Looking ahead to the approaching season, the National League is filled with teams that should compete for a Postseason spot. Problem is, they won’t all make it. As a result, a few teams that made it to October a season ago have a decent chance of winding up on the outside looking in. Here are two National League teams that won their divisions last year that may not make the Postseason again this year, and an American League Wild Card team that could not go back again in 2016.
Los Angeles Dodgers
- Pitching staff questions after Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw is elite, and will once again helm the top of the Dodgers’ rotation. Beyond him, though, the absence of Zack Greinke could create some big issues in L.A. unless some newcomers step up. The club has already lost Brett Anderson to back surgery, Brandon McCarthy is on his way back from Tommy John surgery, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is a question mark as he recovers from shoulder issues. It’s crucial that new lefty Scott Kazmir is able to stay healthy and on the mound enough to be a reliable option for Dave Roberts. Fellow offseason acquisition Kenta Maeda, meanwhile, is a wild card after joining the team in the winter, though he has been pitching well in spring training recently.
- What to expect from Puig?
Yasiel Puig had a tough go of it in 2015. The fiery Cuban was limited to just 79 games, in which he hit .255/.322/.436 with 11 homers, 38 RBI, and 1.1 WAR – far below the 5.3 he totaled in 2014 and the 4.9 accumulated in his blazing rookie campaign in 2013. Still just 25, Puig will have every opportunity to be an offensive presence as long as he’s able to stay on the field. With Roberts ready to ‘start fresh’ with Puig (who had his issues with departed manager Don Mattingly), the club will need everything it can get out of him in the new year.
- Strong NL West/Greinke
The Dodgers won’t have an easy walk to the NL West title in 2016. The Arizona Diamondbacks stole headlines by signing Greinke to a big free agent contract, but that’s not all they did: they mortgaged some of their future for Shelby Miller in a deal with Atlanta and picked up shortstop Jean Segura from Milwaukee. Talk of ‘winning the offseason’ is a fool’s errand, as most found out by the San Diego Padres’ moves in the winter of 2014, but the D-Backs look a bit better now than they did in 2015, when they finished 79-83. Plus, they still have perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt in the fold.
As for the San Francisco Giants, it’s an ‘even year’ as they say…and SF should also benefit by a strengthened rotation featuring newcomers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, plus a (hopefully) healthy Hunter Pence. The Giants are always a thorn in the Dodgers’ side, and this year ought to be no different.
New York Mets
- Sophomore slump for the staff?
The Mets’ brilliant young starters were a key component of their 2015 NL title. Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24 ERA in 150 IP, 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in the postseason), Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54 ERA in 191 IP, 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA in the postseason) and Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71 ERA in 189 IP, 2-0 with a 3.04 ERA in the postseason) were nearly unstoppable when it mattered. Will all of that continue in 2016, or will the pitchers’ heavy workloads of a season ago become an issue?
- David Wright
Star third baseman David Wright’s spinal stenosis prevented him from taking part in the 2015 season until late summer, and while he performed well, it was a definite drag on the veteran’s ability to play every day. There’s no telling what he might provide the club in 2016, but if he’s unable to go every day they’ll have depth issues in terms of finding a fill-in for him at third base.
- Yoenis Cespedes, newly highly-paid man
Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes re-upped with the Mets in lieu of signing elsewhere this winter, agreeing to a massive three-year, $75 million deal. How will he respond now that he’s the owner of his first huge MLB deal? He did well in NY after coming over mid-summer (.287/.337/.604 with 27 HR, 44 RBI, and 2.3 WAR), but he’s already on his fourth team and has had issues staying consistent offensively.
The 159 games he appeared in last season was his career-high, besting his total of 152 in the 2014 campaign (with the A’s and Red Sox). The Mets need him in the lineup every day as an offensive force, as he demonstrated in the late months of the 2015 season.
- NL is just too strong
Simply put, the NL has too many ‘elite’ clubs this season. It’s easy to look at the NL Central and see three Postseason teams in the Pirates, Cubs, and Cardinals – and two of those will likely earn Wild Card spots. That would mean the Mets would have to win the East in order to qualify – but the Nationals stand in their way, and are considered a viable threat to the East crown in 2016. The Mets could feasibly end up with 90 or so wins and miss out on October – unless they’re able to keep Bryce Harper and the Nats (playing under new manager Dusty Baker) at bay.
New York Yankees
- Too many pitching questions
The Yankees squeaked their way into the Wild Card game a year ago and promptly lost at home to Dallas Keuchel and the Astros. This time around, they may not even make it that far in part due to their pitching questions. C.C. Sabathia took some time off for his personal battle against alcoholism and is coming off a season that saw him go just 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA and declining fastball velocity. At this point in his career, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to reclaim the type of form he showed as a younger pitcher.
Masahiro Tanaka, meanwhile, is always considered by some to be on the precipice of an elbow injury – and he logged 154 innings of work in 2015. Michael Pineda is another option for the rotation, having gone 12-10 with a 4.37 ERA in his first season of full activity last year. But is he finally ready to be a frontline guy?
- No Bird Zone
Rookie first baseman Greg Bird was a revelation in 2015. In just 46 games, he hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 homers and 31 RBI – but he won’t play in 2016 after needing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Bird could have had a breakout year this season, but now he’ll have to regroup and try again in 2017.
- Will A-Rod do that again?
Alex Rodriguez’s career rehabilitation took a step forward in 2015, as he clubbed 33 homers, drove in 86 runs, and hit .250/.356/.486. In many ways, he proved to the Yankees and their fans that he is still a viable offensive weapon and appeared in the most games (151) he’s played in since the 2007 season. Unless he can pick up right where he left off last season, the Yankees may run into some problems offensively.