Part two of the MLB season predictions is the National League!

Remember, we’re making preseason predictions in the spirit of the chaotic and romantic nature of the sport: WITHOUT picking the favorites for divisions and awards, simply because going with the chalk pick isn’t exactly telling us something that we don’t already know could happen and rather operating in a 162-game blank canvas. You can find Part 1, the American League, here!

NL CENTRAL

The Favorite: St. Louis Cardinals

The Winner: Chicago Cubs

The NL Central might be the most “up for grabs” or flip-a-coin division in all of baseball, simply because it has so much to do with projections and the unknown. The Cardinals had one of the most “year from Hell” seasons in recent memory for an organization that prides itself on consistency, but by bringing back 2022’s top-2 NL MVP vote receivers in Arenado and Goldschmidt, they’re hoping the veteran additions of Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn, and reliever depth will take them from a rare worst-to-first bounce back. For a city and team that only expects pennants, that’s asking a lot out of a team that is as old as they are and with a manager Oliver Marmol that was already on the hot seat all year last year by dividing the locker room with questionable comments before oddly getting an extension to avoid further questioning.

Last year’s winner, the Brewers, are mildly resetting by trading Corbin Burnes and have a first year manager, the Pirates have been Pirate-ing for the last decade and banking on prospects, and the Reds have so much youth in all of the prospects that produced from day one last year that the gap between the ceiling and the floor is of a massive variance.

The Chicago Cubs killed two birds with one stone: they took away a manager from a division rival that’s known for maximizing talent no matter the circumstances that’s maybe worth 10 wins a year, and added him to their staff in hiring Craig Counsell as the highest-paid manager in MLB history. Counsell will now take a roster that was a dropped fly ball away from making the postseason last year, that accomplished the task at hand by extending their guy in Cody Bellinger, and also added Shota Imanaga to pair with Cy Young candidate Justin Steele and their rising prospects that could be called up. Counsell is going to maximize the youth and depth of an already blossoming new age Cubs team that looks ready to be back in the mix of things, and they proved it by spending on their guys.

NL EAST

The Favorite: Atlanta Braves

The Winner: Philadelphia Phillies

The Atlanta Braves are a machine that runs itself; they have the second-most wins in baseball over the last 5 seasons, they have a lineup that hit the most home runs in history last season that’s entirely locked up for essentially the next decade, and they’ve won the NL East for six seasons in a row. They had MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. hit the first ever 40-70 season, the home run king in Matt Olson, and the wins and strikeout league leader in Spencer Strider, who is learning a curveball for the first time this year, which is essentially the equivalent of teaching a live panther how to wield a firearm. Despite their 162-game dominance, they did suffer from a first-round exit to the Phillies for the second year in a row. They’re arguably going to be an even better this year with Strider and Michael Harris II and Strider both aging one more year into their primes along with hopefully a deeper rotation (last year the injury bug made them rely on names like Bryce Elder, Jared Shuster, and Dylan Dodd as opposed to the addition of Chris Sale this offseason), but the chink in the armor of this Braves powerhouse has been that they’re built for a marathon when unfortunately the October games that count in a series are a sprint.

The unafraid division rival that understands the task at hand? The Philadelphia Phillies. They simply do not care if they’re a wild card team that just has a SHOT in the postseason as they’ve proven to go the distance twice in a row against the Braves, once getting to the World Series and last year the NLCS. They have the vibes and aura of a college team that commands a culture of togetherness that as cliche as it sounds understands that the job is not finished, embodying the grit of the city with Bryce Harper literally learning how to play first base in order to come back from Tommy John surgery earlier. They did meltdown against the Arizona Diamondbacks after being the prohibitive favorite to advance in the raucous home October environment, but they’re running back a roster with an almost historic amount of continuity by re-signing Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and bringing in Whit Merrifield as a veteran platoon bat. Cristopher Sanchez is the fifth starter that has impressed this Spring Training, and once Captain America Trea Turner turned a nightmare season around once the typically-rabid fans gave him a standing ovation; imagine if they give him one on game one this year!

The togetherness of the battle scars, the “middle-finger” attitude of the team, and the sheer fearlessness of the Braves powerhouse makes the Phillies a viable team to possibly stretch out their success rather than playing the dangerous game of getting hot at the right time.

NL WEST

The Favorite: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Winner: San Diego Padres

Yes, the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers added Shohei Ohtani, Tyler Glasnow, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Teoscar Hernandez, James Paxton, and will return Cy Young-candidate Walker Buehler after spending over $1 billion this offseason. Yes, they have the highest preseason win total in baseball history, have won the NL West 10 of the last 11 years, and have four MVPs on their roster. Who knows? Maybe there’s a black cloud over the roster for the 162 games since they think they can buy their way to a championship as they now have a target on their back!

This is also a division with the reigning NL Champion Arizona Diamondbacks who did make an effort to improve their roster this offseason with a plethora of additions, and the Giants grabbed Matt Chapman, Blake Snell, and always seem to be in the running for marquee names to compete in their big market with the Dodgers, but the only chance of someone taking a home run swing to take the NL West from the Dodgers is someone actively maneuvering their roster with desperation: the San Diego Padres. After AJ Preller has spent season after season spending boat loads of cash to either extend their young talent or deal prospects for names like Juan Soto to take aim at the big brother Dodgers, last season was the 2011 Miami Heat nightmare season where all the star power resulted in a team that finished 82-80 and had historically awful luck; they were once fifth in WAR with a positive run-differential by finishing 6-19 in one run games. After the unfortunate passing of owner, Peter Seidler, dealing Juan Soto, and being incapable of bringing back Blake Snell and Josh Hader, the thought was that they had lost their Padres superpower of being the plucky new girl on the block always in the market for the big names and would pivot to a reset.

But just when you thought the Padres lost their Padres-ness, the Padres are BACK! They dealt several prospects for Dylan Cease to give them a solid top four rotation of Darvish, Cease, Musgrove, and Michael King. The vibes surrounding the Tatis injury and suspension, the Xander Bogaerts woes, and the bad luck will be gone. They’re also hoping to get contributions out of some of their top prospects, Luis Campusano at catcher and Jackson Merrill, making room for him in the outfield after they have essentially a team of five shortstops. The argument is that the Cease move signaled that they’re still willing to go out and make the moves to compete in the West and AJ Preller is a man making moves to save his job. The bounce back and the desperation would be the home run swing to bet on anyone aside from the Dodgers.

NL MVP

The Favorite: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves OF

The Winner: Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers SS/OF

Ronald Acuna Jr. won the NL MVP last year by posting the first ever 40-70 season, leading in plate appearances, and leading in oWar at 8.5. The second-place finisher? Mookie Betts, casually slashing .307/.408/.579 with 39 homers. This year, the Dodgers are moving him to Shortstop, a premium position he’s never played before, simply because Mookie is Mookie and they’re banking on his athleticism overpowering the skill. If he’s even competent defensively at shortstop while batting at his current rate, that’s something so casually impressive that he will be the NL MVP on a loaded Dodgers roster.

NL Cy Young

The Favorite: Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves

The Winner: Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants

Logan Webb finished second in Cy Young voting last year to his new teammate, Blake Snell, and was a workhorse with the most innings pitched despite his 11-13 record. With Snell offering him some support and now a Giants team that has offensive help to give him more runs, the wins will pile up for Webb at a pitcher’s ballpark, Patrick Bailey blossoming as one of the league’s best defensive catchers, and now a 4x Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman that saves runs like nobody’s business. Quality starts in marquee matchups

Photo: New York Post via Getty Images

against the Dodgers after signing his massive extension will make the Giants a rotation to be reckoned with, and Webb will be at the forefront if he stays this healthy.

NL Rookie of the Year

The Favorite: Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Los Angeles Dodgers P

The Winner: Jackson Chourio, Milwaukee Brewers OF

Following a season where we just saw Ronald Acuna hit 40 with 70 stolen bases, the Diamondbacks make the World Series by putting the balls in play and stealing bases, and Bobby Witt Jr. being the face of the Royals and stealing 49 bags, the rise of this play style sets up perfectly for 20 year-old Jackson Chourio, the speedy outfielder with power most-often compared to Acuna Jr. as the second-overall best prospect. The Brewers may take a step back this year and focus on their youth, so if Chourio gets consistent playing time after making the Opening Day roster, already inking an 8-year deal, and batting .379 in the Venezuelan Winter League, his highlights have the chance to take the world by storm.

NL Manager of the Year:

The Favorite: Craig Counsell, Chicago Cubs

The Winner: Bob Melvin, San Francisco Giants

Counsell is going to be the name to watch going from a Brewers team that was largely embodied by him for the largest contract paid by their hated division rival if the Cubs show any sign of improvement managing their young talent with veteran stars.

However, another veteran manager that’s been there and done that before that could have the narrative going for him is Bob Melvin going from SoCal to NorCal once again! He’s back in the bay and has a Giants roster that will be overlooked by the Dodgers, the star-laden Padres, and the NL Champ D-backs, but the Giants going from the team that missed out on every marquee name to quietly reuniting Melvin with Matt Chapman, adding Blake Snell, and was once the team that got 107 wins in 2021 because of weird productive seasons from guys like Lamonte Wade and Tommy La Stella, the Giants rolling with the punches in the wild west in his first year could be his Bruce Bochy moment!

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