The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.
The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolster their roster this offseason.
But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.
With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:
San Francisco Giants
2018 record: 73-89, 4th in NL West
Offseason additions: Gerardo Parra, Drew Pomeranz, Rene Rivera, Stephen Vogt, Yangervis Solarte, Cameron Maybin, Drew Ferguson, Travis Bergen, Pat Venditte
Offseason departures: Hunter Pence, Hunter Strickland, Nick Hundley, Gregor Blanco
X-factor: Dereck Rodriguez
You could easily make the case that Madison Bumgarner should be the X-factor for the Giants in 2019, given that if he pitches like an ace, he could either draw a huge return in a deal before the trade deadline or stay in town and possibly help the team emerge as a surprise contender in his final season by the bay.
But Rodriguez also has the potential to impact the present and future of this franchise. Pudge's son exploded onto the scene with a surprising rookie season (6-4, 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) last year and certainly showed flashes of ace-level. Can he duplicate it and build off those numbers in 2019 or will he take a step back and that will go down as his flash-in-the-pan season?
Rodriguez already turns 27 in June, but if his breakout was legit, the Giants have a staple in their rotation for the next six seasons. And that might be the best they can hope to accomplish in 2019 — find pieces for the future amid an aging core.
1. Steven Duggar - CF
2. Joe Panik - 2B
3. Buster Posey - C
4. Brandon Belt - 1B
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Brandon Crawford - SS
7. Mac Williamson - LF
8. Gerardo Parra - RF
1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Jeff Samardzija
3. Dereck Rodriguez
4. Derek Holland
5. Drew Pomeranz
This does not have the makings of a playoff team.
The Giants' offseason was only notable because of the moves they did not make: They could not land Bryce Harper after swooping in at the 11th hour and they did not trade away Bumgarner.
It's interesting that they were even engaged in talks with Harper. His addition would've been huge for the roster, but would they even be in the mix for October even with the slugger holding down the middle of the order? And if they had the payroll to climb above $300 million for one player, why didn't they use any of it to bolster any other weaknesses on the roster?
The Giants still have a championship core in Bumgarner, Posey, Belt and Crawford, but they're all either entering their mid-30s or in the final year of their deal.
And there's not much else to get excited about. Johnny Cueto had Tommy John surgery and isn't expected to pitch in 2019, Longoria is still a good fielder but wasn't even a league-average hitter a season ago and the starting outfield of Williamson-Duggar-Parra may well be the worst trio in the game.
The bullpen is a potential saving grace, as they return all five of their top arms (Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Sam Dyson, Reyes Moronta).
Who knows, maybe everything breaks right for the Giants in 2019 — Posey rejoins the MVP race, Longoria returns as an above-average hitter, Bumgarner regains ace status, Samardzija and Pomeranz finally put it all together, Panik enjoys a breakout season, every player stays healthy, Duggar becomes a star, and on and on.
Hey, it *could* happen. But it probably will not. This is one of only three teams in the NL that I don't expect to be a part of the playoff race in 2019.
Prediction: 5th in NL West
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San Francisco Giants
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