1. St. Louis Cardinals
Over the past decade, the Cardinals have been the most consistent franchise because of their ability to develop players and allocate money to keep important free agents. The Cardinals significant upgraded their defense in the outfield and starting lineup with the addition of Jason Heyward. The return of Yadier Molina will improve their team because he is the heart of the team and their MVP candidate. In terms of pitching, the Cardinals have a strong 1 through 4 with Lynn, Wainwright, Wacha, and Lackey. The Cardinals do not have one of the best bullpens, but they frequently make deals at the deadline to make marginal improvements.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates:
After 20 years without recording a winning season, the Pirates have consistently won 80 games over the past few seasons. The Pirates’ lineup is filled with talented and athletic players that were former top prospects. The Pirates’ will become an above average lineup if Andrew McCutchen maintains an MVP candidate, Josh Harrison and Starling Marte continue their excellence, and Gregory Polanco turns his talent into production. In terms of pitching, they possess one of the best young arms in Gerrit Cole, who should produce like an ace, and veteran arms, AJ Burnett, Jeff Locke, and Francisco Liriano.
3. Chicago Cubs:
The Cubs are the most interesting and intriguing teams in the entire league due to their talented prospects. The Cubs have the best farm system in the league and this season they should start converting their talent into results. With the core of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, and potential MVP Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs’ offense should be impressive and entertaining to watch. In terms of pitching, the Cubs have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Outside of their top two starters, the Cubs will need quality performances from Jason Hammel, Alex Wood, and Kyle Kendricks to make the playoffs.
4. Milwaukee Brewers:
The Brewers were on the precipice of making the playoffs last season before a second half plunge due to a dearth of starting pitching. The Brewers’ chances of making the playoffs will be diminished by their lack of pitching once again. During the offseason, the Brewers dealt Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada, which limited their options and Jimmy Nelson to mature quickly. Offensively, the Brewers will be effective with Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy. If Braun can remerge as one of the 10 best hitters in the league and Lucroy and Gomez can replicate last seasons performances, they should compete for the division crown.
5. Cincinnati Reds:
The Reds will only go as far as Joey Votto can take them. Over the past two years, Votto has been decimated by injuries, which has caused the team to finish outside of the playoffs. If Votto can come close to his MVP season, by maintaining a high OBP, the Reds offense should become one of the best in the league. Along with Votto, they have quality complementary players like Todd Frazier, Billy Hamilton, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips. Due to the impending free agency of their starting pitchers, the Reds were forced to deal former All-Stars Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos. However, the Reds still have Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and possibly Tony Congrani.