Rockies Dodgers Spring Baseball

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer reaches out to catch the ball during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Monday, March 1, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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(In projected order of finish)

NL EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES

2020 record: 35-25, 1st

Outlook: Adding crafty SP Charlie Morton to support SPs Max Fried (7-0, 2.25 ERA), Ian Anderson (3-2, 1.95) and Mike Soroka (13-4, 2.68 ERA in 2019) positions the Braves to win another division title. The lineup has ample depth with OF Marcell Ozuna (1.067 OPS), SS Dansby Swanson (.809), C Travis d’Arnaud (.910) and 2B Ozzie Albies (.852 OPS in 2019).

Cornerstones: 1B Freddie Freeman (1.102 OPS) has been one of baseball’s steadier producers since 2011. He is flanked by OF Ronald Acuna Jr. (.987), one of the game’s more explosive young talents.

NEW YORK METS

2020 record: 26-34, 4th

Outlook: Finally this franchise has a rich owner brimming with ambition. Steve Cohen will invest in success, to the chagrin of NL East rivals. He gave the green light to acquire SS Francisco Lindor in a blockbuster trade. Adding free-agent RP Trevor May to a team with RP Edwin Diaz (2-1, six saves) strengthened the bullpen. The Mets overspent on free-agent C James McCann, but it’s just money, right?

Cornerstones: Lindor (.854 OPS in 2019) is a transformative talent. SP Jacob deGrom (104 strikeouts in 68 innings, 2.38 ERA) offers shutdown potential for postseason play. SP Noah Syndergaard could do the same if he makes a full recovery from elbow surgery.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

2020 record: 28-32, 3rd

Outlook: Aggressive ownership doesn’t guarantee success, so new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has work to do. The rotation is led by SPs Aaron Nola (5-5, 3.38 ERA) and Zack Wheeler (4-2, 2.92). Adding RP Archie Bradley should bolster a bullpen that buckled last season. 1B Rhys Hoskins (29 homers in 2019) will provide a lift returning from surgical repairs. 3B Alec Bohm (.881 OPS) offers clout at the other corner.

Cornerstones: C J.T. Realmuto was a must-keep player — and the Phillies wisely kept him at a cost of $115.5 million. OF Bryce Harper looked worthy of his $330 million contract last season while posting a .962 OPS.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

2020 record: 26-34, 5th

Outlook: After their magical world championship run, the Nationals succumbed to endless adversity last season. They will need strong rebounds from SPs Stephen Strasburg (carpal tunnel surgery), Joe Ross (COVID-19 opt-out) and newcomer Jon Lester (gland removal surgery) to compete this year. SP Max Scherzer, 36, is a good as any when healthy.

Cornerstones: OF Juan Soto (1.185 OPS) and SS Trea Turner (.982) are rising stars. This team needs OF Victor Robles (4.1 WAR in 2019) and 3B Carter Kieboom to realize their full potential, too.

MIAMI MARLINS

2020 record: 31-29, 2nd

Outlook: Derek Jeter’s budget operation figures to fail in this deep division. His offense is a collection of loose veteran parts like 1B Jesus Aguilar and OFs Adam Duvall, Starling Marte and Corey Dickerson. Perhaps 3B Brian Anderson and flashy SS prospect Jazz Chisholm will become worthy building blocks.

Cornerstones: The Marlins hope to build around dynamic young SPs Sixto Sanchez (3-2, 3.46 ERA), Pablo Lopez (6-4, 3.61) and Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.00) — who was the key acquisition from the Cardinals in their ill-fated Marcell Ozuna trade.

NL CENTRAL

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

2020 record: 30-28, 2nd

Outlook: SP Adam Wainwright and C Yadier Molina will get at least one more playoff chase together. Re-signing them and acquiring 3B Nolan Arenado kept the Cardinals viable. But they may need young hurlers to step up after losing SP Dakota Hudson to Tommy John surgery and seeing SP Miles Mikolas suffer shoulder woes while coming back from flexor tendon surgery. They also need more production from young OFs Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader (out to start the year), Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas.

Cornerstones: With Arenado and 1B Paul Goldschmidt, the Cardinals feature elite fielding on the infield corners. But they will need Arenado to regain his 2019 stroke (.962 OPS, 118 RBIs) and add offensive muscle to the lineup.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

2020 record: 29-31, 4th

Outlook: They will be back in the chase again after regaining OF Lorenzo Cain from his COVID-19 opt-out and adding 2B Kolten Wong and OF Jackie Bradley Jr. to upgrade the defense. The rotation is solid with SPs Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes at the top. The bullpen is one of baseball’s best, with RP Josh Hader serving as the hammer.

Cornerstones: Like many Americans, OF Christian Yelich would like to forget 2020 (he hit just .205) and pick up where he left off in 2019. That year he produced a 1,100 OPS and 7.1 WAR. RP Devin Williams (Hazelwood West) emerged as one of the game’s best last season while striking out 53 batters in 27 innings and allowing just one earned run.

CINCINNATI REDS

2020 record: 31-29, 3rd

Outlook: The Reds loaded up last year and returned to postseason play. Rather than build on that breakthrough, the franchise stepped back. SP Trevor Bauer signed with the Dodgers, and RP Raisel Iglesias was moved to the Los Angeles Angels. A breakout season from SP Tyler Mahle would help offset Bauer’s exit. The Reds need 1B Joey Votto (.226), INF Mike Moustakas (.225) and OF Nick Castellanos (.230) to rebound.

Cornerstones: SS/3B Eugenio Suarez smacked 83 homers and drove in 207 runs from 2018-19 before struggling last season. He was built to play in the Great American Band Box. SP Luis Castillo (4-6, 3.21 ERA) takes the lead for the rotation with Bauer gone.

CHICAGO CUBS

2020 record: 34-26, 1st

Outlook: By trading top SP Yu Darvish, the cost-conscious Cubs signaled their looming rebuild. They let OF Kyle Schwarber walk, but replaced him with OF Joc Pederson. They let SP Jon Lester go, but brought back SP Jake Arrieta. RP Craig Kimbrel will try to build on his strong 2020 finish (7 1/3 scoreless September innings). Should the Cubs fade, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer will trade more veterans for prospects.

Cornerstones: The big-three hitters — 3B Kris Bryant, 1B Anthony Rizzo and SS Javier Baez — return. They all struggled last season, but in 2019 they combined to hit 87 homers.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

2020 record: 19-41, 5th

Outlook: The painful tank-and-rebuild process is underway. New GM Ben Cherington is selling off veterans and acquiring prospects. OF Gregory Polanco could be the next to go if he hits this summer. This teardown is fine with billionaire owner Bob Nutting, who prefers small payrolls. There’s not much on the mound beyond SPs Mitch Keller (2.91 ERA in five starts) and Steven Brault (3.38).

Cornerstones: 3B Ke'Bryan Hayes (1.124 OPS in 85 at bats) arrived as an elite fielder with massive offensive upside. He and OF Bryan Reynolds (.880 OPS in 2019) are solid pieces to build upon.

NL WEST

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

2020 record: 43-17, 1st

Outlook: This organization did not get complacent after finally winning a World Series. The Dodgers added Cy Young Award winning SP Trevor Bauer (5-4, 1.73 ERA) to the top of their rotation and welcomed SP David Price back from his COVID-19 opt-out. They join SPs Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and Dustin May in baseball’s best rotation.

Cornerstones: OF Mookie Betts (.927 OPS) arrived in a blockbuster trade with the Red Sox and became the catalyst for an already talented team. OF Cody Bellinger (1.035 OPS in 2019) is another MVP-caliber player, and SS Corey Seager (.943) adds power at a premium position.

SAN DIEGO PADRES

2020 record: 37-23, 2nd

Outlook: This franchise is tired of living in the Dodgers’ SoCal shadow. The hyper-aggressive Padres added high-end SPs Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove to an outstanding staff featuring Dinelson Lamet (3-1, 2.09 ERA), Chris Paddack and Drew Pomeranz. OF Tommy Pham hopes to regain his power after recovering from an offseason stabbing.

Cornerstones: The Padres spent big dollars to create the “Slam Diego” offense. They invested $300 million in 3B Manny Machado (.950 OPS) and $340 million in SS Fernando Tatis Jr. (.937) — making the earlier $144 million deal for 1B Eric Hosmer seem piddling.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

2020 record: 29-31, 3rd

Outlook: President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi sees a rebuild on the horizon. He has C Buster Posey, SP Johnny Cueto, 1B Brandon Belt, and SS Brandon Crawford on expiring contracts. That’s about $75 million in potential payroll space for 2022. In the meantime, manager Gabe Kapler must scrape out victories with the likes of OF Mike Yastrzemski (.968 OPS) and INF Donovan Solano (.828 OPS).

Cornerstones: Posey, Cueto, Belt and Crawford were pillars in the old structure. The foundation for the new structure has yet to be laid.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

2020 record: 25-35, 5th

Outlook: The Snakes will watch from a safe distance as the Dodgers and Padres battle it out for NL West supremacy. They have some decent pieces with SS Nick Ahmed and OFs David Peralta and Kole Calhoun (.864 OPS). Switch-hitting 2B Ketel Marte posted a .981 OPS in 2019. INF Josh Rojas (.886 OPS in minor-league career) could help the rebuild, but SP Madison Bumgarner (6.48 ERA) is searching for his lost velocity.

Cornerstones: The injured former Cardinals SP prospect Zac Gallen (3-2, 2.75 ERA) is a foundation piece for the rotation. Former Cardinals C Carson Kelly demonstrated his upside in 2019 (.826 OPS).

COLORADO ROCKIES

2020 record:  26-34, 4th

Outlook: By trading 3B Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals for a modest return, the Rockies waved the white flag for this season and more. The top of their rotation is solid with SPs Antonio Senzatela (5-3, 3.44 ERA) and German Marquez (4-6, 3.75). But the Rockies lack offensive depth in a hitter’s park, and the Mile High conditions can wear down a pitching staff.

Cornerstones: With Arenado gone, SS Trevor Story (.874 OPS) is the remaining player to build around. But this assumes he will be willing to commit to the franchise as it sinks into the division cellar. OF Charlie Blackmon has been a mainstay in Denver, but he turns 35 this season.

Jeff Gordon • 314-340-8175

@gordoszone on Twitter

jgordon@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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