Will the Chicago Cubs be among the five best National League teams in 2019? Which teams will rank among the top five? Here is a pre-Spring Training look at those questions.
Admittedly this is a far too early prognostication. Mainly because there are nearly 120 free agents still available, including Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, those two alone could shift the metrics on which teams rate in the top five. Or as with Chicago Cubs, likely strengthen their grip on a top five spot. Nonetheless, let’s gaze into the crystal ball and see what we can see.
National League East – Atlanta Braves
The 72-90 2017 Atlanta Braves reversed those numbers in 2018, going 90-72 to take the NL East for the first since 2013. Much of that 2018 roster is back for 2019 and features solid pitching, a great mix of youth and veteran experience, and even a returning hero in Brian McCann.
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Meanwhile, the Nats will almost certainly be without Bryce Harper for the first time since 2012. Will second-year rookie sensation Juan Soto be able to fill those shoes? Will Stephen Strasburg be able to stay healthy? Those and other questions keep the Nats out of the top five at this point.
The rest of the NL East is in various states of rebuilding, but as mentioned above regarding Harper and Machado if the Phillies land either one they could leap into top five status.
National League West – Los Angeles Dodgers
The Arizona Diamondbacks, perennial hot and cold challengers to the NL West crown, traded Paul Goldschmidt. I’ll bet they were partying in Dodger-land! That leaves the Colorado Rockies, and while they made the Wild Card in 2018 (who can forget) if the Cubs could have hit their weight in batting average, they’d have won that game. The Rockies will challenge, but that’s it.
So the Dodgers will again rule the NL West. There are question marks to be sure, but the folks in Chavez Ravine seem determined to address them. The San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants will be left to battle it out for fourth place.
National League Central – Chicago Cubs
The Diamondbacks traded Paul Goldschmidt. To the St. Louis Cardinals, and that’s going to hurt. Goldy has been a Cubs killer his entire career and feasts on pitching in Wrigley Field. How much of a Cubs killer is Goldschmidt? In 2016, when the Cubs rotation featured a 2015 Cy Young winner and two others who finished second and third in Cy Young voting in 2016, Goldy batted .292/.414/.500. Maybe that St. Louis magic will do to him what it did to Dexter Fowler. But the Cards weak spot is still pitching. After Miles Mikolas it gets thin quick. St. Louis will be better, but not good enough.
The Milwaukee Brewers didn’t surprise anyone in 2018, and they won’t come 2019. But unless Christian Yelich repeats his MVP performance and Jhoulys Chacin pitches again like, well, Yu Darvish was supposed to, I don’t see the Brewers taking the division. Why?
Because there is no way on this earth the same foul and evil conspiracy of injuries, rainouts, pitching fails, and collective slumps plague the Cubs again. And in spite of all of that, the Cubs still nearly won the division. Remember you read it here first. The Cubs will romp to an NL Central Division crown in 2019.
Numbers four and five
The Brewers as mentioned earlier and Cardinals round out the top five, excluding the abovementioned caveat of Haper and Machado signing with another near contender and altering the landscape.