Miami Marlins

NL preview: World Series drought likely to end for Washington

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer works in the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Jupiter, Fla.
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer works in the first inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, in Jupiter, Fla. AP

How they'll finish in the National League and why:

1. Nationals: The last time a World Series champion called the nation’s capital home was 1924 when Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Goose Goslin guided the Senators to victory over the New York Giants in seven games. Free agent gem Max Scherzer and phenom Bryce Harper will play those roles 91 years later. As long as the bullpen doesn’t fall apart, the Nationals should make it five titles in the past six years for the NL come October.

2. Cardinals: New addition Jason Heyward and veterans Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina will help the team always in the thick of it make the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. But Washington’s pitching will be the difference in the NLCS.

3. Dodgers: Reigning MVP and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and NL Rookie of the Year candidate Joc Pederson will have Los Angeles knocking on the door of their first World Series since 1988. But in order to beat the Nationals and Cardinals, Los Angeles will need closer Kenley Jansen and right fielder Yasiel Puig to be stars, not question marks.

4. Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole will help Pittsburgh make the playoffs for the third year in a row, but the Pirates won’t get very far because they’ll find it harder than expected to replace veteran catcher Russell Martin (Blue Jays) and pitcher Edinson Volquez (Royals).

5. Marlins: With young talents Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich locked down to long-term deals, a new infield and Jose Fernandez back and healthy by June, Miami will end an 11-year playoff drought. The Fish just won’t have enough pitching beyond Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez to go very far.

6. Giants: San Francisco’s routine of missing the playoffs following a World Series will continue because the club struck out this winter. But Madison Bumgarner, last year’s Mr. October, will lead a very good starting rotation again that will keep the team in the playoff hunt.

7. Brewers: A 29-37 second-half finish and a slumping Ryan Braun (.266, 19 HR, 81 RBI) pushed Milwaukee out of the playoff race by September. A pretty good starting rotation and a healthy Braun will keep the team in the race until the end.

8. Padres: A busy offseason adding Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton and James Shields could end San Diego’s eight-year playoff drought, especially if Andrew Cashner develops into an ace. But there are a lot of new pieces, and the new outfield isn’t sharp defensively and will cost the team some games in spacious Petco Park.

9. Reds: Cincinnati is hoping a healthy 31-year-old Joey Votto (62 games last season) will turn a 76-win team in 2014 back into a playoff contender. Votto is going to have to be really good (Cincinnati ranked 28th in runs scored) and Cuban newcomer Raisel Iglesias is going to have to offset the losses of Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon. That’s a lot to ask.

10. Cubs: Top prospect Kris Bryant will eventually become a bigger story than Theo Epstein’s offseason acquisitions of pitcher Jon Lester and manager Joe Maddon. By the end of the season, Bryant will make the Cubs a playoff contender heading into 2016.

11. Mets: With Matt Harvey back, New York was supposed to have a good enough rotation to keep it in the wild-card hunt. Then, Zack Wheeler was lost for the season. Mets fans might also have forgotten 32-year-old David Wright (.269, 8 HRs, 63 RBI in 2014) didn’t do much last year. Until more offense arrives, the Mets aren’t ready yet.

12. Rockies: Colorado finished third in runs scored (755) last season and first in slugging (.445) without Troy Tulowitzki for half of the season and still finished with only 66 wins. Until moves are made to improve pitching (Colorado’s ERA of 4.84 was last), Colorado won’t be going anywhere near the playoffs.

13. Phillies: Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard will be the next two All-Stars to follow Jimmy Rollins out of town. That’s if anybody in the American League is desperate enough to take Howard to serve as a designated hitter.

14. Braves: Atlanta is set to move into its new SunTrust Park in 2017. That’s about the time recently acquired Shelby Miller and a good rotation could have the new-look Braves back in playoff contention.

15. Diamondbacks: Arizona won an MLB-worst 64 games last season and said goodbye to catcher Miguel Montero and Wade Miley, arguably two of their best players. Even with a healthy Paul Goldschmidt, it is going to be a very dry season in the desert.

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