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Gordo's team-by-team look at the National League

Gordo's team-by-team look at the National League

From the Post-Dispatch preview: 2020 St. Louis Cardinals series
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Cardinals take NLDS, on to the league championship

Cardinals players including Matt Carpenter, center, greet catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Genesis Cabrera, left, while celebrating as National League Division Series champions after beating the Atlanta Braves 13-1 in Game 5 on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. (Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com)

Teams in each division listed in projected order of finish.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES

2019 record: 97-65 (first)

Outlook: Getting former Cardinals OF Marcell Ozuna on a one-year deal to replace 3B Josh Donaldson’s bat was a sensible move. He adds support for 1B Freddie Freeman (.938 OPS, 121 RBIs), who was symptomatic with COVID-19 and might not be ready for the start of the season. OF Ronald Acuna Jr. (41 HR, 101 RBIs, 37 SB) could take another offensive step, which would help with Nick Markakis opting out. The Braves added RP Will Smith to bolster the bullpen after adding RPs Mark Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin on the fly last season.

What success looks like: The Braves have gotten back into the habit of winning division titles, but can they finally make deeper playoff runs?

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

2019 record: 93-69 (second)

Outlook: SP Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA) re-upped to remain atop the starting rotation with Max Scherzer (11-7, 2.92) and Patrick Corbin (14-7, 3.25). But SP Joe Ross opted to sit out due to the virus, along with 1B Ryan Zimmerman. Replacing 3B Anthony Rendon’s production won’t be easy, with veteran INF Asdrubal Cabrera and INF prospect Carter Kieboom among the internal options. OF Juan Soto (.949 OPS, 110 RBIs) and SS Trea Turner (.850 OPS, 35 SB) could use more help in this offense.

What success looks like: Odds are the D.C. won’t enjoy back-to-back World Championship parades, but another postseason trip is a reasonable objective for a team with elite starting pitching.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2019 record: 81-81 (fourth)

Outlook: SP Zack Wheeler (11-8, 3.96 ERA with the Mets) will strengthen the starting rotation after Jake Arrieta (8-8, 4.64) and Vince Valasquez (7-8, 4.91) struggled last season. SS Didi Grigorius (16 HR in 82 Yankees games) could become a solid addition with a bounce-back season. The Phillies need more from OF Andrew McCutchen (coming back from injury) and OF Bryce Harper (.882 OPS, 114 RBIs) to rise in this balanced division.

What success looks like: The franchise is getting desperate to return to postseason play for the first time since 2011.

NEW YORK METS

2019 record: 86-76 (third)

Outlook: The Mets went to the recycling bin to add SP Rick Porcello and longtime Cardinals hurler Michael Wacha to a starting rotation led by Jacob deGrom (2.43 ERA, .097 WHIP) and Marcus Stroman. But Noah Syndergaard needed Tommy John surgery. RP Edwin Diaz (5.59 ERA, seven blown saves) is a question mark. 1B Pete Alonso (53 HR, 120 RBIs) emerged as an elite power hitter last season. The Mets need more from pricey 2B Robinson Cano (just 39 RBIs in 390 at-bats).

What success looks like: Management talked big before last season and the team didn’t measure up. So contention is mandatory.

MIAMI MARLINS

2019 record: 57-105 (fifth)

Outlook: Adding INF Jonathan Villar (24 HR, 73 RBIs, 40 SB for Orioles), 1B Jesus Aguilar and OF Corey Dickerson (.906 OPS for Pirates and Phillies) makes the offense more respectable. Former Cardinals SP Sandy Alcantara (3.88 ERA, .241 BAA) is realizing his vast potential. If SPs Jordan Yamamoto, Pablo Lopez and Elieser Hernandez can do the same, the Marlins could be less terrible.

What success looks like: Giving a lot of very promising young players some valuable experience while trying not to flop horribly.


NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

2019 record: 91-71 (first)

Outlook: They need SP Carlos Martinez to settle in behind staff ace Jack Flaherty (2.75 ERA, .097 WHIP). Perhaps SP Miles Mikolas used the shutdown to recover from arm trouble. The Cardinals must find late-inning reliability from RPs Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley. SS Paul DeJong (just .193 with RISP) must became a consistent run producer, and 3B Matt Carpenter must revive his bat. Getting production from INF-OF Tommy Edman and OFs Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas would help. OF Dylan Carlson will be on deck.

What success looks like: Repeating as Central Division champions is a realistic goal. Since some of their immediate rivals are retooling or totally rebuilding, the Cardinals need to go for it by making roster upgrades as needed.

CHICAGO CUBS

2019 record: 84-78 (third)

Outlook: Slugging 1B Anthony Rizzo (.924 OPS, 94 RBIs), 3B Kris Bryant (.903 OPS), C Willson Contreras and OF Kyle Schwarber still power the offense, although team president Theo Epstein seems ready to alter his core group. SP Jose Quintana injured his hand in a household mishap, and rotation mates Jon Lester (4.46 ERA), Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish battled various injuries last season. A big rebound from closer Craig Kimbrel (6.43 ERA) would help, too.

What success looks like: Contending for postseason play while also retooling is a tough assignment, but that’s what the Cubs face under first-year manager David Ross. Bryant remains a big trade chip.

CINCINNATI REDS

2019 record: 75-87 (fourth)

Outlook: INF Mike Moustakas (35 HR, 87 RBIs for Brewers) and OF Nicholas Castellanos (1.002 OPS in 52 Cubs games) are going to love hitting in the Great American Band Box after arriving as free agents. But SPs Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo could head a decent starting rotation. Odds are the Reds will need to score to win — and that means getting more from hitters young (INF-OF Nick Senzel), old (1B Joey Votto) and imported (OF Shogo Akiyami).

What success looks like: The Reds could swipe the division crown in a down season for the NL Central. Their management was aggressive in the offseason and should be motivated to keep pushing.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

2019 record: 89-73 (second)

Outlook: Superstar OF Christian Yelich (1.100 OPS, 30 SB) signed a long-term extension that should keep him in Milwaukee for the rest of his career, but his supporting cast is diminished. The Brewers will need 2B Keston Hiura (.938 OPS) to stay healthy and C Omar Narvaez to replace the departed Yasmani Grandal. Milwaukee’s rotation looks middling after Brandon Woodruff (11-3, 3.62 ERA), and that adds pressure on RP Josh Hader (37 saves) and the rest of the bullpen.

What success looks like: A return to postseason play seems unlikely, but Brewers manager Craig Counsell has surprised critics before.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

2019 record: 69-93 (fifth)

Outlook: The Pirates have hit the reset button and started a long-term overhaul with a new baseball operation. Slugging 1B Josh Bell (.936 OPS, 116 RBIs) still anchors the offense, and OF Gregory Polanco (.242 in 153 at bats) could finally realize his potential if he can stay healthy. But the starting rotation will be subpar, especially after losing Chris Archer to season-ending surgery.

What success looks like: Accumulating more prospects and achieving a high draft position are the Year 1 goals for the new regime. It’s never easy to start over, but the low-revenue Pirates have no choice.


NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

2019 record: 106-56 (first)

Outlook: An offense featuring OF Cody Bellinger (1.035 OPS, 115 RBIs), 1B Max Muncy (35 HR, 98 RBIs), SS Corey Seager, 3B Justin Turner and 2B Gavin Lux didn’t really need OF Mookie Betts (.915 OPS for the Red Sox). SP David Price opted out of this season, but the Dodgers still have a strong rotation with Clayton Kershaw (16-5, 3.03 ERA), Julio Urias, Walker Buehler (14-4, 3.36) and Alex Wood. The Dodgers need RP Kenley Jansen (eight blown saves) back at full capacity.

What success looks like: Their first World Series championship since 1988. That is the goal for a franchise that put the all into its “all in” approach during the winter.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

2019 record: 70-92 (fifth)

Outlook: Budding superstar SS Fernando Tatis Jr, (.969 OPS) and high-paid 3B Manny Machado (32 HR, 85 RBIs) and 1B Eric Hosmer (22 HR, 99 RBIs) provide offensive muscle. Chis Paddack (3.33 ERA, 0.98 WHIP), Joey Lucchesi and Dinelson Lamet could lead a solid starting rotation. Former Cardinals OF Tommy Pham, fellow OF Trent Grisham, INF Jurickson Profar, and SPs Drew Pomeranz and Zach Davies fortified the roster of this ambitious franchise.

What success looks like: Catching the Dodgers will be nearly impossible, so contending for a wild-card slot is the best-case scenario for this charging team.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

2019 record: 85-77 (second)

Outlook: Newly acquired SP Madison Bumgarner (9-9, 3.90 ERA) should offset the loss of former Cardinal Mike Leake, who is sitting out for fear of contracting coronavirus. The rotation also features Cardinals trade chips Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen. OF Starling Marte (23 HR, 82 RBIs, 25 SB with the Pirates) should boost the offense led by 3B Eduardo Escobar (35 HR, 118 RBIs). If OF Ketel Marte, 1B Christian Walker and former Cardinals C Carson Kelly are for real, the D-Backs could hang in the race.

What success looks like: The Diamondbacks could make the Cardinals scouting and player development proud by posting another winning record with players acquired from John Mozeliak and Co.

COLORADO ROCKIES

2019 record: 71-91 (fourth)

Outlook: Superstar 3B Nolan Arenado (.962 OPS, 118 RBIs) remains in the heart of the batting order, for now, after enduring a long winter of trade speculation. But he won’t be happy once this team plunges from contention. SS Trevor Story (.917 OPS, 23 SB) and OFs Charlie Blackmon (.940 OPS) are big bats, but Ian Desmond is sitting out, not wanting to catch the coronavirus. RPs Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw flopped last season. The rotation lacks depth behind SPs German Marquez and Jon Gray.

What success looks like: Given the soured relationship with Arenado, the team should trade him for a prospect package once it falls out of the playoff race.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2019 record: 77-85 (third)

Outlook: The decline of SS Brandon Crawford (.654 OPS) and 1B-OF Brandon Belt (.234 BA) mirror the sad regression of this franchise. C Buster Posey opted out of the season, which doesn't help. The Giants would love to see SP Johnny Cueto (5.06 ERA in four starts) finally complete his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Then the team could trade him and SP Jeff Samardzija (11-12, 3.52) for prospects as their rebuild continues.

What success looks like: Converting veterans into long-term assets should be the top priority, since contending for postseason play is out of the question.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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