MLB Spring Training Preview (NL)

Arizona Diamondbacks
2013 Record: 81-81 (2nd in NL West, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: 1B/OF Mark Trumbo, CL Addison Reed
Key Losses: CL Heath Bell, OF Adam Eaton, INF Willie Bloomquist, 3B Matt Davidson, SP Tyler Skaggs
After their second consecutive .500 season, the Diamondbacks’ owners openly placed the team’s managing staff on the hot seat, creating a must-win situation this season for Arizona. At the cost of some of their top prospects, including SP Tyler Skaggs, OF Adam Eaton, and 3B Matt Davidson, who has yet to see the field at the major league level, the D-Backs made deals to acquire slugger Mark Trumbo from the Angels as well as former White Sox closer Addison Reed. Reed was brought in to patch together a bullpen that blew 29 saves last season, including 7 by last year’s closer Brad Ziegler, while Trumbo should strengthen an already solid batting lineup that finished 5th last year in the NL in batting average race. The pieces are there in Trumbo, Reed, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, and 3B Martin Prado for Arizona to contend with the Dodgers for the West, and the managerial staff’s future likely depends on staying in the running through the season’s end.

Atlanta Braves
2013 Record: 96-66 (1st in NL East, Lost to Dodgers in NLDS)
Key Additions: SP Gavin Floyd, 1B Mat Gamel, C/1B Ryan Doumit
Key Losses: C Brian McCann, SP Tim Hudson
Despite their highest win total since 2004 and their first division crown since 2005, the Braves, as they have become known to do in recent memory, fell apart in October. It only took four games for Atlanta’s postseason to come to a halt at the hands of the Dodgers, and this season the team is aimed at reversing that trend and doing some damage in the playoffs. The Braves have all the personnel to make an extended postseason run a very real possibility, as the organization has done a fantastic job recently of assembling a contending team on a sub-$100-million payroll. All-Star 1B Freddie Freeman and the Upton brothers in the outfield, plus OF Jason Heyward and 2B Dan Uggla should give Atlanta the ability to put up plenty of runs and keep them in contention most games. All-Star C Brian McCann’s loss in free agency will hurt the Braves, but young Evan Gattis, who early last season was gaining possible Rookie of the Year considerations, should be a nice replacement. The starting rotation, while not laden with star players, is nonetheless a solid group and an asset to Atlanta this season, while Craig Kimbrel has proven himself to be one of the best closers in the past few years. The Braves should be in contention for the AL East title throughout the regular season, likely in a two-horse race with the Washington Nationals.

Chicago Cubs
2013 Record: 66-96 (5th in NL Central, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: RP Jose Veras, C George Kottaras, OF Justin Ruggiano
Key Losses: RP Kevin Gregg, C Dioner Navarro, OF Brian Bogusevic
The Cubs have not made the postseason since 2008, and that is a streak that will likely continue through this season. At the plate and in the field Chicago does have some young talent with large upsides, particularly in SS Starlin Castro and 1B Anthony Rizzo. However, the rest of the lineup is severely lacking in the talent and experience needed for the Cubs to keep pace with the upper tier of the division. The pitching staff has shown promise over the years, especially with Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood in the starting rotation, and this should only be helped with the addition of Jose Veras from the Tigers. But the entire staff has also been wildly inconsistent from game to game, and that coupled with the lack of run support from the offense led to a very frustrating season for Chicago last year. The Cubs seem to be trying to improve and head in the right direction, but for this season any finish above last place in the NL Central should be seen as an accomplishment.

Cincinnati Reds
2013 Record: 90-72 (3rd in NL Central, Lost to Pirates in NL Wild Card)
Key Additions: C Brayan Pena, UT Skip Schumaker
Key Losses: SP Bronson Arroyo, OF Shin-Soo Choo, OF Xavier Paul, C Ryan Hanigan, OF Derrick Robinson
Most teams in the majors would be very happy to end a season 90-72 like Cincinnati did in 2013, as it would almost assuredly lock up a spot in the postseason. However, when in a division with the Cardinals and Pirates (as the Reds are), 90-72 might not always be good enough, and in this case it was not. The Reds go into 2014 seeking to remain a challenger in the NL Central, but will have to overcome several offseason losses to do so. The pitching staff in Cincinnati should remain solid despite losing SP Bronson Arroyo, as Matt Latos and Johnny Cueto have shown to be capable starters and closer Aroldis Chapman anchors a strong bullpen. The Reds’ offense has the talent to compete with most teams in the NL, as RF Jay Bruce, 2B Brandon Phillips, and 1B Joey Votto are all perennial All-Star contenders. Rookie OF Billy Hamilton is emerging into a quality player as well in spring training, and the club also signed the versatile Skip Schumaker to provide depth on the bench. By late this season, the Reds should be well within striking distance of the NL Central crown, having to likely fight off the World Series runner-up Cardinals and the upstart Pirates.

Colorado Rockies
2013 Record: 74-88 (5th in NL West, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: 1B Justin Morneau, SP Jordan Lyles, OF Drew Stubbs, RP LaTroy Hawkins, OF Brandon Barnes, SP Brett Anderson
Key Losses: 1B Todd Helton, CL Rafael Betancourt, C Yorvit Torrealba, OF Dexter Fowler
Having finished last in the NL West in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, the only way for the Rockies to go is up. Colorado was one of the most active organizations this offseason, dealing and signing a number of both prospects and veterans in an attempt to return back to relevancy in the division. Although some of the names on the lineup have changed due to the offseason shuffling, the Rockies’ already solid batting order should be about as good as it was last season. With headliners in SS Troy Tulowitzki and CF Carlos Gonzalez already in place, plus the addition of former All-Star Justin Morneau at 1B to replace the retired Todd Helton, scoring runs should not be too much of an issue for Colorado this season. The pitching staff was what desperately needed some retooling after allowing the highest ERA of major league teams in 2013, and a large portion of Colorado’s offseason deals involved boosting the quality of their staff. Young newcomers Brett Anderson (from Oakland) and Jordan Lyles (Houston) could see time in the starting rotation this season, while 42-year old veteran LaTroy Hawkins will assume the closing duties. While not a significant improvement on paper, the revamped should show at least some improvement over last season’s results. Despite the roster overhaul, the Rockies still do not have the talent compared with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks to pose a serious threat to the division title this season.

Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 Record: 92-70 (1st in NL West, Lost to Cardinals in NLCS)
Key Additions: SP Dan Haren, RP Chris Perez, INF Alexander Guerrero
Key Losses: SP Chris Capuano, SP Ted Lilly, 2B Mark Ellis, INF Jerry Hairston, INF Michael Young, INF Skip Schumaker, INF Nick Punto, RP Carlos Marmol, RP Edinson Volquez, RP Ricky Nolasco
In a season that vastly exceeded expectations in 2013, the Dodgers stormed through the second half of their schedule, took the NL West title, and reached the NLCS. As a result, expectations are sky high for Los Angeles this season. The Dodgers certainly have the personnel to make a deep postseason run this year even after the multitude of losses endured over the offseason. The fielding depth chart and batting order in L.A. are some of the most talented and complete in the majors, with numerous All-Star caliber starters including RF Yasiel Puig, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, CF Matt Kemp, SS Hanley Ramirez, and LF Carl Crawford among those. In addition, the L.A. pitching staff is one of the best in the NL, headlined by starters Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett, newly acquired Dan Haren, and the eventual return from injury of Chad Billingsley make this starting rotation one of the most formidable in the majors, while Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, and Chris Perez make up part of a fantastic bullpen. The early favorite to claim the NL West Championship, the Dodgers should be among the top contenders for the NL pennant all season long and could realistically find themselves playing in the World Series.

Miami Marlins
2013 Record: 62-100 (5th in NL East, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: 2B/SS Rafael Furcal, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, OF Brian Bogusevich, 1B Garrett Jones, 3B Casey McGehee, RP Carter Capps
Key Losses: OF Juan Pierre, 3B Placido Polanco, 1B Logan Morrison, OF Justin Ruggiano
Over the past five years, the Marlins final record has continually gotten worse, culminating in last year’s 62-win debacle. Some growing pains were expected with the organization’s plan on calling up its ‘young talent’ and relying on them after dealing away most of the team’s veterans, but the time for learning experiences is running out. Beginning this season, the Marlins expect to see progress, and that could be a tall order given the talent level on the roster. There are bright spots, as 20-year old SP Jose Fernandez is easily the club’s ace, while RF Giancarlo Stanton is a perennial All-Star contender. Miami also used this offseason to deal for veteran C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 2B Rafael Furcal, and 3B Casey McGehee. But overall, the rest of this team lacks the skill and experience needed to make a run at an NL East division title this season, and will likely be spending the bulk of 2014 merely trying to avoid another last place finish.

Milwaukee Brewers
2013 Record: 74-88 (4th in NL Central, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: RP Will Smith
Key Losses: OF Norichika Aoki, INF Yuniesky Betancourt, 1B Corey Hart
Only three years ago, the Brewers posted a 96-win season and topped the annual NL Central powerhouse Cardinals for the division title. But Milwaukee fell fast, as last year they only could muster 74 victories and a fourth place finish in the division. One of the biggest reasons for this has been a slew of injuries (and in the case of Ryan Braun, suspension) continuously disrupting any momentum the Brewers manage to build in a season. If they can remain healthy and return to peak form, 3B Aramis Ramirez and RF Ryan Braun should anchor a good-not-great batting order, but if they cannot then the offense will struggle. Although Milwaukee dealt very little over this offseason, they did lose a strong bat in 1B Corey Hart, making it even more imperative that the rest of the offense step up in his place. The pitching staff has a few solid members, but is otherwise rather unimpressive. Starter Kyle Lohse is the best the Brewers have to lead off the rotation, but has only been decent recently and likely wouldn’t have the number one starting slot on any other team. The bullpen is shaping up to be okay, with good options in RPs Tom Gorzellany and newcomer Will Smith, as well as Jim Henderson at closer. The most realistic scenario for Milwaukee this season will be battling the Cubs for fourth in the NL Central, far behind the division’s contenders in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.

New York Mets
2013 Record: 74-88 (3rd in NL East, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: SP Bartolo Colon, OF Curtis Granderson, OF Chris Young
Key Losses: CL LaTroy Hawkins, SP Johan Santana
The Mets are a mess right now, having finished no closer to the top of the NL East than 18 games behind in the past five years, so about the only place for the team to go from here is up. The fielding depth chart and batting lineup for New York is not great, but has enough talent to at least make the Mets competitive in most games. 3B David Wright is a year-to-year All-Star candidate, and while they are far from the peaks of their careers, offseason additions CF Curtis Granderson and RF Chris Young should add power to the Mets’ order. The starting rotation, including Johan Santana before he was dealt this offseason, was about average when compared to the rest of the NL, and while the addition of Bartolo Colon and the continuing improvement of Zack Wheeler are certainly positives, the overall strength of the staff will not likely change that much. A major area of concern for New York in 2013 was in the bullpen, whose ERA was a disappointing 3.98, and with no additions to alleviate the situation between then and now, it figures to be a weakness again this year. The Mets are still far away from making a run at the postseason, but it would be reasonable to expect some slight improvement over last year. A third or fourth place finish in the division would be the most optimistic possibility for the end of the season.

Philadelphia Phillies
2013 Record: 73-89 (4th in NL East, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: OF Marlon Byrd, C Will Nieves, SP Miguel Gonzalez, RP Brad Lincoln
Key Losses: SP Roy Halladay, C Erik Kratz, INF Michael Young
Philadelphia is a far cry from the NL contending team it was only a few years ago. Their once mighty starting rotation has been reduced to Cole Hamels, an aging Cliff Lee, and a sporadic Kyle Kendrick among others with minimal skill and experience. And for an offense that still sends SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Chase Utley, and 1B Ryan Howard to the plate most nights, the run output is shockingly low. The Phillies were only moderately active this offseason in trying to fix these issues, and for an offense that seemed so inept for most of 2013, the addition of Marlon Byrd will likely be nowhere near enough to turn the batting around. And aside from the declining starting rotation, the Philadelphia pitching staff is largely unimpressive. Nobody in particular stands out from the bullpen, and Jonathan Papelbon is not the high caliber closer he was while in Boston. A postseason appearance appears out of the picture for the Phillies in 2014, as the talent gap between the NL East’s top two teams (Washington and Atlanta) and the rest of the division is just too wide.

Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Record: 94-68 (2nd in NL Central, Lost to Cardinals in NLDS)
Key Additions: C Chris Stewart, SP Edinson Volquez
Key Losses: OF Marlon Byrd, 1B/OF Garrett Jones, 1B Justin Morneau
Coming off of a 2013 season in which the Pirates won 92 games and made the postseason for the first time in 20 years, expectations are now higher than ever in Pittsburgh. The Pirates had relatively little roster movement over the offseason, and thus return the majority of a team that that finished only three games behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL East title. Pittsburgh’s batting lineup is one of the better orders in the NL, with All-Star caliber players in CF Andrew McCutchen and 3B Pedro Alvarez, as well as C Russell Martin and LF Starling Marte. The talent left on the depth chart should be more than enough to cover for the offseason losses of OF Marlon Byrd and 1B Justin Morneau. The Pirate pitching staff has quietly been built into one of the top units in the NL as well, with quality starters in Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton. This group should only get stronger with the addition of Edinson Volquez. While probably not a true World Series contender, the pieces are in place for Pittsburgh to make a second consecutive playoff appearance a real possibility, but they will have to best the Reds and likely the Cardinals as well to make that happen.

St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Record: 97-65 (1st in NL Central, Lost to Red Sox in World Series)
Key Additions: 2B Mark Ellis, SS Jhonny Peralta, OF Peter Bourjos
Key Losses: OF Carlos Beltran, SP Chris Carpenter, 3B David Freese
Another year, another deep playoff run for St. Louis, who last year made an appearance in the World Series and pushed the champion Red Sox to a sixth game. The offense was steady throughout the season up until the World Series, but the real strength for the Cardinals was once again their pitching. Even though Cardinals great Chris Carpenter retired at the conclusion of last season, St. Louis still returns a formidable pitching staff including starters Adam Wainwright and the young upstarts Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller. Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez anchor a bullpen as strong as any in the NL. The only potential Achilles’ heel for this Cardinals team is the offense, which was not bad by any means last season, but fell stagnant against the Red Sox in the World Series. To help bolster their offensive depth, St. Louis signed 2B Mark Ellis away from the Dodgers and veteran SS Jhonny Peralta from the Tigers. With these additions to a cast of stars already on the team such as Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, and John Jay, the foundation is there for a very potent 2014 Cardinals offense. There is no reason to assume that Cardinals are not favored to win the NL Central again, and should be considered favorites along with the Dodgers reach the NLCS come October.

San Diego Padres
2013 Record: 76-86 (T-3rd in NL West, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: SP Josh Johnson, RP Joaquin Benoit, OF Seth Smith
Key Losses: SS Ronny Cedeno, 1B Jesus Guzman, OF Mark Kotsay, SP Jason Marquis
The story of 2013 for the San Diego Padres was streakiness and suspensions, as both played major roles in keeping the team from making a run at the NL West crown. Starting C Yasmani Grandal began the year on a 50-game suspension due to PED infractions, and just as San Diego was beginning to develop a rhythm midseason, star SS Everth Cabrera was also hit with a 50-game PED suspension. This was costly, as Cabrera played a major role in the Padres’ offense, and the team entered into a slump they could never recover from. San Diego did not use this offseason to go out and sign many players, and of whom they did sign, only one is a positional player (OF Seth Smith). That leaves the Padres largely with the players they had last season to work with in 2014, and that would be an offense centered around LF Carlos Quentin and Cabrera. The pitching staff did receive some new additions over the offseason, namely starter Josh Johnson and reliever Joaquin Benoit. Both figure to have immediate impacts and play from Opening Day onward. This team has not improved all that much from their third place finishing team last season, so another year of competing for third or fourth in the division while leaving the fight for the NL West title to L.A. and Arizona seems the most likely for San Diego.

San Francisco Giants
2013 Record: 76-86 (T-3rd in NL West, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: SP Tim Hudson, OF Michael Morse
Key Losses: OF Andres Torres, RP Barry Zito
The San Francisco Giants were winners of both the 2010 and 2012 World Series, but one might not believe that after watching a team composed largely of the same players that won those championships fall to 76-86 last season. So what happened to the Giants in 2013? As mentioned, the team has remained virtually unchanged these past few years, so it could not be due to roster changes. Apparently, San Francisco is just in a bit of a slump. The starting rotation is still, on paper, able to be one of the best in the NL if Matt Cain can keep up his level of play and if Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Madison Bumgarner can all find ways to return back to their stellar forms of a few years ago. The addition of Tim Hudson should fill out the rotation well, and the bullpen can be good with Jeremy Affeldt relieving and Sergio Romo closing. San Francisco’s offense and fielding should also have the talent to be playing a step above their performance last year, as Buster Posey is still an elite catcher and RF Hunter Pence, CF Angel Pagan, 2B Marco Scutaro, and 3B Pablo Sandoval are all solid starters. The addition of Mike Morse in left field over the break does not hurt either. If the Giants can play to the top of their game like in years past besides 2013, San Francisco is certainly capable of besting the Diamondbacks and challenging the Dodgers for the NL West title, and a deep run into the postseason is not entirely out of the question.

Washington Nationals
2013 Record: 86-76 (2nd in NL East, Did Not Make Playoffs)
Key Additions: OF Nate McLouth, SP Doug Fister, RP Jerry Blevins
Key Losses: UTIL Steve Lombardozzi, P Fernando Abad
Washington took a slight step back in 2013 after a 2012 season that saw the club win 98 games and make their first postseason appearance. Still, the Nationals remained competitive and still posted 86 victories, which was good enough for second behind the Braves in the NL East. Very little has changed for Washington over the offseason, and the offseason additions of pitchers Doug Fister from Detroit and Jerry Blevins from Oakland should only improve the Nationals. They join a staff already composed young talent including SP Stephen Strasburg, SP Jordan Zimmermann, and RP Tyler Clippard. If they and the rest of the staff can remain healthy in 2014, Washington should finish the year near the top of most pitching categories. The Nationals’ batting order should be decent once again this year, as 3B Ryan Zimmerman and LF Bryce Harper are All-Star caliber players, with 1B Adam LaRoche, SS Ian Desmond, and RF Jayson Werth all providing nice depth to the lineup. The bench should also remain deep with the addition of OF Nate McLouth from Baltimore. The NL East race should be a two-team contest until the very end, with the Nationals looking to make a run on the defending division champion Braves and the runner up likely having a good chance at claiming one of the NL Wild Card spots.

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