Could 2018 Be The Year the NL Wins A World Series?
We’ve now made it through 6 seasons of MLB Pro, and one thing has been made clear. The National League cannot win the big one. They’ve only made it to a game 7 twice (the last two years) and many people are wondering if 2018 can be the year that the NL finally gets one. All five of the AL playoff teams from 2017 have (currently) lost more WAR than they’ve added, most notably Baltimore, losing Rookie of the Year Anthony Hale & Drew Pomeranz, and Seattle, losing Jordan Zimmermann, Bob Carlisle, Anthony Rizzo, Arinori Arai and Brett Marshall. This may leave the door open for a National League team to take home the trophy. Here’s the teams most likely to do so:
San Diego Padres
San Diego hasn’t made any moves this offseason, and they barely squeaked into the playoffs, but they may be the best positioned team to make a playoff run. Last season they went all in, trading the #23 prospect SP Jeff Wallace, #56 prospect CF Roberto Torres and #63 prospect SP Jorge Fernández for Giancarlo Stanton. Then pulled off two deadline day deals to add Prince Fielder, RP Andy Otero & RP Alfonso Martínez. In the Fielder deal they moved #24 prospect C Ron Winterhalder, 2B Jacob Parker and RP Bernardo Galló. Then for the two relievers they moved 1B George Cuyco & SP Aaron Smith.
So this offseason, they didn’t have any pressing needs. They have Giancarlo Stanton & Prince Fielder in the middle of their order, and a revamped bullpen to go along with Jonathan Arias, who put together a great season, despite the elbow inflammation and setbacks he had.
On top of those recent additions, they have Ryan Nash, who would’ve been a 5+ WAR player if he plays LF all season. Either way, he’s a premier leadoff hitter and should be a run machine with Fielder, Stanton and Rymer Liriano behind him.
The best part of this team though, is MRW, which according to Urban Dictionary means “My Reaction When…”. This makes perfect sense, as any GM that sees they have to face these 3 in a series will certainly have a reaction. Michael Matuella, Manuel Reyes and Broderick Wilson are the best pitching trio in the league, especially at PETCO. Reyes led the NL with a 2.39 ERA last season, while Matuella gave up 1 less run in 6.1 less innings, ending in 2nd. As far as FIP goes, Wilson was the best, and lead all pitchers with 6.5 WAR.
This team also employs one a fairly deep bullpen. Arias and Otero are the two biggest pieces, and either could close. But they’ve also got Enosil Tejada and Adys Portillo, who had good seasons last year.
No idea if this team will be able to make another playoff push in a tough NL West, as anything can happen in the season, especially when injuries hit. But they’re talented enough to make a run, and once they get into the playoffs, they’re built for success.
San Francisco Giants
There are so many mixed feelings here. On one hand, the starters that remain from last season for the Giants all had very solid seasons. Braulio Pardo (3.2 WAR), Buster Posey (3.3 WAR), Brandon Crawford (3.8 WAR), Joe Panik (3.2 WAR), Trey Ford (1.3 WAR) all will return, and that right there (if they perform to the same level) is 25% of the WAR for a 100-win team.
Then they return Zach Greinke, who finished 2nd in Cy Young voting, Tim Lincecum, who had a solid season, and Bryce Bandilla, who had a breakout season. Between these 8 players, they have a nice base, and they built upon it by trading for Bob Carlisle, one of the premier LF in the league, Anthony Hale, the AL Rookie of the Year, Jordan Zimmermann, the AL ERA leader, and signing Cameron Maybin and Mat Latos.
To put in perspective the talent that they have, the Angels had 57.1 WAR last season. This roster had 56.3. Predicting this team to run away in the NL West and win a World Series is not difficult to do. But that’s where there’s a problem.
If this team has any injuries, they don’t have anything to replace that player with. Andrew McCutchen, and his 67 AB in 2017, is their backup OF, along with Preston Mattingly, who posted negative WAR in his 89 AB. Their backup IF is Freddie Freeman, who doesn’t even play solid 1B defense, let alone anywhere else in the infield. Their only solid backup is at catcher, with Guy Edmonds, but he’s about as good defensively as a brick wall would be.
Right now, they at least have a few options to take over in the rotation if there’s an injury, but they plan on trading Drew Pomeranz, who would likely be the first option. Lucky for them, their bullpen is so deep that any injury can be easily covered for.
Sergio Romo and Daniel Schlereth appear to be set to split duties as closer, based on the matchup, while Pasqualino Carosi and Michael Schwimer will setup.
This depth issue could become an even bigger problem as Zimmermann, Pomeranz, Romo, Ford, Carlisle, Maybin all having extensive injury history. Add to that, that Anthony Hale needs a day off every 5th day because he goes a little too hard the night before and shows up hungover, this team could be in for some trouble.
It’s truly difficult to predict how this team will be. When you look at the starting lineup, rotation and top 4 in the bullpen, they have World Series written all over them. But any injury puts a real hole in this team, and you also have to consider that 12 of the players on their 25-man joined this offseason, and 2 others joined in late July, this team does not have the chemistry some other teams do.
The Braves return their entire starting rotation, one that has a chance to be the best in the league. Led by Mark Appel, who led the league with 17 wins last season, the starting rotation will have to be just as good next season if the Braves want to return to the postseason. Once they get there though, they’ll be able to play the matchups and have options as to who starts.
Their lineup will also be the same, returning the reigning MVP Armando Cabañas, as well as a full season of Pablo Sandoval and Keon Barnum. If Iván Chávez can stay healthy (something he’s never done) then this team will certainly crush everyone else.
Thankfully, even if they are hit with any injuries, their top 2 prospects aren’t far away from the Majors, as SP Sidney English and RF George Lunn will likely have invites to spring training.
Their downfall right now is their bullpen. Yes, the team that was just behind the Angels for the best bullpen ERA now has a problem there. This is because they lost Jonathan Broxton (who was dominant besides the month of July) and their closer Daniel Schlereth. This leaves them with just 1 pitcher on their 25-man roster with more than 5 saves in their career, and that’s 32-year-old Wesley Wright. Anthony Zych is likely going to be the closer, and even he’s only been a closer 2 seasons, 2014 & 2015, which was AA & AAA, respectively.
Their offense may be able to carry them to a lot of blowout wins, and their starting rotation has the ability to keep other teams off the scoreboard, but if they’re in a battle of the bullpens, or even have a late lead, not sure this team can be counted on.
The NL Pennant winner from last season, the Reds came 1 run away from the first ever World Series for a National League team. And they were just 1 run away from clinching it in game 6 too. The team did sell SS Jorge Martinez, RP Edward Mujica and RP Edwin Carl in the player auction, and lost their 4th OF Avery Barnes and backup C Yovan Gonzalez, but which of those names are you going to miss? None of them. Especially when you consider they replaced Barnes with Brandon Short, replaced Carl with Michael Olmsted, replaced Martinez with Adrian Cardenas, and added some more depth, including slugger David Chester. The only other player they lost was Ben Revere.
They’ve got breakout superstar, and your 2017 NL Cy Young, Chris Sale, as well as Matthew Spalding, who finally lived up to the hype, in their rotation. They’ve got ageless wonder Joel Hanrahan ending games, and looked untouchable last season, with just 2 blown saves in 43 chances. They’ve got Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado, Ramón Zaragoza (who finished 3rd in the NL with 35 home runs), and Nobuhisa Koyama, who put up 3.2 WAR as a rookie.
Cincinnati’s problem will be the the wild card is likely going to come from either the East or the West, and if they can’t hold off Milwaukee or St. Louis, they’re going to be hard pressed for a playoff spot. One benefit of being in the NL Central is they play 19 games against the AA Cubs, and another 19 against the Pirates (who the Reds beat 13 times last year).
Their biggest question mark is in CF, where Brandon Short is currently slated to start, despite his only time in CF coming in AAA, where he posted a -15.7 ZR in 187 games. Last year they got +5.2 ZR in CF from Ben Revere, so this would be a drastic change. Thankfully for them, they got Desmond Henry in a trade, who could be ready to play CF this season.
Their biggest weapon will be Kolby Allard, the #3 overall prospect. The 20-year-old lefty is slated to be their set-up man right now, as the team likely doesn’t want to throw him right into the fire. If he dominates there, he could quickly make his way into, and to the top, of the rotation.
New York Mets
While the Mets have gone to the World Series twice, most recently in 2016, but this may be their year. Last year, they rode a top notch pitching staff to the playoffs, and plan to do the same this season. They did trade Simon Castro and Jamie Widner, the #7 overall prospect, who would’ve been the first call up if there were an injury, but in return they received Xue-liang Wong and Elvis Andrus.
While Wong had a poor 2017, in 2016 he put up 3.2 WAR despite DHing half the time, and way back in 2014 he had one of the greatest seasons of all-time. If he can put up those offensive numbers, he’ll be the main force in the Mets rejuvenated offense. Andrus will also also be a huge addition, as he’ll be a major upgrade over Troy Tulowitzki, in large part because of his defense.
Alberto Vega is the ace of this staff, but last season Jonathan Niese, Zach Lee and Matt Harvey all had sub-3 ERAs. If they can do that again, it will be difficult for any team in the NL East to take that division. Boone Logan will also be asked to anchor the bullpen once again, and last year, his first year as a closer, was dominating, ending with with 47 saves and a 1.84 ERA.
The question mark for this team is what happens if a starter goes down to injury, or just struggles in general. For a team relying on their pitching, they can’t afford for any of their pitchers to go down, as they just don’t have the offense to carry them.
Los Angeles Dodgers
It took until game 163, but the Dodgers did win the NL West last season over the Padres. They will certainly have the chance to do it again, with Jurickson Profar and Javier Garcia on the left side of the infield. They addressed their need at pitching last offseason when they traded #2 overall prospect 1B/OF Henry Powell and #19 overall prospect SP Alex Watts for Michael Pineda. The Dodgers may regret the talent they gave up, but Pineda was brilliant for them over 21 starts, posting a 2.99 ERA. He’ll lead this pitching staff along with free agent acquisition Parker Markel.
Markel is an odd case, as his best season was 2015 and he led the league in losses last year, then was non-tendered in arbitration, but signed to a 5-year, $95 million deal. The Dodgers must have faith in him, but that doesn’t always mean he’ll prove them right.
While this team was a playoff team last year, and the biggest name they lost was Lonnie Chisenhall, they don’t seem to be favorites for a World Series run, and maybe not even division champions. They’ll go as far as Jurickson Profar can take this offense, and Michael Pineda and Jarred Cosart take the pitching staff. Their bullpen is nothing special, as they had a rookie closing for them. If they get themselves into the playoffs though, look for Profar to take over, hopefully not fresh off the DL.
The Brewers are on the list because of two things: José González and Esteban Hernández.
That’s the end of the discussion on them.
In the last three seasons, Esteban has put up 15.9 WAR, in 352 games. That would put him at a 7.2 WAR per 162 game average. While he’s never played more than 151 games in a season, if he’s healthy long enough and in the playoffs, he can put them into the World Series on his own. But, he doesn’t even have to.
José González was a monster as a rookie. He won the batting title, added 19 HR, and when he was in LF, he played Gold Glove caliber defense. Add the 40 stolen bases and you’ve got a superstar on your hands.
The problem for Milwaukee is their pitching is nothing to write home about. They had the 10th best starting rotation and 12th best bullpen last season. To add to that, they lost Chris Volstad, who had a 3.92 ERA, they replaced him with Zach McCallister, who had an 8.47 ERA. And they didn’t add to their bullpen, although they will have a full season of Addison Reed, Nick McCully and Klaas Bongers, which should help.
This team will need some help from players like Ryan Braun, who is slated to start at 1B, and need their bullpen to be shut down in order to escape the NL Central which will be a three-team battle.
St. Louis Cardinals
Clayton Kershaw. Evan Longoria. Cedric Rutherford.
Those three will be asked to carry this team. Kershaw can definitely do that, as he’s the career leader in WAR for pitchers in MLB Pro. Longoria can also do this, as he’s the career leader in WAR for hitters in MLB Pro. Rutherford can definitely do it as well, as he’s 6th all-time in hitters WAR.
The problem for this team is what’s around these three, it’s not any better (or even as good as) than any of the other playoff contenders. Justin Upton is a nice piece, and Andrew Douglas has some power potential, but do those two really scare you?
The only way they take the next step is if Juan Espinoza has another solid season, and the get more pitchers to step up like Matt Lollis and Matt Moore did last season. Their bullpen will rely on 34-year-old Huston Street, 31-year-old Austin Adams and 31-year-old Michael Kohn, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2016.
As good as their top 3 players are, that can only bring them so far. They’ll need to line Kershaw up so that he pitches in every series they face Milwaukee and Cincinnati to try and get that extra win. If they can hold down Chicago and Pittsburgh, maybe they’ve got a shot. If they do get into the playoffs, that’s when they become scary, as two or three starts by Kershaw in any series can decide a series.