Now that Spring Training is finally in full swing, we can look more closely at the National League.
The NL East will once again be a two-team race between the Braves and Nationals. You can make arguments for either team winning the division, but ultimately, both clubs probably make the postseason.
Clint Hurdle’s Pirates shocked the baseball world last year. As long as their young pitching staff stays healthy, they’ll be contenders for a while.
Their main competition will be the Cardinals, who will probably have another solid year even after losing Carlos Beltran. But can their pitching staff be lights out again?
Maybe. But I’ll make the bold prediction that the Pirates take the NL Central in 2014.
Then there’s the NL West, which may be the most intriguing division in the major leagues. The Dodgers are the new school Yankees, overspending and trying to form a yearlong All Star team.
They have the game’s best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw and the game’s most exciting player in Yasiel Puig. But if one of those guys misses a chunk of the season, the Dodgers could be in trouble.
Their roster is full of veterans that are prone to injury. But their starting rotation could feature Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren. There’s not a better five than those.
And let’s not forget that Don Mattingly can write down the names of Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Puig on his lineup card.
On paper, the Dodgers should win 105 games or more. They’ll likely finish with 93-98 wins, which will give them the West easily.
Spots two through five get interesting.
The Diamondbacks made some splashes in the offseason, signing slugger Mark Trumbo and reliever Addison Reed.
The Giants have basically an unchanged roster. They have championship pedigree and play fundamental baseball. But their offense is anything to be afraid of.
And in San Diego, the Padres beefed up their club with Joaquin Benoit, Josh Johnson and former Rockie Seth Smith.
This could be a season where all five teams in the division win at least 80 games. But in order to compete for the Wild Card spots, 87-90 wins are required.
Frankly, the Reds, Cardinals, Giants, Diamondbacks and Rockies could be fighting for two playoff spots.
And in order for the Rox to be competitive for six months, a lot needs to happen.
Here’s my five.
- Tulo and Cargo must play like most valuable players, and not just once in a while.
- Four guys in the rotation must win at least 12 games. That’s probably Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa, Tyler Chatwood and Brett Anderson.
- Justin Morneau must regain his old self, hitting a minimum 20 home runs and driving in 90 runs. In the Rockies’ three playoff appearances, their first basemen had huge years.
- The bullpen has to transform from the worst in the league to one of the best. Bounce back seasons from Wilton Lopez and Matt Belisle are required.
- Prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray must combine to win 10 or more games.