Last season in the National League, the Central Division dominated by having three teams make the playoffs. With wild cards from a season ago — the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds — getting worse, don’t expect the same result in 2014. In fact, only one team will be making the playoffs out of the Central and that’s the St. Louis Cardinals.
This season, the power is going to be spread out a little more geographically. Based on their moves this offseason and what they already have on their major league rosters, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Washington Nationals are primed to grab the two wild cards in the National League.
The Case for the Diamondbacks:
Arizona made a couple of great moves this offseason to bolster an already impressive roster from a year ago. First, they made a huge splash by trading for slugger Mark Trumbo. His ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark is going to provide great protection for 2013 NL MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt. Added depth in the lineup means the Diamondbacks are going to score more runs in 2014.
Not only will they be scoring more runs, but they figure to be giving up less runs as well. By adding Bronson Arroyo in free agency, the Diamondbacks added to their pitching depth. Patrick Corbin was a breakout star last season, and he will look to sustain that performance in year two. On the opposite end of the spectrum, pitcher Wade Miley fell well short of expectations in a year he was expected to take a big step towards becoming a top pitcher in the National League. If he can pitch to that potential then Arizona will be dangerous.
In addition to that, they have a very good fielding outfield that is going to take away runs. Over the course of the season, it won’t look like much, but when they take away a run here and there in a couple of games, that could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Outfielder Gerardo Parra has an absolute cannon which he uses to cut runners down on the base paths.
The Case for the Nationals:
Last season the Nationals were supposed to be the best team in the National League. Due to injuries and a number of other factors, they fell well short of that expectation by missing the playoffs entirely. While they got healthy towards the end of the season and did make a late playoff push, they still came up short.
Franchise cornerstones Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are healthy as of right now, and it’s their time to lead this team. Sprinkle in other players such as veteran Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche and Washington has a relatively deep lineup.
Washington is going to win one of the wild cards because of their pitching, though, not their hitting. Their top three in the rotation that consists of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman is as good as there is in the game. They also added Doug Fister to go along with Ross Detwiler to round out a very deep rotation.
Once that rotation hands over the ball to the bullpen, it’s more of the same. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano in the back of the bullpen is as good as it gets. Arguably, all three could close games consistently. Basically, if the rotation hands over a lead in the seventh inning, the Nationals are likely to win the game.
Everything points to these two teams winning the two wild cards for a number of reasons. One that wasn’t mentioned was that they both have teams in their division that look like strong contenders. It isn’t likely that the Diamondbacks are going to jump the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West, although they should give them a run for their money. The same goes for the Nationals who will be competing with the Atlanta Braves who have given numerous long-term extensions to core players this offseason.
A team like the San Francisco Giants and possibly even the Reds and Pirates will be in the mix, but in the end it will be the Diamondbacks and the Nationals squaring off in a one-game playoff come October.