With the recent signing of this year’s top Free Agent SP Max Scherzer, The Washington Nationals have positioned themselves not only on top of The NL East but potentially on top of the entire MLB. From that viewpoint it would seem that Mets fans hopes for a playoff spot in 2015 are now out of reach. However, like Aaron Rodgers told his Green Bay faithful way back in Week 4 of the NFL season….R…E…L…A…X….relax folks.
Yes, the Washington Nationals may have the top pitching rotation in the MLB and are likely to run away with the NL East again this year. However, they were already expected to win the NL East. In fact Bovida, who had the Nationals as 5:1 favorites to win the World Series, has only bumped the Nationals chances to 4:1. It's the dreaded Law of Diminishing Returns.
Irregardless, Mets fans quickly forget that there is more than one way to reach the MLB playoffs. Let’s strip away the anticipated division winners (STL, WAS, and LAD.) and take a look at the rest of the NL teams in the potential fight for the 2 Wild Cards.
The Expected Bottom Feeders
- Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves
The Philadelphia Phillies have hit rock bottom due to some severely bad contracts from the past years. Outside of Utley the offense awful and while the top of the rotation is strong (Hamels and Lee), 3-5 in the rotation is very uninspiring.
Both the Rockies and the Diamondbacks have pretty good players from an offensive standpoint but both clubs have poor rotations that are being led by Jorge de la Rosa and Josh Collmenter, respectively.
Lastly, the Atlanta Braves are on the other side of the spectrum. Through off-season trades, the club has built a strong young rotation, however, outside of Freeman and Markakis, the positional players are defense first guys with light bats.
The “Good but Not Enough” teams
- Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds
The Cubs have one of the most exciting young teams in baseball and their addition of Jon Lester to the rotation gives them a front-line starter to lean on. However, that said, their youth and inexperience manifested itself last season into record pacing strikeouts. Top prospect 3B Kris Bryant is also not expected to join the team until after the Super 2 deadline. In addition, the rotation after Lester is only average at best with no prospect help in sight.
As for the Brew Crew, they have some big time MVP caliber players in Gomez and Lucroy, but Braun nerve damage continues to hamper his upside and the rest of offense is below average. In addition, with the trade of Gallardo to the Rangers, the rotation has no front line starter and looks to be below average at best.
The Cincinnati Reds are in an awkward position being in the final year of a potential competing window with Cueto becoming a free agent next season. After Cueto the rotation is average at best with Homer Bailey assuming the departed Mat Latos role as #2 SP and youngsters Leake, Cingrani, and Alexrod filling out the back-end. Offensively, the Reds have strong bats at 3B, 1B, and C but Phillips continues to decline at 2B, Cozart is a poor hitting SS, and B. Hamilton showed no ability to hit at the MLB level posting a .200 AVG with a .511 OPS in 62 second half games.
The Wild Card Winners take a Step Back
- Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants
The Pirates and the Giants won the wild cards last year but both have taken steps backwards this off-season due to inactivity. The Pirates added power hitting SS Jeong-ho Kang, but his power is not expected to translate to the MLB and he is slated for a bench. While the club has an annual MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, Super Utility player Josh Harrison can be expected to regress from his .353 BABIP fueled 2014 MVP season. Lastly, despite adding A.J. Burnett to the rotation, the rest of the rotation after Gerritt Cole is rather weak. Plus, the 38 yr old can’t be reasonably expected to improve upon his 8-18, 4.59 ERA season with the Phillies.
As for the San Francisco Giants, they find themselves in an odd category for a team that just won a World Series. Losing Pablo Sandoval hurts immensely and they are sadly mistaken if they think that Casey McGehee is a viable candidate to make up for his production. The club is also weak offensively at LF and SS, Angel Pagan can’t seem to stay healthy in CF, likewise Brandon Belt at 1B, and while Joe Panik is a promising young 2B, the position has turned into a more offensive minded one which Panik has little of. Lastly, just like last year, After the team’s strong 1-2 combo of Bumgarner and Cain, the rest of the rotation is weak relying on past their prime veterans Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy as well as the fallen from grace former Cy Young, Tim Lincecum.
- New York Mets, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres new front office made huge splashes this off-season by acquiring a whole new OF in Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Matt Kemp. They also acquired solid hitting C Derek Norris and bounceback candidate 3B Will Middlebrooks. The Padres rotation is not too shabby either with front line quality in Andrew Cashner and solid middle rotation pieces in Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross. The back-end of it is still a little weak though and the bullpen is unexciting but playing 38 games against the Rockies and D’backs can only help the Padres in 2015.
The Miami Marlins locked up Giancarlo Stanton to mega extension this off-season, traded for Mat Latos to beef up their rotation, Dee Gordon to add speed, Martin Prado to cover a hole at 3B, and free agent Mike Morse for power at 1B. Certainly all strong moves from a front office standpoint that should be good enough to beat most teams, however, one glaring hole remains that will not be filled until potentially July. The club’s young Cy Young caliber front-line ace Jose Fernandez is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery and may not be ready until July 1st at the earliest. The Marlins will have to try and stay as close as they can in the Wild Card race with a lackluster back end rotation and hope that Fernandez comes out swinging once he does come back.
Lastly we come to our New York Mets. The return of Cy Young candidate Matt Harvey plus the development of Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler gives the Mets one of the youngest dominant front 3 in the MLB. To add to it, top prospect Noah Syndergaard is expected to join the group sometime during the season. In the meantime, having the league average Jon Niese and 200 inning Bartolo Colon as your #4 and #5 isn't great but it’s pretty solid in relation to other teams #4’s and #5’s. Offensively, when healthy, the club has the top offensive 3B in the National League, an All-star at 2B, and pretty good power balance through-out the line-up with the 3-7 hitters all capable of 20+ HRs. The bullpen is also one of the stronger units in the MLB led by the return of Bobby Parnell, the 28 SV Jhennry Mejia and the Rookie of Year candidate Juerys Familia.
However, the Mets ability to compete for the Wild Card will weigh heavily on the health of its position players. While the club has significant pitching depth and positional depth in the OF and C, potential injuries to Wright, Murphy, or Duda could destroy their line-up balance and de-rail their quest for a playoff berth.