Opening Day is tomorrow, so today we’re previewing. In addition to the stuff, like this, we’ll be posting this morning, be sure to join us for a 2019 season preview on the MyTeams App at 2PM Eastern Time.
We’ve done some predictions. We’ve cataloged the new, random and fun things in store for the 2019 season. Now let’s talk some actual baseball.
Earlier this month Bill and did some division-by-division previews. Not a ton has changed since then, but here for Opening Day are our updated team-by-team capsule summaries which should quickly orient you as to each team’s major strengths and weaknesses for the coming season. First we did the American League. Now here’s the National League:
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
The Phillies were quite active during the offseason, trading for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto while signing Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and David Robertson. The offense should be the Phillies’ calling card this year, with a middle of the lineup featuring Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and Realmuto. The Phillies’ starting pitching isn’t quite as fearsome as, beyond Cy Young contender Aaron Nola, there are question marks. Jake Arrieta‘s ERA has risen in three consecutive seasons. Nick Pivetta seems to be everyone’s favorite breakout candidate, but he has thus far compiled a 5.33 ERA in the bigs. Beyond Nola, it’s anyone’s guess how the rotation will fare. As for the bullpen, Robertson adds some stability to the late innings. While Gabe Kapler’s relievers won’t rank among baseball’s best, but it should be markedly improved compared to recent years. And, all of that taken together, Philly could be on course for its best finish since 2011.
Aside from losing Harper, the biggest move for the Nats this past winter was signing starter Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract. He joins a rotation that includes three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and fellow newcomer Aníbal Sánchez. This rotation is arguably the best in baseball. The Nationals’ offense should still be decent enough on the backs of Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. No. 1 prospect Victor Robles (No. 4 across baseball) is a strong Rookie of the Year contender and shortstop Trea Turner, and right fielder Adam Eaton should combine for a lot of stolen bases. Last year the pen had serious health problems that ended up scuttling the Nats’ playoff hopes. This year new additions Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal will join closer Sean Doolittle and, if all of them are healthy, matters will be much improved. We suspect the Nats and Phillies will be battling for first place all season long.
Ronald Acuña Jr. led the way for a young team, with him winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award and the club winning the NL East. The Braves mostly stood pat this offseason, however, adding Josh Donaldson on a one-year, $23 million deal. Assuming he’s healthy he, Acuña and Freddie Freeman could make for a murderer’s row in the middle of the Braves’ lineup. The rotation has some problems, though, as last year’s ace Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb and Kevin Gausman have all had health problems this spring. There are a ton of promising young arms in the Braves’ system but it’s always a gamble to depend on young pitching, especially when you have postseason aspirations. If those gambles pay off the Braves could easily repeat. If not, they will have a hard time hanging with markedly improved Phillies and Nats’ squads.
New York Mets
The Mets acquired lights-out closer Edwin Díaz and future Hall of Fame second baseman Robinson Canó from the Mariners and added Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie, and Jeurys Familia via free agency. The Mets could be a frustrating team to watch last season, but the team’s weaknesses have been addressed in a big way. As for strengths, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is back and has a shiny new contract to boot and Noah Syndergaard is a potential Cy Young contender himself provided he can stay healthy. Zach Wheeler and Steven Matz have the potential to make the Mets’ rotation something special if they fulfill their potential. Adding Ramos, Canó, and Lowrie as well as full seasons from top prospects Peter Alonso and Jeff McNeil should help make an unspectacular 2018 lineup better. The Mets are still not a dominant-looking club, and they play in a tough division, but it they’re better and, with a little luck, could be in the thick of things all year.
Expect more of the same, unspectacular baseball from the always-rebuilding Marlins. Center fielder Lewis Brinson, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Brian Anderson should be some fun young players to watch, but that’s about all the Fish have going for them. Most projection systems see Miami as baseball’s second-worst team behind the Orioles. There is no obvious reason to suggest they have misjudged this club.
The upshot: Any series between the Phillies, Nationals, Braves, and Mets will be appointment viewing, especially towards the end of the season. This division may not be wrapped up until Game 162 of the regular season. Getcha popcorn ready.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
A disappointing end to 2018 and some cool preseason projections has many Cubs fans feeling a bit pessimistic, but let’s not pretend there isn’t still a ton of talent here. Kris Bryant will likely play more than 102 games this year. Yu Darvish should be healthy and can’t possibly be as bad as he was when he did pitch in 2018. They’ll actually have Brandon Morrow for a full year. They’ll, obviously, have Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. There are some depth issues — you don’t win for 4-5 years in a row without the younger talent maturing into veteran talent or disappearing altogether — and the front office has signaled that they do not intend to add any payroll to patch holes, but it’s a fantastic roster as it is. The biggest question for the Cubs this year, apart from health anyway, may be in the dugout. Joe Maddon did not get his contract extended beyond 2019 and he lost his hitting coach. Seems like, if the Cubs falter, he’s gonna take the fall for it. Weird times for one of the game’s better teams.
A messy 2018 season in which their manager got the axe midway through ended up looking fairly decent by the time it was all done thanks to a steadier hand on the tiller in new manager Mike Shildt. This offseason the Cards went out and traded for one of the biggest bats in the game in Paul Goldschmidt. No, there will not be a rebuild in St. Louis. The rotation has some injury concerns as far as Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha go, and Adam Wainwright may or may not have anything left in the tank. The top of things looks good, though, as 2018 revelation Miles Mikolas has a shiny new long-term deal and Jack Flaherty seems poised to break out even bigger than he did last year. New addition Andrew Miller, looking to bounce back from an injury-marred 2018, will help bolster the bullpen as fireballer Jordan Hicks moves into the closer role. On offense, Marcel Ozuna was disappointing and is due for a bounce back. Dexter Fowler was execrable and HAS to be better, right? Matt Carpenter started slow and ended slow but was MVP-caliber for the bulk of the season. You don’t worry about him. Figure on two improvements and some consistency from those three, plus Goldschmidt and an underrated supporting cast that still managed to help the Cards to the fifth-best offense in the NL last year, and the lineup could be pretty damn scary, actually. Playoffs or bust for the Cards, who are many analysts’ trendy pick to with the division.
The Brewers bring back the same basic team that terrified everyone late last season and, with a couple of breaks, could’ve won the pennant. Oh, and then they went out and added Yasmai Grandal. Mike Moustakas is here for the whole season now. The bullpen is still dominant — hell, it’s downright terrifying — but they have health concerns with Jeremy Jeffress and closer Corey Knebel. There are open questions about the rotation. They lost Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez who were somehow really great for them down the stretch. Jhoulys Chacin is back and is, by default, the ace. Brandon Woodruff, who was as impressive as all get-out in the postseason, would look awfully good as a starter and will get that chance this year. Overall a strong, strong club once again but it’s hard to see them catching all the breaks they did last year, particularly with health, and they play in arguably the toughest division in baseball.
The Reds certainly had the most fun offseason, acquiring Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp in a combo salary-dump talent infusion. They also added a ton of arms and a ton of depth which has a lot of people expecting a much-improved Reds club. Pitching is still gonna be a problem. The Reds finished 24th in baseball in ERA last year, with the rotation coming in at 25th, but newcomers Sonny Gray, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark could help that quite a bit if they hit upside projections. The lineup is gonna be nice. Adding Puig to an offense that featured Joey Votto — who had a down year that was still pretty great — and Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett (who will start the year on the Injured List but form whom the Reds have some good depth to cover for in the meantime) should create a lot of problems for opposing pitchers. Jesse Winker is a super nice table-setter. In the end, the pitching and the tough competition in the division will be too much to overcome, but the Reds should be way better this year than last and, even if they aren’t in the playoff conversation deep into the season, they should provide a lot of entertainment. And heck, they could surprise.
The Buccos are rolling into 2019 with a roughly $70 million payroll — only the Rays will pay less for their roster — and a lot of wishes and hopes. Chris Archer, last year’s big midseason pickup, joins Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove and Trevor Williams to make for a not-bad rotation. Keone Kela, Javier Vazquez, Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez are not as good as the Brewers’ relievers, but they are a pretty solid unit. The offense is not gonna be good, though. The 2018 lineup finished 19th in the majors in runs scored and 25th in home runs and all they did to improve it was add Lonnie Chisenhall. There’s little depth here and not a ton of major league-ready talent in the minors. Between the bad offense, the tough as hell division and a pitching staff that, while a strength on paper, is not so much of a strength that it can be expected to overcome the subpar bats, it’s hard to pencil the Pirates anyplace but last last place.
Upshot: A vicious three-way battle for the top that, really, could go to either the Brewers, the Cubs or the Cards, with the two teams not making it falling into a vicious battle for the Wild Card. The Reds will be fun. The Pirates won’t. The end.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw will not be starting on Opening Day, but they’ve won pennants two years in a row despite extended absences from him. Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Julio Urias and Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kenta Maeda, once again, give the Dodgers the kind of starting depth that should get them through. The Dodgers added center fielder A.J. Pollock, inking the former D-Back to a four-year, $55 million contract in late January, to help bolster one of the better, more well-rounded offenses in the National League. Pollock and Cody Bellinger will steal the occasional base. Bellinger, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, and Justin Turner will supply the power. Shortstop Corey Seager returns after missing most of the 2018 season. If he can return to form, he can very easily contend for the NL MVP Award. Kenley Jansen, newcomer Joe Kelly and Pedro Báez form the foundation of a solid bullpen. The 2019 Dodgers are without old friend Yasiel Puig, but beyond that they are gonna be a lot like the 2018 Dodgers. And the 2017 Dodgers. Which is to say: really good.
The Rockies added only one free agent during the offseason: second baseman Daniel Murphy. They also signed third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million extension in late February. Otherwise, though, they didn’t do much of anything to improve last year’s 91-win club. The offense will be strong again, obviously. Arenado is an MVP candidate every year, smacking the cover off the ball while playing arguably the best defense in the game. Shortstop Trevor Story, Murphy, David Dahl, and Charlie Blackmon are excellent supporting players. It’s an open question why they didn’t improve center field, where Ian Desmond is not an asset, but the Rockies always seem happy to go into battle with a hole or three. Pitching is always an issue for the Rockies, but Kyle Freeland broke out last year and German Márquez is a solid No. 2. The rotation will be rounded out by Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, and Chad Bettis. Could be better. Could be worse. In the bullpen, Wade Davis will reprise his role as closer. The arms behind Davis in the bullpen don’t pop out at you, but it’s quite a solid mix of arms, including Seung-Hwan Oh, Scott Oberg, and Jake McGee. You’d like to see the Rockies really go for it, but they seem content to challenge for a Wild Card again.
San Diego Padres
The addition of Manny Machado could help the Padres arrive sooner than expected. They also, just yesterday, announced that top prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr. will break camp as the starting shortstop. Other young talent like pitcher Mackenzie Gore, infielder Luis Urías, catcher Francisco Mejia , pitcher Chris Paddack and a ton of other top-100 prospects suggest that the future in San Diego is really bright. Outside of the prospects, if Wil Myers can stay healthy and if Eric Hosmer can pick up his production, the Padres could be pretty interesting. The rotation of Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, Robbie Erlin, Matt Strahm, and Chris Paddack will have some challenges and growing pains, of course. A bullpen featuring Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen and Adam Warren will be better than you think, even if it’s not a particularly deep relief corps. A lot of people are excited about the Padres this year. That excitement is warranted, but it may be one year premature. We’ll see.
The Diamondbacks shipped off All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and watched Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock leave for free agency, launching a rebuild. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray are still on the club, but if I were their agent I’d tell them they shouldn’t buy groceries with expiration dates beyond July 31. In the meantime, Grienke and Ray are a pretty good 1-2 punch with some good, albeit not great, arms behind them. The offense will likely be the Diamondbacks’ biggest weakness. Power will be a big weakness. They just lost Steven Souza, Jr. for the year. They’re counting on Wilmer Flores of all people to be an offensive leader. It’s . . . a weak group. Archie Bradley is a fantastic reliever, but saves will be at a premium for a team that might not get a ton of leads. It’s gonna be a tough year in Phoenix.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants were once rumored to be in on Bryce Harper but that fizzled and, in the end, they had one of the quietest offseasons of any team. Which is not good considering how bad they were last year. Madison Bumgarner will lead the rotation, but he’s in his walk year and could be on the trading block pretty early. Behind him, Dereck Rodríguez, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland, and Andrew Suarez do not make anyone swoon and the bullpen is no great shakes, but they’ll look positively fabulous compared to the garbage offense the Giants are rolling out there. Think of any random fourth or fifth outfielder who has appeared in the majors in the past five years who you would be surprised to learn is still playing. Yep, the Giants signed them. It’ll be a long year in San Francisco. Bruce Bochy deserves a better sendoff in his final season.
The upshot: The NL West is the Dodgers’ division to lose once again. It is really difficult seeing any other team winning the title, but stranger things have happened. The Rockies can be a solid Wild Card team. The rest of the division is fairly weak, but as mentioned, the Padres could arrive a year earlier than expected and will be a load of fun to watch either way.