In 2017, the Atlanta Braves lost 90 games and finished 25 games out of first place in the National League East Division. A year later, the Braves won 90 games, won the division, and played in the postseason for the first time since 2013. Atlanta’s 2018 performance was surprising. Which teams have the potential to do the same in 2019?
CINCINNATI REDS The Reds have finished in last place in the NL Central in each of the last four seasons. One of the big reasons is a serious lack of pitching. A series of offseason trades have addressed the pitching issue as well as some holes in the outfield. Cincinnati acquired veteran right-handers Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark as well as lefty Alex Wood. All three pitchers have experienced success during their major league careers.
The trade for Matt Kemp (.290, 21 HR, 85 RBI in 2018) and Yasiel Puig (.267, 23 HR, 63 RBI) adds to an improving lineup that includes Scooter Gennett, who hit .310 with 23 homers last season, and 1B Joey Votto, who had an off year in 2018 after hitting 36 homers and batting .320 in 2017.
Cincinnati has consistently ranked among the better farm systems in MLB over the past few years. Last year, the Reds’ system yielded Jesse Winker and Tyler Mahle. Right-handed pitcher Tony Santillan may be ready to make the move to big-league starter. If so, the Reds have a realistic shot at obtaining a spot in the postseason in 2019.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX After losing 100 games last season, the only way to go in Chicago is up. The White Sox suffered their fair share of struggles last season, including 2017 top draft pick Jake Burger tearing his Achilles in the preseason. Then, top pitching prospect Michael Kopech was lost for the season after tearing the UCL in his pitching arm.
As it turns out, the White Sox still have Matt Davidson and Daniel Palka, who hit 20 and 27 home runs respectively, and the club re-signed Jose Abreu, who hit .265 with 22 home runs and 78 RBIs. James Shields struggled early in the season but pitched much better at the end of the season. Chicago won four of his last five starts. If the rest of the pitching staff can come through, the White Sox could surprise the AL Central and capture a playoff spot.
SAN DIEGO PADRES The Padres have lost 90-plus games three seasons in a row, but 2019 offers some optimism. San Diego’s minor league system has been rated as one of the best for the past few years. It has produced top tier talents like pitchers Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi. The pair of left-handers combined to win 14 games last season. The farm system has also produced 3B Christian Villanueva, who hit 20 homers last season. Top prospect Luis Urias and Francisco Mejia will likely play bigger roles in 2019 and Fernando Tatis Jr. might be the best prospect in baseball.
San Diego picked up veteran Ian Kinsler in the offseason and his leadership could play a role in turning the Padres around. Don’t forget veteran 1B Eric Hosmer who had an off year in 2018 (.253, 18 HR, 69 RBI). International prospect CF Franmil Reyes is one to watch as well. He hit .280 and had 16 home runs in just 87 games last season. No expected the Braves to win the NL East last season. No one will be expecting the Padres to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West either.