA in Oakland). Kyle Hendricks showed some promise last year (7-2, 2.46 ERA, 80.1 IP), but Travis Wood (8-13, 5.03 ERA, 173.2) practically went on the DL from whiplash he got knocked around so much. The bullpen consist of a pretty good closer in Hector Rondon (29 saves in 64 appearances, 2.42 ERA), but the rest of the bullpen has a combined ERA of just under 4.00. The lineup has some definite bright spots in first baseman Anthony Rizzo (.286/32/78), shortstop Starlin Castro (.292/14/65), and third baseman Luis Valbuena (.249/16/51), but lacks enough offense elsewhere to stay competitive. The wild card for the Cubs is their 22-year-old outfielder, Jorge Soler. Last season in 24 games, he hit 5 homers and drove in 20 runs (while batting .292). If he can mature, the Cubs three best hitters will be under 25 years of age….as I said, not ready to contend, but a promising future ahead. They’re still nowhere good enough to have serious aspirations of winning the division, but the farm system is among the best in the major leagues, just as Theo Epstein had planned. I mean, Cubbies fans have already been waiting 107 years for a winner, what’s a few more seasons?
5th Place- Cincinnati Reds
Who thought that signing Joey Votto to a 10-year, $225 million contract was a good idea? Show of hands. Anyone? Bueller?? Exactly. That deal was signed before the 2012 season, after Votto had averaged .317/33/108 the previous two seasons while capturing the 2010 NL MVP. Since? He’s averaging .299/15/51. That’s a bad, bad sign for a small market team who can’t afford to pay anyone that amount of money. If he’s falling off this badly now, what will he look like in 2024? The Reds were a pathetic lineup a year ago, so I guess there’s nowhere to go but up. Only three players were in double digits for home runs: catcher Devin Mesoraco (25), third baseman Todd Frazier (29), and right fielder Jay Bruce (16). Not ONE hitter in their lineup drove in 100 runs; Mesoraco and Frazier tied for the team lead with 80 runs batted in. Cincinnati scored only 218 runs (slightly over 3 runs per game) in the second half. I think you get the picture; this team is aging and will struggle to score. The rotation is led by Johnny Cueto (20-9, 2.25 ERA, 243.2 IP), but Mike Leake (11-13, 3.70 ERA, 214.1 IP) and Homer Bailey (9-5, 3.71 ERA, 145.2 IP) are constantly up and down. This staff will miss Alfredo Simon (15-12, 3.44 ERA, 196.1 IP), as right now their probable fourth and fifth starters are Tony Cingrani (2-8, 4.55 ERA, 63.1 IP) and David Homberg (2-2, 4.80 ERA, 30.0 IP), assuming that Dylan Axelrod (2-1, 2.95 ERA, 18.1 IP) starts the year in the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman will be closing (36 saves in 54 appearances, 2.00 ERA), but he’s surrounded by set up guys who can’t set up: J.J. Hoover (4.88 ERA), Manny Parra (4.66 ERA), Logan Ondrusek (5.49 ERA), and Sam LeCure (3.81 ERA). The wild card for the Reds is centerfielder and speed demon, Billy Hamilton. Cincinnati’s best bet to score runs will be for Hamilton to get on base (.292 OBP, which needs to improve) and use his speed (56 steals in 79 attempts: 77%) to manufacture runs. The only thing that Reds fans have to look forward to is a possible reinstatement of Pete Rose, because they will fall far short of the postseason, and dead last in the NL Central.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
1st Place- Los Angeles Dodgers
This selection was a bit more difficult than the NL East was, because unlike the Nationals, the Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t a slam dunk to win the division. I know the Giants have won three World Series Championships in five years, but I can’t go against the electric arms and scary firepower that the Dodgers possess. Los Angeles lost some guys during the offseason, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez among others, but they have dominant front line starting pitching. Clayton Kershaw (21-3, 1.77 ERA, 198.1 IP, 239 Ks….absurd) is the best pitcher on the planet. He turns 27-years-old tomorrow and has already won THREE Cy Young Awards, and is the ONLY pitcher in the history of baseball to lead all of MLB in ERA four consecutive years. Pedro Martinez is the greatest pitcher that I’ve ever seen, but Kershaw is making a case to be every bit as good, if not better, than Pedro. Alright, let’s move on….I could literally talk about this kid all day, but we’ve got four other teams to talk about. The ‘other guys’ in the Dodgers’ rotation aren’t shabby, either. Zack Greinke (17-8, 2.71 ERA, 202.1 IP), Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-7, 3.38 ERA, 152.0 IP) back up Kershaw. To round out the bottom of the rotation, LA signed Brandon McCarthy (7-5, 2.89 ERA, 90.0 IP w/ NYY) and lefty Brett Anderson (1-3, 2.91 ERA, 43.1 IP- only eight starts) as free agents in December. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, their bullpen isn’t the equal of their rotation. They have a good closer in Kenley Jansen (2.76 ERA, 44 saves in 68 appearances- 101 Ks), but the rest of their bullpen blew nine saves and had a combined record of 18-21. Bottom line, you won’t get to the Dodgers early, but you have a chance in the 7th and 8th. The lineup added veteran Jimmy Rollins from Philadelphia to play short (.243/17/55 with 28 steals last year), and Howie Kendrick (.293/7/75 w/ LAA) to play second base. Adrian Gonzalez (.276/27/116) and Juan Uribe (.311/9/54) are at the corner infield positions and Yasmani Grandal is behind the plate (.225/15/49 w/ SD- acquired in the Kemp trade). The outfield will miss Kemp’s power (25 homers, 89 RBIs), but Carl Crawford (.300/8/46) and Yasiel Puig (.296/16/69) will pick up the slack. The wild card for the Dodgers is relief pitcher, Brandon League. With the set up roles up for grabs, League needs to repeat his 2014 performance (2.57 ERA in 63 appearances), or exceed it. This team is loaded, and seems destined to clash with Washington for the NL Pennant.
2nd Place- San Francisco Giants
Is it the return of the odd-year jinx in San Fran? Hunter Pence might agree. How else do you explain his fractured forearm from being hit by a pitch a couple of weeks ago? It’s true, the Giants have had miserable seasons following World Championship campaigns in 2011 and 2013, but barring their clubhouse resembling a MASH unit, that won’t happen in 2015. The Giants lost Pablo Sandoval to Boston and Michael Morse to Miami which is going to weaken their lineup to some degree, but it’s still good enough with the pitchers they have. Buster Posey (.311/22/89) is still (for now) catching, with Brandon Belt at first base (.243/12/27 in 61 games), rookie Joe Panik at second (.305/1/18 in 73 games), Brandon Crawford at shortstop (.246/10/69), and Casey McGehee (.287/4/76) at third, who was acquired in a trade with Miami to fill the void left by Sandoval. And in the outfield, left to right, is Gregor Blanco (.260/5/38), Angel Pagan (.300/3/27), and Pence (.277/20/74). One concern for San Fran has to be their lack of power hitters, compounded by playing half of their games in a ballpark more spacious than Yellowstone, and they finished dead last in the National League last year with 56 stolen bases. Still, expect manager Bruce Bochy to push all the right buttons to manufacture runs. The Giants have their ace, all-world postseason conqueror and World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner (regular season: 18-10, 2.98 ERA, 217.1 IP, 219Ks….excellent. postseason: 4-1, 1.18 ERA, 52.2 IP….DOMINANT). Backing Bumgarner up is the return of Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, and Jake Peavy. Unlike their hated So Cal rivals, San Francisco has a reliable bullpen. They have the arms to match up with left handed power bats with Javier Lopez (3.11 ERA in 65 appearances) and Jeremy Affeldt (2.28 ERA in 62 appearances), and George Kontos (2.78 ERA in 24 appearances) and Jean Machi (2.58 ERA in 71 appearances) to match up with right handed hitters. Sergio Romo (23 saves in 64 appearances, 3.72 ERA) and Santiago Casilla (19 saves in 54 appearances, 1.70 ERA) split the closing duties a year ago, and it seemed to work out. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. The wild card for the Giants is right hander and for two-time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum. What the hell happened to the Freak? Since the beginning of the 2012 season, Lincecum is 32-38 with an ERA of 4.76. In the five years prior to that, he was 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA. Something went wrong, but if he ever ‘finds it’ and can be the pitcher that he has four or five years ago, the Dodgers should be worried. The Giants won’t win the NL West, but they’ll be in the Wild Card playoff and have a chance to defend their title.
3rd Place- San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres aren’t going to contend for the NL West title, let’s not get carried away. But the Padres made some bold moves that potentially make them a dangerous team in the next couple of years. Their new outfield of Matt Kemp (.287/25/89), Justin Upton (.270/29/102), and Wil Myers (.294/6/35 in 87 games), will definitely help a Padres offense that was historically poor in 2014. Their 535 runs were last in the National League and the fewest runs a Padres team had scored since 1972. The problem is that even with those moves, San Diego has a pitiful offense. Of their returning position players, nobody batted higher than .240 and nobody hit more than 10 home runs. I understand that you’re in the same division with LA and San Fran, but that’s simply not good enough. The starting rotation is better with the addition of James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA, 227 IP), and he will be a great compliment to Ian Kennedy (13-13, 3.63 ERA, 201.0 IP) and Tyson Ross (13-14, 2.81 ERA, 195.2 IP), who both had good seasons but lacked run support. Rounding out the rotation will likely be Andrew Cashner (5-7, 2.55 ERA, 123.1 IP), and Brandon Morrow, who is coming off of an injury-plagued season with Toronto. The bullpen doesn’t have any big names, but they had a NL-best 2.73 ERA in 2014, and Joaquin Benoit saved 11 games last season with a 1.49 ERA after Huston Street was traded to the Angels. The wild card for the Padres is newly-acquired third baseman, Will Middlebrooks. He fell out of favor in Boston and was terrible last season (.191/2/19), but hit 15 and 17 home runs respectively during his first two seasons. With a team needing offense, the Padres would love to see Middlebrooks rebound in a big way. Shields, Upton, Kemp and Myers make the Padres a better team; not good enough to win a division title but certainly good enough to stay in the hunt and make things interesting.
4th Place- Arizona Diamondbacks
There’s not a lot to like in the desert. The lineup, starting rotation and bullpen are all equally underwhelming, and there is a strong possibility that they won’t escape the NL West basement. But let’s pop the hood and take a look anyway. Paul Goldschmidt is the real deal, so they’ve got that going for them, although he’s coming off of a mediocre season power-wise (.300/19/69). Second baseman Aaron Hill (.244/10/60) will bat in front of Goldy, with Mark Trumbo (.235/14/61) batting cleanup, and the D-Backs coughed up a six-year, $68.5 million contract for Cuban star third base prospect, Yasmany Tomas. Other than that, not much else gets you excited about Arizona’s lineup. Like I said, very underwhelming. The rotation is led by the legendary Jeremy Hellickson. Obvious sarcasm, but to be fair he had a couple of good seasons in Tampa Bay. The rest of this motley crew consists of Josh Collmenter (11-9, 3.46 ERA, 179.1 IP), Allen Webster (5-3, 5.03 ERA, 59.0 IP), and Rubby De La Rosa (4-8, 4.43 ERA, 101.2 IP). That’s not a staff that you can feel confident in over the course of a 162-game season. The bullpen is uninspiring. Their best reliever as of now is probably their closer Addison Reed, who saved 32 games but had an ERA of 4.25. The wild card for the Diamondbacks is right hander, Bronson Arroyo. He won’t be ready to start the season, but he’s the best pitcher on their staff. If he can give them anything in the second half, they just might finish ahead of this next team…
5th Place- Colorado Rockies
I’m not about to write War and Peace over a last place, dead ass team, so I promise to make this one quick. The Rockies have some bats, and play in probably the most hitter-friendly park in the National League. Guys like Troy Tulowitzki (.340/21/52), Carlos Gonzalez (.238/11/38 in 70 games), Corey Dickerson (.312/24/76), Justin Morneau (.319/17/82), Wilin Rosario (.267/13/54), and Nolan Arenado (.287/18/61) will score some runs. Their offense isn’t the problem; it’s never the problem with the Colorado Rockies. Can anyone guess what their problem is???? and always will be???? Pitching, or lack thereof. Their starting rotation from 2014 is coming back, and not one of their starters had and ERA under 4.00: Jorge De La Rosa- 4.10. Franklin Morales- 5.37. Jordan Lyles- 4.33. Jhoulys Chacin- 5.40. Tyler Matzek- 4.05. That is absolutely embarrassing. The bullpen isn’t any better. Their best reliever last year was 41-year-old LaTroy Hawkins, who saved 23 games with an ERA of 3.31. Seriously, go on baseballreference.com if you don’t believe me! I couldn’t make this up. The wild card for the Rockies is anyone who can finish the season with an ERA at or lower than 3.50 with at least 25 starts or 50 or more appearances out of the bullpen. Expect this team to lose games by scores of 15-12 and finish at the bottom of the barrel in the NL West. Enough analysis, let’s play the games and see if I’m right.