Dan's Dugout: Can Potent Pitching Pave Pennant Path For Mets? • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Can Potent Pitching Pave Pennant Path For Mets?

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With less than a week until Opening Night, it’s time for the annual Fearless Forecast.

Rule No. 1: powerful starting pitching can be a lethal weapon. Just ask the Atlanta Braves, who finished at or near the top in team earned run average while winning 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005.

Time will tell whether the New York Mets, with their bevy of flamethrowers, can match the

Powerful pitching propelled the Braves to 14 straight division titles

Powerful pitching propelled the Braves to 14 straight division titles

Braves in mastering the opposition over the long haul. And chances are tiny that any of New York’s front five will eventually reach Cooperstown, where three of the Atlanta pitchers (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz) reside in bronze.

That being said, however, health should dictate just how far the Mets go. No team in either league can match their rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler (whose spot will be occupied by Bartolo Colon until July).

If the Mets mount enough of an offense — and having Yoenis Cespedes from Day One will help — they will probably win 100 games and outlast the Washington Nationals in the National League East race.

The Cubs are confident they can end their long drought

The Cubs are confident they can end their long drought

The Central Division remains a three-team race, with the Chicago Cubs likely to prevail over the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates again. All three made the playoffs last year under the zany format that allows non-champions — also known as wild-cards — to play on after the 162-game regular season ends.

Adding Jason Heyward, a Gold Glove outfielder whose lefthanded bat should come alive at Wrigley, bolsters an attack that was stymied only when it met the Mets pitchers last October.

If Cubs ace Jake Arrieta is not the best pitcher in the league, Zack Grienke probably is. Since he’s now pitching for Arizona, along with fellow newcomer Shelby Miller, the Diamondbacks are probably the Best in the West.

True, the Los Angeles Dodgers still have Clayton Kershaw but subtracting Grienke from the equation really hurts.

And don’t count out the San Francisco Giants, especially in an even-numbered year. They were world champions in 2010, 2012, and 2014, thanks mainly to a strong starting rotation. They’ve added Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardjzia but both endured some struggles last summer. The Giants need Matt Cain to pitch like the Matt Cain of perfect game fame — or close to it.

That being said, here are the probable finishes in the National League:

The Mets are after their first world title since 1986

The Mets are after their first world title since 1986

NL East: Mets, Nationals, Marlins, Phillies, Braves

NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, Brewers

NL West: Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers, Rockies, Padres

Wild-card: Nationals over Giants

Division Series: Mets over Diamondbacks, Cubs over Nationals

Championship Series: Mets over Cubs

World Series: Mets over Red Sox

P.S. I am NOT a Mets fan — their pitching is just too darn good, unless Jenrys Familia can’t shake the demons that haunted him during the World Series.

Tomorrow: American League predictions

Elsewhere in baseball:

Nick Swisher may be returning to the AL

Nick Swisher may be returning to the AL

The unexpected retirement of first baseman Adam LaRoche creates a vacuum Nick Swisher should fill nicely now that the switch-hitting slugger has been released by the Braves . . .

Only 16 managers in baseball history have won more games than Washington’s Dusty Baker . . .

Are the Yankees serious about shunting CC Sabathia to their bullpen? . . .

Kyle Schwarber (Cubs) is the second coming of Evan Gattis: a designated hitter in a league that doesn’t have one . . .

Although a big year by R.A. Dickey would help Toronto survive the free agent defection of David Price but the 41-year-old knuckleballer is considering retiring after this season . . .

Former Brewers closer Jim Henderson gives a nice boost to the Mets bullpen . . .

Really surprised no one has signed Kyle Lohse, though the Detroit Tigers have interest . . .

How different would the world have been if Fidel Castro had succeeded in his tryout with the

Fidel Castro might have been a big-league pitcher

Fidel Castro might have been a big-league pitcher

Washington Senators? . . .

Lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty, back with the Braves, posted a composite 1.99 earned run average during his previous five-year stint with the team . . .

The balky shoulder of Angels starter C.J. Wilson will keep him sidelined indefinitely . . .

Colorado, with nowhere to go but up, plans to start rookies Trevor Story at shortstop until Jose Reyes is cleared to play after an off-season suspension for alleged domestic violence . . .

The Los Angeles Dodgers believe rookie starter Kenta Maeda will step right into their rotation after a solid spring . . .

The Phillies aren’t going anywhere but former Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton may prevent them from hitting the bottom of the National League East again . . .

The Injury of the Spring award goes to Milwaukee closer Will Smith, who tore up his knee while trying to take off his spikes after a game.

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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