Opinions certainly differ regarding pennant predictions. It happens at this time every year. There really are a number of very good teams in baseball. There are a number of mediocre teams and some at the beginning stages of rebuilding. Or in their third iteration of rebuilding.
Since I am now part of the staff at TodaysKnuckleball.com, I was asked to complete my predictions on a staff spreadsheet. I was surprised at the diversity of opinions. That’s a good thing.
Without further explanation, by division, here are my picks for the National League:
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
New York Mets- I’m of the old school I still believe that good pitching beats good hitting. I think the Mets have more than good pitching. I think they have great pitching. They have a staff that should help them avoid a losing streak. Any from among Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, or even Bartolo Colon can stop a losing skid. I am a bit concerned about the long-term health of Harvey, but what a rotation they have compiled. Frankly, the hitting isn’t too shabby either. I like that Yoenis Cespedes has parked his home run bat on their doorstep. Neil Walker is still and underrated second baseman IMO. The Mets to squeak by the Nationals.
Washington Nationals- Few players generate the impact of Bryce Harper. I can’t imagine what Harper will produce when he’s in his chronological prime. And what damage will a healthy Anthony Rendon provide the offense? If he’s healthy all year, watch out. He can really hit the gaps with long, loud doubles. Plenty of them will feet over the fence. Add in a healthy Ryan Zimmerman and the speed of Ben Revere and we can talk about a team that could fight the Mets all season. The only pitcher that may be better than Max Scherzer may be Clayton Kershaw. And I’m really bullish on Stephen Strasburg to have a dynamite year. Add Gio Gonzalez to the mix and the Nationals could be a very well balanced, full-season contender.
Miami Marlins- Healthy once again, Giancarlo Stanton could hit 50 home runs. Do we know yet if Justin Bour can sustain the same type of solid season he had last year? I’m thinking he’ll reduce the strikeouts and increase the home runs by a few. And I have always liked Christian Yelich. This year is no exception. He’ll hit for average. And about having Jose Fernandez leading the pitching staff after he proved himself sound and healthy last year after surgery. The pitching can’t match the Mets or Nationals.
Atlanta Braves- The club is putting everything in place for their move to a new home. They have been collecting pitchers like I used to collect baseball cards when I was a kid. Some of those kids will deliver. Not just yet. I don’t see them competing in the division for a while. I do think Braves fans are going to love Ender Inciarte. He could become a fixture in Atlanta for years. Despite a lack of protection in the lineup, I’m very bullish on Freddie Freeman to have a monster season.
Philadelphia Phillies- Another rebuilding club, I think the Phillies may have waited too long to tear down the old barn. But they finally did. Watch out for young third baseman Maikel Franco. He could be a a true star as soon as this year. Cesar Hernandez is a bit of a sleeper infielder for me. He can hit and run.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Chicago Cubs- I feel sorry for the Cubs brass and the Cubs fans. It seems everywhere I turn all I hear is Cubs this and Cubs that. Can they meet the hype? I’m not sure. I’ll say it right here, right now. I don’t like the pitching depth. But man, can they rake. I do believe Kris Bryant will reduce his strikeouts. I think Kyle Schwarber is the real deal. And along with Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo is an all-world first baseman. Not to mention Jason Heyward adds a tremendous dimension to their defense. Add in a stellar Addison Russell and the stability of newly acquired Ben Zobrist and the offense is awesome. They’re so good Jorge Soler can’t get playing time on a regular basis. And how would you like to have a guy like Javier Baez hanging around when healthy?
Pittsburgh Pirates- What will it take for the Pirates to climb another step? I think they lost quite a few quality players like Neil Walker, Joakim Soria and Pedro Alvarez. They represented some skills that come in handy. Walker will be missed. I do like the bat that John Jaso may be able to offer. Pitching is solid. Few young studs have as much upside as the gritty Gerrit Cole. I do like Cole and Liriano. I also like the bullpen.
Juan Nicasio could be a sleeper for the rotation. I think the Pirates pithing is thin. But when you have an outfield of McCutchen, Marte and Polanco it may be just enough to catapult the club to a great season. Those three may be the best outfield in baseball.
St. Louis Cardinals- Well, this is the first year in my memory that I have the Cardinals slated this low in their division. I think the Cubs and Pirates are better. The Cardinals slip may be showing a bit. Wainwright is another year older. Garcia has had injuries in the past. What about Michael Wacha? Can he stay healthy? I’m suspect about the pitching. I do like Randal Grichuk to break out this year, and Stephen Piscotty is a professional hitter that will get better and better. Matt Carpenter never ceases to amaze. He’s an All Star caliber player. But shortstop? Losing Jhonny Peralta hurts.
Kolten Wong may rise to a new tier of second baseman with a full skill set.
Milwaukee Brewers- In the midst of their rebuilding project, they have some very exciting young players. Many, like Orlando Arcia are still in development. But I do want to see what Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Rymer Lirano and Ramon Flores can do with playing time. Yadiel Rivera is fun to watch. They may get a boatload if they can move jonathan Lucroy and/or Ryan Braun, two players with value to a contender.
Cincinnati Reds- I have watched the Reds a great deal this spring. Their outfield of the future could be very good once they promote Jesse Winker. They’ll have guys like Scott Schebler, Winker and Billy Hamilton among others. Jose Peraza should take over second base once Brandon Phillips is gone. With Peraza and Hamilton, the duo could steal 100 or more bases with ease. If they can get on base. The Reds should concentrate on getting their pitching in order for the future. It isn’t there yet.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
San Francisco Giants- Last time I looked this was an even year. You know what that means. They win in even years. The pitching has been bolstered with the additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to follow Madison Bumgarner in the rotation. That’s a solid threesome to lead them to the division title. Add to that the offense provided by sparkplug Hunter Pence and the top of the order energy of Denard Span and the team looks very solid. The very underrated Brandon Crawford is a superb shortstop. Can Joe Panik’s back hold up? Can Matt Duffy produce again? I like the Giants. I like the bullpen, too. And most importantly, I like the combination of Bruce Bochy as the manager and Dave Righetti as the pitching coach. Both are stellar!
Los Angeles Dodgers- I’m very concerned about the lack of pitching depth unless some of their potential starting pitchers get healthy in a hurry. They will go as far as the pitching beyond Clayton Kershaw carries them. I still like the offense to score lots of runs in that park. Howie Kendrick is still very solid and should be a huge run producer when he returns from injury. I also like Yasiel Puig to prove his critics wrong. Adrian Gonzalez is very, very dangerous at the plate. The bullpen is set at the back end with Kenley Jansen. And finally, they have a true budding star in Corey Seager at shortstop. I am not worried about his knee. Not yet, at least.
Arizona Diamondbacks- I do like Zack Greinke a great deal. I don’t think he can math his Dodgers numbers when pitching half his games at Chase Field. I don’t like the rest of the rotation other than Patrick Corbin. They just don’t have enough pitching. They traded some fantastic players and prospects to get Shelby Miller. I think they’ll miss the players they traded. I do like the outfield with star center fielder A J Pollock as the anchor. But I wonder who gets the playing time between Socrates Brito, Yasmany Tomas, David Peralta and even slugger Peter O’Brien. Who plays in the infield? Is it Nick Ahmed and Jean Segura at short and second? Where does Phil Gosselin fit? How about Chris Owings? Can Jake Lamb hit lefties? Lots of questions. But man, this team has position player depth. I do think Brito will have a tremendous year. If he plays.
Colorado Rockies- Nolan Arenado is fantastic. No doubt about it. He is a tremendous hitter and a tremendous defender. I love watching him play. Arenado/Cargo/LeMahieu/Blackmon/Story and on and on. The team is lethal at the plate and fun to watch. Pitching? Hello, this is Coors Field. Meh.
San Diego Padres- I feel badly for the Padres fans. Why? Because the new front office tore down the club a year ago and it didn’t work. It’s like the paint is peeling off the house already. I do like Matt Kemp to have a solid year. Travis Jankowski is a sleeper for me. But the Padres? Wait until next year.
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Tomorrow: The American League
That’s it. I’m done. For now.