National League Darkhorses

TheSportsNotebook’s MLB spring training review has covered ten National League teams with individual preview posts. Those ten were a combination of the playoff teams from last year, those that at least made a little run at it (Washington & Arizona), along with two others who played poorly, but have a reasonable basis for thinking 2013 was an aberration (San Francisco & Milwaukee).

I also included an individual preview of Philadelphia, not so much because they deserve it, but because their high point is still recent enough. That leaves with five teams left, those who qualify as our National League darkhorses.

Here’s a brief rundown on the five. The betting odds for each team winning the World Series and their Over/Under on wins are in parentheses, followed by some brief thoughts. I tried to keep the thoughts aimed on the positive side, since the track record and outlook for each team has us already geared to know the negative.

San Diego Padres (60-1, 78.5): I get why there is, relative to this group of teams, a certain amount of optimism for the Padres. They have a group of young position players—from Yonder Alonso to Jedd Gyorko to Everth Cabrera to Chris Denorfia, that have shown flashes. The problem has been that the flashes are in spurts and not at all together. San Diego needs at least a couple to become consistent hitters, and for Chase Headley to regain the form he had in 2012 when he was the best third baseman in the National League.

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The Padres have two nice young pitchers in Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross that looked pretty good in 2013. What they need is for Ian Kennedy to regain the 20-game win form he showed in Arizona in 2011, or at least something akin to that. Put that together with an improved lineup and the Padres can have a good year. I’m at least optimistic enough to say they’ll go Over 78.5.

Colorado Rockies (60-1, 76.5): We know the Rockies will score runs—any lineup with Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzales and Michael Cuddyer is going do that. Tyler Chatwood showed some promise for the rotation in the eleven starts he got last year. If Colorado could get Brett Anderson to stay both healthy and effective—a parlay he never managed in Oakland—the Rockies could have at least a manageable rotation.

The problem is that it takes a best-case scenario for the rotation to even be mediocre, with Jorge de la Rosa is the only real reliable starter. The offense is going to have an almost impossible chore keeping up, and with Dexter Fowler, the table-setter for the other big bats, now gone on Houston, the lineup is short on depth. That’s why I have go Under 76.5.

NY Mets (100-1, 75): Matt Harvey will be out for the year after Tommy John surgery, but GM Sandy Alderson made the best of a bad situation in picking up veteran Bartolo Colon to fill in. If Colon can even give 25 starts, he’ll help this rotation. Dillon Gee and Jonathan Niese are both respectable. The bullpen is in good hands with Bobby Parnell, and I like the pickup of Jose Valverde. Things fell apart for him at the end in Detroit, but relievers are a funny breed, and it’s not hard to imagine Valverde thriving in setup work.

Curtis Granderson is now in rightfield, switching teams within the Big Apple. Granderson had a bad year in 2013 that followed an awful finish to the 2012 campaign. Asking him to revive his career in a park with deep dimensions is a tall order, but he’s still an upgrade on any other options. Granderson and first baseman Ike Davis need to give third baseman David Wright, still a model of consistency, some help at the plate.

This team isn’t a threat to make the postseason, but I think they’re going to fight their way at least close to .500, which puts them Over 75.

Chicago Cubs (125-1, 71): It’s possible a rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel could turn up pretty respectable. I say that only because I promised to try and find positives in each team not because I really believe it will.

On a more realistic level, Anthony Rizzo can continue his development as a nice power hitter at first base, and Starlin Castro could arrest the decline that’s hit his stats, and the Cubs would have a first baseman and shortstop worth coming to see. Maybe Luis Valbuena and Junior Lake, at third base and left field can develop.

But on the ultimate realistic level, it’s looking like another year to just hope and trust that GM Theo Epstein knows what he’s doing in the farm system. And to bet this team to go Under 71.

Miami (125-1, 70): Between Giancarlo Stanton in right and Jose Fernandez at the top of the rotation, the Marlins have as good a position player and as good a starting pitcher as there is. If it didn’t require eight other everyday players and four more starting pitchers that might be reason for optimism. As it is, Miami is a place for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Casey McGehee to try and revive their careers and hope they can get traded to a contender by the end of July.

TheSportsNotebook will be making its final postseason picks prior to the first pitch of Monday’s Opening Day games. It’s unlikely any of these teams will be on that list, but I’d give San Diego at least a puncher’s chance. The Padres are the one National League darkhorse worth keeping an eye on.