It wasn’t so long ago that the American League could boast of having the best teams in baseball, as the Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees formed a powerhouse trifecta. But times have changed quickly to the point where the National League is MLB’s glamour side at the moment, oozing with young stars and at least a handful of teams capable of winning a championship.
It makes for plenty of intrigue, and the Mets should be very much in the mix, but until proven otherwise they’re not quite on the same tier with the Dodgers, Padres, and Braves as the best teams in the league.
With that in mind, here’s my pre-season NL power rankings.
1) Los Angeles Dodgers
Not exactly a tough call. The most talented team in baseball finally broke through to win the World Series, ending the Dodgers’ 32-year championship drought, and then they added the 2020 NL Cy Young winner, Trevor Bauer, to an already-deep starting rotation brimming with young, power arms. Offensively they’re a juggernaut that led the NL in runs scored and home runs, and they brought back Justin Turner to keep the karma intact. Pretty good chance they become baseball’s first repeat champs since the 2000 Yankees.
2) San Diego Padres
Hard not to buy into the hype surrounding the Padres after their all-in winter that spoke to not only their hunger to win but the realization of how good they have to be to chase down the Dodgers in the NL West. The starting rotation is loaded now after trades for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove, and in Mackenzie Gore they have the top pitching prospect in baseball, who should be a factor at some point in 2020. They also have a $340 million shortstop now in Fernando Tatis Jr., to go with their $300 million third baseman, Manny Machado. Who said San Diego is a small market?
They’ve won three straight NL East titles and these Braves are young enough that they may still be getting better, yet for some reason various analytical models project them to have something of mediocre season. Doesn’t make sense after they added Charlie Morton to a young starting rotation that should be top-notch as long as Mike Soroka returns successfully from last year’s Achilles tendon surgery. They’ve got a lineup of mashers that finished second in the NL in runs scored – one fewer than the Dodgers. Let’s not forget, they were up 3-1 on LA in the NLCS before letting it get away. No reason to think they won’t be a factor again this October.
4) New York Mets
They should be improved enough to win 90-plus games and make it to the postseason, with a chance to beat anybody if Jacob deGrom has another ace-like year and Noah Syndergaard returns from Tommy John surgery to find his once-dominant form. The analytical models love the ’21 Mets and make them big favorites in the division, but they’ll have to prove they can play up to their talent level, something they didn’t do last year, losing games in all manner with bad defense, bad baserunning, and poor situational hitting, in addition to weak starting pitching. They’ll certainly have much stronger pitching plus the potential for a dynamic offense, and if Francisco Lindor proves to be a galvanizing force, perhaps they’ll be a championship-caliber ballclub come October.
5) Washington Nationals
Don’t kid yourself, these Nationals could be very dangerous again after their championship-hangover season of 2020. They’ll need Stephen Strasburg to come back healthy after his wrist surgery (always a concern) and they’ll need Max Scherzer to prove he’s still elite at age 36, but their starting rotation should be strong. And they quietly made some solid moves in other areas, adding Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell to give young superstar Juan Soto some protection in the lineup, while beating out the Mets for closer Brad Hand to fortify what should be a dependable bullpen. Figure them to at least be a factor in the NL East race.
6) St. Louis Cardinals
The trade for Nolan Arenado should inject some much-needed life into a weak-hitting offense that finished dead last in the league in home runs and second-to-last in runs scored. And then there’s the impact the eight-time Gold Glover will have defensively at third base. The Cardinals aren’t a powerhouse even after their big trade, but they’re solid enough to be the best team in a weak NL Central.
7) Philadelphia Phillies
They’re mostly being dismissed as an afterthought in the NL East, yet they managed to win more games last season than the Mets and Nationals despite a historically bad bullpen that put up a 7.06 ERA. They’ve acquired a bunch of new relievers, headlined by Archie Bradley, and if the pen is merely adequate the Phillies are solid enough in other areas, especially after bringing back J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius, to be contenders. If Bryce Harper ever gets back to his MVP-level of a few years ago, they might be good enough to make a serious run at the NL East title.
8) Chicago Cubs
With the Theo Epstein era now over the Cubs are re-tooling, unloading Darvish after his dominant 2020 season primarily as a way of trimming payroll. Yet they may still have enough talent to be postseason contenders, especially in the NL Central. Can they make a last stand of sorts with the position-player core that won the curse-busting World Series title in 2016? With Kris Bryant and Javier Baez heading heading for free agency, these Cubs will need to get off to a strong start simply to keep the season from turning months of speculation about what they do at the trade deadline.
9) Milwaukee Brewers
They’ve got some important pieces of the puzzle, including top young starters Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, dominant relievers Josh Hader and Devin Williams, as well as superstar outfielder Christian Yelich, who presumably will bounce back from his sub-par 2020 season. That might be enough to hang around in the NL Central, where someone might take the title with fewer than 90 wins, but otherwise the Brew Crew doesn’t have the depth of talent, especially on the position-player side, to be serious contenders.
10) Miami Marlins
They’re almost surely at least another year away from being a real threat in the NL East, but they were good enough to earn a spot in the expanded playoffs in 2020 and knock off the Cubs in October. Their good young pitching will at least make them pesky for the other contenders in the division, and if some of their top prospects in a strong farm system break through earlier than expected, perhaps their timeline as legit contenders could change quickly.
11) San Francisco Giants
Still caught in the middle waiting for expensive contracts to run out so they can rebuild. They were competitive last season but didn’t do much to improve in the offseason.
12) Cincinnati Reds
Went for it last year but now they seem to be in no-man’s land after trading their shortstop and their closer, in addition to Bauer as a free agent.
13) Arizona Diamondbacks
Madison Bumgarner will have to prove his free-agent signing wasn’t a mistake, as it appeared last year, for D-Backs to be competitive.
14) Colorado Rockies
Trading their franchise player Arenado for little but salary relief tells you they’re not trying to win right now.
15) Pittsburgh Pirates
Total teardown going on under new GM Ben Cherington. Worst record in the majors last year and then the Pirates traded Bell, Jameson Taillon, and Joe Musrgrove.