It's been a few years since I did team preview capsules, but with the season now less than a week away, and within the past few days I've partaken in a) an NL-only Fantasy Baseball Draft and b) a trip to Queens that took me past Citi Field coming and going, I figured it's time I get things cracking and get ready for the season. And, what better way than to preview the National League, or, more appropriately, the Mets and 14 other teams I either don't like or don't pay attention to unless they have someone on my fantasy team. I'll keep this as rapid fire as possible. All records are simply an approximation and anything plus or minus 5 wins can be construed as a good job of understanding baseball on my part. So here we go.
1) Washington Nationals (100-62)
They won the division last year handily without a month of Bryce Harper at the beginning and without a month of Stephen Strasburg at the end, and then it all got submarined when their normally reliable bullpen and, particularly, their normally reliable closer Drew Storen flamed out in the 9th inning of the deciding game of the NLDS against St. Louis. Fortunately (or unfortunately, in Storen's case), the Nationals have plenty of other good bullpen arms around in case he's got a hangover. Offensively, not gangbusters, but with the boatload of pitching old friend Davey Johnson has in his arsenal, they don't have to hit a ton to win. Class of the division.
2) Atlanta Braves (87-75)
They're kind of a chic pick right now. It's easy to buy into the Braves, because after shitting the bed in the Wildcard play-in game last year, they went out and made several improvements, most notably bringing in both Upton brothers, giving them an outfield that has the potential to be both wildly talented and incredibly mercurial. Their hype machine has also managed to make everyone believe that Andrelton Simmons is the second coming of Barry Larkin when he's a little closer to being the second coming of Rey Ordonez. They'll win more than they'll lose, but from where I'm sitting, the rotation is kind of thin and while their bullpen is great, a closer look at Craig Kimbrel reveals a dominant pitcher with a mild case of Armando Benitez. They'll contend for one of the Wildcard Game spots, but no more than that.
3) Philadelphia Phillies (84-78)
Let's face it. The Phillies are getting old. Roy Halladay started to break down last year and Cliff Lee was middling, leaving Cole Hamels as the de facto Ace. After missing half the season with injuries, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both struggled to find their prior form, and with the team going nowhere at the trade deadline, several pieces were traded away. Offseason trades to bring in Ben Revere from Minnesota and Michael Young from Texas are intriguing but there's too many holes in the pitching staff to make up for it. Unless somehow Halladay and Lee turn back the clock to 2010.
4) New York Mets (76-86)
I'll spend a lot of time this season talking about it, but 2013 for the Mets is not about 2013. It's about what might happen going forward. And as such, they're not going to be very good this year. The Mets this season are going to be about working through the development of players like Matt Harvey, Ruben Tejada and, eventually, Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud. That said, they'll also be hoping that someone sticks in the outfield and the remainder of the pitching staff doesn't embarrass themselves in the process.
5) Miami Marlins (58-104)
The sell-off that I predicted would happen came much quicker than I thought. It wasn't even halfway through last season that they started trading away their stars, and come the offseason, just about anybody making any kind of money was traded to Toronto. The end result is that the Marlins are pretty much right what they deserve to be: A pissed-off Giancarlo Stanton, a pissed-off Ricky Nolasco, and 23 other players mostly devoid of Major League talent. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people. Jerkoffs.
1) Cincinnati Reds (95-67)
Whether or not Aroldis Chapman starts or closes is academic. The Reds are a good, deep team that has offense to burn. The ascension of Todd Frazier last season to take over for Scott Rolen at 3rd Base and the acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo in the Outfield to go with already established stars like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce fill out a lineup that doesn't have very many holes and a big chip on their shoulder from a couple of early playoff exits. This could be the year they step forward.
2) St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)
The Cardinals are like one of those Super Mario Bros bosses that you have to keep jumping on and shooting at before you can kill them. No matter how many times they're counted out or left for dead, they somehow manage to put another stupid run together and draw a lot of gushing, overblown praise over what a gutty team of winners they are. I'm completely sick of them, but unfortunately, even though they lost Obi Wan LaRussa and Albert Pujols, they still won, and that team is pretty much still intact, so unless something goes horribly wrong, they'll be right back in the Wildcard Game and they'll probably catch another stupid break somewhere along the way.
3) Pittsburgh Pirates (83-79)
They're not quite there yet, but this is going to be the season that the Pirates finally break their 20-year losing streak. Although their prospect-hoarding methods have foiled them before, they finally seem to have a couple of breakout stars in Andrew McCutchen (perhaps the best player in Baseball that nobody really knows about) and Pedro Alvarez (struck out a ton but did hit 30 HRs), and they've spent a little money to bring in some veteran presence with winning attitudes as opposed to retreads that nobody else wanted. The pitching is somewhat iffy on the back end of their rotation, but if James McDonald can dial it back to the first half of last season, that'll help, and #1 pick Gerrit Cole is about ready to contribute. They're not going to make The Leap just yet, but they'll turn the corner this year.
4) Milwaukee Brewers (80-82)
I find the Brewers painfully boring. Ryan Braun can carry them only so far, and an aging Aramis Ramirez coupled with Corey Hart's carcass and Rickie Weeks' unpredictability doesn't lend itself to much success, even if Carlos Gomez somehow managed to turn into a reasonably productive player. Pitching is a similar story for the Brews. Yovani Gallardo can be great, the problem is he's never consistently great, and the rest of the rotation lacks anything resembling a sexy name.
5) Chicago Cubs (70-92)
Those of us in Metville can take some solace in the train wreck that the Cubs have become, because it happened to them just as quickly as it happened to the Mets. The Cubs went from back-to-back Division Titles in 2007 and 2008 to starting Jeff Samardzija on Opening Day as the headliner of a rotation that includes oft-injured Matt Garza and retreads Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and Scott Baker, and nobody in particular to save their hide when they inevitably fall flat. There's some interesting names on the offensive side, but before you get too excited, remember that Alfonso Soriano is one of those interesting names.
6) Houston Astros (63-99)
The Astros have become so putrid these past few seasons that it's easy to forget they even exist, particularly since they only play the Mets 6 times a...wait...what? They moved to the American League? Well, shit. Never mind then.
1) San Francisco Giants (93-69)
The Giants have this every-other-year thing going, being that they've won a World Series Championship twice in the past 3 years in spite of the fact that they've been counted out because of a rather unexciting lineup. But, undaunted, they've leaned heavily on a pitching staff that's basically peerless when measured alongside the rest of the National League, and that's even considering that their best pitcher, Tim Lincecum, had an awful year last year and is currently regarded as reclamation project rather than Ace. They capped their season by stopping the pesky Cardinals and the powerful Tigers dead in their tracks and for the most part kept that unit together. They'll be tough to beat.
2) Los Angeles Dodgers (91-71)
The Dodgers spending spree has filled their lineup with some very sexy names, but how often do we see these superteams fail to gel and ultimately fall apart? I'm not of the belief that this will happen to the Dodgers in the same style of, say, the 2012 Miami Marlins, but I also don't think that they've clearly made themselves the favorite. They've already lost one player they were relying on for 2 months in Hanley Ramirez, and they're also banking on three members of the FriedChickenGate Red Sox to carry some of that load. But, that said, they also boast the odds-on MVP in Matt Kemp and the odds-on Cy Young Favorite in Clayton Kershaw. That'll count for something.
3) Arizona Diamondbacks (80-82)
The Diamondbacks are the perfect example of a team stuck in neutral. They have some reasonably talented players and can generate both offense and pitching, but their roster, top to bottom, isn't so talent-laden that they'll be anything more than a nuisance for teams that they play a lot.
4) Colorado Rockies (74-88)
The highlight of the Rockies season in 2012 was when they came into New York in August boasting a record of 46-73 and a mostly minor-league lineup, and swept a 4-game series where the Mets looked so embarrassing, it drove Mike Francesa, who doesn't even root for the Mets, to a 10-minute screaming meltdown.
5) San Diego Padres (71-91)
I heard they were pulling the fences in at Petco Park, much like they did at Citi Field, in order to generate some more offense. Unfortunately, Chase Headley, who poses to be the Padres' version of David Wright, appears likely to miss about a month with an injury of some sort, and I'm not so sure I can really remember who else is on their roster, I feel like they have Edinson Volquez, and guys like Cameron Maybin and Yonder Alonso are up-and-comers, but for every one of those players, there's 2 retreads that won't help much. Conveniently, they play the Mets in next Monday's opener so I'll familiarize myself with them slightly better at that point.
NL MVP: Joey Votto, Reds
NL CY YOUNG: Matt Cain, Giants
NL ROY: Zack Wheeler, Mets (He'll be in the Majors around May 1st)
NL Wildcard Game: Dodgers over Cardinals
NLDS: Nationals over Dodgers, Reds over Giants
NLCS: Reds over Nationals
I'll get around to the AL before Opening Day. I promise.