2018 National League Preview

Opening Day is here. As the saying goes, hope springs eternal. Every MLB fanbase wants to believe that this year is the year. But unfortunately for most MLB fanbases, there are a finite amount of wins to be had in a given MLB season, and franchises are often none too keen on giving them away (ok maybe the Marlins might be). So it’s time for the Pirates fans of the worlds to swallow their harsh medicine and the Nationals fans of the world to learn if this actually is the year they break the glass ceiling. With this in mind, it is my duty to present your 2018 NL Season Preview and Predictions.

 

National League

Central

    1. Chicago Cubs

 

  • Why this team will overperform: The rotation and lineup look better than they did in 2016. The young core has matured a lot and Joe Maddon appears to have his finger on the pulse of this club again.
  • Why this team will disappoint: A hodgepodge bullpen that is long on good arms but short on established roles will struggle to maintain leads late in games. There aren’t enough at-bats to go around and the development of this team’s arsenal of young bats is seriously stunted.
  • 2018 will be a success if… Tommy LaStella is passed out drunk on a trolley in early November with Anthony Rizzo taking selfies of him with the Commissioner’s Trophy.

 

    1. St. Louis Cardinals (Wild Card)
      1. Why this team will overperform: St. Louis had a disciplined but effective offseason. With the addition of Marcell Ozuna, the outfield is absolutely stacked. The staff has an ideal mix of talent and experience. And this is St. Louis for Pete’s sake. Hard to see the Cardinals being borderline irrelevant in the Central for three consecutive years.

 

  • Why this team will disappoint: In a game that is increasingly about slugging, this lineup is still short on home run power. The roster is aging and health will be imperative for them to give the Cubs a run for their money in the Central.
  • 2018 will be a success if… The Cardinals can knock their rivals from Chicago’s North Side from their perch on top of the NL Central. Not that it bothers them at all…

 

    1. Milwaukee Brewers

 

  • Why this team will overperform: The addition of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich to a lineup that already features Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, and Eric Thames means the long ball will be served up in short-order at Miller Park. Craig Counsell is a rising star in the managerial world and this club is oozing good juju (see Spring Training Sandlot video for further proof).

 

      1. Why this team will disappoint: Milwaukee’s rotation uhhhhh… stinks… The Jimmy Nelson injury doesn’t help, but the Brew Crew will be searching for quality starts before and after he returns from shoulder surgery.

 

  • 2018 will be a success if: They can keep Cubs fans out of Miller Park. Seems to be one of the more urgent issues of their offseason.

 

    1. Cincinnati Reds

 

  • Why this team will overperform: Joey Votto is one of the 5 best hitters walking the planet today, and he doesn’t stop improving. Cincinnati’s role players are improving (see Scooter Gennett, Tucker Barnhart) and it feels like the Reds are always good for 1-2 nobodies a year to emerge as solid pros (Cozart, Barnhart, Gennett, Iglesias).
  • Why this team will disappoint: Homer Bailey is their Opening Day starter. Moving on.
  • 2018 will be a success if… The Reds re-build has been disciplined and methodical to this point. The emergence of another piece who could be locked under club control long-term and a stockpiling of young prospects will spell out a successful 2018.

 

    1. Pittsburgh Pirates

 

  • Why this team will overperform: There are a number of talented young ballplayers on this club who have yet to max out their potential. Jameson Taillon, Starling Marte, Josh Bell, and Gregory Polanco all still have meat on the bone. If clubhouse veterans like Josh Harrison and Ivan Nova can lead from the front, this team could surprise.
  • Why this team will disappoint: Trading away their best pitcher and the face of the franchise isn’t the best way to set the tone for a productive season. Throw in a front office that seems to be owning up to a failure to engage Pittsburgh’s fanbase and disgruntled leaders (Josh Harrison) and it feels like Clint Hurdle’s club is fighting battles on too many fronts.
  • 2018 will be a success if… the Pirates can turn around what seems to be a culture in free fall and re-energize the fan base. Something needs to be shaken up at PNC PArk.

 

East

    1. Washington Nationals

 

  • Why this team will overperform: This roster is stacked. Anthony Rendon has emerged as a game changer in the middle of the lineup. Ryan Zimmerman enjoyed a career renaissance in 2017. Bryce is still Bryce and the club’s role players are excellent. Their rotation’s top two is the best in the business, and Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark are no slouches, either. Last year’s opportunistic trade acquisitions fortified the bullpen.  Davey Martinez should bring a congenial, fresh approach to a clubhouse that was catty at times last year.
  • Why this team will disappoint: The Nationals just can’t seem to shake the D.C. sports blues and escape the NLDS. They had an opportunity to make a run at Jake Arrieta this offseason but kept the roster largely unchanged from 2017. The catcher position is a black hole.
  • 2018 will be a success if… Davey Martinez makes the Nationals great… for the first time. In Bryce Harper’s last year under club control, it’s World Series or Bust in our nation’s capitol.

 

    1. New York Mets

 

  • Why this team will overperform: That loaded young rotation that led the Met’s to a pennant 3 short years ago is still intact in Queens. Health and consistency have been elusive, but few staffs in baseball have as imposing of stuff as the Metropolitans. The lineup won’t wow you, but Bruce, Cespedes and Frazier are nothing to sneeze at, and look for Wilmer Flores to build on a strong 2017. The bullpen is sneaky one of the most talented in the Bigs. Mickey Callaway has said all the right things in his first Spring as a big league manager.
  • Why this team will disappoint: This is the Mets overall. Betting on their young pieces to stay healthy seems like a fool’s errand.
  • 2018 will be a success if… The pitching staff stays healthy and this club is in the Wild Card race late into September. For all their mismanagement, I’m of the belief this club is well positioned to turn some heads in a very weak NL East.

 

    1. Philadelphia Phillies

 

  • Why this team will overperform: Has one city ever had so much sports momentum in the history of the world? Nick Foles beat Tom Brady for the Lombardi Trophy, the 76ers Trusted the Process all the way to a playoff spot, and the Phillies had one of the best offseasons in baseball. Veteran arrivals Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana will anchor a roster stocked with young studs headlined by Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, and Aaron Nola. It feels like this franchise is on the precipice of sustainable success.
  • Why this team will disappoint: The Phils forked over big time money for an aging pitcher with declining performance on a ballclub that is probably a year or two away from contention. Things can unravel quickly.
  • 2018 will be a success if… The Phillies big-name talents, young and old, can avoid down years. Philadelphia does not have its middle infield of the future. That is understood. But if the guys they’re counting on to be stars in the coming years sputter out of the gate, the wisdom of an aggressive offseason will surely be questioned.

 

    1. Atlanta Braves

 

  • Why this team will overperform: Not much to say here.They will play the Marlins a lot. That can’t hurt. Julio Teheran seems poised for a bounce back year after an exceptionally strong spring and Freddie Freeman is one of the best in the Bigs. Dansby Swanson can’t (shouldn’t) be as bad as he was last year.
  • Why this team will disappoint: Outside of Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte, there is not a lot to like in this lineup. The young staff will not be ready to carry the load over the grind of a 162 game season.
  • 2018 will be a success if… A few of the Braves’ 8 (WOW) MLB Top 100 prospects make it to the Bigs and look promising in debut seasons. Hopefully, the latter half of 2018 will serve as a preview of a bright future in Cobb County.

 

    1. Miami Marlins

 

  • Why this team will overperform: Starlin Castro is a winning machine! If recent history isn’t any guide, the Marlins will probably play for a pennant this October and then ship Starlin to a rebuilding franchise. But seriously, this team is going to stink.
  • Why this team will disappoint: It’s hard to disappoint if you have zero expectations of success. Derek Jeter and his new management group have made it abundantly clear that they are starting anew, and the near-term on-field product will be…spotty.
  • 2018 will be a success if… The front office can trade Castro, Justin Bour, and J.T. Realmuto and effectively re-stock their farm system. After trading three all-star caliber outfielders this past offseason, it is mind-boggling that they still have only two MLB top 100 prospects (one of whom is their Opening Day Center Fielder).

 

West

    1. Los Angeles Dodgers

 

  • Why this team will overperform: The young core of position players has another year of big-game maturation under their belt. Despite the loss of Brandon Morrow, the bullpen should remain one of the best in the Majors.
  • Why this team will disappoint: The Dodgers’ inability to sign Yu Darvish leaves their rotation looking vulnerable. Headlined by the marvelous but oft-injured Clayton Kershaw, it would be surprising for Rich Hill and Alex Wood to repeat their head-turning 2017 campaigns. If Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu don’t pick up the slack, the rotation could put a lot of pressure on the offense to score early and often.
  • 2018 will be a success if… After getting their hearts ripped out in a classic 2017 World Series, it’s Championship or bust  in Chavez Ravine. Tommy LaSorda’s can only take so much heartbreak before his heart actually breaks.

 

    1. Colorado Rockies (Wild Card)

 

  • Why this team will overperform: Not many clubs (the Dodgers certainly cannot) can say they have two legitimate MVP candidates in their lineup every day.  The Rockies have that in Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, not to mention a solid supporting cast that includes Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu. The starting rotation is as strong as Coors Field will allow it to be, and after a capital-intensive offseason, the bullpen is looking like a team strength for the first time since… ever..?
  • Why this team will disappoint: As strong as the pitching staff looks on paper, Coors Field wears down promising pitchers. They play in a buzzsaw of a division and have a lot riding on a young rotation who the league will only get more and more comfortable with.
  • 2018 will be a success if… After spending a lot of money on complementary bullpen pieces, there’s got to be something cold as the Rockies being sprayed in the locker room to celebrate a playoff berth for this season to be considered a success.

 

    1. San Francisco Giants

 

  • Why this team will overperform: Assuming Johnny Cueto and Ty Blach can will the Gigantes to hang around until Bumbargener and Jeff Samardzija return, this roster is much improved. The lineup is filled with the type of professional hitters that the best Bruce Bochy teams feature, and the rotation is above average when at full strength.
  • Why this team will disappoint: This club is very old and the injury dam has already sprung very significant leaks. If the Giants get off to a slow start due to injuries, the Dodgers may have already run away with the division by the time they get back to full strength (see: 2017).
  • 2018 will be a success if… When you trade for veteran role players like Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, it’s playoffs or bust for a franchise as proud as the Giants. And once a Bruce Bochy teams sneaks in the playoffs, you never know what might happen (especially in an even year).

 

    1. Arizona Diamondbacks

 

  • Why this team will overperform: With Zach Greinke’s resurgence, Robbie Ray’s emergence as a top-line starter, and a very solid back-end the Diamondbacks suddenly found themselves with a very effective starting rotation in 2017. That starting crew is back in 2018 and the younger pieces figure to be improved. The lineup returns one of the most potent corner infield combos in the Majors.
  • Why this team will disappoint: After scratching and clawing their way to a playoff appearance in 2017, the D-Backs let the supremely talented J.D. Martinez and the uber-gamer Fernando Rodney walk out of town. The lineup needs more consistency outside of Paulie Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb.
  • 2018 will be a success if… You can’t let J.D. Martinez walk away for a relatively cheap contract and have expectations any lower than a second consecutive playoff appearance. The D-Backs are betting on Jarrod Dyson and David Peralta to pick up the slack. They better.

 

    1. San Diego Padres

 

  • Why this team will overperform: The Padres are building around really solid position players in Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, and Austin Hedges. And the cavalry is on the way. With 7 prospects in the MLB Top 100, the San Diego faithful should expect an influx of young talent in the midsummer to energize this rebuilding ballclub.
  • Why this team will disappoint: Clayton Richard (yes that Clayton Richard) is their Opening Day Starter. Say no more, fam.
  • 2018 will be a success if… The Padres see positive returns from their young crop of prospects entering the Majors for the first time. They need pitching help in a bad way and answers might be coming from a loaded minor league system.