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2023 MLB Season Preview: National League

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Major League Baseball is coming off its first somewhat normal offseason in a while. There were no concerns about missing games to a pandemic or a lockout, there was no CBA to be ironed out. There were just player transactions, questions about regional TV coverage and hope.


The season starts in just a few days, so before that gets going, let’s look at the entire league, team-by-team, as we get ready for the 2023 Major League Baseball season. Below, I will touch on each team, with their biggest strengths and weaknesses and key players, and then at the bottom I’ll give my predictions for award winners and the postseason. I’ll also note each team’s top prospect, according to the Prospect Vault by our own Jake Kucheck.

Below, check out the National League. Monday, I previewed the American League.

National League East

Atlanta Braves

2022 Results: 101-61 (1st in NL East, lost in NLDS)
Biggest additions: Sean Murphy, Joe Jiménez, Sam Hilliard, Kolby Allard
Biggest subtractions: Dansby Swanson, Kenley Jansen, Kyle Muller, William Contreras, Luke Jackson, Adam Duvall, Robbie Grossman, Jake Odorizzi
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: None

Biggest Strength: That Whole Midas Touch Thing

Most people thought the Braves called up at least some, if not all, of Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Spencer Strider, Michael Harris and Vaughn Grissom up before they might have necessarily been ready, and it didn’t matter, they all succeeded. Atlanta is apparently going with Orlando Arcia at shortstop to begin the season, but I fully expect Grissom (or Braden Shewmake) to take over the job before long and somehow replace Dansby Swanson with no falloff. The Braves’ player development is elite.

Biggest Weakness: Sunk Costs

Outside of the pandemic year, Marcell Ozuna hasn’t been good since 2017. Even including 2020, we’re on 715 plate appearances of miserable performance the last two years. The Guardians were happy to unload Eddie Rosario for the opportunity to release Pablo Sandoval in 2021, then he slugged for a month in Atlanta and they gave him a contract, only for him to turn right back into a pumpkin. Set dollars aside, and one or both of those players would now be an ex-Brave. But for whatever reason (the corporate ownership perhaps?), the Braves never seemed to even really consider alternatives for those two roster slots. Sunk cost fallacy, man. It’ll get you every time.

Key Player: Austin Riley

I thought Austin Riley would be a borderline everyday first baseman when he came up. A good enough hitter to support so-so defense. The kind of player you aren’t upset to have, but the kind you’re looking to upgrade every offseason. Instead, he’s become a superstar, with back-to-back 6-WAR seasons. And he doesn’t even turn 26 for a few more days. He’s not my MVP pick, but … he could be. And if the Braves want to win 100 games again, he’s the key.

2023 Projection

89-73 (Third in NL East, lose in NLCS)


Miami Marlins

2022 Results: 69-93 (4th in NL East)
Biggest additions: Luis Arraez, A.J. Puk, Jean Segura, Johnny Cueto, José Iglesias, Matt Barnes, Yulieski Gurriel
Biggest subtractions: Pablo López, JJ Bleday, Jose Salas, Brian Anderson, Richard Bleier, Elieser Hernandez
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Eury Perez, SP (3)

Biggest Strength: An Assembly Line of Starting Pitchers

The Marlins had six different guys start more than 10 games for them last year. Five put up ERAs of 3.75 or better (including Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara), and the sixth — Trevor Rogers — had offered a 2.74 ERA as a rookie the year before. Pablo López is gone now, but the team signed Johnny Cueto after he had a nice rebound season in Chicago. Maybe Sixto Sánchez makes it back some day. Heck, maybe the team lets Eury Perez debut (unlikely, but if there’s any team where he could, it’s them). The Marlins generally can’t hit, but man, they’ll play a lot of 3-2 games.

Biggest Weakness: An Apparent Inability to See the Puzzle Pieces’ Interlocking Edges

Luis Arraez had all but become a first baseman in Minnesota. He’s the second baseman in Miami. Jean Segura has played 1,304 of 1,328 career games at not-third base. He’s the third baseman. Joey Wendle has 200-plus games at second base and third base. He’s the shortstop. Jazz Chisholm Jr. has never played outfield at the big-league level. Sure, toss him in center field. There’s nothing here saying any of these moves can’t work, but that many players playing new (or relatively new) positions is asking for it.

Key Player: Luis Arraez

The Marlins were 28th in team batting average last year, 27th in on-base percentage. Garrett Cooper was the team batting average leader, at a lofty .261. Two players in the heart of their lineup (Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García) had OBPs under .300. The Luis Arraez-for-Pablo López-plus trade was a logical fit, and for the Marlins, it needs to be — someone needs to get on base for this team.

2023 Projection

78-84 (Fourth in NL East)

New York Mets

2022 Results: 101-61 (2nd in NL East, lost in NLWCS)
Biggest additions: Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga, José Quintana, Brooks Raley, Omar Narváez, David Robertson, Elieser Hernandez, Tommy Pham
Biggest subtractions: Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker, Chris Bassitt, Michael Conforto, Seth Lugo, Trevor Williams, Trevor May
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Francisco Álvarez, C (1)

Biggest Strength: Daddy Warbucks

Every team wants to say that if they’re in contention, their owner will go get what needs to be gotten at the deadline. But it’s especially true in Flushing, where Steve Cohen appears to have no qualms about opening up the pocketbook (See: Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga, almost-Carlos Correa). This team is light on weaknesses, but if some develop, Cohen will flash the black card.

<img src="https://d2y4ihze0bzr5g.cloudfront.net/source/2020/Pete_Alonso.jpg" alt="

Biggest Weakness: Irony

The Mets punted on Carlos Correa because they didn’t want to sign a player with such injury risk. Then three of their other big offseason contracts (Edwin Díaz, Brandon Nimmo, José Quintana) all got hurt in short order (Nimmo’s appears to be mostly a dodged bullet, thankfully). Predicting the future is tough, man. 

Key Player: Francisco Lindor

I’ll be honest, identifying a key player on this stacked roster is tough, because there isn’t much in the way of “remove X guy and it all falls apart.” Like, yes, removing Max Scherzer would stink. But Justin VerlanderKodai SengaCarlos CarrascoDavid PetersonTylor Megill is still a good rotation, even if José Quintana doesn’t make it back quickly. Same at most of the defensive positions. Maybe there’s difficulty in center if Nimmo isn’t 100%, but otherwise there’s enough versatility here to paper over most absences. Except shortstop. If Francisco Lindor misses more than a handful of games (he played 161 last year and played all 60 in 2020, but he only played 125 in 2021), the Mets don’t have the shortstop depth to cover for him. Lindor rebounded nicely in 2022. He’ll need to be that again in 2023.

2023 Projection

93-69 (First in NL East, lose in NLCS)

Philadelphia Phillies

2022 Results: 87-75 (3rd in NL East, lost in World Series)
Biggest additions: Trea Turner, Taijuan Walker, Gregory Soto, Craig Kimbrel, Jake Cave, Kody Clemens, Josh Harrison, Matt Strahm
Biggest subtractions: Zach Eflin, Jean Segura, Noah Syndergaard, David Robertson, Kyle Gibson, Brad Hand, Matt Vierling, Nick Maton
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Andrew Painter, SP (31)

Biggest Strength: Their Big Free Agent Signing Already Won MVP?

Not really, of course. But Trea Turner was already getting plenty of MVP-esque buzz before the World Baseball Classic, and then he went out and Super Saiyan-ed the rest of the world. With Rhys Hoskins out for the year and Bryce Harper out for at least a chunk of it, they’ll need Turner to hit like an MVP, and if the WBC is any indication, he’s ready to do that.

Biggest Weakness: The Same Weakness Philly Has Had Since Prime Ricky Bottalico

The Philadelphia bullpen isn’t bad. It’s decidedly not bad. And that’s an improvement over some recent iterations of that unit. But there’s not a single sure thing here. Seranthony Domínguez was pretty good last year, for the first time since 2018. Craig Kimbrel might be done. José Alvarado kind of found some control last year after a career of closing his eyes and throwing it somewhere, and when he turns 28 in May there won’t be an under-28 reliever here. It could work, but this is also a unit that could crash and burn.

Key Player: Nick Castellanos

Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are a stout 1-2 punch, and Taijuan Walker is a good enough No. 3. Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto are all either good or very good options at the top of the lineup. But there’s a chance the order without Hoskins and often without Harper dries up from there, especially if Nick Castellanos doesn’t rebound from his miserable 2022. If he can hit like Tigers-era or Reds-era Castellanos, they can get back to the World Series. If he can’t, it’s a tall order.

2023 Projection

89-73 (Second in NL East, lose in NLCS)

Washington Nationals

2022 Results: 55-107 (5th in NL East)
Biggest additions: Trevor Williams, Jeimer Candelario, Corey Dickerson, Dominic Smith, Michael Chavis, Chad Kuhl
Biggest subtractions: Nelson Cruz, Erasmo Ramírez, Luke Voit
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: James Wood, OF (17)

Biggest Strength: The Men in Black Memory Wipers Don’t Exist

It’s never bad to win a World Series, but the Nationals could not possibly have picked a worse time to do it. With no fans in the stands in 2020, they couldn’t capitalize on their 2019 title the way teams normally would, and then bad luck with Stephen Strasburg and predictable misfortune with the Patrick Corbin contract really ravaged any sort of title defense. But at least they can remember those good times.

Biggest Weakness: Their Lack of Good Baseball Players

How many of the current Nationals will be on the next over-.500 Washington team? Probably Keibert Ruiz, because they signed him through the heat death of the universe. Maybe CJ Abrams, who is just 22 and still could blossom. After that? Maybe MacKenzie Gore can get straightened out, maybe Luis García can be a productive enough third-tier player, maybe … I don’t know, y’all. You could draw a big black “X” over Nationals Park for 2023 and you wouldn’t miss out on that much.

Key Player: Josiah Gray

Josiah Gray’s prospect profile was good enough that he was included in a trade for Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig in 2018, then for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner in 2021. A lot was expected out of him. But through a season and a half in the big leagues, it certainly hasn’t gone well (5.17 career ERA, which is actually an improvement on his 5.90 FIP). He gave up the most walks in the NL and the most home runs in all of baseball last year. But he’s also just 25, and it’s far too early to give up on a 25-year-old you once considered a prime prospect. And … I’m just saying, if Gray can’t be even competent in 2023, this rotation is going to make for a real long year.

2023 Projection

59-103 (5th in NL East)

NL Central

Chicago Cubs

2022 Results: 74-88 (3rd in NL Central)
Biggest additions: Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon, Cody Bellinger, Trey Mancini, Tucker Barnhart, Michael Fulmer, Brad Boxberger, Eric Hosmer, Edwin Ríos
Biggest subtractions: Willson Contreras, Wade Miley
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Brennen Davis, OF (25)

Biggest Strength: Basic Competence Just About Everywhere

If Cody Bellinger had never won that MVP, we’d view him as a so-so player who can at least hold a lineup spot. If Eric Hosmer had never been paid that ridiculous contract, he’d be an empty-average hitter who is miscast as a first baseman but fine. Ian Happ has finally become a good ballplayer, Nico Hoerner should be an excellent second baseman, Trey Mancini might become the most popular Cub since Sandberg. Dansby Swanson could be a star in Chicago (but maybe not, he was generally just “pretty good” in Atlanta until his contract year), but there is no spot in the Cubs’ lineup that is just “What on earth are you doing, guys?” It’s not good. But it’s good enough.

Biggest Weakness: The League Hasn’t Shortened Games to Seven Innings

The Cubs should be a team on the rise, given the general competence mentioned above (I didn’t touch on the rotation, but adding Jameson Taillon to Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele is more of that “not great but definitely not going to kill you” stuff). But the bullpen is … another story. Four Cubs relievers had FIPs under 4.00 in at least 15 innings last year — David Robertson, Scott Effross, Mychal Givens and Chris Martin. They are now, respectively, a Met a Yankee, an Oriole and a Red Sox. When Michael Fulmer, Brad Boxberger and Brandon Hughes are battling for your closer role, you don’t have a closer. Hope Stroman, Taillon and Steele can go deep into games.

Key Player: Cody Bellinger

If Cody Bellinger can even come close to that MVP level he offered in 2019, this lineup starts to round into shape a bit. A Bellinger hitting .200/.260/.380 can’t play, and the replacements aren’t going to do much better. A Bellinger hitting even something like .240/.310/.460 will hit fifth or sixth in this order all year and be a valuable contributor. A Bellinger hitting anything like the .305/.406/.629 he put up in 2019, and the Cubs might win a wild-card berth.

2023 Projection

80-82 (Third in NL Central)

Cincinnati Reds

2022 Results: 62-100 (5th in NL Central)
Biggest additions: Wil Myers, Curt Casali, Daniel Norris, Kevin Newman
Biggest subtractions: Donovan Solano, Mike Moustakas, Mike Minor
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Elly De La Cruz, SS (8)

Biggest Strength: So Many 100 MPH Pitches

The Reds aren’t going to contend this year. They aren’t even trying to. So there needs to be a reason to tune into their games, and “Joey Votto suddenly becoming interesting over the last couple years” isn’t really it when he’s just playing the games. But Hunter Greene, y’all. Whenever he pitches, you have to watch closely, lest the fastball disappear from your view altogether. He’s inspired thousands of Sarah Langs tweets at this point. The Reds aren’t going to be good. But Hunter Greene should be a delight to watch.

Biggest Weakness: The Slow Speed of the Clock

It’s not that the Reds have a great minor-league system overall, because they don’t. But the top of the organization has the chance to be elite — Elly De La Cruz is the top-ranked Cincinnati product in our Prospect Vault at No. 8, but Noelvi Marte is right behind him at 10. But they’re both 21, and fellow shortstop prospect Edwin Arroyo is only 19. They’re building the whole airplane out of could-be-elite shortstops, but it might be a long haul until we get to see them in Great American Ball Park.

Key Player: Jonathan India

After a 2021 Rookie of the Year season, Jonathan India was supposed to be the “We don’t have much, but we can build around this” guy for the Reds. Instead, he kind of collapsed, with his OBP dropping 49 points and his slugging dropping 81, ultimately putting up negative bWAR on the season. Now, he’s 26 and suddenly a big question mark. He’ll still lead off in this order, which means table-setting, which means he kind of needs to be pretty good. Can he?

2023 Projection

73-89 (Fourth in NL Central)

Milwaukee Brewers

2022 Results: 86-76 (2nd in NL Central)
Biggest additions: William Contreras, Jesse Winker, Brian Anderson, Abraham Toro, Owen Miller, Javy Guerra, Wade Miley, Bryse Wilson, Luke Voit
Biggest subtractions: Kolten Wong, Taylor Rogers, Omar Narváez, Jace Peterson, Andrew McCutchen, Esteury Ruiz, Brad Boxberger
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Jackson Chourio, OF (6)

Biggest Strength: A Starting Rotation to Die For

No one outside of Citi Field can rival the 1-2 of Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff (and I would listen if you ranked them above Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer). Freddy Peralta is a bit more of a wild card after 2022 injuries, but I’m happy with him as a No. 3. Eric Lauer, Adrian Houser, Wade Miley, Aaron Ashby-when-healthy doesn’t live up to the strength of the top of this rotation, but the Brewers can stand with just about any rotation in baseball. It’s the strongest single unit in this division, and I don’t think there’s a close second.

<img src="https://d2y4ihze0bzr5g.cloudfront.net/source/2020/Christian_Yelich.jpg" alt="

Biggest Weakness: Regret

Christian Yelich has been worth 4.4 bWAR across the last three seasons (remember, 2020 was abbreviated). That’s respectable. It’s adequate. It is super-duper not good production for a guy getting $26 million this year and each of the five after that (there’s a $20 million mutual option for 2029, but … come on). The Brewers signed Yelich at the absolute peak of his value (he couldn’t realistically have improved on 2018-2019), and it bit them in the butt almost immediately. Yelich is still a fine player to have in your lineup, but if his contract is keeping them from splurging elsewhere (and you’d assume it is), that’s a problem, and it’ll be a problem for a while.

Key Player: Freddy Peralta

The Brewers lineup is fine. It’s not more than fine, but it’s not awful. 10th in the league in runs last year, 10th in OPS, no one that significant gone. But this is a team that will live and die with its pitching staff, and as sure as Burnes and Woodruff are, Peralta is suddenly not. If he can pitch like he did in 2021 (2.81 ERA, 3.12 FIP over 144.1 innings, 4.0 WAR), they’ll win this division, and probably handily. If he struggles or gets hurt again, the outlook is much less rosy.

2023 Projection

87-75 (First in NL Central, lose in NLDS)

Pittsburgh Pirates

2022 Results: 62-100 (4th in NL Central)
Biggest additions: Ji-Man Choi, Rich Hill, Carlos Santana, Andrew McCutchen, Austin Hedges, Vince Velasquez, Connor Joe, Scott Randall
Biggest subtractions: Bryse Wilson, Roberto Pérez, Diego Castillo, Kevin Newman
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Henry Davis, C (26)

Biggest Strength: Reaching the Salary Cap Floor, Which Apparently Exists in Pittsburgh

How else can you explain the Pirates tossing money at a bunch of low- to mid-dollar veterans who won’t make them win but might make them win a few games? Andrew McCutchen, sure, the prodigal son returns. I get that. But Ji-Man Choi, Carlos Santana, Austin Hedges, Rich Hill, Vince Velasquez … props to the Pirates for not punting altogether, because at least 3-4 of those guys are MLB-caliber (sorry, Velasquez), but those are the types of moves you’d expect from a team who had to spend to get to a salary floor, not a bad team just filling out its roster. It makes the team better, which is good, but it doesn’t make the team good, which is bad.

Biggest Weakness: The Face That Baseball Is a Two-Way Game

The Pirates could have a not-bad offense in 2023, particularly if Oneil Cruz can improve on his .294 OBP as a rookie. It’s not a deep lineup, but there could fully be six-plus above-average hitters. But this pitching staff could be a sad sight. You could talk me into Mitch Keller being almost average, Roansy Contreras slightly above. But this is a team that will legitimately be running Velasquez, he of the 5.19 ERA the last six years, out there every fifth day.

Key Player: Oneil Cruz

The first sentence of that Biggest Weakness sentence really depends on Oneil Cruz. He was worth 2.4 bWAR despite a .294 OBP and almost five times as many strikeouts as walks. He’s electric as all get-out. He could be great. Or he could keep his bad habits and see the strikeouts rise, and then the Pirates are in trouble.

2023 Projection

67-95 (Fifth in NL Central)


St. Louis Cardinals

2022 Results: 93-69 (1st in NL Central, lost in NLWCS)
Biggest additions: Willson Contreras
Biggest subtractions: Yadier Molina, José Quintana, Corey Dickerson, Alex Reyes
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Jordan Walker, 3B (2)

Biggest Strength: Organizational Continuity

The Cardinals’ only significant offseason addition from outside the organization was the required one, replacing the retired Yadier Molina. They did it big, too, signing Willson Contreras. Other than that, there are no players expected to get significant time in St. Louis in 2023 who weren’t with the organization in 2022. The team just won 93 games and had Nos. 1 and 3 in MVP voting, so even losing Molina and Albert Pujols, continuity with this group isn’t the end of the world.

Biggest Weakness: AARP Cards

I went to a They Might Be Giants concert the other day. It’s a band that is in its fifth decade of touring. The fans, unsurprisingly, trend older. But there was one kid there, maybe 10 years old. He brought the average age of the group down, even if only a little. And forgive the tangent, but … the Cardinals announced Jordan Walker made the big-league club. He’s 20. That’s very young! He joins a lineup with 35-year-old Paul Goldschmidt, 31-year-old Nolan Arenado and 30-year-old (catcher!) Willson Contreras. Adam Wainwright is 41 (and hurt). Miles Mikolas feels young because he hasn’t been a relevant big-leaguer that much, but he’s 34. Molina and Pujols retiring helps the team’s age overall, but this is still an old roster for which a lot could go wrong.

Key Player: Tyler O’Neill

2022 was supposed to be the year that cemented Tyler O’Neill as a superstar after his big-time breakout in 2021. Instead, he fell flat, going from a .286/.352/.560 slash line to a .228/.308/.392. Now, he’s 27 (almost 28) with one 6.3-WAR season and not even 4.0 WAR in his other four seasons combined. He should be entering his prime. If he is, the Cardinals should be fine. If he doesn’t rebound, they’re in a fair amount of trouble.

2023 Projection

84-78 (Second in NL Central)

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks

2022 Results: 74-88 (4th in NL West)
Biggest additions: Gabriel Moreno, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Kyle Lewis, Evan Longoria, Andrew Chafin, Miguel Castro, Diego Castillo
Biggest subtractions: Daulton Varsho, Cooper Hummel, Jeurys Familia
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Gabriel Moreno, C (9)

Biggest Strength: Balanced Skill-Sets

The 2019 Yankees had 14 different players hit double-digit homers. These Diamondbacks probably won’t get there, but I could make a pretty fine argument they’ll get to eight, and 10-12 wouldn’t be outlandish. Meanwhile, between Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy and Josh Rojas, this team will be one of the top five in stolen bases. The top six in the order could legitimately all put up .330 OBPs or better. There’s not an MVP candidate in this lineup, but they can get you any number of ways, and that’s gotta be scary.

<img src="https://d2y4ihze0bzr5g.cloudfront.net/source/2020/Jake_McCarthy.jpg" alt="

Biggest Weakness: If You Have a Dozen Closers, Do You Have One?

It’s one thing to refuse to commit to a traditional closer because your options are all elite pitchers who can be deployed in a number of ways. It’s a very different thing if you just can’t commit because every single reliever on your roster is roughly a B- who could be elite or could be Kevin Jarvis on any given day. The Diamondbacks could end up with an elite bullpen, but it could also be a mismatched group that leaves them hanging all too often.

Key Player: Madison Bumgarner

It is astonishing that Madison Bumgarner is somehow still only 33. You could have convinced me he was almost 40. But part of the reason for that is that he’s pitched like a guy on his last legs for a while now. He’s rocking a 4.98 ERA (5.04 FIP) with only 0.3 bWAR in three seasons as a Diamondback. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly should be fine in 2023, but the rotation is very shallow after that, especially if Bumgarner’s decline continues.

2023 Projection

84-78 (Third in NL West)

Colorado Rockies

2022 Results: 68-94 (5th in NL West)
Biggest additions: Jurickson Profar, Pierce Johnson, Nolan Jones, Brad Hand, Mike Moustakas
Biggest subtractions: Carlos Estévez, Connor Joe, Kevin Kelly
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Ezequiel Tovar, SS (21)

Biggest Strength: Denver Is Gorgeous

There aren’t many prettier settings than Denver. And good for guys like Jurickson Profar and Mike Moustakas, who get to experience it a lot more this year than they have in the past. On the field … I mean, the offense will be superficially impressive because of the setting, the pitching will be what Rockies pitching always is. They’re going to lose a lot of games. They’re not going to be particularly interesting in the process. But hey, the scenery.

Biggest Weakness: Playing Somewhere Where It’s Impossible to Pitch

This year will be the Rockies’ 31st as a franchise. In that time, they’ve had 13 starters reach 4.0 WAR in a season, 31 reach 3.0. Last year around baseball, 22 and 40 starters reached those respective numbers. The Rockies have had a very poor combination of generally bad starters and just the worst environment possible for starters to work in. Last year, Kyle Freeland led the way at 2.4, the only starter over 1.4. And this year … they’re running back basically the exact same rotation. It’s hard to find good pitchers in Denver. It’s harder when you don’t even try.

Key Player: Kris Bryant

C.J. Cron was the only full-time Rockie who managed an OPS+ over the league average of 100 last year, and even his was only 107. The only other two players on the entire roster who reached that were Sean Bouchard (a whopping 157, but in 27 games) and Kris Bryant, who managed a 127 OPS+ but only played 42 games in his Colorado debut because of injuries. Apparently healthy now, he’s mashing so far this spring, and he’ll need to do that in the season for this lineup to keep up with the runs the pitching staff allows.

2023 Projection

65-97 (Fifth in NL West)

Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 Results: 111-51 (1st in NL West, lost in NLDS)
Biggest additions: Noah Syndergaard, J.D. Martinez, Miguel Rojas, Alex Reyes, J.P. Feyereisen, Yonny Hernandez
Biggest subtractions: Trea Turner, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Trevor Bauer, Chris Martin, Tommy Kahnle, Joey Gallo, Craig Kimbrel, Edwin Ríos, David Price, Jacob Amaya
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Miguel Vargas, IF (13)

Biggest Strength: All Those MVP Votes

There are 18 player-seasons of top-10 MVP finishes on this Dodgers team. Of course, 13 of those belong to Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, with another three being Clayton Kershaw. But the point is that this team has as much star power at the top of the roster as any team that doesn’t employ Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. A team can have a lot of weaknesses and still be good with those guys.

<img src="https://d2y4ihze0bzr5g.cloudfront.net/source/2020/Clayton_Kershaw_%281%29.jpg" alt="

Biggest Weakness: They’re Suddenly Shallow

The Dodgers appeared to basically take this offseason off to reset the luxury tax penalties, perhaps to gear up for a run at Ohtani this offseason. (A mission that was then undercut by the lightening of the Trevor Bauer suspension, bringing his salary back on the books.) It left the team much shallower than it’s been in recent years, with the Gavin Lux torn ACL suddenly making the back half of this lineup look extremely worrying. Heck, if Max Muncy and/or J.D. Martinez can’t rebound from down seasons, then this lineup is pretty bad after the top three names. Walker Buehler’s out for the year, making the rotation rougher than we’re used to as well. The Dodgers should still be a good team (those MVP votes, y’all), but this is no longer a “they could contend for the all-time wins record”-type team.

Key Player: J.D. Martinez

As mentioned above, this Dodgers lineup is suddenly much less deep than it used to be, and J.D. Martinez in the 5-hole has the potential to be the spot where it goes from “excellent” to “uh oh.” The question is whether he is the end of the “excellent” group or the start of the “uh oh.” Was last year’s drop from a .232 ISO to a .174 a sign of things to come, as Martinez is now 35? Or does a new location (and keeping his favorite video coordinator, which somehow is a thing that matters) portend a rebound from the five-time all-star?

2023 Projection

89-73 (Second in NL West, lose in NLDS)

San Diego Padres

2022 Results: 89-73 (2nd in NL West, lost in NLCS)
Biggest additions: Xander Bogaerts, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Matt Carpenter, Nelson Cruz, David Dahl, Rougned Odor, Brent Honeywell Jr., Cole Hamels
Biggest subtractions: Josh Bell, Sean Manaea, Brandon Drury, Mike Clevinger, Jurickson Profar, Wil Myers, Pierce Johnson
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Jackson Merrill, SS (38)

Biggest Strength: What If You Build an Entire Team out of Shortstops?

Xander Bogaerts is the Padres’ shortstop. On at least half of the teams around the league, Ha-Seong Kim (starting at second base) would be the shortstop. So would Manny Machado (third base). So would Fernando Tatis Jr. (probably right field once his suspension ends). Jake Cronenworth (first base) has even played 61 games at short over the last three years. It’s mean to make jokes about injuries, but I feel like there was at least one person in the Padres front office who called the Dodgers when Gavin Lux went down to mock their shortstoplessness.

Biggest Weakness: Is Everyone in the Right Place?

As a second baseman, Jake Cronenworth is an excellent hitter. As a first baseman, he’s an excellent second baseman. Ha-Seong Kim is probably a better shortstop than Xander Bogaerts, but Bogaerts has never played second in the bigs, and you don’t move a guy you just gave a bajillion dollars to. Trent Grisham is the center fielder because the rules say every team has to have one. Fernando Tatis Jr. might play center, might play right, and either place he’s very raw. And then Matt Carpenter and Nelson Cruz have both looked done at various times over the past year and a half, and now they’re the DH platoon. These moves could work, but they could also totally blow up in the Padres’ faces.

Key Player: Juan Soto

Juan Soto’s “down year” last year still featured a league-leading 135 walks and a .401 OBP. May we all be so afflicted with such “struggles.” The pitching staff is at a minimum above average and could be excellent. Josh Hader is one of the game’s top closers. Even the miscast offensive players should at a minimum be fine. But the Padres need MVP candidate Juan Soto and not just on-base machine Juan Soto if they want to at last overtake the Dodgers.

2023 Projection

92-70 (First in NL Central, win World Series)

San Francisco Giants

2022 Results: 81-81 (3rd in NL West)
Biggest additions: Mitch Haniger, Michael Conforto, Taylor Rogers, Ross Stripling, Sean Manaea, Luke Jackson, Roberto Pérez, Blake Sabol
Biggest subtractions: Carlos Rodón, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Tommy La Stella
Top-ranked player in the Prospect Vault: Kyle Harrison, SP (12)

Biggest Strength: More 1-WAR Players Than Anyone?

You could talk me into 20 or more different Giants topping 1 WAR this year, maybe more. It’s a roster with a nice floor across the board, and that means the team can slide just about anyone out and slide in a perfectly acceptable replacement at any given time, and that’s pretty valuable.

Biggest Weakness: Fewer 2-WAR Player Than Anyone?

Last year, only Carlos Rodón and Logan Webb reached 2 WAR in San Francisco, and Rodon’s gone now. Webb should be fairly safe to do it again, but after that, would you bet on anyone here reaching that fairly moderate threshold? Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger, Joc Pederson, Alex Cobb and others all could make it, but there’s no sure thing there, and a team needs at least a couple guys who can go off. The Giants just don’t have any.

Key Player: Joey Bart

There aren’t any star hitters in San Francisco, but there also might not be any clear weak spots … if Joey Bart can start to turn it around. Through 132 big-league games over three seasons, he’s only hitting .222/.294/.351, which wouldn’t be good enough even if he were an elite defensive catcher, which he isn’t. This guy was supposed to be the replacement for Buster Posey, but if he doesn’t start to put it together this year, he probably won’t even have the job all season.

2023 Projection

76-86 (Fourth in NL West)

National League Award Winners

MVP: Manny Machado

If you don’t count Robinson Canó (can’t really call him active anymore), then Manny Machado is third in WAR among active position players who haven’t won an MVP, and the two ahead of him (Evan Longoria and Nolan Arenado) are further into their 30s than Machado. He could have won it last year, could have won it in 2020, could have won it in 2016 or 2015. 

Cy Young: Corbin Burnes

I’d wager no one is happier about Jacob deGrom leaving the National League than Corbin Burnes, who now has a clear path to being the No. 1 pitcher in the league.

Rookie of the Year: Jordan Walker

Ultimately, I think Corbin Carroll will probably be a better rookie than Jordan Walker, but Walker will have the most voter-friendly stats on the more high-profile team. It’ll be one of the two, though.

Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell

If the Brewers beat the Cardinals for the division crown, as I predict, Craig Counsell will be the easy choice.

National League Playoffs

Projecting outcomes over 162 games is a fool’s errand. Projecting them over a 3-, 5- or 7-game series is quintuply so. But that’s part of the gig, so here we go.

Here are my projected playoff seeds in the National League:

  1. New York Mets (NL East winner)
  2. San Diego Padres (NL West winner)
  3. Milwaukee Brewers (NL Central winner)
  4. Los Angeles Dodgers (first Wild Card)
  5. Philadelphia Phillies (second Wild Card)
  6. Atlanta Braves (third Wild Card)

National League Wild Card Series

Brewers over Braves (2)

In a three-game series, give me the team with the best 1-2 punch of pitchers you can find.

Dodgers over Phillies (3)

Flip a coin. If you rank all the players in this theoretical series, you could just about alternate Phillies and Dodgers for like 20 players down the list. I’ll land on the Dodgers here, but I wouldn’t fight hard about it.

National League Division Series

Padres over Brewers (5)

The Brewers will be the best story of the playoffs, overtaking the Cardinals, but the Padres are simply the better team.

Mets over Dodgers (5)

If the Dodgers had Walker Buehler, I might change my mind, but his absence makes this pitching staff overall far less impressive, and I just can’t take them over all the dollars in New York.

National League Championship Series

Padres over Mets (6)

The Padres are excellent. The Mets are excellent. The Padres are (relatively) young. The Mets are super not. Maybe it won’t matter, but at the end of a long season, I’ll take the team that has youth on its side.

World Series

Padres over Blue Jays (6)

MVP: Juan Soto

Call it the Fred McGriff series (especially if Atlanta or Tampa Bay could also make their respective LCS’s). Juan Soto was my original NL MVP pick, but his Spring Training strained oblique — while it apparently won’t cost him time — scared me off the pick. But come the World Series? He’ll be a newly 25-year-old taking down his second ring.

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