On the eve of Opening Day, we take a look at the six teams facing the most pressure to deliver a World Series championship this season.San Diego Padres Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres / Getty Images Sport / GettyThe Padres continued an incredible few years of financial commitments with one of the biggest offseason spending sprees in recent memory. Team owner Peter Seidler opened his wallet to land shortstop Xander Bogaerts and also re-signed All-Star third baseman Manny Machado and right-hander Yu Darvish to lucrative, long-term contract extensions.With Fernando Tatis Jr. set to return from injury and suspension, the Padres boast arguably the most impressive collection of talent in the game. Opposing pitchers will have to combat some combination of Bogaerts, Machado, Juan Soto, and Tatis atop manager Bob Melvin's lineup in 2023.The Padres tasted some October success last season after vanquishing the rival Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. San Diego ultimately fell to the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies in six games in the league championship series.Soto is under club control until the conclusion of the 2024 campaign, and you have to wonder if Seidler will reach a limit on how many massive extensions he can carry on the payroll.With the Dodgers tightening the purse strings to an extent this offseason, the Padres enter the season as the favorites to win the division for the first time in quite a while. There will be stiff competition in the National League this year, but San Diego looks poised to reach the World Series for the first time since 1998.New York Yankees New York Yankees / Getty Images Sport / GettyFor most teams, going without a World Series banner since 2009 would be more than acceptable. The Yankees aren't most teams. After a remarkable run in the late 1990s and early 2000s, New York has failed to reach the Fall Classic since winning its last championship.If the Yankees are to put an end to the dry spell, they likely must find a way to vanquish the Houston Astros. New York has seen its season come to an end at the hands of the Astros four times since 2015. The latest defeat was an embarrassing four-game sweep in last year's ALCS.With reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge back in the fold and a deep roster on both sides of the ball, the Yankees enter the season as favorites in the AL East and arguably the second-best team in the Junior Circuit behind the Astros.Manager Aaron Boone has led the club to the postseason in each of his five seasons at the helm but has posted a 14-17 record in the playoffs. Fans are growing impatient at the lack of success in the most important moments of the season.New York Mets Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins / Getty Images Sport / GettyWhen Steve Cohen became Mets owner in 2020, he said the club's goal was to win a World Series in three-to-five years. Cohen is entering his third season in control and has taken steps to put together a roster capable of fulfilling his mission statement.The Mets made the ultimate win-now move by signing reigning AL Cy Young winner and World Series champion Justin Verlander to replace Jacob deGrom in the rotation. The club is hoping Verlander and Max Scherzer can continue their respective dominance in the twilight of their careers.The injury to star closer Edwin Diaz illustrates how precious each year is for a team in win-now mode. The Mets must find a way to soften the blow and try to avoid any significant slip in on-field performance.New York will face some stiff competition within its own division in 2023. The Atlanta Braves and Phillies are loaded with talent, and the NL East could easily have three of the five or six best teams in the entire league this season.As long as Cohen is in charge and willing to shell out incredible sums of money, the Mets should be able to remain contenders. However, this iteration might not have that many more kicks at the can. Verlander is 40, Scherzer will be 39 later this year, and the Mets have a number of other players on the wrong side of 30. This season represents a golden opportunity for the Mets to gun for a first championship since their memorable run in 1986.Philadelphia Phillies Mitchell Leff / Getty Images Sport / GettyThe Phillies came within two wins of winning it all last season. Philadelphia isn't resting on its laurels after 2022's surprising October run, as the club ponied up to land a game-breaking talent in All-Star shortstop Trea Turner.Turner's skill set is a perfect fit for the Phillies and will help them weather the absence of Bryce Harper until the All-Star break. With some uncertainty around the futures of right-hander Aaron Nola and first baseman Rhys Hoskins beyond 2023, this season could be the last run before this roster undergoes some changes.Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is known to be aggressive when he feels his club is within striking distance of contention. The moves this offseason show that Dombrowski is confident in his team's ability to back up last year's success and make another run in October.Owner John Middleton said in the offseason that he was more focused on establishing a "legacy" than making a profit. The roster is set up for success in 2023. The Phillies are entering the season with arguably their highest expectations since the days of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins.Los Angeles Angels Michael Owens / Getty Images Sport / GettyIt might seem strange to include a team that hasn't made the postseason since 2014. However, with arguably two of this generation's biggest stars on the roster, it's past time for the Angels to start delivering.Two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani is expected to become perhaps the biggest free agent in the sport's history at the conclusion of the season. Winning a World Series might be the only way to keep Ohtani in the fold beyond 2023. All-Star teammate Mike Trout knows the pressure around the team will be high this season with the uncertainty surrounding Ohtani's future and said he will do whatever it takes to keep his co-star at his side.Angels general manager Perry Minasian approached the offseason with a sense of urgency, adding a slew of veterans to provide Ohtani and Trout with a more capable supporting cast than they've been accustomed to.The Angels are probably a long shot to win their first World Series since 2002. However, they operated like a franchise that knows how important 2023 is. That's something to be admired.Los Angeles Dodgers Harry How / Getty Images Sport / GettyThere's always pressure on the Dodgers to win the World Series. Despite losing some star power this offseason, fans will still expect Los Angeles to remain in contention this season. The Padres might be the team to beat in the NL West in 2023, but it's hard to count out a team built around Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts.The Dodgers slashed payroll this offseason, opting to take fliers on veterans hoping to bounce back like J.D. Martinez and Noah Syndergaard. It's possible those moves pan out, but it was still surprising to see president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman not spend lavishly after several years of doing the opposite.The expectation around the game is that the Dodgers were more conservative this winter as they look to gear up for a run at Ohtani next year. With Betts and Freeman still very much in their primes, L.A. needs to do whatever it can to maximize its opportunities to contend every year.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Clayton Kershaw respects what the San Diego Padres have done in the offseason, but the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander isn't ready to crown the NL West rivals as division champions."(I) don't really care who's the favorite or not," Kershaw said when asked about the Padres' rise, according to the Orange County Register's Bill Plunkett. "What they've done is great. They've improved their team. They've gotten big-name guys. They've got good players. They've extended some of their guys. "What they're doing is great. It's great for the game, and it's great for players individually. I still think we can beat them."The Dodgers have won the division nine of the last 10 seasons. However, the Padres beat Los Angeles in four games in the 2022 NLDS.San Diego added Xander Bogaerts and Nelson Cruz to a lineup that features Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Jake Cronenworth. Meanwhile, the pitching staff is headlined by Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, and Josh Hader.L.A. also lost a ton of talent in the offseason, including Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Heaney, and Tyler Anderson. However, the club still employs stars such as Kershaw, Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, Julio Urias, Will Smith, and Max Muncy.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Ahead of Opening Day, we rank the top 20 players in MLB this season. Just missed: Ronald Acuna Jr., Jose Altuve*, Xander Bogaerts, Corbin Burnes, Gerrit Cole, Bryce Harper*, Austin Riley, Fernando Tatis Jr.**Player is injured/suspended to start the season20. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 160 32 97 .818 2.8 It speaks to Guerrero's prodigious pedigree and talent that a season in which he hit more than 30 home runs and posted an OPS above .800 is considered somewhat of a disappointment. However, after a transcendent 48-home run performance in 2021, Guerrero struggled to find the same level of consistency last campaign. The 24-year-old had a hard time getting the ball in the air as he had a ground ball rate of 52.1%, up from 44.8% in 2021. Guerrero said earlier in the offseason that he put too much pressure on himself at times last season and is entering the 2023 campaign with a renewed focus and approach. Betting on a big bounce-back season from Guerrero is probably a wise decision.19. J.T. Realmuto, Phillies Mitchell Leff / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 139 22 84 .820 6.5 A true force on both sides of the ball, Realmuto's coming off a 2022 campaign in which he threw out a league-best 44% of would-be base-stealers. He also became the second catcher ever with a 20-homer, 20-steal season en route to winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. The 32-year-old is incredibly durable for a catcher, appearing in over 130 games for the second straight season in 2022. When it comes to catchers, Realmuto is in a class unto himself as the best in the business.18. Rafael Devers, Red Sox Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 141 27 88 .879 4.9 It's easy to forget that Devers is just 26 years old and still at the beginning of his prime. That's a scary thought when you consider he already owns a World Series ring, two All-Star berths, a 50-double season, and a Silver Slugger. Devers is arguably the best third baseman in the AL and one of the Junior Circuit's best lefty sluggers. The Red Sox made him the face of their franchise over the winter with a $313.5-million extension, and it's easy to see why. He should have no trouble continuing his ascent in 2023.17. Justin Verlander, Mets Jasen Vinlove/Miami Marlins / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 175 1.75 2.49 6.1 Age is but a number for the 40-year-old Verlander, who remains firmly in the conversation for the title of baseball's best pitcher. Fresh off winning his third Cy Young Award during a historic comeback season with the Astros, Verlander is now the co-ace of a Mets squad with legitimate World Series aspirations. MLB's active strikeouts leader should still be good for 170-200 innings and around 200 strikeouts a season while limiting the long ball in a homer-heavy environment. Verlander's more than just an ace: he's an all-time great.16. Yordan Alvarez, Astros Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 135 37 97 1.019 6.6 Since landing Alvarez in a lopsided trade with the Dodgers in 2016, the Astros have seen him develop into one of baseball's most fearsome power hitters. Alvarez trails only Mike Trout and Aaron Judge in wRC+ (164) and OPS (.973) since debuting in 2019. The 25-year-old signed a long-term extension last year, keeping him in Houston into his prime years. With the Astros firmly in a win-now mode, Alvarez has plenty of opportunity to author more memorable moments and climb the franchise's all-time leaderboard in a number of offensive categories.15. Max Scherzer, Mets Newsday LLC / Newsday / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 145.1 2.29 2.62 4.4 Scherzer was as exceptional last year as he's ever been. However, his 2022 was treated as a disappointment because he didn't throw 170-plus innings for what would've been the 13th consecutive full-length season (omitting the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign). He's getting older, there's no avoiding that. But among pitchers with at least 140 innings thrown, the righty still ranked sixth by ERA, sixth by strikeout rate, sixth by FIP, and second by K-BB%. It seems like Scherzer will be the elite of the elite until he literally can't throw anymore. And with the pitch clock as an added weapon? Look out.14. Francisco Lindor, Mets Sarah Stier / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 161 26 107 .788 6.8 After struggling in his first season with the Mets, Lindor rebounded in 2022. The star shortstop set a new career high with 107 RBIs and was extremely durable, appearing in 161 games. Lindor is a magnetic personality and has taken to the bright lights of New York City seamlessly. The Mets enter 2023 with high expectations and a lot of pressure to win the franchise's first championship since 1986. Lindor will be counted on to lead the charge as one of the league's best shortstops. 13. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins Eric Espada / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA FIP fWAR 228.2 2.28 2.99 5.7 Alcantara was a workhorse en route to winning his first career Cy Young last season. The big right-hander led the league in innings pitched and complete games, emerging as a throwback type of pitcher in an era where hurlers aren't pitching as deep into games. Alcantara's durability and ability to pile up quality starts should allow him to contend for another Cy Young in 2023.12. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers Denis Poroy / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 159 21 100 .918 7.1 Freeman is quietly one of baseball's most consistent, durable and productive players. The 2020 NL MVP could have easily been a finalist for, or even won, last year's honor after leading his league in a slew of offensive categories. He should be in that conversation again in 2023 as the Dodgers' offensive anchor. Barring injury, Freeman will cross several important career milestones this summer. It's a bit strange he often gets overlooked, but that might just be the result of a glut of talented first basemen in the NL. Few in the majors are better or have a sweeter swing.11. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals Rob Tringali / MLB / Getty Images GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 151 35 115 .981 7.1 It always felt like a tragedy that Goldschmidt hadn't added an MVP award to his mantle, but last season finally put that to bed. The seven-time All-Star had previously been runner-up twice and finished as a finalist one other time. This past year, he led the Senior Circuit in slugging percentage and OPS with a career-best 180 OPS+. Still, somehow, the five-time Silver Slugger feels underappreciated even though he could easily threaten back-to-back MVPs in an incredibly deep Cardinals lineup.10. Trea Turner, Phillies Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 160 21 100 .809 6.3 Turner showed off at the World Baseball Classic, crushing five homers for Team USA and boasting a 1.483 OPS over six games. It was a great reminder heading into the upcoming campaign that Turner is so much more than just speed. His aggressiveness on the bases should obviously be noted entering a season in which MLB added rules to try to entice more base-stealing. But Turner is also an all-fields hitter with elite pop and the ability to play a demanding defensive position. He's the entire package.9. Julio Rodriguez, Mariners Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 132 28 75 .853 5.3 It only took one year for J-Rod to crack the top 10. Rodriguez announced his presence in the majors with a historic rookie season that rocketed him to superstardom and helped end the Mariners' long playoff drought. What can he do for an encore in his age-22 season? How about a 30-30 campaign? A Gold Glove? A .900 OPS? Nothing seems out of bounds for Rodriguez - and the scary thing is, he's yet to enter his prime. This might be the last year that J-Rod sits outside the top five players for a long time.8. Juan Soto, Padres Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 153 27 62 .853 3.8 It's a testament to how good Soto is that a season with an .853 OPS and a 145 wRC+ is considered disappointing. The slugger acknowledged that he battled some mechanical issues with his swing in 2022 and feels much more locked in heading into the new season. Soto's performance at the World Baseball Classic could be an indicator of what's in store for 2023. He's still only 24 years old and looks poised to return to the form he showcased in 2021 with the Nationals when he posted a staggering 7.0 fWAR with a .999 OPS. It wouldn't be shocking if Soto moves up into the top five on the list at this time next year.7. Nolan Arenado, Cardinals Dustin Bradford / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 148 30 103 .891 7.3 Arenado can stake a claim to being the greatest defensive third baseman of all time. The 31-year-old added a staggering 10th Gold Glove and sixth consecutive Platinum Glove last season. Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Arenado has shown no signs of slowing down, ranking in the 99th percentile in Baseball Savant's outs above average in 2022. He also put together his best offensive season since 2019, posting an .891 OPS with 30 home runs and finishing third in NL MVP voting. It's fair to expect another strong year in 2023 from one of the game's most complete players.6. Jose Ramirez, Guardians Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 29 126 .869 6.2 Ramirez remains one of baseball's most underrated and underappreciated stars. The 30-year-old is fourth behind Judge, Betts, and Trout in FanGraphs' WAR since the 2017 season. Ramirez's ability to hit for power, use his legs, and play solid defense at a premium position allows him to provide tremendous value for the Guardians. He took a below-market extension to remain in Cleveland for the long haul and could end up as the greatest player in franchise history whenever he finishes his career.5. Manny Machado, Padres Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 150 32 102 .898 7.4 Machado is the only third baseman who can keep Arenado from claiming the title of best at the hot corner, and it's easy to see why. The 30-year-old is a perennial MVP candidate with light-tower power, a solid glove, and consistency that rivals any of the best hitters in the sport. When it's all said and done, Machado has a good chance to go down as one of the greatest all-around players of his generation - and he's not even close to being done. That's a treat for baseball fans everywhere.4. Mookie Betts, Dodgers Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 142 35 82 .873 6.6 As if Betts wasn't satisfied with being the best right fielder in baseball, he's now adding the infield to his repertoire. Betts will play games at second base on a semi-regular basis this season, a level of versatility that makes him even more dangerous. Even if he stayed in right all year, we're still talking about a generational talent who covers right field with the effortless grace of a dancer and owns a cannon for an arm that baserunners would be fools to test. Oh, and lest we forget, Betts remains one of the most dangerous hitters in the sport and a virtual lock for an annual top-five MVP finish. It's hard to imagine how a player gets better than him.3. Aaron Judge, Yankees Julio Aguilar / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 62 131 1.111 11.4 We might never see a season as special as Judge's 2022 again. With 62 homers, the Yankees' newest captain set the AL record for dingers in a single season, and he's the first player in any league to reach the 60-dinger plateau since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa in 2001. If we omit players implicated with steroid use, he really is the home run king, surpassing Roger Maris (61 in 1961) and Babe Ruth (60 in 1927). Expecting the four-time All-Star to repeat would be ridiculous, but he's also more than just a slugger. Judge ranked in the 85th percentile in outs above average and 93rd percentile in arm strength, and he obviously possesses an incredibly keen eye with a walk rate in the 96th percentile.2. Mike Trout, Angels Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 119 40 80 .999 6.0 Trout's bona fides are unimpeachable. As a three-time MVP, 10-time All-Star, nine-time Silver Slugger, and two-time All-Star Game MVP, Trout would go down as one of the best to ever play if he retired today. And while he was held to 119 games last year, he still hit 40 homers and finished eighth in AL MVP voting ahead of Xander Bogaerts, Verlander, and Bo Bichette, to name a few. He took a step back defensively in center field and isn't trying to steal many bases anymore, but this next version of Trout seems to be a truly prolific slugger, boasting a .630 SLG. Pro-rated over a full season, his homer pace last year would equate to roughly 54 dingers. He's still the hitter everyone envies.1. Shohei Ohtani, Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI OPS fWAR 157 34 95 .875 3.8 IP ERA FIP fWAR 166 2.33 2.40 5.6 The fact Ohtani needs two different charts illustrates the entire point. The two-way phenom followed up his 2021 AL MVP season by getting even better and was only deprived of back-to-back honors because of a different historic achievement from Judge. So, the two-time All-Star had to settle for finishing runner-up in MVP voting and fourth in Cy Young voting. If Ohtani decided to only hit or pitch, it seems quite clear he'd be top of the league in whichever he chose. Instead, he's, at worst, the fourth best at both. Ohtani is beyond comprehension. It seems like his health is the only thing that could prevent him from winning his next MVP.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
The Major League Baseball season is around the corner and hope springs eternal. Not all teams set out with the same goal in mind, but there are reasons for every fanbase to be excited. Let's break them down, starting with the National League.The American League can be read here.NL East Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / GettyAtlanta Braves: Spencer Strider unleashedThere are tons of reasons for Braves fans to be excited entering the campaign, but let's hone in on one: a limitless Spencer Strider.The NL Rookie of the Year runner-up opened the 2022 campaign in the Braves' bullpen, not making his first start until the end of May. Despite that, he was still one of 11 pitchers to reach the 200-strikeout plateau last year while throwing only 131 2/3 innings. Even further, his 38.3% K rate is the third-highest by a pitcher in a single season ever (min. 100 IP).So, this year, Strider is starting in the rotation, with seemingly no innings limits or anything. What can the 24-year-old accomplish? Is the sky even the limit?Miami Marlins: A possible step in the right directionFor as long as the Marlins have existed, they've seemed rudderless. Or, even worse, the rudder has been set to full-speed reverse.This time, though, the roster is entering a season with an intriguing face lift, and it will be very intriguing to see if it pays actual dividends on-field. The biggest moves are in the infield, adding Luis Arraez at second base, Jean Segura at third, and shifting Joey Wendle to full-time shortstop after jettisoning Miguel Rojas to the Los Angeles Dodgers.Of course, that leads to the very intriguing position change for budding star Jazz Chisholm Jr., who will move from second to center field and seems confident in his abilities to immediately threaten for Gold Glove awards. This doesn't make the team a contender, but it certainly makes the lineup deeper. Is this a baby step in the right direction or a lunge?New York Mets: Steve Cohen and pretty much everything else as wellEverything is coming up Mets.At this point, it has to be assumed that Cohen - who has a very hands-on role with running the team now that Sandy Alderson is no longer president of the club - will throw a blank check at any problem. And while many want to make that out to be a bad thing for the league (which it isn't, by the way), it's a great thing for Mets fans.Look, it sucks to lose Edwin Diaz to a patellar injury in the World Baseball Classic. But if you think that Cohen, who committed over $800 million in contracts this winter, isn't already giving carte blanche to his baseball executives to make sure this team has the best possible options locking down as many wins as possible, you're delusional. The Reds shopping Edwin's brother Alexis Diaz? Cohen's on the phone. The Pirates make David Bednar available at some point? Incoming call from your buddy Steve. Whatever it takes to get it done, and that's a very new feeling for Mets fans.Philadelphia Phillies: Fully operationally Dave DombrowskiWhile the mightiest owner in baseball might be Cohen, the scariest executive to other teams is a fully operational Dombrowski.The Phillies will have a couple problems to deal with in the regular season, losing Rhys Hoskins likely for the year due to an ACL injury and not getting Bryce Harper back until the second half. Thanks to Dombrowski's ruthless spending, though, they won't be without a superstar on Opening Day, with Trea Turner in the fold. Not to mention, new MLB rules that entice more stolen bases could make him a menace.The Phillies' biggest weakness - and stop me if you've heard this one before, any other fans of Dombrowksi-run teams - was the bullpen. And they did a good job of addressing that as well this winter, adding Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, and Matt Strahm.Due to the injuries, it'll be a struggle to win the most competitive division in the league. But, once again, no one will want to run into Philadelphia in the playoffs.Washington Nationals: MacKenzie GoreGore, a former third-overall pick, is arguably the most interesting part of the package that came over from the Padres in the Juan Soto trade, and Nationals fans will finally get their first look at him this year. The lefty is still figuring out his command issues in spring, allowing 11 runs on 23 hits and seven walks over 20 innings. But, really, this upcoming season for the Nationals is just extended spring training anyways. It'll be good to get him a full season's worth of work against major leaguers with no real consequences.NL Central Chris Coduto / Getty Images Sport / GettyChicago Cubs: The next eraOver the past few seasons, there have been incessant discussions about the dissolution of the 2016 championship team. After Willson Contreras signed with the division-rival Cardinals, Kyle Hendricks is the last remaining member of the World Series team.Now, though, Cubs fans are free from all of that, and looking at a team that at best can contend, and at worst is interesting and a step in the right direction. The likelihood that all new additions - Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Trey Mancini, Eric Hosmer, Jameson Taillon, Tucker Barnhart, and others - mesh right away is slim. But that's also part of the fun sometimes. Let's enjoy the ride again at Wrigley.Cincinnati Reds: Hunter Greene and Nick LodoloReds fans won't have a whole lot to get amped about heading into this season, but it could be incredibly captivating to see how the team's budding young aces continue to grow.Greene is more of the marquee guy, getting picked second overall originally as a potential two-way star, before settling in as a righty who can flash 100mph on the mound. His stuff is electric, but command and control issues have gotten in the way, as well as some durability. As a sophomore for a bottom-feeding team, he'll be freed from a lot of those lofty expectations, and that can only work in his favor.Then there's Lodolo, who was the first pitcher off the board in the 2019 class, which was perceived to be weak at the time. While one pitcher can't prove an entire class was strong, the former seventh-overall pick has done his part and more, progressing quickly through the minors and making his debut last year. The lefty will still need to work on curbing his walks, but the strikeout rate certainly plays in the big leagues. The Reds really might have a pair of aces primed to build around ... whenever ownership decides that's worth it.Milwaukee Brewers: The possibility of everything breaking rightThe Brewers find themselves in a precarious position. In fact, if they start cold in the first month, pundits could quickly be calling for the rebuild to begin.But that's not exciting at all! So, what if, the Brewers went full "Major League" and tried to win in spite of some poor decisions from management. Trading away Josh Hader for a worse reliever and a guy who was immediately lost on waivers? That's rough, but what if it just motivated Devin Williams to become even better in the ninth-inning role? Alienating your ace by telling him during his arbitration hearing that he's a big reason the team missed the postseason last year? That's a brutal look, but what if Corbin Burnes used it as motivation to carry the Brewers to the playoffs?We're not saying it's probable. We're just saying it'd be exciting.Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen's milestonesThe prodigal son returns, and he's got some historic milestones to surpass this time around.The last time McCutchen was in a Pirates jersey, he was routinely finishing as an MVP finalist. While that stage of his career is over, he'll still be a captivating reason for Yinzers to show up to PNC Park.At 1,948 career hits, he's 52 shy of reaching the 2,000-hit plateau. He's also 13 homers short of 300 and eight doubles away from 400 in his career and 300 in a Pirates uniform. If he plays well enough this year, too, he might even get a shot at surpassing Roberto Clemente for third all-time in homers for the franchise, currently sitting 37 back of the Hall of Famer.St. Louis Cardinals: The best lineup in team history?It might seem outrageous given the franchise's storied history, but this lineup really might be their best ever. Take in that both Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt were MVP-caliber players last year (with the latter actually winning the award) and then just add Willson Contreras, who has been one of the best offensive catchers in baseball since he first made his debut in 2016.And it's not just top heavy, either. It's deep. Lars Nootbaar is extremely underrated, and Tyler O'Neill shows flashes that make you believe he could hit 40 homers one year. Then there's the possibility of spring sensation Jordan Walker potentially making the team with former top prospects Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman also representing intriguing depth.NL West Stacy Revere / Getty Images Sport / GettyArizona Diamondbacks: A ton of little thingsI know this is supposed to be one thing to be excited about. And, on paper, the Diamondbacks do not seem like a team with a lot of championship or even postseason potential. However, this could be a pivotal season for them as they eye contention as early as 2024.It starts with Zac Gallen, who is a legitimate dark-horse threat for the NL Cy Young. The 27-year-old really turned a corner after the All-Star break last year, posting an incredible 1.49 ERA and 2.07 FIP in 90 1/3 innings over his final 14 starts.Then there's a trio of young budding stars in Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, and Gabriel Moreno, who seem to be the type of players any franchise would love to build around. Carroll is the marquee man, ranked as MLB's No. 1 prospect and the odds-on favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year. Moreno is very interesting as well, coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Daulton Varsho, and he'll be leaned on heavily behind the dish after Carson Kelly's spring injury.There's lots to like about this team as it seems to trend in the right direction. Will all of them take a big enough step forward that it warrants the front office to make some free-agent investments next winter? Let's see.Colorado Rockies: A full season of Kris BryantLet's be honest, there's not a whole lot to love in Denver. Arguably, the team's biggest free-agent addition was Mike Moustakas, who seems to have won a gig on the Opening Day roster thanks to a strong spring, an injury to Brendan Rodgers, and an abysmal showing in camp from Nolan Jones.That being said, Bryant is still pretty exciting. And if the former MVP and four-time All-Star can stay healthy, then watching what he can accomplish at the plate in Coors Field could be very entertaining. Despite being held to 42 games last year, Bryant looked decent, posting an .851 OPS. While the slugging didn't materialize, his keen eye was on display. If fully healthy, a return to 30+ dingers doesn't seem outlandish at all.Los Angeles Dodgers: Slightly less pressure and the target elsewhereIt's been a decade of the Dodgers being treated like the team to beat by the 29 other clubs, going as far back as 2013. There's a slight caveat here, because in order to ditch the target on their backs, the Dodgers cut their payroll by quite a lot and let Trea Turner, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Tyler Anderson, and others leave via free agency, and replaced those stars with less expensive veterans. They might not be threatening the century mark in wins - which they've accomplished four times over the past five full seasons - but they're still an excellent team and title contender. They're just not thee title contender, which is probably at least partly thanks to Steve Cohen throwing around cash like it's confetti. It's somewhat alarming that, over that span, the Dodgers only won one World Series. But, now, they'll get to quietly compete for a second and a chance to become a true dynasty.San Diego Padres: Stars all overThe Dads have arrived.No matter where you look on the diamond, the Padres are just loaded with stars. In fact, for this reason, they should maybe be considered World Series favorites. Some recent postseason woes have prevented everyone from buying in immediately, but the power dynamic in the NL West looks to have finally shifted.There are certainly some question marks about the team's ceiling. Are both Matt Carpenter and Nelson Cruz worth roster spots at this point in their careers as mostly positionless veterans? Is the rotation deep enough to deal with the absence of Joe Musgrove to start the year? But those worries melt away when you are reminded of the fact that it's Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, and (eventually) Fernando Tatis Jr. driving the offense. The expectations should be a championship.San Francisco Giants: The consolation prizesLook, it's probably pretty rough for Giants fans to exit this offseason and be legitimately excited (thanks, Jon Heyman): Not cool man Logan Webb (@LoganWebb1053) December 6, 2022 But, we're here to tell you that the consolation prizes are actually pretty great. And that starts with spring sensation Michael Conforto, who has hit four homers over 13 contests. He's also racked up 13 strikeouts, so, it's not all sunshine and roses, but that's what spring training is for; working out the kinks and, in Conforto's case, getting back to game speed after a year-long layoff due to injury.San Francisco also added Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling to the rotation, and, while those guys have struggled in camp, they're key depth to a team with wild-card aspirations. It's all about the silver linings. And even though they didn't land the reigning AL MVP, the roster is fun and plucky and perhaps good enough.Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
The San Diego Padres are serious about becoming contenders in the NL West by adding Xander Bogaerts and making sure Manny Machado stays around.