In something like two-and-a-half weeks, we should be seeing big-league baseball. That is, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic is considered well enough under control between the 30 MLB teams to proceed with a truncated 60-game season.
I’m not optimistic.
But if we see this thing get off the ground and go the distance, there’s pretty much a guarantee that things will be topsy-turvy.
Last time out, I took a stab at power ranking the American League teams. This time around, we’re taking a look at the National League.
In case you missed them, here are the AL Power Rankings
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
There’s an incredible amount of star power between the two L.A. clubs. Even without David Price, their rotation looks solid with Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Julio Urias and some combination of Ross Stripling/Dustin May/Brusdar Graterol and others. Their bullpen is sturdy and the offense is absolutely loaded.
Last year’s team hit .257/.338/.472 and added Mookie Betts, a perennial MVP candidate. Losing Alex Verdugo might sting a little bit, but it’s an outfield with Betts, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, A.J. Pollock and Enrique Hernandez all vying for time.
If they could stomach a positional loss anywhere, it was in the outfield. Taylor and Hernandez are also vying for playing time on the dirt as well, meaning that on any given night, two MLB-caliber starters will be available off the bench for Dave Roberts’ crew.
I don’t know if there’s a more talented team in baseball. In fact, I’m pretty sure not.
2. Atlanta Braves
Not being able to retain Josh Donaldson hurts, but Austin Riley showed some potential last season and moving him in from the outfield doesn’t hurt as much with Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte, Marcell Ozuna and of course, Ronald Acuna Jr. out there.
I’m still a Sean Newcomb guy so their rotation of Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz and the Duke is, at least for me, on track to be one of the better ones in the NL.
I’m still a Dansby Swanson backer as well, so I think their double play combination is terrific, and I’m hoping just like everyone else that Freddie Freeman comes out of his COVID situation as healthy as possible.
That’s honestly really all we can hope for at this point.
3. Washington Nationals
I think maybe the Dodgers are the only team to not have felt some form of a significant loss on their roster from the past offseason. While they were bringing in Betts, the Braves lost Donaldson and the Nats lost Anthony Rendon to the Los Angeles Angels.
But if the Nationals were able to weather the storm of losing Bryce Harper and still in the World Series, who’s to say they can’t do it again in a shortened season?
They’ll give Carter Kieboom — a consensus top-25 prospect across the board — the first crack at reps at third base, and they have some depth at the corners with Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick in the mix even with Ryan Zimmerman opting out of what’ll likely be his final MLB season.
Their outfield is as good as just about any other if Victor Robles reaches his full potential, and he just turned 23 a little over a month ago.
Don’t sleep on a repeat.
4. St. Louis Cardinals
This is where things get squirrely for me. I think you can make a case for Nos. 4-11 in any order in a normal regular season. In a 60-game sprint? Forget it.
If St. Louis can keep its rotation healthy, I think it has just enough to be there at the end when the dust settles in the NL Central. Everything I just said about team Nos. 4-11? That’s doubly true for the Central as I think you could pick the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Reds out of a hat and have a better chance getting the correct order at the end of the season.
The Cardinals don’t have a ton of star power behind Jack Flaherty. Kolten Wong and Paul Goldschmidt are both terrific players, but Wong is underrated and Goldy took a bit of a step back last year. He’s still entering only his age-32 season, so a bounce-back year isn’t out of the question.
Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter took steps back as they head into their late- and mid-30s, respectively. Ozuna left for Atlanta. Harrison Bader had a tough year offensively. Paul DeJong fell off a bit. Dexter Fowler rebounded but was still pretty much average.
But what I see here is a bunch of guys who are going to be hungry — hungry to prove they have something left or that last year was an aberration.
And I just can’t bet against the Cardinals. They have that same devil magic the Rays do in the AL.
5. New York Mets
I like this roster a lot. Adding the DH should give either Yoenis Cespedes or Dominic Smith a chance to actually get to play, and the rest of the lineup is so, so good.
I think Amed Rosario is ready to break out as a potential superstar, and while Robinson Cano is headed into his age-37 season, he’s still just one year removed from a 136 OPS+ with the Mariners.
Their rotation is amazing at the top (Jacob DeGrom), intriguing in the middle (Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz) and I don’t know….kinda durable on the back end? Calling Michael Wacha durable is probably not wise, but Rick Porcello is the definition of the word. Obviously the loss of Noah Syndergaard hurts, but their bullpen has the chance to be really, really good if Edwin Diaz rebounds and/or Dellin Betances proves healthy.
If both are true, it might be the best bullpen in the NL — and still maybe not the best in the entire city.
6. San Diego Padres
I think this is the year for the Padres. You could easily make the case for them at No. 4, but I just need to see all of their young talent together to see just how good they can be. Adding Tommy Pham is a great move, but they still have some weird spots on the roster too.
How good can Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and Jurickson Profar be? If you told someone a half-decade ago that these guys would all be on the same team, someone would have told you it was probably the Yankees.
Instead, they’re the three biggest wild cards on a team teeming with young talent, surrounded by a superstar in Manny Machado. It’ll be on Machado to prove last year was an aberration, but his last three years by wRC+ are 102, 140 and 108.
Where does he settle in a short season?
The pitching staff might be the most fascinating in baseball. Chris Paddack fronting the rotation and Kirby Yates backing the ‘pen are two of the best in the business at what they do, and the rest of the group is just obscenely interesting. Can Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards stay healthy?
If any team is coming out of nowhere this year, this is the team.
7. Cincinnati Reds
I think it’s fair to say I’m the high man on the Reds. For me it starts with the rotation, where Luis Castillo-Sonny Gray-Trevor Bauer can definitely win in October. It’d be hard to find many teams with a better 4-5 combo than Anthony DeSclafani and Wade Miley, too.
The bullpen is stout, too, with Raisel Iglesias, Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen and Robert Stephenson welcoming Pedro Strop into the fold. Strop struggled a bit with the Cubs last year but is just a year removed from posting 2.0 bWAR in the Chicago ‘pen.
Offensively, they have the potential to be really, really solid. Shogo Akiyama and Joey Votto will get on base to set up Eugenio Suarez, who was second in MLB with 49 home runs last season. Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos will provide plenty of thunder behind Suarez, and Jesse Winker looks primed to take a leap forward as another guy who’ll be on base constantly.
The Reds went from one good defensive shortstop with some pop (Jose Iglesias) to another (Freddy Galvis), and Tucker Barnhart is steady, if unspectacular, behind the plate.
One thing to note is that it doesn’t appear like Aristides Aquino (19 homers in just 56 games last season) or Phil Ervin (.271/.331/.466 in 94 games) are guaranteed any sort of playing time, thanks in large part to uber-prospect Nick Senzel being penciled in for reps at DH.
That’s some significant offensive talent on the outside looking in to start the 2020 sprint.
8. Arizona Diamondbacks
I’m also the high man on the Diamondbacks and I’m OK with that. They’re a really, really good defensive team and I think they’ll hit better than last year.
Roster Resource has Carson Kelly hitting ninth — and he hit .245/.348/.478 as a catcher last season. That’s pretty good.
Their bench is going to have some veteran leadership (Stephen Vogt/Jon Jay), thump (Kevin Cron) and speed (Tim Locastro).
But what I’m really, really excited about is a full season of Zac Gallen starting, along with the potential of the long-awaited Robbie Ray breakout. Mike Leake opting out almost guarantees Gallen a rotation spot, and Madison Bumgarner and Merrill Kelly will be the gray beards on a rotation that’ll also include impressive youngster Luke Weaver.
Will they get outs late in games? That I’m not as sure of. They were about middle of the pack in fWAR as a bullpen last year, and outside of Archie Bradley it’s a bit of a mixed bag out in the bullpen.
9. Chicago Cubs
There’s still a lot of talent here, but I feel like it’s a tinder box waiting to explode. The front of their rotation is solid in Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, but Jon Lester and Jose Quintana are coming off good, but perhaps maybe slightly disappointing seasons. Quintana’s was more in 2018, for what it’s worth, but I think it’s fair to say at least fans would have hoped for more from both last season.
Their bullpen wasn’t very good last year — too many walks — and that was with Craig Kimbrel pitching terribly and before Brandon Kintzler, Steve Cishek and Brad Brach left.
It’s possible that they’ll have one of the worst bullpens in the NL this year with a rookie manager left to sort it out.
Offensively the Cubs should be fairly solid, but they’ll feel a lot better if Ian Happ can stretch his 58-game production from last year (127 wRC+) through this season to help cushion the loss of Castellanos (154 wRC+).
The core five of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber is about as good as anyone else can boast, and maybe it’s a cause of some fatigue in the industry because they’ve just been together doing their thing for so long.
Still, the Cubs have big, big question marks at second base (Jason Kipnis) and center field (Albert Almora Jr.) and not much of a bullpen to speak of. They can contend for the NL Central crown for sure, but it’s going to take all hands on deck.
10. Philadelphia Phillies
Maybe I’ll get some grief for this, maybe I won’t. The Phillies aren’t particularly young, and outside of a blistering middle of the order definitely have some question marks.
Andrew McCutchen hitting leadoff shouldn’t be a problem if he can stay healthy, but he’s coming off playing just 59 games last season after having ACL surgery. Jean Segura batting second has potential to be decent, but Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and JT Realmuto are going to mess people up from 3-4-5.
But after that, it’s Jay Bruce, Didi Gregorius, Josh Harrison and Adam Haseley. Bruce and Gregorious had sub-.280 OBP marks last year, Harrison (.175/.218/.263) washed out after fewer than 40 games with the Tigers and Haseley was merely decent in his 67-game cup of coffee last season (88 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR).
Getting Scott Kingery back healthy as soon as possible will matter a lot, as it’s clear the Phillies don’t have a ton of depth in their lineup without him. He too had just a .315 OBP last year.
After Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, I don’t particularly like their rotation — and Wheeler expects to miss some time due to the birth of his child around the start of the season.
The bullpen could get a little messy, though. Hector Neris is on the COVID injured list, and behind him are Anthony Swarzak and Tommy Hunter. Swarzak is coming off a brutal season and Hunter missed almost all of 2019 with flexor tendon surgery.
11. Milwaukee Brewers
This, to me, is the bottom of the teams I truly expect to content.
I just have no idea what to do with Milwaukee’s rotation. Brandon Woodruff will probably start on Opening Day, but he threw 121.2 innings last year and has barely thrown 200 in the big leagues. After that, it’s Adrian Houser (127 MLB innings), Brett Anderson (4.6 K/9), Josh Lindblom (returning from two-year stint in Korea) and Eric Lauer (4.45 ERA/4.23 FIP in 149.2 innings with Padres).
In the interest of honesty, that’s the glass-half-empty view of each pitcher. Woodruff and Houser both have terrific stuff, Anderson gets grounders in bunches, Lindblom was terrific in the KBO and Lauer posted a 2.3 fWAR with the Padres in 2019 — not bad for a fifth starter.
If they can get leads to Josh Hader, he should be able to hold them. The home run problem last year appeared to mostly just be a product of the league-wide environment, but he was still nasty as ever otherwise. Corey Knebel missed 2019, but if he can even get back to 2018 (1.0 fWAR) if not 2017 (2.8), that would be a huge boost.
Otherwise, this’ll be a group that massively misses Drew Pomeranz, Jeremy Jeffress, Junior Guerra and others.
Offensively, the Crew should be pretty good. Christian Yelich is, of course, a monster. Keston Hiura is one of the most intriguing young offensive players in all of baseball. After that, there’s plenty of room for value but it might not come from obvious places.
Ryan Braun is still in the picture. Justin Smoak should be fairly productive. Omar Narvaez is one of the more underrated hitting catchers in the game today. Avisail Garcia is still one of the more toolsy players in the game. Eric Sogard is coming off a really strong 2020, but if he can’t repeat they still have Orlando Arcia. Arcia is still only heading into his age-25 season — and for what it’s worth was absolutely mauling Cactus League pitching (.296/.310/.926).
It’ll take a lot of meshing from a lot of moving pieces over a very short period of time for the Crew to contend this season. I wouldn’t bet on it, but this is — in my opinion — the floor of teams who could feasibly contend in 2020.
12. Colorado Rockies
I like the Rockies more than I expected to. I think the top of their rotation could be sneaky good — especially if Kyle Freeland can split the difference between his 2019 (0.1 fWAR) and 2018 (4.1) campaigns. His 2017 (2.0) pretty much suggests he can.
I’m bearish on Wade Davis, but I really like Scott Oberg and Jairo Diaz — both of whom are expected to set him up this season. Diaz had a 4.53 ERA last season, but from July 25 on it was 3.07 with 32 strikeouts, eight walks and a .600 OPS against in 29.1 innings.
Offensively, the Rockies should be able to do things — regardless of altitude. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are among the absolute elite at their positions, and Charlie Blackmon (125 wRC+) and David Dahl (110) aren’t too bad, either.
There are some questions on offense, though. They’ll have to replace Ian Desmond, who has opted out, which isn’t as easy as just saying “he had an 86 wRC+ last year.” That’s still nearly 500 plate appearances that have to replicate just that to keep everything else afloat. Some of those could come via Raimel Tapia improving. He hit .275/.309/.415 last season (73) but is long on talent. Does Daniel Murphy (86 wRC+ as well) have anything left? How about Garrett Hampson (63 wRC+), who was everyone’s breakout candidate in fantasy leagues last year?
Brendan Rodgers has to be considered as well. He sputtered in his cup of coffee last year, but he’s a five-time top-100 prospect no matter where one looks. He’s been ranked every season since before 2016.
That’s pretty remarkable.
13. San Francisco Giants
There just isn’t much here. They hit .239/.302/.392 and didn’t do much in the way of adding significantly on offense. Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson are the only returning regulars who were significantly above average offensively last season, and they played a combined 163 games.
Buster Posey hit just .257/.320/.368. Brandon Belt hit just .234/.339/.403. Brandon Crawford hit a meager .228/.304/.350. In a year where the ball absolutely soared out of the park, San Francisco’s key players each took a step backward.
Bringing back Hunter Pence will be a fun bit of nostalgia and Mauricio Dubon could be fun to watch, but this is still an offense that will probably start Billy Hamilton every night in center.
It’s going to be a long short season in San Francisco.
14. Miami Marlins
I vacillated between the Marlins and Pirates for this spot, and I went with one of my old adages:
“If you can’t be good, at least be interesting.”
I’m not convinced the Pirates can do that. Meanwhile, the Marlins should be plenty fun in the rotation — I’m higher on Caleb Smith than most and really, really like Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Jordan Yamamoto — and the bullpen will be a hodge-podge of whatever they can find out there.
Offensively, Jonathan Villar will probably get the chance to steal like 30 bags — in a 60-game season, remember — and it’s not hard to squint and see Isan Diaz regain his prospect mojo in the big leagues. He hit .305/.395/.578 in New Orleans last year as a 23 year old. It was the PCL, but it’s still a good sign.
Brian Anderson is one of the most underrated players in baseball, Corey Dickerson can really hit when he’s healthy and Jesus Aguilar is one year removed from popping 35 homers for the Brewers.
They might go 22-38 but they’re going to be interesting — and again, that’s all you can ask for.
15. Pittsburgh Pirates
So much of what made this team interesting has been stripped away in recent seasons. Gone are McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. Even Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon — arm surgery, both — are out as well.
Josh Bell may as well be one foot out the door after hitting 37 home runs in 143 games last season. Beyond him, Bryan Reynolds (131 wRC+ in 134 games) and Kevin Newman (110) show promise, and maybe Jose Osuna and Adam Frazier (97, both) could get there, but it’s pretty bleak.
Gregory Polanco only played in 42 games and hit just .242/.301/.425 after a big 2018 season. If he can show any sort of rebound this year, he could be a prime trade candidate in a wacky season where teams won’t want to take on much risk financially. Polanco will only be 29 in September and is owed a minimum of just $4 million past this year (with a maximum of $26 million with 2022-23 options).
Jose Musgrove is really, really interesting atop the rotation but it gets dicey quickly after that. Mitch Keller (12.2 K/9) was interesting (7.13 ERA/3.19 FIP) in 48.0 innings, but Steven Brault (5.16 ERA) and Trevor Williams (5.38) weren’t particularly good, either.
That’s the projected 1-4 in the rotation, with Derek Holland (6.08 ERA/6.10 FIP) penciled in as the No. 5 starter.
No returning reliever was worth even a half-win via fWAR last year, though part of that was because Keone Kela only pitched 29.2 innings. Still, beyond him it’s Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz and Nick Burdi, whose seasons ranged from really bad to barely got off the ground due to injury.
Derek Shelton has his work cut out for him.