Nationals to challenge, Dodgers scarred


The six weeks of spring training are almost over, and it is time for the real MLB games to begin.

The New York Mets proved last season any team with a great defense and strong pitching staff can get hot and make a deep play-off run, giving fans across the league the hope that their teams can do the same.

As we take a look at the National League in 2016, we will highlight five of the biggest story lines this spring and how it can affect the teams.

The World Series runners-up, the Mets, look like they will be contenders once again led by their dominant rotation, but a host of other teams made improvements this off-season, especially in the revamped NL West. 

Here are the five things we learned this spring in the National League:

Rich Los Angeles Dodgers scarred with injuries

After a barrage of spring injuries, the Dodgers may be in trouble after failing to do what they do best this off-season - spend money. The team with the highest payroll in baseball now looks like a shallow outfit with a few stars mixed in.

Yes, that includes ace Clayton Kershaw and slugger Adrian Gonzalez, but the team is going to need help the first half of the season with starters Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson and Ryu Hyun-jin banged up along with outfielder Andre Ethier and catcher Yasmani Grandal expected to start the season on the DL. Second baseman Howie Kendrick may join them with a strained calf, and rookie star Corey Seager is still recovering from a left knee sprain. 

May the best rotation win (the NL East)

While Mets starter Jacob deGrom was scaring fans with a low velocity this spring, he still owns a 1.62 ERA in four starts as he and the rest of the Mets rotation look to carry the reigning National League champions to another NL East title. Aside from Noah Syndergaard (2.04 ERA), the Mets' flame-throwing rotation has been unimpressive this spring. Matt Harvey (7.50 ERA) dealt with a blood-clot scare, while Steven Matz (6.14 ERA) and Bartolo Colon (6.08 ERA) have done little to show the rotation has what it takes so far to return to the World Series. 

The Mets' biggest competition in the East will be the Washington Nationals, whose starters are 11-1 this spring with a 2.36 ERA led by Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez.

Under-the-radar St Louis Cardinals

After losing Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the rival Chicago Cubs, and shortstop Jhonny Peralta and veteran starter Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals made just one major free-agent signing in starter Mike Leake. With all the talk of the Cubs winning the NL Central, the Cardinals have to be asking baseball fans, "Hey, have you forgotten about us? You know, the three-time defending Central champions?"

Colorado Rockies will be just fine offensively without Jose Reyes

Although Maui prosecutors are moving to dismiss domestic-abuse charges against Reyes, he is still likely going to get suspended under MLB's new domestic-violence policy. But Reyes' absence should not hurt the team at the plate.

Manager Walt Weiss recently named Trevor Story as the Rockies' starting shortstop, and for good reason. Only days before Colorado's opener, the 23-year-old was batting with a .378 average with six homers this spring, tied for third-most in all of baseball.

Diamondbacks showing money was well spent

No team have more wins than the D-backs this spring and none have bigger expectations for a one-year turnaround. After signing ace Zack Greinke for $206.5million the team kept adding, bringing in Shelby Miller, Jean Segura and Tyler Clippard.