National League 2016 Preview: Cubs In Unfamiliar Spot As Favorites Entering Season

Last October, the Chicago Cubs fell four wins short of their first World Series appearance since 1945 when they were swept by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

This year, anything less than an NL pennant will be viewed as a disappointment to those on Chicago’s North Side.

The Cubs are the most talented team in Major League Baseball entering the 2016 season, with last season’s Cy Young Award winner, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year all returning, along with a slew of other talented, young players.

Chicago’s competition in the NL will be stiff, however, with the Mets looking primed for another deep run and traditional powers such as the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants all entering the season with high hopes.

Here’s a look at how we see the National League shaking out this season.

NL East
1. New York Mets (first place in 2015)
2. Washington Nationals (second)
3. Miami Marlins (third)
4. Atlanta Braves (fifth)
5. Philadelphia Phillies (fourth)

The NL East features one of baseball’s best teams in the Mets but also two of its worst in the Phillies and Braves. Bryce Harper and the Nationals should contend for a playoff spot again after an underwhelming finish in 2015, and Miami almost certainly will improve from last year’s 71-91 mark now that outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and ace Jose Fernandez are back and healthy. Pitching-rich New York, though, is the odds-on favorite to repeat as the division champ and has to be considered a front-runner to earn a second consecutive World Series berth.

NL Central
1. Chicago Cubs (third place in 2015)
2. St. Louis Cardinals (first)
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (second)
4. Milwaukee Brewers (fourth)
5. Cincinnati Reds (fifth)

The Cubs have the offense (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, newcomer Jason Heyward), the pitching (Jake Arrieta, John Lester, ex-Red Sox righty John Lackey, a deep bullpen) and the management (manager Joe Maddon, general manager Theo Epstein) to back up their billing as 2016’s top team. They’ll be pushed by the Cardinals and Pirates, however, neither of whom have missed the postseason since 2012.

NL West
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (first)
2. San Francisco Giants (second)
3. Arizona Diamondbacks (third)
4. Colorado Rockies (fifth)
5. San Diego Padres (fourth)

The Dodgers and Giants have finished 1-2 in the division in each of the last two seasons, but a sleeper team to keep an eye on in 2016 is the Diamondbacks, who gave their rotation a massive boost when they scooped up ex-Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke in free agency this past offseason. Both L.A. and San Francisco still are loaded with talent, though, and since this is an even year, the Giants probably will end up winning the whole darn thing.

NL Wild Card Picks
1. San Francisco Giants
2. St. Louis Cardinals

The battle for the NL’s two wild-card spots should be a heated one this season, with the Nationals, Pirates and Diamondbacks also making strong cases.

NL Champion
Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ best roster in decades produces the franchise’s first World Series berth in 71 years.

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo

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