With the regular season beginning this week, we look at the biggest question facing each National League club early on in 2023.
The American League list can be read here.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Can the youth carry them to success?
The D-Backs are in an interesting position, playing in a division with powerhouses like the Dodgers and Padres while fielding a mishmash of veterans and youngsters. If Arizona is to stun the baseball world, its youth will be instrumental in its success. Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas, and Gabriel Moreno will receive plenty of attention, with Carroll being the most notable after inking an eight-year, $111-million deal. If the four play well, the D-Backs could make a surprising run at the postseason. If they disappoint, last season's win total of 74 doesn't seem realistic.
Atlanta Braves: Can Acuna return to glory?
Ronald Acuna Jr. was one of baseball's best players through the first four years of his career and was having an MVP-caliber season in 2021 before blowing out his knee. There are a lot of eyes on the Braves outfielder following a disappointing 2022 campaign. If he can stay healthy, Acuna is a 40-40 candidate who gives Atlanta its best chance of winning the competitive NL East.
Chicago Cubs: Will a change of scenery benefit Bellinger?
Cody Bellinger's fall from grace landed him in the Windy City, which might be exactly what the former NL MVP needs after back-to-back disastrous seasons with the Dodgers. The 27-year-old battled through numerous injuries over the past couple of years, which seemed to drain his power and cause his swing to fall apart. Bellinger claims to be healthy after taking a new approach to the offseason and has shown some pop in spring camp (3 HR, .467 SLG). His lefty swing is also suited well to Wrigley Field, where he owns a career .964 OPS. Bellinger could be the steal of the offseason for the Cubs if he rediscovers his old form, but he's definitely a wild card.
Cincinnati Reds: Is this Votto's last hurrah?
Joey Votto's tremendous career is winding down, but will 2023 be the last we see of the former NL MVP? The 39-year-old recently said he would retire if he doesn't play up to standards, and he's in the final year of his contract - unless the Reds exercise a $20-million option for next season. The six-time All-Star is also coming off a down year where he posted a career-worst .689 OPS and had offseason shoulder surgery, which could hinder him moving forward. If this is it for Votto, he'll retire as one of the best players in Reds history and is a serious contender for the Hall of Fame.
Colorado Rockies: What direction is this team going in?
The waters are muddied in Colorado, where the Rockies lack a clear direction. The club hasn't finished better than fourth since 2018 and traded away franchise cornerstone Nolan Arenado in 2021, only to turn around and give a long-term deal to Kris Bryant, who hasn't panned out early on. The Opening Day roster is composed of past-their-prime veterans and a pedestrian rotation that was one of the league's worst last year, yet owner Dick Monfort thinks this team is on the right track and capable of playing .500 ball. Instead of blowing things up and focusing on building a core around prospects like Ezequiel Tovar and Zac Veen, the Rockies continue to aimlessly throw deals at players like Jurickson Profar after handing 37-year-old Daniel Bard a contract extension last July. This organization just doesn't make sense.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Is the grip on division finally loosening?
The Dodgers have owned the NL West for the past decade, winning the division nine times. However, L.A. finally looks vulnerable despite employing former MVPs Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Clayton Kershaw. The team lost a ton of talent in the offseason, including Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Heaney, and Tyler Anderson. The additions of J.D. Martinez, David Peralta, and Noah Syndergaard might not be enough to fend off the loaded Padres.
Miami Marlins: Is there enough offense to contend?
The rotation was solid last year, posting the 12th-best fWAR in baseball. Reigning NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara leads a talented group that also features Edward Cabrera, Jesus Luzardo, and Trevor Rogers. However, how are the Marlins going to score runs? Miami desperately needed to improve its dreadful offense but failed to bring in any middle-of-the-order bats. Luis Arraez, Jean Segura, and Yuli Gurriel are nice pieces but likely won't move the needle in the very tough NL East. FanGraphs currently projects the team to have just two players hit at least 20 homers.
Milwaukee Brewers: Will Burnes be traded if they fall out of contention?
The relationship between the Brewers and ace Corbin Burnes doesn't appear to be great. The right-hander was upset about his treatment during the arbitration process. He also reportedly hired Scott Boras as his agent, which could mean he has his sights set on free agency after the 2024 campaign. Milwaukee showed last season with Josh Hader that it's not afraid to trade stars with years left of team control. Dealing Burnes might be necessary if the club is out of contention, especially if its chances of re-signing him are low.
New York Mets: Will they need to acquire a closer?
Edwin Diaz's devastating knee injury at the World Baseball Classic left the Mets with a massive hole in their bullpen. David Robertson, who's turning 38 in early April, owns 157 career saves but will likely have a short leash in such a competitive division that could come down to a game or two. Adam Ottavino, 37, is another option but is better suited as a setup man. It's likely only a matter of time before the club is forced to find an external ninth-inning option to stabilize the bullpen.
Philadelphia Phillies: Who will step up with Harper, Hoskins injured?
The Phillies' mighty offense looks less intimidating with Bryce Harper out for the first few months of the season following elbow surgery and Rhys Hoskins sidelined for the entire year with an ACL injury. The addition of Trea Turner will certainly help fill the void, but the star shortstop's bat may not be enough. A return to form for Nick Castellanos would be huge. The 2021 All-Star went deep 13 times with a .694 OPS last season after a career-high 34 round-trippers and a .309/.362/.576 slash line two years ago. Alec Bohm will also be counted on more. The 26-year-old is a solid contact hitter but needs to improve his slugging to be impactful.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Will Cruz break out?
Oneil Cruz is one of the most unique players in baseball. The shortstop has a cannon for an arm and hit the hardest ball in the Statcast era at 122.4 mph last year. But there are holes in Cruz's game, as he struck out in nearly 35% of his 361 plate appearances last season. Despite some inconsistency at the plate, Cruz closed 2022 on a tear, posting an OPS near .900 with six home runs over the final month and change. If Cruz can build on his late-season run, he'll announce his arrival as one of the game's bright stars in 2023.
San Diego Padres: Will Soto return to form?
Juan Soto's talent is so immense that a season with an .853 OPS and 145 wRC+ was disappointing. The 24-year-old admitted he battled some mechanical issues with his swing in 2022, leading to the most uneven offensive year of his brilliant young career. Soto raked at the WBC, indicating he could be primed for a massive 2023. After turning down a $440-million extension offer from the Nationals last spring, Soto will be motivated to produce over the next two years to set himself up for a monstrous payday in free agency at the conclusion of the 2024 campaign.
San Francisco Giants: What does Conforto have left?
The Giants tried to land a superstar to build around in the offseason but came up short in pursuit of Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi pivoted to a handful of veteran acquisitions, hoping to boost his club's floor in 2023. Michael Conforto is the most intriguing pickup. The 30-year-old missed the entirety of the 2022 campaign after undergoing shoulder surgery. After raking to the tune of a 158 wRC+ in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Conforto regressed to a 106 wRC+ in 2021. If he can perform closer to his career 124 wRC+ mark, Conforto could help anchor a lineup sorely in need of an impact bat.
St. Louis Cardinals: Is the rotation good enough?
The Cardinals enter the season as favorites to repeat as NL Central champions. However, the pitching staff is an area of some concern for president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. Cardinals starters finished the 2022 campaign 16th in ERA (3.92) and 26th in K/9 (6.98). With veteran Adam Wainwright already on the shelf with a groin injury, Cardinals manager Oli Marmol will need the likes of Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz to stay healthy and productive. Mozeliak didn't make any additions to bolster the rotation in the offseason, indicating he's confident the current group can perform better than it did last year. That decision could go a long way in determining what type of year the Cardinals put together.
Washington Nationals: Is Meneses for real?
Joey Meneses was one of baseball's great stories during the second half of 2022. The slugger finally made his MLB debut after years of bouncing around the minors as well as a stint in Japan. Meneses made the most of his opportunity, hitting .324 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs over just 56 games. The 30-year-old also had a strong performance for Mexico at the WBC. Meneses is unlikely to post a 156 wRC+ again, but if he can settle in as an above-average offensive performer, he will give the Nationals a valued contributor in 2023.