The Nationals have the most complete lineup in the NL, thanks to the acquisitions of centerfielder Adam Eaton and catcher Matt Wieters. Expect a bounce-back year from Bryce Harper and continued progression from Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon. The pitching is a bit more of a concern. The rotation is fine, led by Max Scherzer, but without the health of Stephen Strasburg it falls a notch below the other NL contenders. The bullpen could be a real issue, and it may require prospects to come up and save the day.
2. New York Mets
The stellar rotation will keep the Mets in contention, but it must remain fully healthy to carry the team. The everyday lineup is old and appears stale. If Yoenis Cespedes does not turn in an MVP-type season, this lineup will not be too difficult for opponents to prepare for. The middle of the order strikes out too often. The bullpen has plenty of questions, especially with Jeurys Familia, and they do not have enough depth for answers.
The Phillies are trending in the right direction, but they still have a long way to go. The top of the lineup is shaping up with Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, and Maikel Franco, but they need more help. The starting rotation has a lot of potential, and the addition of Clay Buchholz makes it solid 1 through 5. The bullpen projects to be unreliable however.
The loss of Jose Fernandez was obviously devastating in many ways, but the most obvious way on the field is that their starting pitching is now lackluster. Conversely, the bullpen is bright and full of potential. The everyday players are still quality, provided they stay healthy. The lineup is scary when Giancarlo Stanton is full, and the defense is useful across the field. This season will be a challenge for manager Don Mattingly, but there are still signs of major potential.
The Braves put together a curious offseason leading into their first year in their new ballpark. They added plenty of age to their rotation with Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, and Jaime Garcia and now questions of durability arise. The bullpen is not good enough to make up for any rotation mishaps. There are no noteworthy additions to the everyday lineup other than the insertion of rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson. The rebuilding project does not appear to be near a finish.
1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs will regress slightly after their magical season. Losing Dexter Fowler at the top of the order will be an issue. Finding a spot for slugger Kyle Schwarber on the field when it means sitting either Ben Zobrist or Javier Baez is a concern only Joe Maddon could eagerly approach. The offense, ultimately will be great – an obvious statement with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. The cause for regression will rather be the starting rotation. Jon Lester competes, but he is on the decline and he lost his personal catcher. John Lackey is ancient and due for a down year. Kyle Hendricks is unlikely to duplicate his terrific 2016. The departure of Jason Hammel leaves the fifth rotation spot very questionable. Jake Arrieta will still be a monster, however. The bullpen will be solid, propped by the additions of Wade Davis and Koji Uehara, but the loss of Aroldis Chapman is significant – he bailed them out a lot in the playoffs.
2. St. Louis
The Cardinals will bounce back after a treacherous 2016. Adding Fowler from the Cubs completes the lineup, strengthens their defense in the outfield, and adds a good clubhouse presence. A return to health for Aledmys Diaz, Jhonny Peralta, and Randal Grichuk will be important. The same can be said for starter Lance Lynn, who hopes to help the rotation return to form along with Adam Wainwright. At the top of the rotation, Carlos Martinez is ready to contend for a Cy Young. The bullpen is very deep, and should be a source of strength all year.
The Pirates will also look to bounce back after a questionable 2016. Expect Andrew McCutchen to come back with a vengeance. No major additions were made, so the boost from last season will need to come from prospects; slugging Josh Bell in the field, and Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow on the mound. Mark Melancon was lost and the bullpen should be a concern.
The Brewers once again have found a way to build a strong lineup around Ryan Braun. The emergence of Jonathan Villar at the top of the order was a breakthrough, and Keon Broxton has potential as well. Travis Shaw was a nice bargain pickup. The pitching of course will be the problem, and the club is counting on several young hurlers who were middling prospects to form a competitive staff.
The Reds wisely got younger this offseason, but there are still plenty of holes. The lineup lacks any power outside of Joey Votto and Adam Duvall. The fate of the pitching staff will depend on starters Brandon Finnegan and Robert Stephenson, and reliever Raisel Iglesias. All are full of potential but have not put it all together yet. Things are still going to get worse before they get better.
1. San Francisco
The Giants are ready to make another championship run. The rotation, led by Madison Bumgarner, is still one of the best in the game. The bullpen got better with the addition of closer Mark Melancon. The everyday lineup is still solid with no holes, and still is outstanding in the field. The Giants will be a factor in October yet again.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a lot of stars and a lot of depth, but there still seems untapped potential that other NL contenders, like the Giants, are not relying on. The lineup, is not perfect. Corey Seager is obviously a star, but can he duplicate his rookie season? Arian Gonzalez is aging in the wrong direction. Can Joc Pederson or Yasiel Puig take another leap at the plate? The rotation outside of Clayton Kershaw has questions. Is Rich Hill’s success sustainable? They are counting a lot on the very young Julio Urias. The bullpen is unreliable outside of star closer Kenley Jansen.
This team has been an enigma for the past year. If leadoff hitter A.J. Pollock can return to health, that will solidify the lineup. The rotation has a bunch of guys coming off a disaster of a season. It is time for starters Shelby Miller, Taijuan Walker, and Patrick Corbin to show what they really are. The bullpen could be very shaky. The Diamondbacks have a lot of talent, but too many questions.
News: The Rockies are going to mash, but their pitching is going to struggle. The lineup is once again legit. Nolan Arenado is one of the best players in baseball. The starting rotation has no sure bets, and a lot of young guys trying to learn how to pitch at the notorious Coors Field. The bullpen could be solid with the addition of Greg Holland.
5. San Diego
The focus is on the future for the Padres. The vision for the lineup is there, built around Wil Myers. Outfielders Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and catcher Austin Hedges are all young players to keep an eye on. The pitching staff has no sure things. There will be a lot of losses this year.