It’s been almost three weeks since the season started and there are quite a few storylines to discuss. I figured I would break this into two parts and give a few first impressions starting with the National League. I also will (finally) dole out division predictions so without further delay let’s get to it.
Rebuild In Atlanta Going Better Than Many Assumed (8-4 in 2015)
As easy as it would have been to assume the Braves were headed for a disastrous yeah I stuck with my guns and saw what John Hart, John Copalella and the rest of the organization were trying to do. Yes they lost Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Justin Upton, and Craig Kimbrel from last year’s team. But the return has put their farm system back among the best in baseball and the financial flexibility ($65 million and counting) going forward as they prepare for their 2017 move to the new stadium is well worth it.
Did I mention they shed B.J. Upton AND his contract as well?
None of this is to say I expect the Braves to win the East or the World Series; but the Braves pitching heading into 2015 was too good not to consider them competitive. Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, and Alex Wood gives you a solid front of the rotation; and, let’s be honest, while losing Kimbrel stung closers in baseball can be found. I say all of that to say this: the Braves, without any of those stars, are ranked in the top-10 in all of baseball in slugging, OPS, RBI’s, Runs, and Stolen Bases to start the season. Couple that with their stellar defense are you really surprised they’re 8-4 and look like a team that could change some perceptions
Nationals Bit By The Same Issue I Pointed Out In October: Defense (6-7 in 2015)
Everyone penciled the Washington Nationals in as the National League champions this year. Everyone saw the signings of Scherzer and the “Greatest Rotations Of All-Time” narrative began. I didn’t buy it. Back in October before the Giants played the Nationals in the NLDS I tweeted this:
A critical error during game 4 led to their ultimate elimination. So far in 2015 Ian Desmond has 7 errors and the front-office might have to admit they miss Adam LaRoche and his play at first more than they thought they would. The Nationals very well could win the National League East by nine or ten games this season; but they won’t be World Series contenders, in my eyes, until they fix their defense and bullpen.
San Francisco Struggle, SoCal Gain?
The defending champs couldn’t have picked a worse scenario to start the season. Pence is hurt which is a huge reason for the Giants early season offensive problems. While Matt Duffy has been great to start the season Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Case McGehee haven’t produced with runners in scoring position. Health and dependability are the questions with the pitching not named Madison Bumgarner and that’s a concern as well. It isn’t time to hit the panic button, yet; but if their division rivals down in San Diego get hot it could get interesting. Before the season and despite all the moves I pegged the Padres to finish third in the division. I’ve changed my view, but not because of anything the Padres have done. They mortgaged their future for the present and defensively aren’t great. But with the Giants playing so poorly and the Diamondbacks and Rockies playing slightly better they’ve moved into a position to challenge for a Wild Card spot.
The division Crown Stays In Los Angeles
I liked the moves the Dodgers made to correct their culture in the clubhouse. Jury is still out on Joc Pederson, but he is impressive. Do I think he’s Mike Trout? No, his game reminds me more of Jeromy Burnitz but much better defensively. He is going to be solid for them, however, and I like the veterans they have leading the charge.
Cubs Can Contend This Season
The collection of young talent the Cubs have rolled out thus far is unbelievable. They haven’t even called up Addison Russell and already I love what I see for the future in Chicago. Jorge Soler is a beast; Kris Bryant needs no more introduction; add Anthony Rizzo and you’re looking at a core that will be together for, no less, than five years. Again, they haven’t even called up Addison Russell yet! If Javier Baez can figure out the strike zone and the pitching fortifies I have no doubt Theo will be known as the “Baseball Curse Slayer” for the rest of his days.
- The Marlins are close but are still a starter away
- Keep an eye on the Mets because if they can add an arm or two to that bullpen they could sneak up on a second Wild Card.
My 2015 National League Division and Wild Card Predictions:
1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Miami Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Philadelphia Phillies
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs**
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Milwaukee Brewers
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Diego Padres*
3. San Francisco Giants
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Colorado Rockies
*= Wild Card #1
**= Wild Card #2
Check back Wednesday For more impressions and my American League predictions.
For more opinion and analysis on MLB, NFL, College Football, and the NBA follow me on Twitter @DAdamCubbage