Figuring out the NL West

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May 3, 2017 by jessepell

David Peralta (left) and Chris Owings (right) lead first-place Arizona in batting average this season. (Courtesy of Matt York/AP Photo)

Written by Jesse Pelletier

The first month of the season is over and the MLB divisional standings are peppered with surprises. The Nationals are the only team in the NL East over .500, the Royals and Blue Jays are the worst teams in the league and if the Royals and Cubs switched divisions, the Cubs would be tied for last. Even with all this, nothing has stood out more than the state of the NL West.

The NL West was supposed to be the predictable division. Everybody expected the Rockies and Diamondbacks to be neck and neck, but the winner of that duel was supposed to finish third. Yet here we are, with the DBacks at 17-11 and the Rockies 16-11 fighting it out for first place.

Even more surprising is that the Padres (12-16) aren’t in last place, and even more surprising is that the Giants (10-18) occupy that spot.

Call me crazy, but I believe in the Rockies to win the division.

On paper, the Rockies have an offense that can only be rivaled by the Nationals. The infield features Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Ian Desmond when healthy, Mark Reynolds when Desmond isn’t healthy and the reigning NL batting champion DJ LeMahieu. The outfield packs a punch too and Tony Wolters behind the plate is hitting .346 through 17 games.

Will it last? Let’s look at the rotation. The two pitchers atop the Rockies’ rotation, Tyler Anderson and Tyler Chatwood, rank third and fifth in ERA on the staff. Fourth is German Marquez, who only has two starts: a six-inning scoreless performance and a beatdown by the Nationals. If the Tylers pull it together, there is no reason this team can’t win the division by season’s end.

The Diamondbacks are the current kings of the hill, thanks to some key players returning from injuries. It was expected that the offense would get better, but few people thought they’d rank third in the majors in runs per game in May.

Notable players returning from injuries are A.J. Pollock and David Peralta, who hit first and second in the lineup and are both hitting over .310. Paul Goldschmidt started a bit slow by his standards but has cranked his batting average up to .313 and his OBP to .459. Five starters are hitting over .300 and two more are hitting over .280.

The real concern for the Diamondbacks heading into the year is pitching, yet just one week ago the DBacks starters led all starting rotations in strikeouts. They rank seventh as a team in ERA, which is better than most expected.

Crucial to their success has been Taijuan Walker. A bit of a wild card going into the season, Walker was averaging 6 2/3 innings and 8 Ks over his last three starts prior to last night’s bout against the Nationals lineup. With Shelby Miller out due to injury, the DBacks will look for Walker, Zack Greinke, and Robbie Ray to stay hot.

(Courtesy of Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports)

Are the DBacks here to stay? I think the bats might slow down a little, but I think they’re for real. I thought we’d be talking about their need for a pitcher right now, but maybe that’s not at the top of their list. If they do land one, this team will be scary.

The Dodgers come in at 15-13, but their schedule has been very tough. 12 of their games have come against the high-powered offenses of the DBacks and Rockies. Three more came against the Cubs and six more came against the Giants. They’ve played seven games against the Padres and Phillies and won six of those games. They’re beating teams they should beat and that should be encouraging for Dodgers fans.

More encouraging? The Dodgers rank fourth in ERA, the outlier being Kenta Maeda at 6.58. I’m no expert, but I think he’ll improve. Plus, the Dodgers rank 18th in hits. Don’t expect that to hold up all year.

My gut tells me that if the Dodgers make the playoffs, Justin Turner will finish in the top 10 in MVP voting. Look for him to have that type of year.

So how about the Giants? The offense is 29th in runs per game despite Buster Posey’s hot start. Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford and Eduardo Nunez are all hitting under .270 and Madison Bumgarner is gone for the foreseeable future. But Johnny Cueto is rockin’ (and double-rockin’, and quick-pitchin’…) and Matt Moore is showing signs of brilliance.

In five starts this season, Moore has been rather two-faced. In his three worst starts he combined for 15 innings, 27 hits, and 14 earned runs. In his other two starts? 15 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned runs. Two of his three worst starts were against the Rockies’ bats and the third was against the DBacks in his first start of the season. His next time out he got revenge against them with his best start thus far: an eight-inning, three-hit gem.

All things considered, the NL West looks to be one of the best divisions in the game. Both Wild Card teams should come out of this division with the Dodgers getting the short end of the stick. Someone may need to remind the Padres there’s a stick.

I expect the Giants to finish second in the division behind the Rockies. It’s just too hard to count the Giants out when MadBum will be back. Samardzija and Moore will find their stuff and the bats will wake up. Given the unlikely production of the DBacks pitching, it’s hard to pick against them either. I think they take third and that leaves the Dodgers as the talk of the town come season’s end.

It’s not that the Dodgers will be a bad team, they’ll just be a good team in the best division in baseball. And hey, that’s more than the Padres can say.

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