These are the Things I Think I Know: NL Edition
In previous seasons, I’ve liked to post — wherever I’m writing at the time — the “things I think I know.”
Basically, it’s just me riffing on how I think things will pan out across the MLB landscape in the year to come.
In this case, I’ll split it up between the American and National Leagues, and dive back in next week with the NL version of this and breakout players for each team.
You can find the AL edition here.
In parentheses, I’ll predict the total of wins I expect that team to get. Will it add up to MLB going .500 overall? Probably not! But I’ll try to be careful and consistent all the same.
As an added bonus, I’ve listed the teams in the order I think they’ll finish in 2021.
Let’s talk to it:
Atlanta Braves (Fangraphs projection: 89 wins | BW projection: 93 wins)
I just really, really like this roster. The lineup 1-8 is so much fun — Cristian Pache hitting eighth? — and their rotation will be amazing once Mike Soroka makes his return sometime possibly as soon as within the next month.
I still don’t know why Shane Greene isn’t signed, but I still love Atlanta’s bullpen without him. They may have as many as five lefties out there, especially if they start with a four-man rotation as it looks like they will. The bridge to Will Smith is stout with Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Chris Martin and Will Smith.
I even like their bench, but mostly because of the mix of veterans — Ehire Adrianza, Pablo Sandoval and Ender Inciarte — more than about what they’ll provide in specific value.
I think a lot of digital ink will be spilled on the Padres and Dodgers this spring, but the Braves are going to be very, very, very good.
New York Mets (Fangraphs projection: 92 wins | BW projection: 91 wins)
This is really a coin flip for me. I like the Braves rotation a bit better from the top down, though a lot of that would have been calmed if Noah Syndergaard was going to be ready from the jump.
The offense is going to score a ton of runs, and the bench is going to really do a nice job supporting what is a deep and balanced offense. I think the bullpen has a lot of potential, but I also need to see some sign of progress from at least one of Robert Gsellman, Dellin Betances or Jeurys Familia to feel really good about it.
Washington Nationals (Fangraphs projection: 83 wins | BW projection: 84 wins)
They’re just not as exciting as a team should be with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg atop the rotation and Juan Soto in the outfield. The bottom-third of the lineup is really boring — Starlin Castro, Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison — but if Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber can even come close to their finest recent seasons, it should be a fairly good offense.
If Victor Robles takes a step forward like I think he will, the potential to rocket up this list increases dramatically.
Jon Lester and Joe Ross isn’t exactly an exciting back-end of a rotation, but it’s fronted by Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, so it should still be plenty good. The bullpen is even more of a wild card with Will Harris sidelined, but the addition of Brad Hand should help stem that in the interim — assuming his loss of velocity doesn’t lead to a decrease in effectiveness moving forward.
I think the Nationals have a real chance to go into September and threaten for the division title — but I think they need a lot to go right for that to happen.
Philadelphia Phillies (Fangraphs projection: 81 wins | BW projection: 82 wins)
Maybe we’re all sleeping on the Phillies. Their offense is pretty intriguing outside of center field, I really like the top three in their rotation and they made enough bullpen additions to at least take a step forward from last season’s debacle.
Still, I think a team like this gets caught in the throes of an otherwise deep division, where a team like this might win 88 games in a weaker division and contend for a playoff spot — or even get one — but fall short this year.
Miami Marlins (Fangraphs projection: 73 wins | BW projection: 75 wins)
The small-sample Marlins were a ton of fun last year, but I just don’t think they have the staying power to do it for 162. Sixto Sanchez is the most exciting starter they’ve had since Jose Fernandez, and I’m higher on Sandy Alcantara than most.
Behind them, and yes I know that Sanchez is in Triple-A for the time being, Pablo Lopez and Elieser Hernandez probably had better seasons than you realized in 2020.
The bullpen might be a bit of an adventure, but they’ll mix and match with some intriguing arms like John Curtiss, Yimi Garcia and Dylan Floro in front of Anthony Bass, who gives me a bit of a Daniel Hudson vibe in that his numbers don’t always jump off the page but are generally pretty solid.
This is, without a doubt, the most talented team that’ll finish in the cellar of any division this season.
St. Louis Cardinals (Fangraphs projection: 79 wins | BW projection: 85 wins)
It would have been the Brewers here if the Cardinals hadn’t acquired/stolen Nolan Arenado from the Rockies, if we’re being honest.
The lineup isn’t terribly interesting outside of Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado, but that speaks more to how iffy the rest of this division is, as well. The bench is a group of relative unknowns other than Matt Carpenter, who was displaced from the starting lineup with the Arenado acquisition and has looked dreadful this spring.
The rotation behind Jack Flaherty is a complete toss-up. Adam Wainwright is nearing the end of his career and is likely miscast as a No. 2 starter. Nobody is totally sure what Carlos Martinez can still reasonably contribute. Daniel Ponce de Leon is young and exciting but completely unproven. John Gant hasn’t started since 2018 and it’s worth wondering if his walk issues will prevent him from being particularly helpful in that role.
Getting back Miles Mikolas will go at least a little way toward giving this group some depth, but it’s not a particularly inspiring group. The bullpen behind it should be fairly good, but not particularly exciting and not the kind of group that can consistently prop up a rotation if/when it struggles over a longer haul.
Milwaukee Brewers (Fangraphs projection: 81 wins | BW projection: 84 wins)
They’ve got a nasty bullpen, an awesome outfield and a lot of intriguing pieces in the infield. I would not be surprised at all if they win this division, as I have them and the Cardinals neck and neck down the stretch.
In fact, even as I’m writing this I’m having second thoughts. The Brewers are going to hit. They’re going to catch the ball. They’re going to hold leads late in games. They’re going to strike people out in the rotation.
Ah well, we’re pot committed — but I already hate this.
Chicago Cubs (Fangraphs projection: 78 wins | BW projection: 82 wins)
The lineup isn’t hideous — though I’d really like to see Nico Hoerner get run instead of Matt Duffy and/or Eric Sogard — but a lot is going to hinge on how guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant bounce back from rough seasons in 2020.
David Bote will get the first crack to play every day at second base, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him end the season playing third if the team falls out of contention and trades Bryant at the deadline.
The rotation is kind of a mess behind Kyle Hendricks. Jake Arrieta is the team’s No. 2 starter, though it’s possible Zach Davies picks up some tricks from Hendricks and leapfrogs him in fairly short order. Adbert Alzolay is interesting, but young and very raw.
The bullpen has potential to be about average, though I think a lot hinges on how much Craig Kimbrel bounces back in his age-33 season — which is probably not a great bet. Relying on someone like Brandon Workman or Andrew Chafin to close could work, but at that point the bullpen would simply be stretched too thin.
David Ross has his work cut out for him, because a large chunk of this offense is slated for free agency this offseason as well.
Cincinnati Reds (Fangraphs projection: 78 wins | BW projection: 74 wins)
I don’t love or hate the Reds. I think they’re going to score a bunch of runs and I’m really enthused to see what Jonathan India looks like in the big leagues, but their rotation after Trevor Bauer and Anthony Desclafani departed is a bit on the thin side.
I would like to see Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon succeed — not only for their sake, but to help continue to push the idea that guys like that can find their way as post-hype sleepers with the help of training, data or both.
The bullpen has some potential, even after the team traded Raisel Iglesias and then dumped Noe Ramirez, who went back to the Angels in the strangest case of pitcher laundering I can recall. Still, even though I like Amir Garrett and am really intrigued by Tejay Antone, it’s still probably a bottom-third unit unless Sean Doolittle and Cam Bedrosian can re-capture some of their early-career ways — or, earlier career ways, anyhow.
The Reds won’t be horrible — they’re just not really very interesting.
Pittsburgh Pirates (Fangraphs projection: 66 wins | BW projection: 56 wins)
Poor Derek Shelton.
It’s only going to get worse from here — for now. Outside of Ke’Bryan Hayes, nobody on this offense is particularly interesting. Sure, Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds and Colin Moran can all be about league average offensively — and maybe Gregory Polanco plays his way into being a trade chip — but the offense isn’t interesting and neither is the pitching staff.
Chad Kuhl is the team’s Opening Day starter and he’s projected for a 4.75 ERA. Among starters on the team to begin the season, JT Brubaker (4.32) has the lowest projected ERA.
For Shelton’s sake, hopefully someone like Brubaker or Wil Crowe takes a massive step forward to give the team someone compelling for fans to watch in addition to Hayes, because it’s going to be a long, long year in the Steel City.
Don’t be surprised if Richard Rodriguez has one foot out the door at the deadline.
Los Angeles Dodgers (Fangraphs projection: 98 wins | BW projection: 104 wins)
What do you get the man who has everything?
A World Series ring, apparently.
The Dodgers had conquered pretty much every frontier in the last decade with the exception of winning the big one, and they finally did that by fending off a pesky Tampa Bay team in six games.
Sure, the Dodgers have more resources than just about anyone, but they’re also a player-development juggernaut who also manages to find gems at every turn — like Chris Taylor, Max Muncy and perhaps next Edwin Rios.
If adding Mookie Betts last winter wasn’t enough, they upped the ante by grabbing the defending Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer on an unconventional deal that’ll pay him $40 million this year and possibly $45 million next with the ability to opt out after each of the first two seasons.
The long and short of it is that the Dodgers are loaded. Enrique Hernandez departed, but they simply have Gavin Lux to pick up the pieces at second base in addition to Rios and Taylor coming off the bench. Every single one of their bench players other than Austin Barnes is listed as an IF/OF on Roster Resource, which again speaks to the versatility with which the foundation of this club continues to be built.
The farm is also teeming with potential big-league help in the form of Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz and maybe even Michael Busch if the need arises, but again — this team is already so deep, they can be content to let these guys cook for as long as they need before exposing them to the bright lights of Hollywood.
Nobody will bat an eye if they repeat — nor should they.
San Diego Padres (Fangraphs projection: 94 wins | BW projection: 96 wins)
This is going to be a heavyweight battle, where a young upstart tries to knock off the grizzled accomplished veteran who holds the belt and looks unstoppable.
With that said, the Padres attacked the offseason with reckless abandon, taking on a “why not us?” attitude in adding not only Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove and a few relievers on the pitching side, but also Ha-seong Kim as a utility man and also extending Fernando Tatis Jr. for basically the rest of time.
The Padres aren’t as deep as the Dodgers. Eric Hosmer potentially hitting cleanup is still what I could call a decision — but he could also lap up 100 RBIs simply by hitting 20 homers and driving in Tatis, Jake Cronenworth and Manny Machado.
Can Wil Myers pick up where he left off? Can Jurickson Profar and Tommy Pham stay on the field? Losing Austin Nola and Trent Grisham weren’t the greatest starts, but they shouldn’t be sidelined too long. They’re going to need both if they want to go toe to toe with the defending champions. I think the fall just short — but still get their day in October.
San Francisco Giants (Fangraphs projection: 77 wins | BW projection: 82 wins)
The Giants won’t necessarily be bad, but I just don’t think their aging quartet of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria have enough juice left to do much more than have a .500 season and maybe make a late charge at a Wild Card spot.
I just need to see more from guys like Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano before I can be convinced they should be hitting in the top or middle of an order of a team primed to make some noise in a top-heavy division — and I’m just not seeing it.
I like the idea of Kevin Gausman kicking it into another level — I feel like we’ve been saying this forever, and he is 30 after all — but beyond that it’s hard to drum up a ton of excitement for guys like Desclafani and Aaron Sanchez. Both guys could certainly be good, but that’s asking for quite a bit when the other two starters after Gausman are an aging Johnny Cueto and a complete unknown in Logan Webb.
I think I’m probably the high man at 82 wins, but it would be really hard for me to see much more upside than that this season.
Arizona Diamondbacks (Fangraphs projection: 73 wins | BW projection: 68 wins)
I don’t know. They’re kind of the NL West Reds. They should hit a bit and have some really fun individual pieces offensively, but I’m not buying them on the whole and the fact that Madison Bumgarner is the Opening Day starter is frankly a bit terrifying.
There’s just nothing really intriguing about this team. Maybe Ketel Marte qualifies, but otherwise, there’s just no must-watch player on this team until Zac Gallen gets healthy. If someone asked you to come up with the most boring possible closer on a team this year, the exact pitcher you’d spit out is Joakim Soria. Fangraphs projects every single one of their relievers to have an ERA over 4.00.
It might not be extremely, terribly bad — but it isn’t good.
Colorado Rockies (Fangraphs projection: 67 wins | BW projection: 60 wins)
Ah yes, the NL West’s answer for the Pirates. The primary difference is that the Rockies have Trevor Story and potentially a couple of compelling starters. The other difference, though, is that they’ll play the Padres and Dodgers like 40 times.
The storylines for this team will be who Story is playing for come Aug. 1, if Charlie Blackmon can stave off an age-35 decline and if Raimel Tapia can truly contend for a batting title.
Otherwise, things are pretty bleak around Denver with no path out of this funk.