Dan Schlossberg's Weekend Notebook: Picking This Year's NL Winners Is No Picnic • Latino Sports


Dan Schlossberg’s Weekend Notebook: Picking This Year’s NL Winners Is No Picnic


NEW YORK – The experts are always wrong. Injuries, trades, rookie phenoms, and fast-fading veterans can change pre-season prognostications in a hurry.

Last year, this column picked the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals to post the most wins: an even 100 apiece. It didn’t happen.

The Braves won 96 times, one less than the best-in-baseball St. Louis Cardinals, while the Nationals limped to the NL East finish line 10 full lengths behind Atlanta.

After an off-season marked by a free agent frenzy, all six divisions figure to have spirited races. Here’s a quick guess at the results in the Senior Circuit, with the AL preview to follow:

National League East

MVP candidate Freddie Freeman

MVP candidate Freddie Freeman

1. Atlanta  — Even with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy facing repeat Tommy John surgery, the Braves will be Beast of the East again because their offense figures to be dramatically better. Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, both below the Mendoza Line last year, had strong springs and Jason Heyward, who missed two months with illness and injury, has become a surprisingly strong leadoff man. Add Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis and the Braves could have six 20-homer men. Craig Kimbrel, baseball’s best closer, anchors a strong pen behind starters Julio Teheran, Ervin Santana, Alex Wood, and Mike Minor.

2. Washington — Rookie manager Matt Williams gets strong starting pitching from Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann but newcomer Doug Fister opens on the DL. The Nats can’t match Atlanta’s power but should score enough to narrow the 10-game gap between first and second place. Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam LaRoche are the big guns in the Nationals arsenal.

3. Miami — If pitching is the name of the game, the Marlins are fishing in the right place. NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez heads a young rotation that also features Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, and Henderson Alvarez, who finished last season with a no-hitter. Free agent signees Garrett Jones and Jarrod Saltalamacchia add power behind Giancarlo Stanton and Rafael Furcal, switching from shortstop to second, adds speed at the top if he stays healthy.

4. New York — Aside from All-Star third baseman David Wright, the Mets have an uncertain infield and unsettled outfield. Daniel Murphy, a better hitter than fielder, will play somewhere on the right side but that depends upon the comeback chances of Ike Davis and Lucas Duda. Ex-Yankee Curtis Granderson boosts an offense that might get a boost from catcher Travis d’Arnaud, starting his first full season. Ancient Bartolo Colon joins Zach Wheeler, Dillon Gee, and Jon Niese in a so-so rotation backed by a ragged bullpen (Jose Valverde? Seriously?).

David Wright may have to carry the Mets on his own. Image Credit: Bill Menzel

David Wright may have to carry the Mets on his own.
Image Credit: Bill Menzel

5. Philadelphia — The oldest team in the league opens with pitching ace Cole Hamels on the DL and long-time shortstop Jimmy Rollins refusing to accept a trade. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and newcomer Marlon Byrd provide some power but are also prone to injury. Lefty Cliff Lee, a horse, will probably be trade bait by mid-season. A.J. Burnett should help.

National League Central

1. Pittsburgh — After winning 94 games last year and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1992, the Pirates hope to parlay the power of Pedro Alvarez, the National League home run king, with the five-tools play of Andrew McCutchen, the league’s MVP. Starling Marte, armed with a new six-year contract, and promising rookie Gregory Polanco complete a strong young outfield. Neil Walker and ex-Yankee Russell Martin add some pop while Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Edinson Volquez back southpaw Francisco Liriano, the team’s top winner last summer. Jason Grilli is a solid closer.

The Cards have a good one in Adam Wainwright

The Cards have a good one in Adam Wainwright

2. St. Louis — The Cardinals, always perennial power players in the NL Central, go to battle behind Adam Wainwright, the league’s best righthanded starter last year, and 15-game winners Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller. Late-season surprise Michael Wacha joins a stacked group that also includes Joe Kelly but lacks a lefty. The bullpen is shaky too. Matt Holliday, the only Cardinal with 20+ homers last year, heads an attack that features the .300 bats of  Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, and Yadier Molina. Newcomers Peter Bourjos and Jhonny Peralta will see plenty of playing time.

3. Cincinnati — Former pitching coach Bryan Price has a tall task as he fills the enormous shoes of veteran pilot Dusty Baker. Joey Votto, Brando Phillips, Jay Bruce, and rookie speed merchant Billy Hamilton lead an offense that should be solid but the pitching is suspect again — especially with closer Aroldis Chapman out after a line drive reworked his face. Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey (yes, that’s his real name) are the top starters but more is expected from Johnny Cueto.

4. Milwaukee — Even with Ryan Braun returning after his suspension for drug abuse, the Brewers may have to scratch for runs. Their 40-steal tandem of Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez will run more often ahead of Mark Reynolds, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy. Keeping Ramirez and Rickie Weeks healthy will help because the Brew Crew needs to score more runs than it allows. Matt Garza forms a new Big Four with Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Wily Peralta.

5. Chicago — Picking the Cubs last is the easiest safe bet in the NL this year. None of their starters had a winning record, their closer went 0-5, and only four returning starters reached double digits in home runs. Rookie manager Rick Renteria needs more punch from Anthony Rizzo, Nate Schierholtz, and Starlin Castro. Sorry, Theo Epstein — the Goat Curse lives!

National League West

1. Los Angeles — The left-right tandem of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke is so strong that either could win another Cy Young Award. Don Mattingly, now in his fourth year, also has fine front-line pitching with Hyun-jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and comeback candidate Josh Beckett, plus closer Kenley Jansen. Mattingly wants more punch from Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and comeback candidate Matt Kemp plus a better attitude from Cuban defector Yasiel Puig, starting his first full season. Hanley Ramirez, in the walk year of his contract, should improve his power numbers too.

A world of potential

A world of potential

2. San Francisco — If anyone can dethrone the Dodgers, it’s their arch-rivals from the north. The Giants slumped last summer when stalwart pitchers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Ryan Vogelsong all slipped under .500 but added veteran Tim Hudson to a rotation headed by Madison Bumgarner. Generating more offense from Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and former MVP Buster Posey will help the club rebound from its third-place finish last year.

3. Arizona — Adding Mark Trumbo to a lineup anchored by Paul Goldschmidt helps a team that was starved for runs last year. A comeback from Martin Prado, who fizzled after arriving from Atlanta, would also provide a lift. Bronson Arroyo, signed as a free agent, won as many games as Patrick Corbin, now idled by Tommy John surgery, but Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, and Brandon McCarthy must reverse their losing records. Addison Reed returns after a surprising 40-save season.

Carlos Gonzalez is a key man in the Colorado lineup

Carlos Gonzalez is a key man in the Colorado lineup

4. Colorado — Playing in Denver always means lots of runs for both teams. The Rockies do their share, with Carlos Gonzalez, Wilin Rosario, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer all likely to scale the 20-homer plateau and comeback candidate Troy Tulowitzki still counted on to justify a megabucks contract that extends through 2020. As for pitching, there isn’t much behind the left-right tandem of Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin. Complicating matters is the arrival of ancient LaTroy Hawkins to be the new closer.

5. San Diego — Traditionally a team that relies on pitching, speed, and defense, the 2014 Padres figure to adhere to that formula. Everth Cabrera and Will Venable should steal two-dozen each but only Venable and Jedd Gyorko managed 20+ homers last summer. Chase Headley, if he isn’t traded, should join them. The late-spring return of Cameron Maybin will also hike the team’s run total. Manager Bud Black might feel the need activate himself, hwoever, if starters Ian Kennedy, Eric Stults, and Josh Johnson don’t produce better numbers than they did last year.

Wild Cards: Washington, St. Louis

NLDS winners: Atlanta, St. Louis

NLCS winner: Atlanta

Most Valuable Player: Freddie Freeman

Cy Young Award: Adam Wainwright

Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton

Comeback of the Year: Dan Uggla

Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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