BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION STANDINGS PREDICTIONS

Manny Machado
Bernie Pleskoff
Written by Bernie Pleskoff

The great divide in Major League Baseball continues. There are teams that are poised to win and there are teams that are poised to lose. As I have attempted to point out in countless articles on this site, baseball has drifted to a landscape of haves and have nots. This great divide is caused by teams that are willing to spend the necessary resources to draft, develop, and retain their own players, and those that are content with drafting, developing and watching their players leave when their contracts get expensive. The different philosophies and practices results in some teams not having enough quality players to consistently win or teams having quality players that offer a chance for success. Not all teams that spend money win. However, the odds of success are greater if they have used their resources to build a strong, talented lineup that can sustain year after year.

The National League is not quite as divided in talent as the American League. The National League has more teams that I feel can contend for a playoff berth.

Here are my predictions for the three National League division races.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Max Scherzer
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris


WASHINGTON NATIONALS (1st Place, 93-69)

Washington sunshine: The addition of Patrick Corbin adds a quality left-handed arm to the rotation.

Washington clouds: The departure of Bryce Harper leads to a bit less power

The National League East is the hardest division for me to predict. Frankly, I like the Nationals because I like the Nationals pitching. They are the only team with Max Scherzer, and that counts. They follow Scherzer with Stephen Strasburg and their newest addition, Patrick Corbin. If Strasburg stays healthy they may be even better than 93 wins. I am a huge fan of Corbin. I have watched him grow as a pitcher in Arizona and I think he’ll be even better with a solid, contending offense playing behind him. Corbin is now even further removed from Tommy John surgery and he has gained tremendous confidence in his own abilities. And I think newly acquired Yan Gomes will be good for the pitching staff.

Yes, the offense was weakened by the loss of Bryce Harper. However, I think we still haven’t seen the best of young Juan Soto, a guy that seems to be forgotten in conversations. Victor Robles brings speed to supplement that of shortstop Trea Turner. And I really like having Anthony Rendon in the lineup everyday, provided he’s healthy.

Sean Doolittle has to stay healthy and pitch his best as the team’s closer. I like the fact that Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough are around if Doolittle falters, gets hurt or does too little.

While I feel Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin are a terrific trio, Anibal Sanchez and Jeremy Helickson following the big three is a concern. They could be good or very, very bad. I think the final two starters for every team in the division will have a big impact on the final standings. The Nationals last two rotation spots are very iffy. Color me: Guarded.

The Nationals bench is strong enough to help the starting team. It looks like Kurt Suzuki will back up Yan Gomes behind the plate. Suzuki is good enough to start on many clubs. Matt Adams is a big, strong power hitting first baseman/outfielder capable of breaking up a game in late innings. Wilmer Difo can play all over the infield and can serve as an emergency outfielder if needed. Andrew Stevenson, who will likely win the primary utility outfielder’s role, is a solid player, but he doesn’t have much experience. Color me: Optimistic

The Nationals win the East if:

  • Strasburg stays healthy for at least 30 starts.
  • The offense picks up any void left by Harper’s departure.
  • The club doesn’t get complacent and plays with maximum effort.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES (2nd Place, 90-72)

Phillies sunshine: The additions of J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.

Phillies clouds: An unproven but improving rotation.

For me, the difference between the Nationals and the Phillies is the starting rotation. I have much more faith in Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin than I do in Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Nick Pivetta, if that’s the way the Phillies will slot their first three starters. I think Aaron Nola may well be Greg Maddux “light.” Not unlike Maddux, Nola doesn’t just rely on throwing a 100 miles an hour fastball to defeat the hitter. Rather, he uses a great repertoire of off-speed and breaking balls to change the eye level and balance of the opposition. He keeps the ball down and on the corners. He is a craftsman. An ace. Arrieta is still good, but at age 33 I think his slip may start to show a bit more. Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin are question marks for me. Can any one, two or all of them keep the opposition bats in check? Especially the bats in the East? But the bottom of their rotation just might be better than Washington’s.

David Robertson should add stability to the 9th inning. Hector Neris and Pat Neshek are seasoned bullpen veterans behind Robertson. And Seranthony Dominguez will also be lingering in the pen as a potential late inning reliever as well. So the bullpen appears solid.

When it’s all said and done, the pitching staff and organizational pitching depth remain the key to the success or lack thereof of the Phillies as they try to climb the ladder and win the East. They have made huge financial investments and have improved their team. But maybe they could have used Dallas Keuchel. Regarding the Phillies pitching? Color me: Intrigued.

The offense will really get a huge boost with the contact hitting and speed of both Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura at the top of the order. They will both be awesome additions to set the table for Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto. There isn’t a pitcher alive who looks forward to navigating that first five in the order. And what happens if Maikel Franco ever starts to hit? Well, we’ve been saying that every year.  Regarding the Phillies offense? Color me: Tremendously Impressed.

Andrew Knapp could very well win the backup catcher’s role. He’s a solid hitter and he can play defense to help Realmuto get a day off. Scott Kingery is versatile enough to play all over and he might be the type that could play regularly on some other clubs. Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams are solid outfielders to help a strong bench, as they have both sides of the plate covered. Regarding the Phillies bench? Color me: Believer.

The Phillies win the East (and they may) if:

  • The rotation is better than I project.
  • McCutchen, Segura, Harper and Realmuto have their average season with no regression.

ATLANTA BRAVES (3rd Place, 87-75)

Braves sunshine: The presence of Ronald Acuna.

Braves clouds: Lack of rotation depth.

I was very surprised the Braves were not more active in the free agent and offseason trade markets. This is a team that probably could have benefited from the presence of left-handed starter Dallas Keuchel, who is still on the market. Instead of adding a Patrick Corbin or even trading for a guy like James Paxton (Yankees) the Braves will enter the season with a rotation of familiar names. Julio Teheran leads the pack, followed by Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb and Touki Toussaint. I don’t think they have enough in those four pitchers to claim a National League East prize. It is quite possible rookie Kyle Wright could be the team’s fifth starter. I got to see him pitch against the Red Sox in Florida. He might take the role originally carved out for Mike Foltynewicz, a very solid right-hander who won’t be ready to start the season after experiencing elbow tightness this spring. He is a big loss for the rotation, and it remains to be seen how much time Folty will miss and how effective he can be. I am really concerned about the number of bases on balls yielded by Newcomb. I thought his command/control issues were further advanced.

The bullpen will be anchored by both righty Arodys Vizcaino and lefty A.J. Minter, who is hurt now with a barking shoulder and may not be ready for Opening Day. They may share the closer’s role and pitch based upon the opposition in the 9th inning. I think the Braves will be in the hunt in lots of games, making this potential dual-closer option viable. But Minter has to get his shoulder healthy. The rest of the bullpen doesn’t really excite me, but they are no better or worse than most clubs in that department. I’m not really buying the Braves rotation. Color me: Disappointed.

The Braves shelled out some hefty dollars to sign 33 year-old Josh Donaldson to play third base. It remains to be seen if his recently aching body holds out for the season. He will add punch to a lineup that already included the remarkable Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman. Acuna Jr. and Freeman are both terrific hitters capable of doing serious damage. But frankly, I think there is a huge drop after Nick Markakis in the lineup. Markakis may hit 5th, and his second half 2018 drop-off is a bit of a concern. Then Ozzie Albies, the catcher (either Brian McCann or Tyler Flowers) followed by Dansby Swanson doesn’t scare many pitchers. For me, color the offense: Top Heavy.

The bench should feature a couple very strong hitters in powerful Adam Duvall and switch-hitting Johan Camargo. Charlie Culberson should make the club. The catching role will be split by Flowers and McCann. For me, color the Braves bench: Meh.

The Braves win the National League East if:

  • They can find a 5th starter to fill-in if Foltynewicz is unhealthy.
  • The first four in the rotation are much better than I think.
  • They get monster production from each of Donaldson, Freeman and Acuna Jr. that exceeds projections.

NEW YORK METS (4th Place, 86-76)

Mets sunshine: A general manager who gets it.

Mets clouds: A current lack of organizational depth to fill lingering holes.

For me, there is little doubt the New York Mets are a different baseball operation under the stewardship of former player agent Brodie Van Wagenen. He has made bold moves that have given the Mets a facelift. Adding the loud bat of Robbie Cano will help the offense. He, along with Wilson Ramos, J.D. Davis, Jed Lowrie, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia and the emergence of some young players may put the Mets closer to the inside than on the outside looking in. I think they will continue to tweak what they have and build themselves a winning club. Just not this year. It will take more time and more money to build greater organizational depth.

Having Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom leading a rotation that has never all been healthy at the same time is huge. deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz will keep the club in lots of games, giving them a chance to win every time they start. I’m not as over the top about Zack Wheeler, as I still worry he can miss some time due to injury. That factor may not be in the back of his mind, but it is in mine. And then 5th starter, Jason Vargas just plain scares me. If the team had one more starting pitcher, I could get more excited about their chances. Maybe that turns into trying Robert Gsellman there once again.

A bullpen that features both Diaz, Familia and Gsellman is one of high quality. If the Mets are ahead going into the 9th, I think those guys can slam the door. The rest of the pen is good as well, so going to the bullpen early for the back of the rotation starters should not be a concern. When it comes to Mets pitching, color me: Bullish.

The offense is improved, but it isn’t in the same class as the teams I have predicted to beat the Mets in the standings. The guy I am most excited about is Michael Conforto. I think a healthy Conforto can be very dangerous. I hope he keeps healthy all year. But if I’m the Mets, I’d rather have Peter Alonso playing first base than Dominic Smith. Smith had a great spring, but can he keep it up? I don’t know how first base will shake out over an entire season, but I do know that Alonso is going to be a force on the team for years to come. With Yoenis Cespedes a question mark and newly acquired Jed Lowrie an uncertainty for Opening Day, the club loses some offensive weapons early in the year that they should have at some point during the season. Maybe Brandon Nimmo can find some consistency. Maybe catcher Wilson Ramos shows the type of hit tool he has flashed in the past. Color the offense: On the upswing.

The Mets win the East if:

  • Their starting pitching stays healthy and each turns in a career year. And that includes Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom exceeding 2018.
  • Yoenis Cespedes returns earlier than the expected second half of the year and becomes the National League MVP or is at least in the conversation.

MIAMI MARLINS (Last Place, 60-102)

Marlins sunshine: There are some very good Marlins prospects waiting in the wings for a chance to shine. I hope they play this year.

Marlins clouds: Management may want to be too patient before promoting prospects to the big league club, saving money and service time and making the losses mount.

I can’t see how the Marlins are going to climb out of the basement with players like Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker populating their starting lineup. I doubt any of those two could crack another major league lineup.

The Marlins have some nice prospect pitchers, but they won’t be on the roster Opening Day. Instead, Wei-Yin Chen who is signed to a horrendous contract, and Dan Straily will likely claim two rotation spots. I hope not. In the future Sixto Sanchez and Sandy Alcantara will likely claim those spots. The starting pitching staff as constituted now is not deep. And losses will mount due to ineffective, shallow pitching. Caleb Smith had a fine spring and is showing promise. I think Jose Urena can blossom as well. I’m not as sure about Pablo Lopez. I want to see more of him. But a young arm like Lopez spells good fortune for the future.

The bullpen isn’t much better. Drew Steckenrider will assume the closer’s role. But aging Sergio Romo waits in the event Steckenrider falters. The rest of the bullpen is not very strong. Not at all. Regarding the pitching of the Florida Marlins, color me: Unimpressed-yet.

The offense will one day be bolstered with the  arrival of outfielders Victor Victor Mesa, Magneuris Sierra, and Monte Harrison. They each have upside and with the exception of center fielder Lewis Brinson, who is projected to start in center field, they are better than the proposed 2018 Marlins outfield that also has Granderson and O’Brien in left and right fields.

The Marlins win the East if:

  • We get a 20-inch snowstorm this July in Phoenix.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Yelich
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris


MILWAUKEE BREWERS (1st Place, 89-73)

Brewers sunshine: They have a very balanced club that enjoys positional depth.

Brewers clouds: They have a starting rotation without an ace or starters to stop a losing streak from spiraling out of control. Closer Corey Knebel is having elbow woes.

The Brewers are a balanced, exciting club with a front office and management staff willing to allow every player and pitcher to play to his optimal best. They use the entire roster better than most clubs. The team can mix and match and deploy a diverse team against any pitcher in the game.

I am not a tremendous fan of the starting rotation. While I’m not sure the final five are known as yet, Jhoulys Chacin leads the group. I think he pitches over his skis. I’m not a huge fan of Chase Anderson, or  Zach Davies either. But I do think young starters Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta have a chance to be really good. Jimmy Nelson and Brent Suter are both injured and won’t be breaking camp with the team. There isn’t much in the way of length waiting around to fix a pitching problem should one occur. Maybe Adrian Houser would help. Anderson could probably start or relieve, so he remains an option to help if called upon.

The bullpen is yet another story. Corey Knebel and Josh Hader form what is probably the best right-handed, left-handed combination of any bullpen in the game. However, an elbow injury to Knebel could throw the pen into a scramble. It will be tough to turn the closer’s role over to Hader if Knebel is unable to pitch. Hader is best used in multiple innings, and not on back-to-back days. The rest of the bullpen is acceptable as well, and with the exceptions of Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress the arms are sound. Jeffress is injured now and will likely miss the start of the season, complicating the bullpen issues. Perhaps the team goes out and signs Craig Kimbrel to close? When it comes to evaluating the Brewers pitching staff, color me: Hopeful.

The offense can score runs in bunches. Navigating through Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun is not an easy task. They are as good a beginning to a batting order as any in their division. The presence of both Cain and Yelich have lengthened the lineup, added firepower and turned the club into one that can contend for a championship annually.

The bench has players that could be starting elsewhere, including Eric Thames, a strong, left-handed hitter with big-time pop in his bat. Backup catcher Manny Pina can start behind the plate for some clubs, and did at one time for the Brewers. But Yasmani Grandal has joined the club to assume the top catching role. Hernan Perez and Ben Gamel round out the bench, and both can play.

The Brewers win the National League Central if:

  • The pitching staff holds up, Knebel is not facing surgery and the rotation can keep their team in game.
  • The offense does enough to outhit any hiccups the starting pitchers create.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (2nd Place, 88-74)

Cardinals sunshine: The arrival of game-changing first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

Cardinals clouds: Can the Cardinals identify the best five pitchers to comprise a winning rotation or will the starters falter?

I worry when I see Adam Wainwright penciled in the middle of the rotation. He is 37 and not getting younger every day. He has missed time with injury and he isn’t getting better. Questions surround Michael Wacha and Dakota Hudson as I see it. Are they worthy of rotation roles? To be fair, Carlos Martinez would likely claim one of those rotations spots if he were healthy. But he isn’t so he isn’t. The wild cards could be Alex Reyes and Austin Gomber, two younger pitchers capable but perhaps not ready to step into the top five among the starting pitching staff. However, the season is 162 games long, and I think we’ll see one or both before the season ends.

The bullpen picked up lefty Andrew Miller to help set up closer Jordan Hicks. But will Miller’s barking back hold up? The rest of the pen is credible but it won’t bring fear to the opposition. Regarding the Cardinals pitching, color me: Guardedly optimistic.

The addition of Goldschmidt to the middle of the lineup really changes the equation of the Central. Why? He will help Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong see better pitches. Goldschmidt can break up a game with a long home run or double. Goldschmidt can play Gold Glove defense and save runs with his glove. He just signed a contract extension to stay with the Cardinals. That’s a huge move and a confidence builder for Goldy and everyone on his team.

The Cardinals win the National League Central if:

  • Paul Goldschmidt equals his offensive and defensive performances from his days in Arizona.
  • They can find quality starters to replace Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson and possibly even Michael Wacha if injury or poor performance dictates changes.

CHICAGO CUBS (3rd Place, 86-76)

Cubs sunshine: The middle of their lineup is loaded with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. Those are three potent bats.

Cubs clouds: An aging starting rotation is in decline and the offense has huge question mark

It wasn’t the Chicago Cubs that signed lefty Patrick Corbin. It wasn’t the Chicago Cubs that traded for lefty James Paxton. And so far it isn’t the Chicago Cubs who will be signing lefty Dallas Keuchel. No, it seems Cubs management is content to go into 2019 with the team currently in place. They did win a World Series, that’s true. But now, their rotation is aging. Jon Lester is 35. Jose Quintana is 30. Cole Hames is 35. Yu Darvish is 32. Only Kyle Hendricks is under 30 among the rotation. He’s 29. Each of their rotation starters has considerable innings on their pitching arms. And Darvish has had serious injuries.

The bullpen has length and I think they have some arms to bail out the rotation. They include Pedro Strop (currently hurt), Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek and Brad Brach. Each has closed games in his career. Brandon Kintzler has as well. The bullpen is solid. Deep. Talented. And if they get Brandon Morrow back healthy, he adds even more experienced depth to the pen. But Morrow may not be back for a while.

So the entire pitching staff-critical to winning the tough National League Central- is a mixed bag. The rotation concerns me. The bullpen is solid. Regarding the pitching staff, color me: Conflicted.

The offense is another story. Besides the three sluggers I mentioned, Kyle Schwarber offers a threat when he hits from the left side as part of an outfield platoon. He has terrific power. I’m clearly not as impressed with the rest of the lineup including generally reliable but aging Ben Zobrist. I do like catcher Wilson Contreras, as I think he has something to prove with the bat. I’m not a huge fan of Jason Heyward, the outfielder who signed an 8-year $184MM contract in 2016.

I believe the contract of Jason Heyward is keeping the Cubs from signing an expensive free agent. I don’t think they want to be burned once again.

The Cubs have talent and the Cubs have questions to answer. If they can pitch into the 6th inning, they can survive. However, I don’t think they will be able to sustain a quality starting rotation as the season enters the second half.  

The Cubs can win the National League Central if:

  • They get production from a weak hitting outfield and the entire lineup.
  • The rotation finds a fountain of youth and pitches well for an entire 162 game season.

CINCINNATI REDS (4th Place, 81-81)

Reds sunshine: Three new rotation starters and two big outfield additions.

Reds clouds: The division is incredibly difficult.

There has been an injection of new arms to the Reds usually dismal rotation. The team has spent money and added Sonny Gray (Yankees), Tanner Roark (Nationals) and Alex Wood (Dodgers) to a new potential starting pitching staff. Wood is suffering from shoulder inflammation, and is not likely to be ready for Opening Day. Whenever a team replaces one member of the rotation it can be important. But replacing three members of the rotation with quality arms can be a total difference maker for a team that was always looking up in the division. I feel the Reds are a much stronger, better, and much higher quality rotation today than at the time they finished 2018.

The relief staff includes some quality arms in Rasiel Iglesias, Amir Garrett and Jared Hughes. They added lefty Zach Duke to the pen, and he should help. In my view, the bullpen can still use more help.

Overall, the Reds renewed rotation is enough reason to elevate them in the Central standings. I believe this is a team on the rise and teams ahead of them should beware.

Offensively, the Reds are better than the past due to the strength and power of Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, former Dodgers now playing for Cincinnati. The team added slick fielding infielder Jose Iglesias to the bench as their utility infielder. Derek Dietrich comes over to play the outfield as well as infield positions. The additions are critical and important to the future.

The team still has Joey Votto at first base. Highly regarded rookie Nick Senzel waits in the wings and could be the team’s future center fielder. They still have bats that belong to Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett and Jose Peraza to set the table. Jess Winker is a solid line drive hitter ready to play in the outfield.

Watch out for the Reds. Regarding this entire team, Color me: Surprised but thrilled they spent the money to compete.

The Reds can with the Central if:

  • The new rotation starters join Luis Castillo and perhaps Tyler Mahle in having the absolute best seasons of their careers.
  • If Matt Kemp hits like a young Matt Kemp and rookie Nick Senzel can pound out 30 home runs and drive in more than 100 runs.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES (Last Place, 77-85)

Pirates sunshine: Gregory Polanco should return early in the season to join a good outfield including Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson.

Pirates clouds: I see very little offensive firepower and a woeful pitching staff that can’t compete in the division.

The additions to the Pirates this offseason came from the Cleveland Indians. The team signed Lonnie Chisenhall and Melky Cabrera, two Cleveland outfielders as free agents. They traded for infielder Erik Gonzalez. Free agent Jordan Lyles will join the rotation as a free agent from the Brewers.

In total truth, I have never been a fan of Chris Archer or Joe Musgrove. Those opinions hold today. Jameson Taillon leads the rotation. He is followed by Trevor Williams, a pitcher I feel has good potential and may be the best of the lot. In short, this is a weak rotation that will exit games fairly early and will wilt as the season progresses. I don’t think they can compete with other rotations in the division.

The bullpen comes up short as well. Other than closer Felipe Vazquez and perhaps Keone Kela and Richard Rodriquez, I don’t have much hope in the pen. Kyle Crick was supposed to be a starter for the Giants. That didn’t work and now he’s in the Pirates bullpen. Francisco Liriano may win a job in the pen as well. That speaks volumes to me.

When it comes to the Pirates pitching, Color me: Uninspired.

I don’t think the offense offers much more hope than the pitching. I’m not very inspired by Jung Ho Kang batting cleanup. Josh Bell intrigues me a bit, but beyond him, I don’t see much that moves my meter. Starling Marte is an exciting player, but he may be hitting in a lineup that won’t take advantage of his abilities. Erik Gonzalez has won the starting shortstop role, and I’m happy to see he is finally getting his chance. But time will tell if the club can score enough runs to keep them afloat. I don’t think so.

The Pirates win the National League Central if:

  • The sun sets in the east every day during the season.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Nolan Arenado
Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

COLORADO ROCKIES (1st Place, 88-74)

Rockies sunshine: They will have a healthy David Dahl and a Nolan Arenado with peace of mind with a new, well deserved contract.

Rockies clouds: Perhaps the improved pitching staff can’t take the one final step that brings them the NL West crown.

This is the furthest limb I climb out on for this coming season. I tried to talk myself out of it, but I couldn’t do it. I like the Rockies to win the NL West.

Yes, it’s really tough to pitch in Coors Field. But I think this group of Rockies pitchers has had less of an issue with the high altitude and thin air than other pitching staffs before them. Consider that 24 year-old German Marquez can make his breaking ball work from anywhere on the planet. He’s that good. He is followed in the rotation by lefty Kyle Freeland who grew up in Colorado and has pitched there all his life. He gets it. Jon Gray rolls along and then blows up at some point in the game. If he can figure it out, that will be a huge bonus. Jon Gray can pitch. I’m not as bullish about Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis at the back end of the rotation. But maybe the team chooses to use Antonio Senzatela in a rotation role after his heel infection clears. Jeff Hoffman is another option, but I’m not sold on him. But at least three-quarters of the rotation is high quality.

The bullpen will miss Adam Ottavino who returns to his home state of New York to pitch in the Yankees pen. Ottavino had a fine 2018 after showing some decline the previous season. Wade Davis and Seunghwan Oh are formidable at the back end of the bullpen. Scott Oberg and Jake McGee are credible as well. After a horrific start to his new home in Colorado, Bryan Shaw showed signs that he can be trusted. So I’m on board with the bullpen.

Overall, if pressed about Rockies pitching, you can Color me: On board.

The offense lost a few pieces in D.J. LeMahieu (Yankees), Gerardo Parra (Giants) and Carlos Gonzalez (Indians). I think the loss of LeMahieu will be felt on defense, as he is an outstanding defensive second baseman. The team now has Ryan McMahon playing out of place at second base in a time-share platoon with Garrett Hampson. Make no mistake, however, that Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado, Daniel Murphy, Trevor Story, David Dahl and Ian Desmond can do damage at the plate. Especially when they play at home. The team will hopefully get a full season now from Dahl, who has been injured in the past and now seems ready to go. But even though he hit very well this spring, I still don’t think Ryan McMahon is a second baseman. I hope I’m wrong. Garrett Hampson waits to help out.

I believe having Arenado under contract long-term takes the pressure off him. I think he would have pressed worrying about his future and pending free agency.

The Rockies win the West if:

  • The pitching staff can improve even slightly beyond their outstanding 2018 season.
  • David Dahl becomes who I think he is.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS (2nd Place, 87-75)

Dodgers sunshine: If he can keep good health, Walker Buehler can take over as the ace of a good Dodgers pitching staff.

Dodgers clouds: What can be expected of Clayton Kershaw? Does this club have enough offense to prevail?

Going back to the days of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, the Los Angeles Dodgers have always had quality pitching. Even if their offense was just average, the pitching was superb. They have been known to take time and effort while devoting resources to pitching. It has payed off in bunches. Now, for the first time in years, Clayton Kershaw will not be the Opening Day starter. He is still working on shoulder issues that have limited his spring work. Couple that with a back that has barked for two seasons, and we know that Kershaw should no longer be penciled in for 32 or 33 starts. And if he does start 25 games, he likely won’t be the same pitcher we have been accustomed to seeing. His velocity is down. His breaking balls aren’t as sharp. And it just looks like it’s painful for him to throw the ball.

Walker Buehler, himself not a picture of health this spring, should one day be the heir apparent to the top spot in the Dodgers rotation once he gets himself rolling. For now, however, he may be the 5th starter so his work load isn’t as extensive as the rest of the rotation.

Frankly, Huyn-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill, three of the other starters have all suffered injuries in the past that have cost them time on the mound. They aren’t getting any younger, either. Starter Ross Stripling is the youngster in the rotation at age 29.

The bullpen added the arm of Joe Kelly in free agency. I’m sure the Red Sox would love to have him back, but he’ll be setting up Kenley Jansen in the Dodgers pen. Jansen has had a heart procedure and appears to be fine. The Dodgers bullpen is solid and very credible. The starters just need to do their jobs to get the ball to the pen with a lead. Regarding the Dodgers pitching overall, Color me: Wary.

The offense lost Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig. Those are big bats to replace. A J Pollack comes over from Arizona as a free agent. It was a nice signing, but Pollack has had his own injury miseries over the past few years. I’m not sure one Pollack equals two of Kemp and Puig. And I just can’t forget that Max Muncy never hit like he has recently. Can he repeat that? My jury remains out on that question. So where’s the firepower? Corey Seager after returning from surgery? Cody Bellinger as he tries to hit a 5-run homer as he touches the clouds with his over-the-top upper-cut swing? I just don’t think this team has enough offense to keep up with Colorado. And yes, I think the loss of Puig will be huge.

The Dodgers win the West if:

  • Clayton Kershaw returns to form (health, velocity, effective breaking balls) and starts 25 games.
  • They find a bat to equal the losses of Puig and Kemp.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (3rd Place, 81-81)

Diamondbacks sunshine: Eduardo Escobar and Wilmer Flores are two underrated players that can provide stability. Christian Walker is a true sleeper.

Diamondbacks clouds: How do they score runs?

Paul Goldschmidt is gone. Diamondbacks fans have to get on with it. He was great as a player. He was great as a teammate. He was great as a community member. But he’ll have to be great now in St. Louis, not in Phoenix. The Dbacks will show there is life after Goldy. The team has some high quality position players and pitchers. Many, many teams would like to have Zack Greinke, even at age 35. And maybe the Dbacks will still trade him before July 31. Many teams would like to have Robbie Ray, a solid left-handed starter who still has command and control problems that he should have shed by this point. Zach Godley is very umpire dependent because he throws a ton of breaking balls and lives at the bottom of the strike zone. When he falls behind in counts, he has to get the ball up and he gets hit. But he’s a good starter. Luke Weaver is a wild card. He came over from St. Louis in the Goldschmidt deal. I’ve always liked him. He has a live arm and just needs more experience before we know who he is. The last starter is Merrill Kelly, who I am not at all excited about. But Taijuan Walker, a potential starter is likely out until the second half of the season as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. Matt Koch, who likely won’t make the team can also start if needed.

It would appear the season will begin with Archie Bradley as the closer. He will fight to keep that role as Greg Holland and Yoshihisa Hirano are also capable late-inning relievers. Holland came over from Washington as a free agent and helps give the Dbacks a solid trio of credible arms at the back of the pen. Yoan Lopez gets his chance after the team spent a considerable amount signing him in 2015. The rest of the bullpen is OK with lefties T J McFarland and Andrew Chafin.

Regarding the Dbacks pitching, Color me: Upbeat.

The offense lacks a true fence buster. The humidor doesn’t help matters, either. Steven Souza Jr. does not excite me one bit. I think he was overrated when they traded for him. He was hurt last year, but I don’t think he can live up to the expectations of a cleanup hitter. He may hit 20 homers, but I think his reputation was for much more than that. Jake Lamb can’t hit lefties, and he won’t play against them. He will move to first base where he is untried and untrue. I do like his right-handed hitting platoon partner, Christian Walker. I’d love to see what he could do with a full-time role. Walker can be a very dangerous hitter if given a chance. That would require trading Lamb, which isn’t a bad idea.

Escobar and Flores are exciting hitters with little pressure. Turn them loose and let them play. Nick Ahmed is a terrific defensive shortstop. His good offensive year in 2018 was an outlier in my estimation. Newcomer Carson Kelly takes over behind the plate. He, like Luke Weaver came over in the Goldschmidt deal. I hope he relaxes, has fun and grows in the role.

Adam Jones is new to the team and he may begin his season on the bench. However, I think he and David Peralta may share left field. I wish it would be a timeshare with Souza Jr., but for now, it looks like it will be Jones and Peralta sharing a job.

Ketel Marte is being asked to transition to center field from the infield. A good athlete, he can do the job. Other good athletes like Dee Gordon have gone from playing second base to center field. Gordon couldn’t wait to return to the infield. It won’t be easy for Marte. It wasn’t easy for Rhys Hoskins, who went from first base to left field for Philadelphia. He’s back at first this spring. Billy Hamilton did, indeed, make a good transition from shortstop to center field. It can be done. I have high hopes for Marte.

The Dbacks win the West if:

  • They find at least two impact major league power bats and two major league pitchers in trades for Greinke, Lamb and Ray.
  • Jake Lamb and Ketel Marte become All-Stars at their new positions.

SAN DIEGO PADRES (4th Place, 75-87)

Padres sunshine: The arrival of Manny Machado adds tremendous credibility to a young, upcoming baseball team.

Padres clouds: Decent and consistent championship quality pitching is at least two seasons away.

Yes, I think San Diego has improved with the signing of Manny Machado. It showed the world that a small market club can play with the big boys and took the argument of “We don’t have the money to spend” away from every team in the major leagues——big market, middle market or small market. Machado sets the tone for the future.

The pitching staff still must experience growing pains. They have an anchor in Joey Lucchesi, a 25 year-old lefty. He and right-hander Chris Paddack, who is only 23, form an interesting duo that could be at the top of the Padres rotation for years to come. Lefties Matt Strahm, Eric Lauer and Robbie Erlin form a very solid trio of back of the rotation starters that will continue to gain experience and knowledge this season. That rotation may be augmented when pitchers like Mackenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon and Luis Patino are ready for prime time. The Padres pitching prospects are outstanding. There are probably nine pitchers in the queue who can be a factor in the Padres future. Even some as trade bait.

Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen and Adam Warren are the late inning guys that can do the job. Like their rotation pitchers, there are pitchers waiting in the wings to help out.

For now, regarding the Padres pitching, Color me: Excited.

Padres infield depth includes highly, highly rated shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. He probably doesn’t start in the big leagues, but he’ll be there during the season at some point. Luis Urias, a 21 year-old youngster with a big bat will likely get the call at shortstop. I first saw Luis Urias in the Arizona Fall League. Everything seemed to jump off the barrel of his bat. He will likely be the team’s opening day shortstop, then move to second base after this season. Of course, the signing of Manny Machado adds an infielder who may eventually play his beloved shortstop, moving Tatis Jr. to third.

The outfield is plenty deep with Wil Myers, Frenchy Cordero , Hunter Renfroe, Framil Reyes and Manuel Margot mixing and matching spots according to the opposition of the moment. These guys can play, but they don’t bring tons of power.

By next season, I think we will see the Padres higher in the standings. In two seasons, we may see the Padres as true threats to win the division. They are building something special.

The Padres win the West if:

  • The rookies all gain three years of experience playing major league baseball this season, and that’s impossible.
  • The Rockies and Dodgers totally collapse.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (Last Place, 66-96)

Giants sunshine: Their fans get to watch games in a spectacular setting.

Giants clouds: Their 40-man roster is aging, expensive and declining in quality. Their farm system is abysmal.

I must begin by saying I have no sympathy for the Giants brass. I do have sympathy for Giants fans, who are terrific. Their front office allowed the team to rot. After playing winning championship baseball, the front office handed out long-term, ridiculous contracts. Consider the following: Buster Posey, 9 years at $167MM with a contract until the end of 2022. Johnny Cueto, 6 years at $130MM with a contract until the end of 2022. Jeff Samardzija, 5 years at $90MM with a contract until the end of 2020. Brandon Belt, 6 years at $79MM with a contract until the end of 2021, Brandon Crawford, 6 years at $75MM with a contract until the end of 2021, Evan Longoria, 12 years at $119 MM with a contract until the end of 2023, Mark Melancon, 4 years at $62MM with a contract until the end of 2020. Madison Bumgarner, 8 years at $58MM with a contract until the end of this season.

And that, my friends, is why the San Francisco Giants can barely field a team this season. It really is incredible how a front office could have made such terrible decisions with such long-range ramifications.

The Giants will be bad until…I can be generous and say…2023. And they have totally failed to stock a very weak farm system which complicates the efforts of the new front office.

I just don’t think the rotation of a declining Madison Bumgarner, Samardzija, Derek Holland, Dereck Rodriguez, and Drew Pomeranz can match any rotation in the NL West. No way. No how. And if one of them gets hurt, who fills in? Well, they do have Andrew Suarez, Ty Blach, Tyler Beede and others. Frankly, I think that group would be more successful than the guys they have chosen for their rotation.

The bullpen features closers Will Smith and Mark Melancon. Meh. And then Tony Watson looms. Meh. Sam Dyson. Meh. Etc. Etc. Etc.

My thoughts on the Giants pitching? Color me: Mortified.

The offense may be worse than the pitching. How long can Buster Posey continue to be an effective catcher? Is there anything left in the tank of Evan Longoria? How about an outfield of Steven Duggar, Mac Williamson, Gerardo Parra, and Cameron Maybin? I’m not too excited if I’m a Giants fan. It reminds me of the Indians group in the outfield. Names without much in the way of potential production.

I still like Brandon Crawford as a terrific shortstop who I think can hit again. Brandon Belt continues as a tease. Some good at-bats, followed by empty swings.

Again, Giants fans deserve better. They will lose manager Bruce Bochy at the end of the season. I think he’s seen enough. But he did a great job building a winner.

The Giants win the West if:

  • We no longer have to pay income taxes in America.
  • I stop eating salt.

I have been providing my fantasy player rankings this offseason. Now, here are my closer and prominent reliever rankings for 2019

Edwin Diaz

Blake Treinen

Kelly Jansen

Roberto Osuna

Aroldis Chapman

Felipe Vazquez

Sean Doolittle

Jose Leclerc

Brad Hand

Kirby Yates

Arodys Vizcaino

David Robertson

Alex Colome

Archie Bradley

Will Smith

Trevor May

Jose Alvarado

Craig Kimbrel

Josh Hader

Wade Davis

Ken Giles

Raisel Iglesias

Chad Green

Ryan Brasier

Matt Barnes

Michael Givens

Drew Steckenrider

Jordan Hicks

Shane Greene

Pedro Strop

Cody Allen

Jeremy Jeffress

Hunter Strickland

Blake Parker

Ryan Pressly

Brandon Morrow

Brad Peacock

Kenone Kela

Yoshihisa Hirano

Joe Jimenez

Brad Boxberger

Joakim Soria

Kelvin Herrera

Jeurys Familia

Listen to our baseball podcast, ShortHops every week at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and right here at ClubhouseCorner.com.

You can follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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About the author

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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