The Major League 2015 season begins and the National League boasts a handful of teams that can make legitimate claims to be the best. Unlike the American League, there seems to be a greater disparity among the have and have not franchises; with a couple that made significant strides. Here is a preview of the division races.
Summary: There is no more balanced lineup and deep a rotation in the National League than in the Nation’s Capital. Young emerging talent such as Anthony Rendon compliments a balanced lineup and a most dominant pitching staff. Key to the Nationals ascent will hinges on how consistently good Bryce Harper can be. If the young phenom can be a legitimate MVP candidate, Washington could push for 100 wins. The rich got richer this offseason with Washington’s free agent acquisition or prized pitcher Max Sherzer. Among all the fanfare, the Marlins have assembles a very respectable roster and will be in the hunt for the playoffs. Signing all-world slugger Giancarlo Stanton was a key move; one that will keep one of the game’s most feared hitters in South Beach. Whether it will hamstring the front office in providing s strong supporting cast is not yet clear.
The Mets will benefit greatly having their ace Matt Harvey in the fold again. Coming off Tommy John surgery will cut his season short; and keep the Mets hovering in the .500 range as the season draws to a close. The opening day trade of closer Greg Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to San Diego for lesser talent is a clear indication that Atlanta is fully into rebuild mode. Reaching 70-74 wins may be a challenge; but the team will build towards being competitive again in time for their new stadium opening in 2017. While Atlanta is entering full rebuilding mode, the Phillies are still struggling with their identity. With high-priced pitchers (Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee) along with aging veterans Chase Utley and Ryan Howard serving more as payroll albatrosses, the 2015 season may be one where the front office frees themselves of payroll in an effort to accelerate the rebuilding process; much like Atlanta just did.
Summary: The Cardinals and Pirates will battle for division supremacy; although both are likely to play into October. St. Louis seems to be able to sustain their contending status even though key talent have departed in recent seasons. A good rotation anchored by Adam Wainwright and a young closer (Rosenthal) will certainly keep long losing streaks from occurring. A balanced offense will provide ample runs to support this staff into the playoffs. Pittsburgh has one of the game’s most dynamic players (Andrew McCutchen) centered in a lineup that has 8-10 hitters capable of hitting 15-20 home runs. Francisco Liriano heads a good rotation that can provide 10-15 wins each; while Mark Melancon regained the form that made him a top-flight reliever when in Houston.
Hope springs eternal in Chicago; where the Cobs went all-in to secure an ace starter (Jon Lester). The offense still lacks enough established talent to protect Anthony Rizzo in the lineup; while the team must determine if Sterling Castro can consistently field at shortstop. While the Cubs are not playoff-ready yet, the foundation is there for a seriously tough team in 2016 and beyond. The real wild card in this division is the Reds; who have good pitching; albeit talent that may depart in the offseason. A career years from Jonny Cueto; motivated to cash in over the winter will go along way in establishing the Reds as a playoff contender or an also-ran. Milwaukee is a team that could stay in contention through the All Star break and be buyers at the trade deadline; or they will decide to cash in their talent chips to build again. There is enough on the roster to make some believe Milwaukee could be a real sleeper in 2015; but realistically have too many holes to be legitimate this season.
Summary: The most expensive team in baseball may not be the best; but they are not far off. A rotation that is topped by Clayton Kershaw and Zach Grienke speaks to the pitching talent. The lineup now includes aging but talented shortstop Jimmy Rollins to offset some of the production lost when Hanley Ramirez departed for Boston. Barring key injuries, expect the Dodgers to be a dangerous team in 2015. The one team that benefitted the most this offseason is the San Diego Padres. Adding top of the rotation starter James Shields, along with relievers Joaquin Benoit and Greg Kimbrel solidify a pitching staff. The acquisitions of Matt Kemp, Wil Meyers and Justin Upton completely reconfigure their outfield. This is a team that could be playing late in October.
The defending champions will remain in the mix, but playoff stalwart Pablo Sandoval will hinder their offense in 2015. Of course, Madison Bumgarner is one of the elite playoff performers ever. Couple that with the return of Matt Cain to the top of the rotation will keep San Francisco among the small list of teams that could be playoff bound.
Colorado (Troy Tulowitzki) has some lineup talent, but limited depth to be a legitimate playoff contender; and Arizona will likely be a cellar dweller again this season.
Division Winners: Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles
Wild Card: San Diego, Pittsburgh
NLCS: Washington, San Diego
NL Champion: Washington