In the National League, last year’s playoffs were overloaded with teams from the competitive NL Central, where the Pirates and Reds captured the wild card spots and the division champion St. Louis Cardinals survived everyone to win the NL pennant before falling to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. The Cardinals were paced on offense largely by veterans, but a very young pitching staff backed up Cy Young runner-up Adam Wainwright with plenty of heat as they marched into the Fall Classic. Almost everyone is back from last year’s squad, so you have to see them as the prohibitive favorite to represent the Senior Circuit in the World Series yet again. There are plenty of interesting races in each division, though, so they’ll need every ounce of balance they can muster to outlast some of the other talented squads in the NL.

National League East Preview

After an outstanding 2012 campaign concluded with a shocking playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals were expected to compete for a World Series berth last season. Being the favorite on paper didn’t pay dividends, though, as multiple slumps and injuries dropped the Nats too far behind the Atlanta Braves to even win the NL East last season. They’ve reloaded in DC for 2014, with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez leading the pitching staff and Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth providing the punch in a potent lineup. Catcher Wilson Ramos is once again injured, but the Nats have nothing on those Braves, who already have more starting pitchers on the DL (three) than any fan can stomach.

The Mets and Phillies are shadows of their successful squads from a decade ago, though both have enough pitching to remain pesky deep into the season. It may be difficult to consider a team that just lost 100 games as a contender, but we’ve seen miracles before from these Miami Marlins. Electrifying stars like Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton lead a young and hungry team who, realistically a year or two away from truly competing, are capable of catching lightning in a bottle at any stretch and mowing through the opposition. It’s a long season, though, so expect the Nats’ depth and overall talent surplus to win out at last.

Washington Nationals Tickets

Stephen Strasburg Back to Full Strength for Nationals

NL East Standings – 2013

Team Record Postseason Result
Atlanta Braves 96-66 Lost to LA, NLDS
Washington Nationals 86-76
New York Mets 74-88
Philadelphia Phillies 73-89
Miami Marlins 62-100

National League Central Preview

The Cardinals share many similarities with their World Series opponent from last year, the Red Sox, but perhaps the most important one is the highly-competitive division from which they emerged to get to the postseason in the first place. This year will be no different. While the Pittsburgh Pirates lost both a proven veteran in A.J. Burnett and a potential prospect in the now-injured Jameson Taillon from their pitching staff, MVP Andrew McCutchen still leads a team capable of winning any sort of game (as they alerady proved with an early series victory over St. Louis).

The Reds are missing Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman because of injuries, as well, but uncanny speedster Billy Hamilton could provide the charge on offense to weather the storm. And while the Cubs will be more of a threat next year when more prospects are in the Wrigley Field fold, the Milwaukee Brewers have Ryan Braun back and a reloaded pitching staff that already combined to sweep the Red Sox early in the season. We may see a four team race for a large part of the season, but expect the Cardinals’ depth to just keep giving them more weapons, the most dangerous of which is named Oscar Tavares.

St. Louis Cardinals Tickets

MVP Andrew McCutchen Brings Back Pirates

NL Central Standings – 2013

Team Record Postseason Result
St. Louis Cardinals 97-65 Lost to Boston, World Series
Pittsburgh Pirates 94-68 Lost to St. Louis, NLDS
Cincinnati Reds 90-72 Lost to Pittsburgh, Wild Card
Milwaukee Brewers 74-88
Chicago Cubs 66-96

National League West Preview

The Dodgers wasted no time two years ago after falling into the hands of new owners with the deepest of pockets, landing stars from the Red Sox and Marlins in trades that added a ton of salary and talent to their roster. While 2013 started slow, they finished strong on the back of Yasiel Puig’s exciting debut, Hanley Ramirez’s comeback, and Clayton Kershaw’s Cy Young award to win the NL West and push the Cardinals in the NLCS. They’re back for more this year with a loaded outfield (don’t forget, Matt Kemp’s good), but expectations are currently tempered with Kershaw’s worrisome injury.

Even-numbered years have treated the San Francisco Giants well lately (to the tune of two World Series titles), so expect them to comeback if you believe in such omens. The Padres, Diamondbacks, and Rockies are all talented-enough teams (Gyorko, Goldschmidt, and CarGo are all names worthy of popping up in MVP discussions) with a prospect or two in the wings that make them interesting on paper, but it’s just too far-fetched to see the division champ not being one of the two classic Californian teams who once called New York home. Kershaw’s return in April all but punches the Dodgers’ ticket into October.

Los Angeles Dodgers Tickets

Puig Makes Huge Splash From the Jump

NL West Standings – 2013

Team Record Postseason Result
LA Dodgers 92-70 Lost to St. Louis, NLCS
Arizona Diamondbacks 81-81
San Diego Padres 76-86
San Francisco Giants 76-86
Colorado Rockies 74-88