As former Rockies General Manager and current MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd said during the 2020 MLB Draft telecast, “Baseball is a hard game to predict the future.”
He’s correct. But I’m going to try and do it anyway.
This is part four of a six-part series where I take a look into my crystal ball (or shiny sphere for a play on words with my last name) and try to predict the next time each team will be ready to contend for the postseason. (This is not necessarily when each team will make the postseason, because there could be more teams that are contenders than playoff spots, whatever that number is going to be going forward.) It’s going to be when can I look at a roster and say, “that team can make the playoffs.” This is obviously a complete shot in the dark because new players will be drafted and trades and free agent signings will happen over the years, but I’m looking at this mainly with the personnel currently in each organization.
We started with the central divisions and looked at the AL East. Now let’s move over to the NL.
Despite the slow start, I still believe the Braves are the class of this division. (And I am kind of looking at this as if it were still the offseason, anyway.) Ronald Acuna is having a monster year and looks like he’s putting it all together. Freddie Freeman is too good to not figure it out, as is Marcell Ozuna (though I’d bet he’d be better if he didn’t have to play left field). There’s too much offensive firepower here for things to not eventually start clicking.
The pitching has been a question in the early going and it appears they will be without Mike Soroka for an extended period of time after requiring another surgery on his Achilles. Huascar Ynoa had been a nice surprise until he broke his hand out of frustration, which seems to be a good indicator of how their season has gone to this point. This puts a lot of the shoulders of young Ian Anderson, who has been one of their better starters so far. The bullpen has been up and down and they recently added some potential reinforcements in Shane Greene and Tanner Roark to minor league deals. The bottom line with the Braves is they are too good not to figure it out and I’m not putting too much stock in a slow start.
Other than Drew Waters, there’s not much impact help coming in the immediate future. (It appears that Cristian Pache is not yet ready to face major league pitching.) Shea Langeliers is the future behind the plate, but William Contreas will get an extended look with Travis d’Arnaud out after undergoing thumb surgery.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
The Marlins are loaded. Yes, I said the Marlins are loaded. But even after making the postseason in 2020, I still think they’re a year away. They’re being smart in sticking to the long-term plan and not overreacting to a two month stretch where they were a game over .500. But man, this team is going to be excellent soon and it starts with their pitching. Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez are dudes. Pablo Lopez and Elieser Hernandez are solid. I like Trevor Rogers a lot too and he’s probably early frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year. And there’s more coming in Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, Max Meyer, Dax Fulton, etc. (They took all pitchers in last year’s draft.)
They have some nice veterans on offense in Brian Anderson, Jesus Aguliar, Miguel Rojas, Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Adam Duvall. Anderson could be a long-term piece as could Jazz Chisholm. But most of their offensive answers are in the minors, headlined by JJ Bleday. I like Jose Devers a lot (no they did not get nothing in that Stanton trade. Dumping that salary was a Godsend) and while I don’t think Lewis Brinson will ever hit enough to warrant the Yelich trade, I think Monte Harrison has a chance to be a player for them (though yes, that trade was horrible). Lewin Diaz is their answer at first base and Jesus Sanchez should be a piece in the outfield. I could keep going but the point is there is a lot of talent here and this is a sleeping giant.
Projected playoff contenders: 2022
New York Mets
Oh, the Mets.
While I think the Mets will be “Same old Mets” until they prove otherwise on the field, there was certainly a lot of hype coming into the season. The Wilpon Era is finally over and the Steve Cohen Era has begun. His first big splash was trading for and extending Francisco Lindor. But I think the most impactful thing he’s done was add some depth to an organization that lacked it. When a key player misses time, the Mets have plugged in players that were truly not Major League caliber over the years. Now, they have some depth in guys like Jonathan Villar, Albert Almora, Kevin Pillar, Jose Peraza, Jose Martinez (before he got hurt), Joey Lucchesi, and Jordan Yamamoto. Those aren’t “wow” moves, but they’re important for teams that think they’re going to play into October.
There’s a lot of talent on this roster, especially on offense. Lindor and James McCann join Pete Alonso, Dom Smith (the Mets really wish there was a DH in the National League, and I’m right there with them. Zero argument against it anymore), Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto as legit offensive threats and I like J.D. Davis more than a lot of folks. The starting rotation is not as good as a few years ago, but Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher in the game (even if he can’t win a game because he gets no run support), Marcus Stroman has looked excellent, and Taijuan Walker has been very good. Carlos Carrasco was a big loss but they now have some depth to stay afloat until he comes back.
The bullpen is as volatile as ever and is what will make or break this team. If they can secure late leads, this team has the upside to win this division. If not, they will miss the postseason. Will they be in the mix? Absolutely. Will they be a playoff team? I don’t think so because there’s too many times where I watch a Met game, something ridiculous happens and I just say “Mets” because that’s the only logical explanation. (And let’s not forget the fact this is a team that doesn’t, and never has, cared about defense, and never seems to learn its importance.)
The good news is they have some exciting young players in their system, headlined by Francisco Alvarez who I think is a golden ticket. There’s not a lot of good catching in baseball. If you get a good, young catcher, you protect him at all costs. Ronny Mauricio (current shortstop, probably future third baseman), Pete Crow-Armstrong (future gold glove center fielder), and Brett Baty (current bat/third baseman, future bat/???) look like impact players (I like Khalil Lee but question whether he hits enough to be more than a fourth outfielder), Matthew Allan,J.T. Ginn and perhaps Junior Santos and Robert Dominguez will be part of the next wave of homegrown pitchers.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
Man are the Phillies in a weird spot. They had high expectations entering 2020, then saw their bullpen blow up in their face. It was a historically bad unit, and you’d think there’s no way it won’t be better this season (so far, that’s proven to be the case). They also brought in Dave Dombrowski to run the show, which means they’re trying to win now. Bringing back JT Realmuto certainly helps (they better have, because Sixto Sanchez looks like a dude).
On paper, this team looks pretty good. You have a lengthy lineup with Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Alec Bohm, Didi Gregorious, Andrew McCutchen, and Adam Haseley/Roman Quinn. The rotation is solid at the top with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, who proved to be a wise acquisition. And the bullpen can’t possibly be worse than last year, with Archie Bradley coming in the shore up the ninth inning.
One thing I will say here is that usually when a team decides to spend big in free agency, it usually has a core group of homegrown talent. But I really don’t see that here. Sixto Sanchez, Mickey Moniak and JP Crawford were supposed to be big pieces in their rebuild. Two have been traded and one is a fourth outfielder at best. The only homegrown impact players are Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins and Alec Bohm. (I do like Bohm a lot. He’s really going to hit.) Maybe Spencer Howard and Adam Haseley. You’d like to have more than that before going all-in. And after those two, there’s not a lot coming. (I love Mick Abel, but he’s years away and I’m kind of meh on Bryson Stott.) While no expanded playoffs means this division will have more contenders than playoff teams, they should be in that conversation this year.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
It was a down year for the defending World Champions in 2020, but Juan Soto and Trea Turner is a pretty good start on offense. (Soto may go down as one of the best hitters of all-time at this rate and Turner literally does everything on a baseball field. He’s so underrated.) There’s not much star power after them, but Starlin Castro could always hit and I liked the Josh Bell acquisition, though he hasn’t done much to this point. There’s not much in the farm system here but Luis Garcia, while no longer prospect eligible, will be a key player for them and I would imagine they hope Carter Kieboom can figure out how to hit major league pitching. I did not get the Kyle Schwarber move at all because the man cannot play the outfield. I guess they were hoping for the DH this year but it didn’t happen. I do like Victor Robles and while we all know he’s an excellent defensive center fielder, I think there’s a lot of upside to his offensive game.
Starting pitching is still the strength of this team with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in the conversation for the best threesome in the game. I really liked the Brad Hand pickup and think he’s going to be nails in the back end along with Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey and Will Harris. Two guys to keep an eye on are Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli, the Nats’ last two first round picks with power arms who could be quick to the big leagues. I like Cole Henry, their second rounder last year, as well. There’s not much else in this system though and if they continue to struggle, they could be sellers at the deadline.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
(Cover Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY Sports)