Advertisements
News Ticker

Grand Slams: 3/14 Edition

CBS Sports/USATSI

CBS Sports/USATSI

Every week, a group of writers from the Bad Man Bureau will discuss topics regarding Major League Baseball (and baseball in general) with quick, paragraph-long responses. This week, we offer our previews of the National League.

Question One – Which five teams will make the playoffs?

Domenic:
NL East – Washington Nationals

The Nationals may have been the most disappointing team in baseball last season, despite winning 86 games and flirting with the postseason – such is life for a team coming off of a 98 win season and ostensibly improving over the off-season. Some folk subsequently abandoned ship, fearing that the Nationals may have already peaked … but I remain optimistic. Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon form an excellent under-30 core on offense, and any regression from Jayson Werth should be balanced by improvements by Adam LaRoche and continued growth of Messrs Harper and Rendon. The rotation looks to be a strength again, as well, with Doug Fister (one of the most underrated acquisitions of the winter) joining the superb trio of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez. A bounceback by Drew Storen could make the bullpen a strength, as well.

NL Central – St. Louis Cardinals

Anyone that doubts that the Cardinals are the best run organization in Major League Baseball (if not all of sports) is sorely mistaken. The team has been able to plug-and-play prospects for the better part of a decade, replacing the likes of Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter these last few seasons with internal options, and improving in doing so. Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter are legitimate All-Star caliber talents on offense, annual Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright is joined in the rotation by studs Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha, and the back of the bullpen is stocked with young flamethrowers Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez – and that’s only their homegrown talent. Last year’s World Series runner-up addressed its two biggest weaknesses (shortstop and center field) by acquiring Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos, and is brimming with talent throughout the clubhouse. And, to top it all off, Oscar Taveras may be the best hitting prospect in all of baseball … and he’s waiting in the wings at Triple-A.

NL West – Arizona Diamondbacks

I have criticized the Diamondbacks quite a bit for their apparent willingness to deal talent for intangibles, as the organization has admittedly prioritized qualities like grit over the past few years. That is all but irrelevant to the quality of the team on the field, however, as the Diamondbacks are nevertheless an incredibly deep, talented team. It begins with an offense led by Paul Goldschmidt, who may well have been the best hitter in the National League last season, and continues throughout the lineup. The batting order does not have an easily identifiable weakness, with every slot (save for perhaps right field) filled by a player that is at least average for the position. There is also a great deal of pop in the lineup, with every hitter capable of hitting double-digit home runs, and Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo could both hit 30-plus. The rotation lacks a true top of the rotation starter, but all five pitchers are a safe bet to be at least average – and this ignores Archie Bradley, who may well be the best starting pitching prospect in the minors. Addison Reed makes the bullpen a strength, as well.

Wild Card – Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves

I think both teams are quite good, and I could envision a scenario in which they won the West and East, respectively. The reason that both are here, however, essentially boils down to questions that do not have satisfactory answers. With respect to the Dodgers, can Matt Kemp stay healthy? How much will Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez regress? Are they really trotting out Dee Gordon or Alexander Guerrero at short? I think the pitching staff is excellent, yet I worry that an injury could derail everything, as the team lacks insurance in the upper minors. With respect to the Braves, can Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton remember how to hit a baseball? What versions of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton will show up? Can Alex Wood and Brandon Beachy stay healthy? Will the 2012 or 2013 version of Ervin Santana show up? Can Craig Kimbrel continue to bear such a heavy load? Again, I truly like this team – I just see it as having more issues than the Nationals.

Ran:
NL East – Washington Nationals

The Nationals are one of the most complete teams in MLB, so picking them to win their division seems like a pretty easy choice. Offensively, they’ll feature one of the best lineups from top to bottom in the entire sport, and this will be the case even if Bryce Harper doesn’t play up to his potential yet. However, if he does, this offense can go from ‘really good’ to ‘scary’ pretty quickly. Having said that, their pitching staff may be what truly carries them. Their rotation is just as strong — top to bottom — as their lineup, if not stronger, featuring Stephen Strassburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Ross Detwiler. Furthermore, the bullpen should not be a weakness either, as Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard should have no issues closing games out, while the likes of Drew Storen, Jerry Blevins, and Mike Gonzalez might contribute in more ways than people may think. The only obstacle this team will have to overcome is injuries, because if healthy, it’s hard to envision them winning fewer than 90 games.

NL Central – St. Louis Cardinals

They’ll pitch, they’ll hit, they’ll play defense. As annoying as this cliché is, the Cardinals will do “Cardinal things.” The team doesn’t have many (if any) noticeable weaknesses, and just as they showed everyone last season, they know how to replace departing free agents. With Carlos Beltran no longer there, the Cardinals traded for Peter Bourjos, and then signed Jhonny Peralta to replace David Freese, who went to the Angels in the Bourjos trade. It’ll also be interesting to see what Matt Adams can do in a full season, and if he can continue hitting as well as he did last season in just over 300 plate-appearances, this offense will run seven deep. On the pitching side, Adam Wainwright will continue being the leader of the staff, but with Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, and Lance Lynn slated to be the 2-3-4 starters, both the present and future look very bright for the Cardinals. The same can be said about the back-end of the bullpen, with flamethrowers Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez ready to take over the 8th and 9th innings full-time.

NL West – Los Angeles Dodgers

Though it’s fair to expect both Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig to decline after their ridiculously good 2013 campaigns, they should both still perform at very high levels. Couple that with the fact that Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp should have better seasons in 2014, and the Dodgers will have a very formidable offense. It’ll also be interesting to see if they’re able to trade Andre Ethier, knowing that second base may be an issue, with Dee Gordon currently listed as the starter. On the mound, a one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke is obviously fantastic, while Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Josh Beckett round out a very nice rotation. The back end of the bullpen will be strong, as well, with Kenley Jansen and Brian Wilson taking the ball in the 8th and 9th innings respectively. J.P Howell and Paco Rodriguez are two somewhat underappreciated lefties, and signing Paul Maholm to serve as the long-man and (probably) emergency starter can prove to be a very underrated addition.

Wildcard – Cincinnati Reds vs. San Francisco Giants

Offensively, the Reds should once again be middle-of-the-pack – though if Joey Votto plays as well as he did in 2012, that may push them closer to the elite offenses, especially in the NL. Playing their home games in such a good hitter’s park will also help. The pitching will really carry this team, though, as Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani form one of the best rotations in the game. Closing out games also shouldn’t be a problem, with Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, and J.J. Hoover manning the late innings. Meanwhile, the Giants might feature the most underrated lineup in the majors. Though Buster Posey gets almost all the credit, Brandon Belt, Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro, and Angel Pagan shouldn’t go unnoticed. Considering Pagan played in only 71 games last season, they will benefit from having him back and healthy. Meanwhile, Sandoval is in a contract-year, which doesn’t mean he’ll magically turn into a star, but it should result in him being in the best shape he can possibly be (which has already happened, from what I can tell) as he seeks a long-term contract. Usually known for their pitching, the Giants didn’t have much success there in 2013, but Matt Cain should have a bounce-back season, while the addition of Tim Hudson will help, as well. If either Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong can find a way to once again be above-average starters, this rotation will cause more problems than it may initially seem on paper.

Jordan:
NL East – Washington Nationals
While the Nats disappointed in 2013, they are poised for an excellent 2014. Their pitching rotation is one of the best in the league, with a core of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann, as well as new addition Doug Fister, who they acquired in one of the biggest robberies of the off-season. Their offense is loaded with talent, both young and old. Phenom Bryce Harper is only going to get better, Ryan Zimmerman is an established top tier third baseman, and young guns such as backstop Wilson Ramos and infielder Anthony Rendon have a great deal of upside. Jayson Werth finally started to live up to his enormous contract last season, and should be able to round out a strong Washington offense, and help propel them to 90 wins.

NL Central – St. Louis Cardinals
You’re probably new to this whole baseball thing if you think anyone but the Cardinals is the best franchise in baseball. They made the World Series last year, only two years after losing their supposed franchise player, Albert Pujols, which put the end to any belief that they were simply banking off of one of the best hitters of our generation. Several elite young players, such as newly-extended Matt Carpenter and breakout pitcher Michael Wacha, will lead the Cardinals to success for many years to come. At the present, however, their outlook is still very positive. Their core is largely intact from last season, and includes the additions of shortstop Jhonny Peralta and outfielder Peter Bourjos, one of the most underrated acquisitions of the off-season. Needless to say, Mike Matheny‘s club should rest easy at night knowing they’re in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs.

NL West – Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are my favorite to win the World Series this year. They have one of the best young hitters in the game in Yasiel Puig, and he will likely improve this year. Their offense also features slugger Adrian Gonzalez, former MVP candidate Matt Kem,p and Hanley Ramirez, who had one of the best bounce-back seasons in 2013. Oh, and it may also help to mention that they have the greatest pitcher alive, Clayton Kershaw. The rest of their rotation is great, as well, with Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu rounding it out. They should combine with the powerful offense to propel the Dodgers to first place in the West, and potentially the entire NL.

Wild Cards – Atlanta Braves vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Braves are one of the most talented teams in the league, but can have trouble putting it all together at times. All five tools are on display across the outfield, home of BJ and Justin Upton, and young stud Jason Heyward. Freddie Freeman is another young weapon on offense, and defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons is a valuable piece, too. The Pittsburgh Pirates made they playoffs for the first time in years last season, and will likely repeat on that success, as that team is largely returning in 2014, with the exception of AJ Burnett. Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole has the potential to become a bona fide ace this year, and they still have reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. Between the two teams, I could see it going either way. Both, however, should be content when it comes to their outlook for the 2014 season.

David:
NL East – Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals are an intriguing team. They were a disappointment last year after dominating in 2012, and yet the pieces from that division winning team remain. The rotation in Washington, led by Stephen Strasburg, is very good. This rotation can match up with any in baseball, especially after the acquisition of Doug Fister. The offense will be key this year for Washington. With the continued development of Bryce Harper, the Nationals expect to have an offense that, while not elite, will produce enough runs to win games.

NL Central – St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals seem to do this every year. They lose a key player, and then sign another player to replace him, as if nothing happened. This year, the Cardinals lost Carlos Beltran, and subsequently signed Jhonny Peralta. They will not miss a beat. The Cardinals have a very solid pitching staff, with Adam Wainwright leading the charge. The special thing about this rotation is that, outside of Wainwright, it is incredibly young. The Cardinals are set for years to come. Combine that with the offense they expect to receive from Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, and of course Yadier Molina (as well as the perpetually injured Allen Craig), and the Cardinals will do more than enough to take the NL Central.

NL West – Los Angeles Dodgers

This seems to be by far the easiest choice of the National League. The Dodgers finished with 92 wins after an absolutely horrendous start in 2013. The Dodgers did not become a consistent winner until late June. Once they caught fire, however, they never looked back. Led by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers rotation is one of the top units in baseball. The Dodgers offense is also solid, with names like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Yasiel Puig in the lineup. Matt Kemp isn’t even the top player in this offense at the moment, which is saying quite a bit. If Kemp returns to his MVP-like form, the Dodgers may become the best team in baseball.

NL Wildcard – Atlanta Braves vs. Cincinnati Reds

The Atlanta Braves are a very good team that will miss winning the division only because of how good the Nationals are. They would be competitive in most any division, and could potentially win any other division in the National League. The Reds are a solid team, but have done nothing of note to get better. However, their main competition, the Pittsburgh Pirates, got worse. The Reds will sneak in as the last wild card team, and have to play the Braves in Atlanta. Chances are they’re in for another one and done.

Question Two – Who is your “dark horse” team for this season?

Domenic:
I was initially inclined to pick the Diamondbacks as my dark horse, as PECOTA has them finishing 80-82, good for fourth in the West, whereas I think they can win 95 games. However, it seems a bit boring to rehash what I like about the team here, so I’ll dig a bit deeper and go with the New York Mets. The narrative surrounding the Mets is quite bleak, due to the persistent monetary issues of the Wilpons and the loss of Matt Harvey to Tommy John Surgery … but there is a fair amount of talent in Queens, with even more on the way. Daniel Murphy, David Wright, and Curtis Granderson give them a solid heart of the order, and Travis D’Arnaud, slated to squat behind the plate on Opening Day, may be the best catching prospect in baseball. The offense may be very dependent on platooning in order to scrape up against average, but that might not be too great an issue with the quality of the Mets’ pitching and defense. The loss of Harvey is tremendous, to be sure, and yet a one-through-five of Jonathan Niese, Bartolo Colon, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, and one of Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero, or Noah Syndergaard (a top three pitching prospect) will keep the Mets in most every game. The bullpen is stout, as well, albeit unspectacular. PECOTA predicts a record of 73-89 – with a bit of luck, I can see the Mets winning between 80 and 85 games.

Ran:
The Milwaukee Brewers can surprise people this season. Even with Ryan Braun playing in only 61 games last season, the Brewers were not too far off from a .500 record. With Braun back, and free agent pitcher Matt Garza on-board, both the offense and pitching staff should be better in 2014. The usually “quietly” productive Aramis Ramirez hasn’t yet begun to show serious signs of slowing down, while both Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura showed signs of possible elite-level production from their respective positions. Yovani Gallardo probably hasn’t reached the levels that some thought he’d eventually pitch to, but he’s still a very solid starter, and a 1-2-3-4 punch of him, the aforementioned Garza, Kyle Lohse, and the very underrated Marco Estrada forms a more than solid rotation. The Brewers probably won’t win enough games to truly challenge the Cardinals atop the NL Central, but they should be fighting for the Wildcard spot all season long, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the Wildcard game.

Jordan:
My dark horse team is the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers weren’t god awful last year, finishing only 7 games under .500. They’re poised to improve, as Ryan Braun returns from his PED suspension. While some of his success may stem from the alleged steroid use, he still has a huge impact on the team, and will likely improve the offense significantly. There was another large addition to the team this off-season, as they signed pitcher Matt Garza to a 4 year, $50 MM deal. This helps bolster an already solid starting rotation, where he joins Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse. Braun, combined with other impact players like Jonathon Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, as well young risers like Scooter Gennett and Khris Davis, should give the pitching staff enough support to propel them to above .500 (and to potentially compete for a playoff spot).

David:
My dark horse team is the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks defined mediocrity in 2013, finishing 81-81. They have a solid lineup with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt leading the way, and the addition of Mark Trumbo should bolster its production (though, his defense remains questionable). Additionally, adding Bronson Arroyo should help the rotation enough to be competitive. However, the Diamondbacks still trail the Dodgers and will more than likely not win the NL West this year.

Question Three – What team do you expect to disappoint?

Domenic:
The Dodgers are projected to win 98 games this season, and that makes sense … when taken at face value. Despite a rough start, the Dodgers finished 92-70 in 2013, largely on the strength of Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez knocking the hell out of the ball, and Clayton Kershaw being the best pitcher in baseball. That is a bit dismissive of the fine seasons of Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, Andre Ethier, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Zack Greinke, all of which will be back in Dodger Blue in 2014. However, there are several chinks in the armor with this team. Matt Kemp is once again coming off of an off-season of surgeries (ankle and shoulder). Puig and Ramirez are due for some serious regression, and Gonzalez appears to be on the decline. I love the pitching staff, but Ryu slipped a bit as the season wore on as hitters adjusted to him, and Greinke has been fairly inconsistent from year to year. The Dodgers are likely a playoff team – I simply see 88 wins as much more realistic than 98.

Ran:
I can see the Atlanta Braves having a rather underwhelming season. Offensively, the team has many question marks. Can Jason Heyward stay healthy? And if he does, will he finally breakout into the MVP-type bat we were all sure he’d become? Was Freddie Freeman’s astronomical jump in production for real, or will he regress to good-but-not-great status? Can Chris Johnson be a legit .300/.340/.450 bat, or will he return to fringe-starter levels? Was Evan Gattis a total fluke, or have the Braves found a great power-hitting catcher to replace Brian McCann? Do Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton belong anywhere near a starting lineup? To me, that’s an offense with way too many questions, and ones that are very legitimate. On the pitching side of things, the rotation should actually be rather solid, even with Kris Medlen‘s unfortunate and possible season-ending injury. Julio Teheran, Ervin Santana, Alex Wood, Mike Minor, and Brandon Beachy form a very nice rotation, and the bullpen should be a strength. However, I’m not sure if the pitching will be able to carry this team if some of the hitters either continue underperforming or drop back down to earth, at which point the Braves may see themselves on the outside looking in on the playoffs.

Jordan:
The Cincinnati Reds will regress greatly in 2014. They made the playoffs last season with Joey Votto turning in another spectacular season, and decent results from the pitching staff. However, manager Dusty Baker was replaced this off-season, and I believe the team will struggle early on this year. Their offense outside of Votto is nothing special, with a downward trending Brandon Phillips and the inconsistent Jay Bruce highlighting the batting order. Shin-Soo Choo left for Arlington, and that represents a critical blow onto the top of the lineup. All of this coupled with the lackluster starting rotation spells for no Red Legs in October.

David:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are bound to disappoint this year. Losing AJ Burnett hurts quite a bit. The emergence of Gerrit Cole will help them over a full season, but it is doubtful that Jeff Locke repeats the performance he turned in last year. The Pirates are an above-average team, but it is unlikely that they make the playoffs, and they may only find themselves a couple of games over .500 at the end of the season.

Question Four – What player do you expect to have a breakout season?

Domenic:
Peter Bourjos was a revelation for the Angels in 2011, posting a .271/.327/.438 slashline (14% above-average by wRC+), and playing brilliant defense in center field. In just 552 plate appearances that year (most from the bottom of the lineup), Bourjos managed 26 2B, 11 3B, 12 HR, and 22 SB, while also excelling at going from first to third and second to home. At only 24 years old, he appeared to be a star in the making. Since then, however, Bourjos has dealt with injuries and Mike Trout (whose presence shifted him into a part-time role), and his production has suffered significantly. The trade to the Cardinals represents a new beginning for him, though, as well as a guaranteed starter’s role in center field. There is no reason to believe that the talent is no longer there, and he is now a team that thrives at extracting every ounce of value from a player (as opposed to an organization that holds grudges). Bourjos will be 27 when Opening Day rolls around, and it would not be surprising to see him perform along the lines of a top-five center fielder in the National League.

Ran:
You can argue that Brandon Belt already broke out last season, but I think he can have a truly monster year in 2014. He had the 6th best wRC+ amongst first basemen in 2013, showing that you don’t have to be a home run machine to be a very productive first basemen. A .289/.360/.481 line is very respectable, but Belt can become more than that. As he starts entering his prime power years (2014 will be his age-26 season) the home run totals should continue creeping up, and he can eventually end up as 25-HR per year guy. That, coupled with fantastic on-base percentages and the ability to hit LHP, should cement Belt’s place amongst the best first basemen in the sport, and a possible MVP candidate down the line. In 2014, that “next” step should come, as I can see Belt hitting around .300/.375/.500, with about 20-22 HRs, which will hopefully earn him his first All-Star game appearance and give the game another star player.

Jordan:
My breakout player for this year is Scooter Gennett. This may be overly bold, as Gennett didn’t exactly set the world on fire in his rookie season. However, he played well-enough to earn some attention, and showed some potential with both his bat and his glove. Rickie Weeks‘ days in Milwaukee are numbered, as he is significantly declining since his days as one of the best power hitting infielders in baseball. This presents a wide open window for Gennett. I’ve been fond of his game for a while, and I believe that he can evolve into a .300 hitter. While I don’t expect that this year, I don’t think it’d be too absurd to anticipate him to hit around .280, and adding to the youth and promise of the Brewers’ infield.

David:
Gerrit Cole will have a great season in 2014. Though he was very good last season for the Pirates, Cole still has the potential to be better. The ability to dominate lineups is there for Cole. If he can consistently induce swings and misses, he will shine. If the Pirates are to be competitive at all this season, they will have to rely heavily on Cole to lead the rotation – and lead them he will.

Follow us on Twitter:
DomenicRanJordanDavid

Advertisements

1 Comment on Grand Slams: 3/14 Edition

  1. Really good article. Well written, informative and kept my attention.

    Wish you guys the best.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: