The Senior circuit sure made a lot of noise this offseason as it wasn’t so much about the free-agent frenzy like it has been in recent years but more about the trade market. I haven’t seen so many blockbuster trades take place in a single offseason than that of 2014/2015 as we saw the likes of Jason Heyward, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Mat Latos all finding new homes in the National League via the trade market and combined with the top tier free agents that made headlines as well I feel it was the most exciting offseason I have ever seen. With all that offseason excitement comes expectations and hype for the upcoming 2015 MLB baseball season as we could very well be witnessing a changing of the guard when it comes to the NL.
In this piece I will be taking a look at National League teams that will be making a run at the National League Pennant in 2015. More specifically, I will be looking at the teams who offer the best value to win the NL this season as we all know the odds-on favorite is anything but a sure thing in the game of baseball. With all that said let’s have a look at some teams who I think have a real shot at representing the National League in the World Series.
*All odds obtained from 5dimes.eu
**Odds listed are for betting on each team to win the National League
San Diego Padres – +1225 ($100 pays $1,225 at 5Dimes)
I spoke in the opening paragraph about how busy the trade market was this offseason and a huge chunk of that noise can be attributed to the San Diego Padres. San Diego literally changed their entire outfield with the additions of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Will Myers. While each player does come with some concerns on defense there is no question that this team’s offense immensely improved over last season. The Padres had the NL’s second best team ERA last season at 3.27, however their offense scored just 535 runs which was the lowest total in all of baseball. A.J. Preller did his absolute best to remedy that offense in the offseason and that was all before he signed James Shields to a five-year deal to anchor an already productive rotation. Shields has been one of, if not the biggest horse in all of baseball over the last several seasons and he should enjoy pitching in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park as well. It’s about time the Friars were relevant again and they have a real shot at being a serious contender this season. If they fail, it most definitely was not for a lack of effort.
Chicago Cubs – +1025 ($100 pays $1,025 at 5Dimes)
Having the Cubs in this article in any of the last five years or more would have been laughable. However, after all the failure this franchise has endured combined with a restless fan base, 2015 could be the year the Cubs become a contending team again. Of course the biggest story for Theo Epstein’s Cubs this offseason was the free agent signing of Jon Lester who was coveted by just about every team in the major leagues. Lester should have an easier time pitching in the NL Central as opposed to spending the majority of his career in the AL East, and that should be exciting Cub fans all over the nation given his success in his former hard-hitting division. The Cubs finished 26th in the MLB in terms of runs scored last season and their offense did not acquire any superstar talent like that of the Padres, however their mass amount of high-upside prospects are now entering the big leagues and some look ready to produce. Kris Bryant (3B) and Jorge Soler (RF) in particular look MLB ready, boast tonnes of power and will be perking up those offensive numbers in no time for the Cubs. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have already proved their worth at the MLB level, and if Bryant and Soler can join them, then the Cubs will have plenty of offense to go around for many years to come. Lester will anchor a deep rotation that also includes Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Travis Wood, so don’t be writing off these Cubbies before the season like we have been getting used to doing in years past.
Pittsburgh Pirates – +1600 ($100 pays $1,600 at 5Dimes)
Baseball season is so much better when the Pittsburgh Pirates are contending. Fortunately, they have been a real good ball team the last couple of seasons and Andrew McCutchen continually makes his claim for the NL MVP year after year. In fact, after raving about how good the Padres outfield could be, my vote for best outfield in the National League goes to these Pirates. Anchored by McCutchen, the Pirates will also field Starling Marte and Gregory Blanco in the corners to start the season and although these are not fully established players, they are a great bet to produce at the MLB level this season. They play great defense and once they are acclimated to every day duty at the MLB level they will be superstar bats to boot. Josh Harrison broke out as an All-Star last season for the Bucs and his game will need to stay at that level for this team to reach the fall classic, but he isn’t the only infielder this team has that is capable of producing. Neil Walker is as steady a second baseman as you could ask for with the bat and the glove, Pedro Alvarez’s shift from third to first base can possibly take his mind off defense a little bit and focus on mashing homeruns all season long, and Jordy Mercer’s reliability along with Korean newcomer Jung Ho Kang at shortstop provides this team with both depth and talent all over the infield. Gerrit Cole now has two years of MLB experience under his belt and is a prime breakout candidate and could lead this Pirate rotation for years to come. Of course Francisco Liriano will be leaned on, A.J. Burnett will be tabbed regularly to throw the ball like he knows he can and Charlie Morton needs to be reliable as a fourth starter for this team to win the NL Central. The NL Central is ripe for the taking this season so count the Pirates in as a serious threat to walk away with the division.
Miami Marlins – +2000 ($100 pays $2,000 at 5Dimes)
If you are looking for a real dark horse this season in the NL go with the Miami Marlins. After making huge strides last season towards a playoff berth, the Marlins could very well be on the fringe of a wildcard spot this season. They acquired Mat Latos in the offseason to provide ace-like pitching for the club and Jose Fernandez cannot get back soon enough after spending last season and the offseason recovering from Tommy John surgery. Even without Fernandez to start the year and on top of Latos, the Fish also have Henderson Alvarez who is looking to continue to improve and build on his 2.65 ERA from last season and newly acquired veteran Daren Haren who, after some hesitation, is focussed on winning for the Marlins. Of Course this team revolves around Giancarlo Stanton whose financial needs were indeed taken care of this offseason but it is the supporting cast that could very well help this team get in to the top third of the MLB in runs scored after finishing last year a respectable 16th. The veteran and always reliable Martin Prado is manning third, Adeiny Hechavarria is another year experienced at shortstop, Dee Gordon and his MLB-best 64 stolen bases was acquired to take over second base, and Michael Morse’s power is a welcoming addition to the first base position. Miguel Ozuna and Christian Yelich are young and capable outfielders who are impact bats, if not now then very, very soon. I see upside and depth all over this Miami team so everything in Florida is not so doom and gloom like it appeared to be a couple of years ago. This team is a real dark horse and do not be surprised to see them in a one-game playoff this year and we all know what can happen if you win that game (Kansas City Royals, 2014).
MY PICK – PITTSBURGH PIRATES (+1600)
To me the Pirates look too deep and too talented of a team to not win the NL Central division this season. It’s never easy to win a division in the MLB in any season, however I feel they are ahead of the Cubs, Brewers and the Reds and will likely only have to deal with the pesky Cardinals who seem to be in the thick of it every single season. Even so, the Central could have two playoff teams this season and if so, you bet the Pirates will be one of them. If you want true value take the Pirates in 2015 to come out of the National League and participate in the World Series.