National League Previews
(Teams listed in order of finish)
Give the Los Angeles Dodgers credit for trying. For the last two seasons, they’ve represented the National League in the World Series. In 2017, they lost to the Houston Astros. Last year, the Boston Red Sox beat them.
So now, the question is do the Dodgers have an NL three-peat in them? Or is this time for someone else to expresses themselves.
There was no bigger surprise in Major League Baseball than the young, upstart Braves. They won 90 games and the NL East – for the first time since 2013 – by relying on a cadre of young stars that quickly rose up the ranks, like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, Jr., the NL Rookie of the Year.
To that mix, the Braves have added some veterans. Josh Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million deal to play third and catcher Brian McCann returns to the place his career began. They have also resigned Nick Markakis to maintain punch in the outfield. And they have Freddie Freeman at first.
The pitching staff will be led again by All-Star Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb and Julio Teheran. Some new names to look for: right-handers Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright.
Before free agency began, Phillies ownership pledged it had a lot of crazy money to spend and made it clear Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were in its sights. Machado got the bag courtesy of the Padres, and while they’re still the frontrunner for the Harper sweepstakes, they’ll need to close this
Still, the Phillies look like they are ready to go for it this season. They have acquired major parts such as catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Juan Segura, outfielder Andrew McCutchen and reliever David Robertson.
Frankly, their lineup needed a boost. The team hit only .234 last season and struck out an incredible 1,520 times. This shortcoming was instrumental in losing 33 of their final 49 games to drop them from contention.
New York Mets
The Mets have made a lot of changes, beginning with the hiring of a baseball agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, as their new general manager. And Van Wagenen has been perhaps the busiest executive in the game trying to lift the team from a 77-win season.
New York traded for second baseman Robinson Cano and reliever Edwin Diaz (57 saves) and signed free agents, including utilityman Jed Lowrie, catcher Wilson Ramos, relievers Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson, outfielder Keon Broxton and infielder J.D. Davis.
Injury will prevent their highest-paid player, Yoenis Cespedes, from playing until at least the summer, but the Mets have a young power-hitting first baseman, Peter Alonso. Still, the strength of this team is its starting pitching, Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler.
The Nationals have truly become an enigma. They won only 82 games in 2018 after being picked to win the division. It’s not what they expected after hiring Dave Martinez to be their manager.
And now, unless something major changes, they will move on without Harper, who reportedly turned down $300 million to stay. The good news is outfielder Juan Soto might be the best young player in the NL.
The Nats have revamped, adding pitchers Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal. They also traded for catcher Yan Gomes and signed veteran second baseman Brian Dozier. Corbin, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg give them one of the best front three starters in the game.
Derek Jeter’s deconstruction of what once was a mighty lineup continued earlier this month with the trade of Realmuto to the Phillies. It’s all but official now. With the exception of third baseman Martin Prado, all of the team’s high-priced veterans have been shipped out.
In a bold statement last week, Jeter said he will have no patience this season with a team that won just 63 games and drew just over 800,000 (the worst in MLB). But who is on board to help manager Don Mattingly turn it around?
Catcher Jorge Alfaro was acquired for Realmuto and veterans Neil Walker and Curtis Granderson were signed to add ballast to the young clubhouse. Starlin Castro is a nice second baseman, but a lasting memory of how little they received trading Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees.
The Brewers had a great year in 2018, winning 96 games, the NL Central, and getting all the way to National League Championship Series, where they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They had an exciting team and players that seemed to enjoy each other’s company. And they had the NL MVP in Yelich.
To their credit, they did not make a lot of changes. They even re-signed third baseman Mike Moustakas, but lost pitcher Wade Miley to the Astros. If there is an upgrade, it’s at catcher where Yasmani Grandal and his power bat (24 home runs) have come over from the Dodgers.
More than many other teams, the Brewers leaned a lot on their bullpen last season, particularly in the NLCS. That does not appear to be a sustainable formula for an entire season. Starter Jimmy Nelson returns after missing 2018 with a shoulder injury.
The Cubs won 95 games last season, but they blew a big divisional lead and wound up losing to the Colorado Rockies in the Wild Card game. And as much as the team they will chase, the Brewers, there is not a lot to report regarding personnel.
Much of the Cubs pop was missing last season. Kris Bryant played in only 102 games because of a shoulder injury and hit just 13 homers. If not for Anthony Rizzo, the middle of the lineup would have looked barren because Kyle Schwarber didn’t have a good season, either.
The starting staff will be led again by lefthander Cole Hamels, but much is going to depend on whether Yu Darvish can recover his injury-plagued, inconsistent season. The closer to start will be Pedro Strop, which means a lot of tension at the end of games.
David Bell takes over as manager and this season appears much different than the past, particularly last season when they finished last in the division with 67 wins. The Reds look like they want to contend.
The big news was the major deal with the Dodgers that brought them outfielders Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and pitcher Alex Wood – and ridded them of depressingly bad starter Homer Bailey. They have also added pitchers Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark.
They did part with longtime outfielder Billy Hamilton and serviceable starter Matt Harvey, but the most pressing problem is getting fans interested in the team again. The home attendance last season fell to 1,629,356, their lowest 24 seasons. That’s important because their city loves them.
St. Louis Cardinals
Another new manager debuts in Mike Shildt, who actually finished the 2018 season after Mike Matheny was fired. The club won 41 of its last 69 games to convince management he should stay.
This season – perhaps only this season – he will get to manage first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who the Arizona Diamondbacks consented to trade when convinced they likely would not be able to sign him when he becomes a free agent in 2020. Goldy and reliever Andrew Miller, a tough lefty, are the Cardinals two new players of consequence.
St. Louis has the makings of a nice outfield with and Marcell Ozuna, but Dexter Fowler is coming off a bad season and Ozuna off shoulder surgery. Carlos Martinez will be their top starter.
This could be it for manager Clint Hurdle, who begins his ninth season in Pittsburgh. A lot has been expected from his teams and last year they allowed the Brewers to surpass them, which was not a good thing.
They made a few changes, like bringing in outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall -to sub for injured Gregory Polanco – and lefthander Francisco Liriano and trading Jordy Mercer, Ivan Nova and allowing Josh Harrison to leave in free agency.
The Pirates do have a nice young staff, led by Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams. Jung Ho Kang is back at third base or shortstop after missing two seasons due to visa issues stemming from DUI convictions in South Korea.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The World Series runner-up has mixed things up, highlighted by that big trade with the Reds. But they also added outfielder A.J. Pollock, reliever Joe Kelly and brought back catcher Russell Martin.
Of course, they were not able re-sign Manny Machado, who was so important to the postseason run. And losing Kemp and Puig will make for a new feel in the outfield. But the Dodgers are deep there.
Six straight division titles and two straight appearances in the World Series have the organization feeling good and there should be no problem winning the west again.
The Rockies had a very good 2018. They likely surprised themselves by finishing second in the division (after losing a tiebreaker with the Dodgers) and making it to the NLDS where the lost to the Brewers. But Colorado had a number of really good players.
They have lost a few of them. D.J. LeMahieu now plays for the Yankees, as does reliever Adam Ottavino. The only new player of note is Daniel Murphy, a second baseman who will be asked to play first. Second base might belong to rookie Brendan Rogers, if he has a good camp.
The lineup is otherwise stacked with Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado, who will be a free agent after the season. The team hit 201 homers in 2018, but hit only .256, remarkably bad considering they play half their games at Coors Field.
The loss of Goldschmidt, Pollock and Corbin are going to hurt the Diamondbacks very much. Goldy was probably the franchise’s most beloved player, Pollock is a great outfielder and Corbin led the starting staff. And all they have to compensate in return is infielder Wilmer Flores and pitcher Luke Weaver, who came over the Goldschmidt deal.
Arizona is planning to move Jake Lamb to first and let Eduardo Escobar play third. Ketel Marte will likely move from second to center to take over for Pollock.
Replacing Corbin will be up to the guy who should have been leading the staff, Zack Grienke. Zack Godley and Robbie Ray will fill it out. The starters better be good because the bullpen is thin, unless you think Archie Bradley is Mariano Rivera.
San Francisco Giants
Old and reliable, Bruce Bochy begins his 13th and final season in San Francisco – he is retiring at its end – but this is not the dependable contender he one managed.
The Giants have been in a perennial rebuild and have lost 187 games in the last two seasons, which doesn’t conjure memories of Willie Mays or Barry Bonds. And they really didn’t do a lot in the offseason other than get another starter, Drew Pomeranz, and romance Harper (join the club).
It would be helpful if Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria have big seasons. And it would be nicer if the Giants could stop wondering if Madison Bumgarner may be near past his prime.
San Diego Padres
Go ahead. Name a Padres starter other than Eric Hosmer. Oh yeah, Manny Machado.
San Diego has a lot of money to spend and they proved it Tuesday by signing the prized free agent to a 10-year, $300 million deal, the second largest in MLB history behind Giancarlo Stanton’s original contract with the Miami Marlins. This has the capability of changing the entire outlook for the franchise.
Before it happened, it had been a boring offseason. The best new player to boast about was Ian Kinsler, who is now 37. But all the chips are in when it comes to shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. He is as exciting a prospect as the franchise has had in a very long time. And he’s just 20. San Diego hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006. Maybe Manny will change that soon.