Starlin Castro tops a lineup that has youth and the potential to improve with more at-bats. Rookie Junior Lake hit a solid .284 in 64 games for Chicago last year. Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood present a strong 1-2 punch in the pitching rotation. Pedro Strop and Wesley Wright are two young arms in the bullpen with potential.
However, the rest of this team is a mess. They had 26 blown saves last year which was the second most in the National League. In an unsuccessful attempt to address this problem, the Cubs acquired Jose Veras who is now on his 8th different team since 2006. Edwin Jackson finished the year losing seven of his last 10 starts. Jake Arrieta and Chris Rusin are also question marks in the rotation.
Season wins prediction: Under 70
Speedy Billy Hamilton should score a ton of runs at the top of this lineup with Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce batting behind him in the heart of the order. The pitching rotation is solid with Johnny Cueto available for the whole season along with Mat Latos and Homer Bailey. Tony Cingrani was great last year and will also be part of this strong rotation. Aroldis Chapman will be throwing heat out of the bullpen.
However, Ryan Ludwick missed time last year and is an injury risk along with Cueto. Mat Latos threw a career high 210 innings last year, so we'll see if there are any side effects and fatigue. The bullpen should be stable, although Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall did miss time last year.
Season wins prediction: Over 84.5
Ryan Braun is back for a full season and he has looked strong in spring training. Kyle Lohse isn't flashy, but he is a capable leader in the pitching rotation along with Yovani Gallardo. Jim Henderson was fantastic in his second season, converting 28-of-32 save opportunities last year with 75 strikeouts in just 60 innings pitched. He will be even more of a force in the bullpen this year.
Gallardo did have a velocity drop last year which is concerning since the rest of the pitching rotation is suspect with Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg. Can Matt Garza pitch well too? Aramis Ramirez is coming off a power outage with just 12 home runs last year. The bench is weak with few backup options if any major injuries occur.
Season wins prediction: Under 80
Andrew McCutchen is the reigning National League MVP and one of only two players with 20+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases in each of the past three seasons. He also has help in the lineup with Starling Marte and the acquisition of Russell Martin. The pitching rotation is solid with Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole leading the way. Jason Grilli had 30 saves last season before getting hurt. Mark Melancon had a 0.93 ERA at home last year.
There are some concerns though as the Pirates have gone from AJ Burnett to Edinson Volquez. Wandy Rodriguez is coming off an elbow injury and who knows if Gerrit Cole might slip a little after a solid rookie year. Pedro Alvarez led the NL in strikeouts last year and may not be the best protection for McCutchen in the lineup. This offense is inconsistent and struggles to score runs at times.
Season wins prediction: Under 84.5
St. Louis Cardinals
Arguably the most complete team in the league. They hit .330 with runners in scoring position last year and they have several talented hitters from Matt Holliday and Allen Craig to Matt Adams and Yadier Molina. The pitching rotation has young talent in Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha who follow veteran Adam Wainwright. The bullpen is led by Trevor Rosenthal and Jason Motte.
There aren't many negatives on this team. Injuries are usually the biggest concern, but the Cardinals have depth and talent throughout the lineup. Could there be a hangover after falling short last year?
Season wins prediction: Over 91.5