NL West Preview and Predictions
Teams: LA Dodgers (92-70), San Francisco Giants (84-78), Arizona Diamondbacks (79-83), San Diego Padres (74-88), and the Colorado Rockies (68-94)
Overview: On paper this division looked more competitive than it ended up being in 2015. The Dodgers and Giants rivalry was a nice headline as only one team was seemingly going to make it into the playoffs due the NL Central. But unfortunately for Frisco it was an odd year and as per usual the reigning World Series Champs failed to achieve a playoff berth after winning it all in the season prior. The drama coming into this season for the NL West concerning the reinvigorated Giants, the Greinke fiasco, and the firing of Don Mattingly make this years NL West look pretty competitive and even more so interesting.
Colorado: The Rockies finished dead last in the NL West last year. But what went wrong in Colorado? Lets first look at pitching. Colorado’s pitching WAS THE PROBLEM! Of the six starters according to baseball-reference.com, not one man posted an ERA under 4.17 and no one had double digit wins. Now you can chalk that up to injuries or inconsistencies but its clear that the Rockies are not boasting a rotation like the other teams in the leagues, not even top 3 for their own division. And you can’t even say these starters just had a bad year, because none of them have ever really proven to be a viable pitcher, let alone the potential ace Colorado desperately needs.
On the offensive side, Colorado met its share of inconsistencies like all teams, but boy did they still have some great bats in that line up. Carlos Gonzalez hit a career high 40 home runs, while former Golden Glove winner Nolan Arenado showed off his offensive chops with 42 home runs. Meanwhile, respectable numbers were put up by center-fielder Charlie Blackmon, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, second baseman DJ LeMahieu, and utility Corey Dickerson. But without good pitching, which Colorado did not even come close to having in 2015, an offense like the one they have is just a bunch of wasted talent.
Come July, Colorado saw the writing on the wall and traded their shortstop Tulowitzki to the Toronto Blue Jays for some decent maybes and shorty Jose Reyes. The deal seemed counter intuitive so clearly Colorado wasn’t ready for the bust, or they’ve just never seen how a roster is supposed to be rebuilt. But, whatever the case, they traded for the older, less talented, more expensive player at a position they didn’t need to work on (*cough* pitching *cough*). They did get some minor leaguers so there’s potential that they win the trade, but as of right now Toronto won that trade.
Come the off-season, Colorado did minimal work to revamp their roster. They granted free agency to SP Kyle Kendrick who may have been the only pitcher that had a chance at stardom in Colorado in the immediate future. They signed third baseman Mark Reynolds, 31, who back in 2009 hit 44 home runs, but has since slowly lessened in hitting prominence. So there’s potential in that bat, seeing how Mark Reynolds is still young and they don’t make the Comeback Player of the Year Award for nothing, it’s possible he finds his stride again. But seeing as how every time he produced offensive numbers like the ones in 2009, he led the league in strikeouts at the same time. The Rockies also signed Gerardo Parra, another good addition to the line up and on defense.
But they did little to fix their problem, which was never heavy bats but rather consistent or at least respectable pitching. Colorado management has given me a headache as I’ve tried to make sense of their decisions. I don’t see Colorado embarrassing themselves completely this year, but I also don’t see them reaching 75 wins, especially in this division. Rumors had been going around since mid-season that the Rockies were open to trading Carlos Gonzalez. Please do it, for your own good. Gonzalez is a true superstar and therefore will garner in a plentiful of assets. So at the deadline this year, if your season is going the way it seems like it will be trade Gonzalez and Reyes and get some pitching prospects because your current rotation is just embarrassing.
San Diego: Ah, San Diego (“discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina” – Anchorman). San Diego’s year wasn’t terrible, I guess, but they screwed up greatly at the deadline. They had all these players, guys like outfielder Justin Upton, whose talents were being wasted and whose contracts were expiring and they didn’t trade them. Lets start with offense: catcher Derek Norris, left-fielder Justin Upton, and right-fielder Matt Kemp, are just a few names that should have been seen on MLB.com as the deadline passed, but they weren’t. The Padres opted to keep them, super. I have little I can say but that they squander a potential surplus of prospects, especially for Upton who, though I don’t know why, garnered a pretty good contract this off-season. They screwed up, but there’s more.
They had three pitchers they could have traded and gotten back a good deal of talent for: SP James Shields, SP Ian Kennedy, and CL Craig Kimbrel. Lets start with Shields who had a decent amount of momentum coming into this season. Shields was coming off a good, productive season and had just left a Kansas City Royals team who made it to the World Series and was a clear favorite to make it back. He ends up in San Diego. His numbers drop, but his past success and his name made him a viable trading piece for the deadline, yet he remained on the team. He’s signed to $21 Million at least for another 3 years. He’ll be 37 by the time his team option, $2 Million buyout his available. Do you really see the Padres making it to the World Series by 2019. Maybe, who knows, but I doubt it. So they have this old pitcher in a lineup with minimal support and your paying him more money than some men can dream of. To put it into perspective: Shields (though good, I can’t stress that enough) will be making more than the Mets potential rotation which includes Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and maybe Zack Wheeler, COMBINED! And with all due respect to Shields, he can’t even tie those men’s cleats. Now before I lose focus I will mention how both Ian Kennedy and Craig Kimbrel were potential bargaining trips at the deadline, but the Padres chose not to trade them.
In the off-season, Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy were granted free agency (you can’t see it but my eye is twitching). What was the point?! You can’t stand there and tell me those man had no suitors at the deadline. There were a lot of desperate teams out there, trust me I root for those teams. I just don’t know why the Padres shot themselves in the foot like that, it’s mind-boggling. They did trade hot-handed closer Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for four prospects. Alright maybe I can get on board with San Diego management again. Okay they traded Jedd Gyorko to St. Louis for Jon Jay, that’s a weird gamble but fine. They signed 39-year-old Fernando Rodney to replace the 27-year-old Kimbrel, alright they ruined it. You see I was so close to apologizing to this incompetent management and they do that.
Look, I don’t think this Padres roster is going to stink up Petco Park. But ever since they lost Headley they’ve slowly, systematically worsened and have made dimwitted moves and I don’t know why. Obviously I don’t see them making the playoffs, but like every team in every sport you never know. But lets be real, they have just as much of a chance of making the post-season as the Rockies do. You know people wonder how a league can have so many teams with playoff potential, it’s because of teams like the Padres and Rockies who make the win-loss ratios compatible.
Arizona: Oh, boy it must feel good to be an Arizona fan right now, aside from the imminent 100+ degree weather, but it’s a dry heat. The Diamondbacks in 2015 were mediocre, but they weren’t bad like the Padres and Rockies. They just struggled in areas that the Giants and especially the Dodgers did not. A couple of things went wrong for the D-Backs. First-off, former 30+ home run hitter, Mark Trumbo failed once again to translate his success from the Angels to the Diamondbacks. As a result he was inexplicably traded to Seattle and coming back was Welington Castillo with some minor leaguers. Then you had trade rumors that plagued the seasons of guys like A.J. Pollock. But Arizona’s main issue was their rotation, which just wasn’t up for the task of competing with those of divisional rivals Frisco and LA. I see potential in Rubby De La Rosa and Patrick Corbin, who was coming back from Tommy-John surgery, as well as a decent sophomore campaign for Robbie Ray.
But those guys, while okay, aren’t enough to make a great rotation and viable one in the NL West. And lets face it Arizona is in a win now situation. Maybe the best first baseman in the game, Paul Goldschmidt, is 28 and in the midst of his prime. The Diamondbacks have to give back to this man who has played great for them since 2011 and they need to do it while he still has a chance at winning in his youth. He’ll be a free agent in 2020 and at, 32, if he hasn’t won the big one in Arizona he will leave, regardless of how much cash you throw at him.
So in the off-season, the D-Backs had to make some adjustments and add some depth, as well as hopefully find an ace in what I feel was the best pitching free agent class, ever. And what do they do. They shock the baseball world and sign former divisional rival, Zack Greinke, from under the noses of both the Dodgers and the Giants. Greinke is 32, I’m not making light of that. He has his own personal window to win, but if 2015 is any indication Greinke’s window will not be closing in the foreseeable future. I’m not going to get into his numbers, but look them up they’re otherworldly. He was robbed of the NL Cy Young Award because Chicago’s Jake Arrieta just so happen to also have a shockingly spectacular season. Just to put it into perspective, Greinke had the lowest ERA at 1.66 in the MLB since Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves in 1995, and his ERA was only 3 points better than Greinke’s. Greinke, if for nothing else, will make every game he plays a must see and most importantly a winnable game for the D-Backs.
So, the 2016 Arizona Diamondbacks will be starting spring training in a couple of weeks. They’re rotation has greatly improved with the signing of Greinke as well as the addition of SP Shelby Miller from Atlanta via trade and the signing of RP Tyler Clippard to help support CL Brad Ziegler out of the bullpen. Offensive-wise, the D-Backs did not trade A.J. Pollock or David Peralta, and 3x All-Star, 2x Golden Glover, and 2x Silver Slugger, Paul Goldschmidt is still in the line up and is more than surely still the Paul Goldschmidt that Arizona has grown to love.
San Francisco: Got hate them odd years. Since winning the 2010 World Series, the Giants have subsequently won every even year and have failed to make the post season every odd year. It’s an odd phenomenon in baseball that is just impossible to wrap one’s head around, but let’s try.
Lets look at went wrong in Frisco this year. I could just say the Dodgers bested them, but that’s lazy. First we’ll look at pitching. I don’t know what happen to SP Matt Cain and SP Tim Lincecum, maybe they drank bad Gatorade that has destroyed their once inconceivable talent, but something is up. Lincecum, especially, was given the nick name of “the franchise” because he won 2 Cy Youngs and came close to winning 2 more in only his first 5 seasons. He was a major factor in Frisco’s 2010 and 2012 World Series wins, but something bad just happen to him over the past four seasons as he hadn’t seen his ERA go under 4. He’s only 31 but a mid-season injury and a granting into free agency ended his career in San Francisco. Matt Cain’s another guy whose once admirable ERA has spiraled out of control in recent years. In only 11 starts Cain’s ERA ended up being 5.79 in 2015, this guy had an ERA of 2.79 just four seasons ago. Also somewhat young, Cain has a chance to reclaim his glory, but he’ll have to prove himself at the bottom of what will be a deep 2016 San Francisco rotation.
The rest of the pitching was decent in 2015. Madison Bumgarner had another stellar year continuing the trend after taking over the ace roll from a deteriorating Lincecum. This just wasn’t the year for Bumgarner to win his first Cy Young Award, as too man guys had too good of seasons. Veteran Jake Peavy had a good year at the mound as well as did Chris Heston. And at the deadline, they acquired SP Mike Leake.
Offensively, San Francisco is shaping up to have a great team. Buster Posey, probably the all-around best catcher in the game, had a good year batting a .318 and clocking in 95 ribbies. But it wasn’t a one pony show in San Francisco. Posey had support all-around from the likes of first baseman Brandon Belt, third baseman Matt Duffy, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and even strong performances from Hunter Pence and the young Joe Panik. Most of San Francisco’s core is young or in their prime, so the fact that this is an even year spells good things for the Giants.
But the Giants, unlike some teams, weren’t going to let this great 2015 free agent class pass them by. First they granted free agency to SP Lincecum (necessary for every one involved) and to rental SP Mike Leake (who under-performed for the team when they needed him most.) But on December 9th, they made their first big splash and signed SP Jeff Samardzija, who had a terrible year in Chicago but has the potential to turn it around this year in Frisco where the pitching depth will work to his advantage. On December 16, they signed recently crowned World Series champ, SP Johnny Cueto to a monster deal. The Giants are committed to success made evident by the fact that they spent $215 Million on Samardzija and Cueto. But why stop there? On January 7th, they signed outfielder Denard Span to put the final touches on their batting order. And you want to hear something crazy, the Giants might not be done. Tim Lincecum has a showcase coming up, being one of the few big named free agents left, and San Francisco is actually a dark horse to re-sign him. You can’t write this stuff.
Though there are too many really good teams, San Francisco may just continue the trend of this modern day dynasty they have put together. All that can be said for sure is that they will be far more competitive this year than they were last year, and last year they were pretty competitive.
Los Angeles: What a great season for the Dodgers and what a terrible off-season. Lets start with the 2015 Dodgers. Offensively the Dodgers were stacked. They boasted names like center-fielder Joc Pederson, right-fielder Yasiel Puig, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, catcher Yasmani Grandal, third baseman Justin Turner, and veteran Jimmy Rollins at short. But the depth did not end there as they had veteran AJ Ellis backing up Grandal, they had rookie Corey Seager who made a splash in his limited number of games, they had the reliable Andre Ethier, and they eventually traded at the deadline for former World Series darling (in 2008 and 2009 I mind you), Chase Utley. Their offensive depth was bottomless and their talent was undeniable.
But the Dodgers were stacked even more on the mound. Two guys who need no further introduction: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Both those men went 40+ innings without out run in this season, 40 in a row. The talent possessed by these two guys is just unheard of it this day and age. To me this is the equivalent of having both Roger Clemens and Cy Young on your team, minus the steroids on the former and minus the fact the latter has been dead for 60 years. Kershaw and Greinke are that good and their numbers prove that. Greinke and Kershaw were supported with solid pitching from Brett Anderson and Mike Bolsinger as well as decent pitching from innings eaters Carlos Frias and Alex Wood. All the while back-ended by a strong season performance from CL Kenley Jansen.
But the regular season successes did not translate into the post-season and they certainly didn’t translate into the off-season. First, the Chase Utley slide that broke the leg of Met Ruben Tejada’s leg was awful and the way Utley and the Dodgers went about it wasn’t great either. They would go on to lose to the Mets in 5 but the growing pains would only grow for the LA fans.
The Dodgers chose to, inexplicably fire manager Don Mattingly, who would later be hired by conference rival Miami. The firing seemed to be an exaggeration to a “failed” season. Meanwhile, they fought hard with their old New York rival San Francisco Giants over free agent Zack Greinke only to see him go to another divisional rival in Arizona. Every thing else seems arbitrary in light of those two ordeals. They signed highly touted SP Kenta Maeda out of Japan, but he’s a wildcard as not every Asian defector has the same success as an Ichiro or a Suzuki. If they’re lucky Maeda will be like a Masahiro Tanaka, hopefully minus the injuries. They also signed SP Scott Kazmir and re-signed veterans Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick, but that Greinke loss was a serious blow, especially to an in-division rival.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens to LA in 2016. Will Dave Roberts be a good replacement for the legendary Don Mattingly? Will Yasiel Puig’s personal troubles translate onto the field? Will Kenta Maeda have a good transition to America after an incredible season in Japan in 2015? Will we see the Scott Kazmir of Oakland or the Scott Kazmir of Houston? Will the younglins continue to develop positively? Will veterans like Utley and Kendrick and Rollins reclaim old glory? Will Clayton Kershaw’s greatness be enough to overcome a Greinke-less rotation? Will the Dodgers be able to out best Arizona and San Francisco like they did last year? All these questions must be answered and will be answered this coming season.
Predicted NL West Standings
1. San Francisco Giants 89-73
2. Los Angeles Dodgers 86-76
3. Arizona Diamondbacks 83-79
4. Colorado Rockies 72-90
5. San Diego Padres 65-97