Saturday, April 1, 2017

2017 Baseball preview, part 3: National League forecast

Time to take a look at the National League.

National League East:

If there is one negative to Washington having hired Dusty Baker to replace Matt Williams after the 2015 season, it is the fact that the team hired a manager whose one shortcoming is the same as theirs. Neither has been able to get past the division round. For all the talent the Nationals have, it availed them naught against Los Angeles last year. Second baseman Daniel Murphy isn't going to sneak up on people and challenge for the batting title. He'll be a contender, sure, but it won't be a shock. However, he has a new double play partner in Trea Turner, with Danny Espinosa having been shipped out. Catcher Wilson Ramos is also gone (Tampa Bay), as is closer Mark Melancon (San Francisco), with Blake Treinen taking over the 9th inning. Gio Gonzalez is on the back end of his career, so, fittingly, he's at the back of the rotation. Miami compensated for the loss of ace Jose Fernandez, who passed away in September, by signing Edinson Volquez. However, the rotation doesn't scare the way the offense does. Philadelphia let Ryan Howard retire, but they already had a successor in place in Tommy Joseph. They won't sneak up on anyone, but they don't have the firepower to crack the top half of the division. As for the Mets, letting Bartolo Colon go to Atlanta allows their rotation to skew younger with the return of Zack Wheeler. Steven Matz starts the season on the DL (elbow), along with outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares and third baseman David Wright, who should consider the signs and think about walking away as Jose Reyes learns to play third. Closer Jeurys Familia will be out until mid-April (suspension), but veteran closers Addison Reed & Fernando Salas will help pick up the slack. Meanwhile, Colon wasn't the only Met to fly south, as the Braves picked up catcher Anthony Recker, only to send him to the minors. A third ex-Met, R. A. Dickey, came from a longer distance (Toronto), but he'd have to relocate the magic he left behind in Flushing. Atlanta also signed Jaime Garcia (St. Louis), but while they do have some offense surrounding Freddie Freeman, they don't have enough bullpen arms to get them to closer Jim Johnson. Just sayin'.

Projected order of finish:

1. Washington.
2. Mets.
3. Miami.
4. Atlanta.
4. (tie) Philadelphia.

National League Central:

I wouldn't anoint the defending champion Chicago Cubs as a repeater just yet. They traded for Aroldis Chapman in July, and manager Joe Maddon over-used him, leading to Chapman returning to the Yankees. So what does Theo Epstein do? He gets Wade Davis (Kansas City) as his new closer. The Cubs also signed outfielder Jon Jay (San Diego) to replace Dexter Fowler (St. Louis), but when you have a rising star in Albert Almora, Jr., I doubt he'll be in the minors for long, if at all. St. Louis let Jamie Garcia go to Atlanta, and lost a chunk of offense with Matt Holliday going to the Yankees. Still, they'll find a way to get back to the playoffs. The window of opportunity may be closing for Pittsburgh and Andrew McCutcheon, which is why the Pirates were supposedly so keen to trade their star for prospects. Too soon for that, I say. Cincinnati & Milwaukee are just holding up the floor.

Projected order of finish:

1. Chicago.
2. St. Louis.
3. Pittsburgh.
4. Cincinnati.
5. Milwaukee.

National League West:

Los Angeles is nearing the 30th anniversary of their last World Series title, but they're also beginning a new era with the retirement of announcer Vin Scully. The Dodgers fortified their bullpen by signing Sergio Romo away from San Francisco, adding further fuel to that ancient rivalry. The Giants also lost Santiago Casilla (Oakland), making a playoff run that much harder. However, signing closer Mark Melancon (Washington) should ease the pain. How the Yankees let that one get away is a mystery. Arizona dumped Jean Segura, sending him to Seattle, after 1 season. They still need a piece or two before they can really contend. The same can be said for San Diego & Colorado.

Projected order of finish:

1. Los Angeles.
2. San Francisco.
3. San Diego.
4. Arizona.
4. (tie) Colorado.

Of course, I could be wrong.

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