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MLB season preview 2015: The National League

Max Scherzer will start on Opening Day 2015

Max Scherzer will start on Opening Day 2015 for the Washington Nationals. Photo Credit: Getty Images

A look at the National League heading into the 2015 MLB season, with teams ranked in each division.

NL EAST

1. NATIONALS

The Nationals won an NL-best 96 games last season and had the top rotation by virtue of a 3.04 ERA, well ahead of the Dodgers. So what did Washington do as its premium offseason upgrade?

They gave $210 million to free agent Max Scherzer.

As long as they're going to need five starters, the Nats figure they might as well fill those five spots with as much talent as possible, and money clearly was no object. Scherzer had a 3.52 ERA in five seasons with the Tigers, so expect that number to drop significantly as he moves over to the National League.

Opposing teams won't have much room to breathe as Scherzer joins Jordan Zimmermann (14-5, 2.66 ERA), Stephen Strasburg (14-11, 3.14), Doug Fister (16-6, 2.41) and Gio Gonzalez (10-10, 3.57) for the deepest rotation in the sport -- without even including Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.85).

The Scherzer deal also gives the Nats some flexibility to deal a starter during the season for another piece they might need, even though they look pretty set at the moment. Washington was third in the NL in runs scored (686) thanks to a lineup with both power and speed. The other East clubs just can't hang with the balanced Nats.

2. METS

Losing Zack Wheeler was a stunner, even if the Mets are getting way too much experience handling their many Tommy John cases. Matt Harvey is back to being an ace again, and Jacob deGrom has shown no regression from his Rookie of the Year season. The Mets should have plenty of rotation depth, and new hitting coach Kevin Long already is making an impact. The bullpen is worrisome, though.

3. MARLINS

If the Marlins can stick around long enough for Jose Fernandez to get back from TJ surgery -- and he's expected to return at the All-Star break -- they could be well-positioned for a second-half run. Giancarlo Stanton is the most feared slugger in the NL and many see Christian Yelich as a future batting champion. Miami is on the rise.

4. BRAVES

Seems as if the Braves are scheduling their rebuild to coincide with the opening of the new Sun Trust Park in 2017. They brought in former Indians GM John Hart, who traded away lineup pillars Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. The only major free-agent signing was giving Nick Markakis a four-year, $44-million deal. Good thing they still have two seasons left to pack up Turner Field.

5. PHILLIES

Last one out, turn off the lights. GM Ruben Amaro has hung an "Everything Must Go" sign on this franchise for the 2015 season.

NL CENTRAL

1. CUBS

While the renovation of Wrigley Field had been years in the making, the blueprint for the Cubs' makeover took a somewhat unexpected turn last October when Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays.

Sprung by Andrew Friedman's defection to the Dodgers, Maddon signed with the Cubs in a matter of days, dumping small-market Tampa Bay for a chance to end the 106-year title drought on the North Side.

Grabbing the charismatic Maddon was a great start to the offseason, but it was only the beginning for the Cubs, who made a statement on the first night of December's winter meetings by signing Jon Lester to a six-year, $155-million deal. That got everyone's attention -- especially the team in Boston -- and the Cubs soon followed by bringing back Jason Hammel for the rotation.

But the strength of the Cubs remains their wealth of young talent, which looks to be developing ahead of schedule. Kris Bryant had eight homers in his first 10 Grapefruit League games but is likely to open the season in the minors so the Cubs can stall his free agency. There are plenty more in the pipeline: outfielder Jorge Solder and infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez, to name a few.

It's been a long wait, but the future is quickly becoming now for the Cubs.

2. CARDINALS

Health remains the only thing that could derail the Cardinals' rotation, and that's becoming more of an issue after Adam Wainwright's offseason elbow surgery. Michael Wacha was bothered by shoulder problems last year. St. Louis traded Shelby Miller to the Braves to get slugger Jason Heyward, who adds serious thump.

3. PIRATES

After the Pirates lost Russell Martin to the Blue Jays, what did they do? They signed another Yankees catcher, of course, in Francisco Cervelli, who joins another Bronx backstop, Chris Stewart. The Pirates have offense everywhere -- with 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen at the core -- and spent $39 million to keep Francisco Liriano in their rotation, which features Gerrit Cole at the front.

4. REDS

After 76 wins last season, the Reds' big offseason acquisition was Marlon Byrd, who really isn't a game-changer. Cincy has a talented roster; it's just a matter of keeping the players on the field. A year ago, Joey Votto was limited to 62 games -- after 162 the season before -- so that should be a major upgrade.

5. BREWERS

While their top Central rivals improved, the Brewers figured they could stand pat with a solid offensive nucleus of Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy. Matt Garza fronts a decent rotation, but depth is an issue as Milwaukee hopes to avoid a repeat of last season's fade.

NL WEST

1. DODGERS

After a 94-win season and the NL West title, it didn't seem like time to shake things up at Chavez Ravine. But the first-round playoff loss to the Cardinals evidently wasn't a good enough return on the $230-million investment, so the Dodgers lured Andrew Friedman from the Rays with another pile of cash -- and the new general manager quickly went to work giving the franchise a facelift.

During a whirlwind week at the winter meetings, Friedman thinned his outfield surplus -- and some payroll -- by dealing Matt Kemp to the Padres, a move that also helped pave the way for spring standout Joc Pederson. The Dodgers also dealt speedy leadoff man Dee Gordon to the Marlins, and within a matter of hours, replaced him at second with a swap for Howie Kendrick. Hanley Ramirez signed with the Red Sox.

Are the Dodgers better? At the very least, they should be just as good as long as the planet's best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, stays healthy to front a rotation that should be deeper with the additions of Brett Anderson and former Yankee Brandon McCarthy.

Winning the division isn't the goal, however, for the big spenders in L.A. Anything short of a ring will be a disappointment.

2. PADRES

Huntington's A.J. Preller gets credit for winning the offseason with his Padres makeover, a thorough reboot that should -- in theory -- supply needed pop with the acquisitions of Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton. But can Kemp stay healthy? The rotation -- fortified by the signing of James Shields -- will be a strength, too.

3. GIANTS

Hunter Pence's fractured arm, which should keep him out through April, is a bad break for a Giants team scraping for offense. Pablo Sandoval is gone, too. But Madison Bumgarner only gets better and the return of Matt Cain is a shot in the arm. Plus, the Giants always seem to outperform how they look on paper.

4. DIAMONDBACKS

Josh Collmenter was named the Opening Day starter, but that and the MVP-caliber production of Paul Goldschmidt seem like the only certainties for a D-backs team with questions throughout the roster. Cuban Yasmany Tomas comes with plenty of hype but seemed to be a work in progress in spring training.

5. ROCKIES

The only real intrigue in Colorado this season is whether the Rockies will deal Troy Tulowitzki, whose name surfaced in trade discussions during the offseason. Tulowitzki has voiced his desire to play for a winner, and that's not going to happen at Coors Field.

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