1. Washington Nationals (93–69, 1st playoff seed)
- The Nats' offense will regress. A full season of Bryce Harper won't make up for Adam LaRoche hitting only 20 home runs and Ian Desmond's complete collapse (career 87 OPS+ before 2012). Jayson Werth's power is gone for good, making him simply an overpaid leadoff man.
- The Nats' pitching will hold up. They will lead the NL in ERA this year as Dan Haren will regain his old form—and still be only their third best starter (behind Strasburg and Zimmermann).
- Drew Storen will actually outpitch Rafael Soriano.
2. Atlanta Braves (91–71, 1st Wild Card)
- Last year the Braves scored 700 runs. This year they'll score... 700 runs. The addition of Justin Upton was great, but Atlanta also lost an MVP-caliber outfielder in Michael Bourn. At least Justin will far outperform his brother BJ, who will turn in yet another disappointing year lacking either on-base ability, power, or both.
- Atlanta will also miss Martín Prado, as their infield will be surprisingly weak. In addition to the obvious hole at third base, Andrelton Simmons will turn in an average season (.270-10-60) at shortstop, establishing more realistic career norms.
- Dan Uggla, like Adam Dunn before him, will return to slugging a ridiculous number of home runs with a surprisingly high OBP. All those strikeouts—and there will be many in Atlanta this summer—will not prove harmful to the NL East's best offense.
- Brandon Beachy will be this year's Kris Medlen, turning in a streak of 10 starts with an ERA below 2.00 when he returns from injury in mid-summer.
3. Philadelphia Phillies (79–83)
- Philadelphia is a team treading water. While they did shake up their outfield, their hitting and pitching will produce almost identical results to 2012. Take off a couple wins for age, though.
- Carlos Ruiz will necessarily produce less this year thanks to his banned-substances suspension, but a full season from Ryan Howard will take some of the sting out of it. Howard will slowly but surely start to rediscover his power stroke, aided in part by the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.
- Two heralded Phillies acquisitions—Michael Young and Ben Revere—will notch OPS+ scores under 90, actually hurting the Phils' playoff chances. Revere will, however, hit his first career home run.
- Domonic Brown will be a late bloomer, finally thriving with regular playing time in the majors.
- The million-dollar question in Philadelphia, of course, is whether Roy Halladay can return to normal. Based on his spring-training struggles, I'm saying no. Look for an ERA around 4.20 from the future Hall of Famer.
- This team is a lot more likely to have everything break wrong and lose 90 games than to have everything break right and win 90.
4. New York Mets (77–85)
- So much doom and gloom has been predicted for the outfield that the Mets will automatically exceed expectations there. The good news: Lucas Duda will provide 20 home runs. The bad news: that will make him one of the Mets' middle-of-the-order hitters.
- Ike Davis is in for a big rebound–his BABIP will normalize (.246 last year), and he'll get on base at a .360 clip thanks to a great walk rate.
- The pitching situation will be an ill-defined soup until about mid-season, when Zack Wheeler will be summoned to Flushing. He and Matt Harvey will stabilize the Mets rotation and actually lead them to a winning record in the second half. Both will finish with more strikeouts than innings and ERAs below 3.75.
- Shaun Marcum will quickly get over his injury woes and turn in a good enough season to get him a multi-year contract next offseason.
5. Miami Marlins (58–104)
- If the Astros are going to lose 100 games, there's no reason to think the Marlins won't. Like Houston, Miami has only one even marginally major-league-quality starting pitcher (Ricky Nolasco), and he will be traded by the end of the year.
- Chris Coghlan will never be the same player he was when he won Rookie of the Year in 2009. Juan Pierre will continue to be the mildly useful singles machine that he is somehow still paid to be. Plácido Polanco will bounce back marginally, providing the only defensive highlights in a lineup that will be as sloppy in the field as at the plate.
1. Saint Louis Cardinals (91–71, 2nd playoff seed)
- An infusion of youth will lead the Cardinals to the playoffs. Oscar Taveras will be this year's Allen Craig, finding his way into the lineup and hitting over .300 in 300 at-bats. Shelby Miller will begin the season as the fifth starter but end it as high as co-ace.
- One rookie who will not fare so well will be Pete Kozma, who will be batting under the Mendoza line when St. Louis opts to replace him from outside the organization.
- Jaime García will maximize his home starts to return to being an above-average pitcher. If he goes down with another injury, the Cardinals have a great backup in Joe Kelly.
- With five position players flashing WARs over 4.0, St. Louis will score the most runs in the National League—and do it as a top-five defensive team.
2. Cincinnati Reds (87–75)
- The Reds got lucky in 2012, overperforming their Pythagorean record (90–72) by seven wins. They will fall back in line in 2013.
- A lot of Reds had career years last year that aren't likely to recur. Look for Homer Bailey, Ryan Ludwick, and Bronson Arroyo to decline. The Reds will never get 161 games started out of its regular five starters again, and without Aroldis Chapman in the rotation, they don't have the depth necessary to withstand the inevitable injury.
- The Reds had only the third-best offense in the division last year—barely ranking above the Pirates. Like last year, only four regulars will have above-average OPSes: Votto, Bruce, Choo, and Phillips. (Todd Frazier needs to work on getting on base, and Ryan Hanigan has no power.) Look for that to especially hurt this year with a more fragile pitching staff.
- Shin-Soo Choo will help that offense, but his productivity will be hampered by distractions around his move to center field. He'll also hurt their defense, which won't be helped any by the quixotic managing of Dusty Baker—he'll make decisions based on veteran status more than skill that lose the Reds winnable ballgames.
3. Milwaukee Brewers (86–76)
- The Brewers were almost impossibly unlucky with the bullpen last year (24–32 in one-run games). They will not be nearly as bad in 2013, but I also can't say they're going to have a good bullpen, either. While the leaky 'pen probably cost Milwaukee the playoffs last year, in 2013 it will just cost them a few wins.
- Milwaukee's division-best offense will still be formidable, but it will slip to second best as Aramis Ramírez and Norichika Aoki fail to replicate their awesome 2012s. Carlos Gómez will continue to hurt the team by inexplicably being given a prominent offensive role.
- The rotation is underrated. Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo will go win for win with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. Marco Estrada will become a household name thanks to a ridiculously low walk rate. If all breaks right, they could be the top threesome this side of the District of Columbia.
- Expect youngsters Wily Peralta and Juan Segura to succeed at the major-league level by 2014. If enough of that success comes in 2013, Cincinnati will find itself in third.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates (82–80)
- The Pirates lineup is talented, but they have issues getting on base. Garrett Jones, Russell Martin, and Pedro Alvárez all provided great production last year, but they all had OBPs below .320. Unless they improve their walk and/or contact rates, Pittsburgh can't rely on that trio producing as many runs in 2013.
- Similarly, a competitive Pittsburgh team needs Starling Marte and José Tábata to play to their abilities. They were iffy in limited time last year. If their past production in the minors can translate to the majors this year, they will be the difference between the Pirates' scoring 600 runs and the Pirates' scoring 700 runs. Unfortunately, odds are that only one, if either of them, will actually take that big step forward.
- Starting pitchers number one and two match up well with the rest of the division, but the back end is a bit of a black hole—making the rotation clearly worse than the Cardinals', Reds', and Brewers'. (Jonathan Sánchez and Francisco Liriano will crash and burn.) It will require Gerrit Cole and Jeff Karstens to save the day.
- The Pirates will plug those two pieces into their rotation just in time to bring their final runs-allowed number just below their runs scored. I believe they'll put together their first winning record in two decades with chicken wire and duct tape.
5. Chicago Cubs (64–98)
- Much has been made of the decent rotation. But you can only give Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman, and Scott Baker a 50/50 chance each of success—and even then, the ones who pitch well will certainly be traded, along with Matt Garza, in July.
- By the end of the year, the only remaining strong starter will be Edwin Jackson. Jeff Samardzija will remain effective, but not to the tune of his 3.81 ERA last year.
- Anthony Rizzo will develop into an all-star first baseman, while Starlin Castro will continue to alienate himself by playing much worse than his superstar reputation. By the offseason, there will be discussion of jettisoning him à la Hanley Ramírez.
- Chicago will send the Marlins some complimentary deep dish for being the only thing standing between them and owning the NL's worst offense.
1. San Francisco Giants (90–72, 3rd playoff seed)
- First and most importantly: Tim Lincecum will be back to every bit the Cy Young pitcher he was. Along with Cain, Bumgarner, and Vogelsong, the Giants will have four starters with ERAs under 3.30—crucially differentiating themselves from the Dodgers' consistently good-but-not-great starting staff.
- As so often happens to World Series winners, though, those performers who had career years will fall back down to earth. Ángel Pagán will prove to be the Giants' latest albatross contract (Barry Zito's is almost up; they were due for another one anyway) as he barely outplays the man he replaced, Andrés Torres.
- Age will catch up to Marco Scutaro, weight to Pablo Sandoval, and catching to Buster Posey. Each will still be useful, but their combined reversion to the mean will take a serious toll on the San Francisco offense, which will be only fourth-best in the NL West.
- A tale of two Brandons: Belt will be the rare Giant to build on his 2012, while the world will be reminded that Crawford was never very good in the first place.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (89–73, 2nd Wild Card)
- The Dodgers may have spent a lot of money, but many of those deals were head-scratchers, as they failed to direct those resources to their most glaring holes. Specifically, I am extremely low on the LA infield, which could be the least productive in the league. Adrian González's power appears to be fading. Pencil him in for no more than 20 homers.
- In contrast, the Dodgers simply have too much starting pitching. Clayton Kershaw is an ace, but everyone behind him is merely solid. Even Zack Greinke will finish 2013 with an ERA around 3.50. If the league standard for rotations were eight instead of five, the Dodgers would win the division; Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano will also impress in limited time.
- Meanwhile, Josh Beckett and Hyun-Jin Ryu will struggle with conditioning as well as run prevention. However, large contracts and Ned Colletti's ineptitude mean neither will be replaced on the staff. At the very least, Chad Billingsley will prove reliable.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks (84–78)
- A terrible record in one-run games (15–27) obscured the fact that Arizona should have gone 86–76 last year. That means an automatic improvement despite offseason moves that actually made the D'backs weaker (i.e., trading Justin Upton and Chris Young).
- Cody Ross won't be worth $26 million and certainly won't make up for Young or Upton, but the offense will still be a strength. Adam Eaton and Paul Goldschmidt are the real deal; Martín Prado should hit 20 dingers in Arizona's homer-happy ballpark.
- The rotation should put up numbers closer to 2011 (3.84 ERA) than to 2012 (4.26). To thank will be Brandon McCarthy and a renewed Ian Kennedy.
- Heath Bell will find returning to the NL West a breath of fresh air; we'll all eventually forget that his year in Miami ever happened.
4. Colorado Rockies (71–91)
- People are being very unfair to the Rockies; I said this last year too, but they'll surprise people by not finishing in the division cellar and playing some watchable ball.
- Specifically, Colorado will boast the NL's second-best hitting. A full year of Troy Tulowitzki will be crucial; I also believe Todd Helton has one more good year in his bat. Nolan Arenado will mash after being called up in May.
- The Rockies pitching can't be worse than in 2012, when it gave up 890 runs. Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacín are both capable of better, and they'll show it in 2013. You could also do worse for innings-eaters than Jeff Francis and Jon Garland.
- I have not given up on Drew Pomeranz. Expect him to flash brilliance in 2013 and then put it all together in 2014.
5. San Diego Padres (68–94)
- The fences moving in at Petco Park won't boost the Padres' home-run totals much, simply because there are only two real sluggers in their lineup—Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin. Only they and Yonder Alonso will hit more than 15 bombs.
- While it won't help their speed-based offense, the closer fences will be a real detriment to San Diego hurlers. The below-average pitching of Clayton Richards (91 ERA+ in 2012) and Edinson Vólquez (88) will be revealed.
- Any hope the Padres have of touching .500 will be dashed by injuries and suspensions (i.e., Yasmani Grandal's 50-gamer for PED use). Expect Headley's power to be sapped by his recovery from a thumb fracture. He'll miss April entirely and won't hit his normal power stride until August.
- The Padres' best starting-pitching performance will be the three or four months they get out of Cory Luebke (Tommy John surgery). They'll also be lucky if the talented Andrew Cashner can shoulder a full year of starting.