National League West preview

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March 24, 2018 by jessepell

(Courtesy of Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Written by Jesse Pelletier

The NL West might have been the best division in baseball last season and now it looks like the division bottom-feeders have significantly improved. Can this division produce three playoff teams again? How will Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Evan Longoria and other big names impact the standings? Will it greatly affect the division favorite Dodgers or any of the other big dogs in the division? Let’s break it down team by team.

Arizona Diamondbacks – 93-69 last year (2nd in NL West)

Key Additions: OF Steven Souza Jr, C Alex Avila, RHP Brad Boxberger

Key Losses: OF J.D. Martinez, 3B Brandon Drury, C Chris Iannetta, RHP Fernando Rodney

The biggest obstacle for the Diamondbacks this offseason was replacing J.D. Martinez. With Stanton off the market, there were no bats left that could fill Martinez’ shoes. The DBacks understood the market and they knew they didn’t need to fill the cleanup spot. That spot would be filled by Jake Lamb, so the DBacks could instead find someone to hit behind Lamb and provide a defensive boost in right field.

The DBacks struck gold in Steven Souza Jr at the cost of Brandon Drury and top pitching prospect Anthony Banda. Banda could have replaced an injured starter this year, but all in all Souza is a short-term win for his team. J.D. Martinez only played 62 games for Arizona last year, but a full season of Souza could equate to more wins in the long haul.

Furthermore, the starting rotation is identical to their rotation from the second half of last year (when Shelby Miller was injured). AJ Pollock is healthy to start the year and Archie Bradley is an improvement in the closer role over Fernando Rodney.

My concern with this team is in the bench. Alex Avila joins the club this year and the DBacks are keeping two catchers on their bench. While Chris Owings and Daniel Descalso provide exceptional utility, it would be wise to dump a catcher and make room for a more offensive bat on the bench. Owings is the only reasonable pinch-hitting option and he isn’t the power bat they may be looking for in dire situations. They’ll either need to bring up Yasmany Tomas or look for another option, or else this bench will be very shallow.

With an intimidating lineup and solid rotation, the only question mark I see is that bench. This team may suffer more than others if a couple starters go down. They carried two catchers on the bench last year as well and did just fine, so will this year be the same?

Team MVP: Paul Goldschmidt

I see another .310/30/100 season from Goldy and another run at a Gold Glove. If you’re going to pick against him, Jake Lamb might be the best choice. Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant have kept Lamb under the radar, but now he’s got Souza Jr hitting behind him. Will 2018 be the Year of the Lamb?

Team X-Factor: Zack Godley

Zack Godley had quite a resurgence last year. He started 9 games in 2016 with an ERA of 6.39 but rebounded with a 3.37 ERA and 25 starts in 2017. A similar ERA in 2018 should result in a better record than last year’s 8-9 mark. With 10-12 wins from Godley, this could be one of the deepest rotations in the league regardless of Shelby Miller’s health. It might even be the difference in making the playoffs.

Predicted Record: 92-70

(Courtesy of Tom Lynn/AP Photo)

Colorado Rockies – 87-75 last year (3rd in NL West)

Key Additions: RHP Wade Davis, RHP Bryan Shaw, C Chris Iannetta

Key Losses: RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Pat Neshek, 1B Mark Reynolds, C Jonathan Lucroy

This lineup is the stuff of pitchers’ nightmares. Who wants to start off a game against Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, and Carlos Gonzalez? Oh yeah, and then you get to face Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story. This roster just oozes power.

The Rockies management knew they needed to do something about their pitching. They lost Pat Neshek, but made up for it by bringing in Wade Davis from Chicago and Bryan Shaw from Cleveland. Greg Holland was a solid closer in 2017 but adding bullpen arms was very important this offseason. Holland remains unsigned, but if the Rockies can get him back for 2018 to pair with Davis and Shaw, this will be an elite bullpen.

OK, so the Rockies have an elite offense and a potentially elite bullpen. The issue with this club, as with many clubs, is the starting rotation. Last year, about 15 games into the season, I predicted that the Rockies would win the division behind an explosive offense and surprisingly good pitching. The pitching turned out to be pretty average for the rest of the year, but it was good enough to get a Wild Card spot. Going into this year, the Rockies have lost Tyler Chatwood and not added any starters. That doesn’t spell good news for this club.

Sweet offense, improved bullpen, poor starting rotation. I’ll go above a .500 record for this club, but not by much. They will have to come out on the right side of a lot of slugfests if they want to eclipse 90 wins and play into October.

(Courtesy of Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Team MVP: Nolan Arenado

How does someone win the Gold Glove AND Silver Slugger award three consecutive years and never finish higher than fourth in MVP voting? He is my pick for NL MVP and takes team MVP honors with ease.

Team X-Factor: Tyler Anderson

Jon Gray is their ace right-hander, but they don’t have a great left-handed arm. If Tyler Anderson can prove me wrong, this team will see improvement. Realistically, they’ll need their entire rotation to exceed expectations if they want to make the playoffs again. Anderson is just a scapegoat for the argument. Rookie first baseman Ryan McMahon is another guy to consider as he tries to fill the shoes of Mark Reynolds, but the offense is so good that I don’t think McMahon will greatly impact where this team finishes.

Predicted Record: 87-75

Los Angeles Dodgers – 104-58 last year (1st in NL West)

Key Additions: OF Matt Kemp, LHP Scott Alexander

Key Losses: RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Brandon Morrow, OF Curtis Granderson, OF Andre Ethier

The Dodgers are coming off a 104-win season and have only lost the bats of Curtis Granderson and Andre Ethier. Both of these guys spent most of the year coming off the bench. What’s really concerning is the pitching staff. Most notably, the Dodgers lost Yu Darvish to free agency. Say what you will about his postseason performance, but Darvish is still filthy and would have been a great asset in this rotation. Throw in Hyun-jin Ryu’s lacking performance, Kershaw’s constant battle with injuries, and Rich Hill turning 38 two weeks ago and this rotation really starts to scare me. Julio Urias is a promising young prospect at 21 years old, but is out until after the All-Star break and likely will have no impact on the club this year.

(Courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images)

If that wasn’t enough, look at the rest of the offenses in this division. The DBacks and Rockies don’t look too different, but they are both very potent offenses. The Padres and Giants both look much improved as well. 23% of the Dodgers’ games this season will be against the Giants or Padres, meaning that about one in four games just got more difficult for that pitching staff. Another 23% come against the DBacks and Rockies, so those won’t be easy either.

The lineup doesn’t worry me nearly as much as the rotation, but there are some points that are worth noting. I do expect Cody Bellinger to see a little sophomore slump and Joc Pederson is just too damn streaky to rely on. I can’t give them another 104 wins, but I can give them enough to take the division.

Team MVP: Justin Turner

I’ll say it again: I’m not betting on Bellinger putting up his 2017 numbers. That pretty much leaves Turner as the MVP favorite. Kershaw is still Kershaw so he’s a fine MVP candidate as well, but I’d like to not give the award to a guy who plays every five days if I can help it. Turner got plenty of attention for NL MVP last season, so this pick isn’t exactly against the grain.

Team X-Factor: Cody Bellinger

Will the kid slump? The Dodgers will need Bellinger to pick up where he left off if they want to win the division. A slightly more human season for Bellinger could be the difference between a Wild Card berth and a division title, though I don’t see a slump ruining their playoff hopes altogether. Joc Pederson is my second vote and will greatly influence this club’s trajectory.

Predicted Record: 97-65

San Diego Padres – 71-91 last year (4th in NL West)

Key Additions: 1B Eric Hosmer, 3B Chase Headley, IF Freddy Galvis, RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Bryan Mitchell

Key Losses: SS Erick Aybar, RHP Jhoulys Chacin

Eric Freakin’ Hosmer. The Hoss. If you’re going to get a guy like Hosmer to play in a park like Petco, you better be ready to pay up. Pay up is exactly what the Padres did, to the tune of eight years and $144M. Hosmer hit 25 homers in 2017 and you can expect that number to fall now that he plays in Petco Park for half the year. A high average and the ability to find the gaps in the outfield is what really makes someone a successful hitter in Petco, and Hosmer can be that guy. After all, he played in all 162 games last year and still maintained a .318 average with 31 doubles. His power will be more relevant in other ballparks, but still not negligible at home.

(Courtesy of Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Hosmer is great and all, but if you’re going to win games, you need a professional pitching staff. Not one that has a non-roster invite (Tyson Ross) projected to be your #2 starter. Clayton Richard isn’t bad, but he’s not an ace on any other club in the bigs. On the bright side, Dinelson Lamet might be the coolest name among all #4 starters in the game. So at least there’s that.

Speaking of the bright side, let’s look at the rest of this lineup. We know about Hosmer, but there were some more acquisitions that are really bolstering this team. Chase Headley was a solid pickup from the Yankees who should also be a reliable glove at third base. Freddy Galvis is, like, kind of a decent shortstop acquisition and replacement for Erick Aybar. Manuel Margot is a great young center fielder who should continue to develop this year and Wil Myers hasn’t gone anywhere. And like I said earlier, the Dodgers pitching is a bit worse. 10% of the Padres games just got a little easier for this offense.

This team won 71 games last year, which is certainly more than I would have guessed. That team seriously won 71 games? In the NL West? And now they have Hosmer and Headley? You’d think it should all add up, but this rotation is just too bad to give them any more than 70 wins.

Team MVP: Eric Hosmer

He is The Hoss, after all. Are you going to bet against The Hoss? I’m not.

Team X-Factor: Manuel Margot

There’s not anything any single player can do for this team to get them into the playoffs. Young stud Manuel Margot is a guy who could really blossom and determine how high this team could rise. Or at least how far they won’t fall.

Predicted Record: 67-95

San Francisco Giants – 64-98 last year (5th in NL West)

Key Additions: 3B Evan Longoria, OF Andrew McCutchen, OF Austin Jackson

Key Losses: RHP Matt Cain, 1B Michael Morse

Last year I predicted that three NL West teams would make the playoffs: Colorado, Arizona, and… San Fran. But seriously, trust me this time.

Buster Posey, Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford are the names that jump off this lineup. But don’t forget about Joe Panik. This is a guy who hit above .300 in his first two seasons before being stifled by a poor 2016 campaign. In 138 games last year, Panik had 54 strikeouts and 46 walks. Neither of those numbers are particularly high, meaning he is putting the ball in play at a high rate. It got him a .288 average in 2017, but his earlier years hint that this may have been a bit unlucky.

(Courtesy of Gail Burton/AP Photo)

The Giants may be sporting one of the best infield defenses in the game. Longoria and Crawford are reigning Gold Glove winners on the left side of the infield and Panik has one of his own at second base. Posey has one as well for a total of eight in the infield. The outfield defense isn’t half bad either, with Austin Jackson in center, Andrew McCutchen in right and Hunter Pence in left.

The pitching staff looks about the same as it did in 2017. That’s not exactly what San Fran fans want to hear, given that they had five starters who posted an ERA over 4.40 in at least 25 starts last season. The exception was Madison Bumgerner, who posted a 4-9 record despite a 3.32 ERA. Don’t bet on that happening again.

A healthy Madison Bumgarner should give this team a few more wins singlehandedly, and Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have plenty of room to bounce back. Come to think of it, how was this team so bad? Not having a solid #4 or #5 in the rotation means I can’t give them a .500 record, but I can give them a lot more than they had last year.

Team MVP: Buster Posey

I can’t bet against Posey here. Even though he only plays every five days, MadBum isn’t a bad bet here either.

Team X-Factor: Andrew McCutchen

If McCutchen can put up the type of numbers we’ve seen from him in the not-so-distant past, this lineup could be seriously good. We could be looking at a team with 78-80 wins if McCutchen turns it on. Given that this team had only 64 wins last year, I’d call that pretty solid.

Predicted Record: 74-88 (4th in NL West)

The Giants are my most improved team of the division while the Dodgers are my biggest losers. They should still take the division and hover around the 100-win mark come season’s end. For a preview of the NL East, check back tomorrow for John Avino and a look at how the Nationals will try to get over the hump.

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