Opening Day is here tomorrow, and the Braves are poised to make a run at their second World Series in the last three years. Analysts across the baseball world have the Braves among the favorites to come out of the National League, and who could blame them? From top to bottom, Atlanta is up there with anybody, and they have a ton of guys who already know what it takes to reach the top of the mountain. However, the National League is loaded with talented teams who have the same goal. So who is the Braves biggest threat on their side of the bracket?
As far as offense, the Cardinals are up there with the best in baseball. Paul Goldschmidt is the reigning MVP, and Nolan Arenado might be even better, but it doesn’t stop there. Tyler O’Neill, Willson Contreras, Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson, and Tommy Edman help make up one of the most exciting lineups in the game. However, their pitching raises a lot of concerns, particularly the rotation. The Cardinals always seem to have some voodoo magic once they reach the postseason, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they made a run, but it will be tough to do with their starting pitching.
4. New York Mets
Some might have the Mets much higher on their list. Their rotation is the best in baseball. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will be hell to face in a potential playoff series, but if one of them falters, it will be tough for them to come out of the National League. Their lineup lacks power, and it showed when it mattered last year against the Braves at the end of the regular season and against the Padres in the Wild Card Series. The loss of Edwin Diaz also can’t be understated. He’s the best closer in baseball, and the Mets weren’t exactly a loaded bullpen before he went down.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
When it comes to the regular season, I expect the Phillies to finish third in the NL East. Rhys Hoskins is out for the season, and Bryce Harper won’t be around until at least June. It’s going to be difficult for them to keep up with the Braves and Mets without those two. However, if Philadelphia can get in, we saw how dangerous they can be. Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola are as potent as any starting pitching duo, and their bullpen features a number of high powered arms that, while inconsistent, have the ability to shut down offenses if they get hot. The Phillies also have something the Mets don’t — swagger and power. From top to bottom, their lineup is chock-full of home run threats, and they believe they can win in October. The long ball plays in October. If you don’t hit a lot of them, it’s tough to win, and the Phillies hit a lot of them.
2. San Diego Padres
San Diego’s the sexy team in baseball right now. They apparently have limitless funds, and their lineup speaks to that. Fernando Tatis Jr. is back, and I don’t expect him to return quietly. Juan Soto might be the best offensive player in baseball, and the right side of their infield consists of two more MVP candidates — Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts. The top four in their lineup is that of an All-Star team. Hell, it might even be better than an All-Star team, if that’s even possible. And the top of their rotation isn’t too shabby either, featuring Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell. However, those three have been pretty volatile over their careers. I’m not quite sure how much I trust them going into 2023, and the Padres have very little after that. We’ve seen All-Star lineups fall short before, and I don’t think San Diego has enough pitching to get them over the hump.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers lost to the Padres in the Divisional Round last year. They did nothing this offseason to improve and even lost some critical pieces, including Gavin Lux this Spring Training to injury for the season. San Diego should run away with the NL West… Yeah, right. I’ll believe it when I see it. There’s a reason the Dodgers won a ridiculous 111 games. They were the most talented team in baseball, and they didn’t lose that much. There’s questions about their roster going into the season, but few organizations are better at figuring it out. They still have enough star power to win 100 games, and they’ll adjust things at the trade deadline. By the end of the season, they’ll be on top of the NL West, and everyone will once again be talking about them as favorites to come out of the National League. It’s like clockwork. Don’t fall for all the preseason hype; the Braves and Dodgers remain the class of baseball on this side of the bracket.
Photo: Photographer: John Adams/Icon Sportswire
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