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 Diego Padres
2018 record: 66-96, 5th in NL West
Offseason additions: Manny Machado, Ian Kinsler, Greg Garcia, Adam Warren, Aaron Loup, Garrett Richards
Offseason departures: A.J. Ellis, Freddy Galvis, Cory Spangenberg
X-factor: Joey Lucchesi
The Padres made a huge splash with the Machado deal, but they're not necessarily expected to contend in 2019.
That being said, this is not a bad roster by any means. It wouldn't be all that shocking to see Machado and Co. making a push for the second Wild-Card at some point this year, but if they're going to, it will be because the pitching staff exceeded expectations.
You could put any pitcher's name in here as an X-factor — I just chose Lucchesi because hes lined up as their ace on paper at the current moment. The pitching staff is filled with a bunch of question marks and will likely be the main force holding this team back in 2019. Lucchesi was impressive at times in his rookie season last year, striking out 145 batters in 130 innings, but posting a 1.29 WHIP, 4.08 ERA and serving up 23 homers even while making half his starts in one of the best pitcher's parks in the game.
The 25-year-old southpaw may not turn into anything all that impressive as a starting pitcher or maybe he takes another step forward and emerges as a surefire long-term piece in the Padres rotation. Either way, he will have a pretty sizable impact on the team's overall pitching situation.
1. Ian Kinsler - 2B
2. Manny Machado - SS
3. Eric Hosmer - 1B
4. Wil Myers - LF
5. Hunter Renfroe - RF
6. Manuel Margot - CF
7. Luis Urias - SS
8. Austin Hedges - C
1. Joey Lucchesi
2. Robbie Erlin
3. Bryan Mitchell
4. Eric Lauer
5. Luis Perdomo
This is a really interesting team that could go either way — challenge for one of the NL Wild-Card spots or challenge for 90+ losses.
Ultimately, I'm pegging them for somewhere in between. I think they're still a year away from emerging as a true contender, but there's a lot of exciting talent here and the arrow is pointed firmly up.
The Padres are widely considered to have the best farm system in the game, with one of the game's brightest young stars on the verge of the big leagues in shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. But there's so much more beyond him, including a wide array of pitchers coming up through the farm system. Urias and catcher Francisco Mejia are only 21 and 23, respectively, and have high ceilings as well.
Then there's the young outfield with Myers (28), Renfroe (27), Margot (24), Franchy Cordero (24) and Franmil Reyes (23). It remains to be seen how all those young players will get enough playing time, but there's so much upside here. Myers is already a borderline star when healthy, Renfroe is a slugging machine with a cannon in the outfield, Margot is a perfect post-hype sleeper as a former top prospect who has yet to break out in the majors and Cordero and Reyes are Statcast dreams with their impressive exit velocities.
And now the Padres are adding one of the game's truly elite players to the lineup in the form of a 26-year-old Machado who will be in his prime right as the rest of the top prospects are getting comfortable in their big-league skin.
Kinsler was also a solid add this winter on a relative bargain ($8 million over 2 years). He'll turn 37 in June, but he's still a good defender and decent hitter and will provide valuable veteran leadership. Plus, they eventually won't need to play him every day by the time Tatis is in The Show and forming a middle-infield punch with Urias.
The Hosmer deal last spring (8 years, $144 million) was a terrible decision and the Padres have to be kicking themselves on that to some extent a year later. But it's the only bad contract on the books and there's at least some reason to expect a bit of an offensive rebound. Before posting a .720 OPS and .253/.322/.398 slash line with San Diego a year ago, Hosmer put up a .799 OPS with a .292/.351/.449 slash line over the previous 5 seasons with the Royals. He's in a much tougher hitter's park now than he was in Kansas City, but some regression to the mean is probably in store for the 29-year-old.
As I mentioned above, it will probably come down to pitching with this team more than anything else. The arms just aren't there yet to help supplement an exciting young lineup.
Padres starting pitchers combined for the 4th-worst ERA a year ago (5.09) despite playing in such a spacious ballpark. That doesn't look to be changing anytime soon, with Richards expected to miss most — or all — of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
The saving grace for this staff may be in the bullpen. San Diego finished 6th in baseball in reliever ERA (3.53), even including spending 1/3 of the season without Brad Hand and Adam Cimber at the back end of the bullpen.
Kirby Yates, Craig Stammen and Matt Strahm are certainly not household names, but they're all coming off fantastic seasons. Warren and Loup are not big signings, but they could be solid adds to help give manager Andy Green an underrated bullpen.
Don't count on seeing the Padres in October this fall, but those days are certainly coming...and fast.
Prediction: 3rd in NL West
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