MLB Division Previews and Predictions: NL West

Wrapping up our division previews, it’s time to examine the NL West. Though this division has had a constant “top dog” for six straight years in the Dodgers, they’ve been challenged in recent years by the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and even the Giants. Now, a new challenger has emerged in the Padres, adding yet another twist to the division. Let’s preview the NL West!

First Place: Los Angeles Dodgers

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Photo Cred: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Projected Record: 98-64

Lineup

Joc Pederson LF

Justin Turner 3B

Corey Seager SS

Max Muncy 1B

AJ Pollock CF

Cody Bellinger RF

Kike Hernandez 2B

Austin Barnes C

Pitcher

As per usual, the Dodgers lineup is downright scary. Justin Turner is one of the most consistent offensive producers in baseball, and he’ll be complimented once again by Corey Seager, who missed practically the entire season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Back in the lineup this year, Seager’s health is paramount to the team’s success, as is AJ Pollock’s. The 31-year-old has dealt with a variety of injuries but is one of the game’s best center fielders when healthy. Pollock will be flanked by Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson. Though Pederson has mostly been utilized as a platoon specialist, he still brings a lot of value with his power, while Bellinger is a dark-horse MVP candidate if he produces closer to his rookie season form. Chris Taylor needs to cut down on his strikeouts, but he remains an above average hitter and fielder with tremendous positional versatility, Kike Hernandez is a useful asset, and Austin Barnes is an excellent defensive catcher with tremendous plate discipline. I don’t see an area of weakness with this group; they can hit, hit for power, field, run, and get on base. They’re the complete package and would be able to carry the Dodgers to the playoffs on their own.

Rotation

Clayton Kershaw

Walker Buehler

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Rich Hill

Kenta Maeda/Ross Stripling

While Dodgers rotation comes with durability concerns – Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Rich Hill have all dealt with injuries during spring training – it’s still a well above average unit. Though he’s starting to decline, Kershaw remains a very effective pitcher, and if Los Angeles can get 150+ innings from him, his value will be felt. The same goes for Buehler, who may regress slightly from his stellar rookie season but is still the future ace of this pitching staff. Bringing back Hyun-Jin Ryu on the qualifying offer was a questionable move, but he did have a 3.00 FIP in 82.1 innings last year, so perhaps he’ll keep up that pace pitching for a full season. Hill still projects as a solid middle of the rotation starter, as do Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling. Filled with depth and front-line caliber pitchers, Los Angeles once again has one of the best rotations in all of baseball.

Bullpen

Kenley Jansen

Joe Kelly

Pedro Baez

Caleb Ferguson

Dylan Floro

Scott Alexander

Julio Urias

Ross Stripling/Kenta Maeda

Though they’ve notoriously blown postseason leads in the past (see World Series game 4), the Dodgers bullpen also looks to be in terrific shape heading into the season. Kenley Jansen did have a FIP over 4.00 last season, but a lot of issues may have been due to his heart condition. With the health issues hopefully behind him, expect him to transition back into being an incredibly reliable closer. The move to sign Joe Kelly to a three-year deal worth $25 million was strange at the time, but he has the upside to be the perfect set-up man for Jansen. Pedro Baez emerged last season as a solid option out of the bullpen, as did Dylan Floro and lefty reliever Scott Alexander. Former top prospect Julio Urias could fill a role similar to Josh Hader does in Milwaukee, while the loser of the battle for the last rotation spot between Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda is more than capable of being the team’s long reliever. There are some many tremendous options available for manager Dave Roberts, who should have fun mixing and matching with this unit all season long.

Depth/Prospects

No team has more depth present that the Dodgers; they have an overflow of players. Taylor and  Hernandez are awesome utility players, top prospect Alex Verdugo could take a spot in the outfield at some point, and Russell Martin is an excellent option as a backup catcher. As mentioned, there is depth present in the rotation and bullpen. Stripling, Urias, and Caleb Ferguson all are likely to be in the bullpen but will be able to fill in if injuries become an even greater issue. Yimy Garcia and Tony Cingrani are also amongst a variety of options in the bullpen that will be available if needed. Prospects Tony Gonosolin, Dennis Santana (if healthy), and Mitchell White could also all make their debuts in the bullpen this season, while catcher Will Smith, outfielder DJ Peters, and corner infielder Edwin Rios could also make an impact this season.

Final Verdict

Depth, defense, power, speed, hitting; there is nothing the Dodgers do not have. As a result, they’re arguably the most well-rounded team in baseball, and should be the favorites to represent the National League in the World Series once again.

Second Place: San Diego Padres

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Photo Cred: San Diego Union Tribune

Projected Record: 87-75

Lineup

Ian Kinsler 2B

Eric Hosmer 1B

Manny Machado 3B

Will Myers LF

Hunter Renfroe RF

Luis Urias SS

Austin Hedges C

Manuel Margot CF

Pitcher

With the signing of Manny Machado, the Padres have added one of the game’s top superstars to anchor the lineup for at least the next ten seasons. Moving back to third base, Machado should be considered a serious MVP contender. In the infield, he’ll be across the diamond from first baseman Eric Hosmer, the team’s big prize from the previous offseason. The 29-year-old may not be a star, but he’s nowhere near as bad as his .720 OPS from last season would indicate. A rebound from him, as well as Wil Myers, will give San Diego a solid core of established players; Ian Kinsler and Austin Hedges each are superb defenders. Then comes the Padres’ young group of players. Luis Urias will start the season at shortstop, at least until top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. gets called. The two-star prospects will be amongst the league’s best middle infield duos for years to come. That’s more than enough, but the continued development of Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes, and Hunter Renfroe in the outfield could give the Padres a lethal lineup. It’s at worst an average group, but the upside is through the roof.

Rotation

Eric Lauer

Joey Lucchesi

Chris Paddack

Matt Strahm

Robbie Erlin

The most criticized unit of the team is their rotation, yet I don’t understand it. They made not have “big names”, but there’s plenty of talent. Joey Lucchesi projects to be a solid middle of the rotation starter, as does Matt Strahm in his move from the bullpen. I’m not a fan of Eric Lauer, but I’m a huge fan of pitching prospect Chris Paddack, who will start the year with the big league club. The 23-year-old had a 15 K-BB ratio last season in the minor leagues, demonstrating his lethal combination of incredible control and nasty pitching arsenal. Robbie Erlin also has excellent command, and he’s definitely well suited to be the team’s #5 starter. They may not have an established ace, but the Padres have two young, above average pitchers (Paddack, Lucchesi), and two reliable starters (Strahm, Erlin). They may want to add a veteran arm later in the season, but the team is fine as of now.

Bullpen

Kirby Yates

Aaron Loup

Robert Stock

Craig Stammen

Adam Warren

Phil Maton

Trey Wingenter

The best part about this rising club is their bullpen; it’s under the radar, yet terrific. Kirby Yates continues to go unnoticed, but he’s actually one of the game’s better closers. Meanwhile, Robert Stock, Craig Stammen, and Aaron Loup all are prominent arms available for manager Andy Green in the bullpen. Phil Maton and Adam Warren are at least average options with the potential to be much more, while Trey Wingenter could shine as well if given a chance. Ideally, San Diego would have another lefty reliever available to complement Loup, but this is still a tremendous bullpen – one that can help take the pressure off of a young rotation.

Depth/Prospects

The depth of the Padres mostly comes from their farm system. Tatis and Francisco Mejia are position players ready to make an impact, and the same goes for pitching prospects Cal Quantrill and Logan Allen. There’s also an abundance of outfield depth with Reyes and Franchy Cordero, while Jose Pirela is an excellent option as the team’s utility player off the bench. Jacob Nix and Brett Kennedy are also options in the rotation, while Dinelson Lamet could be ready by mid-season.

Final Verdict

Every year, there is one “rebuilding” team that exceeds all expectations and makes a playoff push. With a solid young core, a strong bullpen, and now with Machado, I’m betting that it will be the Padres who suprise many this season. 87 wins may end up being way too high for this team, but I’m willing to gamble; they draw very similar parallels to the Yankees, Braves, and Cubs – all rebuilding teams who made a strong playoff push.

Third Place: Arizona Diamondbacks

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Photo Cred: Zimbio

Lineup

Ketel Marte CF

David Peralta LF

Eduardo Escobar 3B

Jake Lamb 1B

Wilmer Flores 2B

Steven Souza Jr. RF

Carson Kelly C

Nick Ahmed SS

Pitcher

After trading away Paul Goldschmidt and losing AJ Pollock in free agency, the Diamondbacks lineup has a severely different outlook. David Peralta is the new face of the group after posting a .868 OPS last season, and I expect him to rise up to the task; his hard contact rate last season eclipsed 48%. Jake Lamb and Ketel Marte are also both young players that should, in theory, take a step forward in 2019, while the team re-signed Eduardo Escobar to be at least an average contributor at third base. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Wilmer Flores is a defensive liability at second base, and that should be exposed right away. Steven Souza Jr. is coming off of an awful season, and though his 44% hard contact rate suggests he’ll be fine, it’s hard to trust him. Nick Ahmed and recently acquired Carson Kelly are defensive wizards, but it’s unclear what value either brings with their offense. Outside of Flores, the starting lineup looks to be very strong on defense. However, it’s lacking power, consistency, and in reality, anything above mediocrity.

Rotation

Zack Greinke

Robbie Ray

Zack Godley

Luke Weaver

Merrill Kelly

After trading away Paul Goldschmidt and losing AJ Pollock in free agency, the Diamondbacks lineup has a severely different outlook. David Peralta is the new face of the group after posting a .868 OPS last season, and I expect him to rise up to the task; his hard contact rate last season eclipsed 48%. Jake Lamb and Ketel Marte are also both young players that should, in theory, take a step forward in 2019, while the team re-signed Eduardo Escobar to be at least an average contributor at third base. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Wilmer Flores is a defensive liability at second base, and that should be exposed right away. Steven Souza Jr. is coming off of an awful season, and though his 44% hard contact rate suggests he’ll be fine, it’s hard to trust him. Nick Ahmed and recently acquired Carson Kelly are defensive wizards, but it’s unclear what value either brings with their offense. Outside of Flores, the starting lineup looks to be very strong on defense. However, it’s lacking power, consistency, and in reality, anything above mediocrity.

Bullpen

Greg Holland

Archie Bradley

Yoshihisa Hirano

Andrew Chafin

TJ McFarland

Matt Andriese

Yoan Lopez

After signing Greg Holland in free agency, the Diamondbacks will likely let him be their closer. The 33-year-old was atrocious last season, but with a full spring training, should return to form this season. Archie Bradley regressed from his stellar 2017 season, but he remains a solid multi-inning reliever, while Yoshihisa Hirano will also be fine as a bridge to Holland as well. Andrew Chafin and TJ McFarland are a passable lefty duo, and Matt Andriese should at least be able to be a long reliever. Yoan Lopez is the wildcard here with a triple digits fastball and strikeout ability, and I’m hoping that Arizona gives him the opportunity to showcase his abilities this season. Though not spectacular, this bullpen is certainly reliable, and isn’t an area of concern for the club at the moment.

Depth/Prospects

With both Jon Duplantier and Taylor Widener about ready to make their MLB debuts, the Diamondbacks rotation should get a huge boost, and the same goes with Taijuan Walker once he returns after undergoing Tommy John surgery. There’s little in the way of position player depth; Adam Jones and Christian Walker don’t cut it as the team’s best two options off the bench.

Final Verdict

The Diamondbacks aren’t a bad team by any means, but there also not a good team. That makes them as mediocre as it gets; an 81-81 record seems perfect for them.

Fourth Place: Colorado Rockies

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Photo Cred: Boulder Daily Camera

Projected Record: 80-82

Lineup

Charlie Blackmon RF

Nolan Arenado 3B 

Daniel Murphy 1B

Trevor Story SS

David Dahl LF

Ian Desmond CF

Ryan McMahon 2B

Chris Iannetta C

Pitcher

Last year, the Rockies relied on two to three players to carry the entire load on offense. Though the addition of Daniel Murphy should help improve the offense, this lineup still looks to be reliant on Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story. The best bets for production out of those four are David Dahl (.859 OPS last season) and Ryan McMahon, though neither has a proven track record at the major league level. Ian Desmond’s move to center field isn’t going to do anything about the fact he had an 83 OPS+ and a -0.6 WAR last season, and all of Colorado’s options at catcher at defensive liabilities. There’s some potential with this lineup, but it looks to be an average group relying on four players to do most of the work.

Rotation

Kyle Freeland

German Marquez

Jon Gray

Tyler Anderson

Chad Bettis

Many experts see the Rockies rotation and claim it is a strength for the club. However, I’m not sure this group even ranks as an average rotation. Kyle Freeland’s peripherals do not back his 2.85 ERA from last year, whatsoever, and he’ll likely be more of a middle-rotation starter than an ace. German Marquez is actually the best pitcher on this team after a second-half breakout, but he’s more of a #2 or #3 starter than an ace as well. Jon Gray is a name to keep an eye on for a bounce-back season, but Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis are below average options to fill at the rotation. From this group, I count only one above average starter (Marquez); this rotation is one of the most overrated units of any team heading into the season.

Bullpen

Wade Davis

Mike Dunn

Scott Oberg

Jake McGee

Bryan Shaw

Seung Whan Oh

In the previous offseason, the Rockies went all-in with their bullpen; they signed Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee to massive contracts. That plan massively backfired, and now with the loss of Adam Ottavino, the bullpen looks to once again be a liability for the club heading into this season. Davis’ 3.65 FIP last season means he’s more of a middle reliever than a lock-down closer, and Shaw, McGee, and Mike Dunn are inferior options only on the team because of the heavy investments the Rockies have made on them. Seung Whan Oh and Scott Oberg may actually be the team’s top two relievers, so hopefully, Colorado can acknowledge their mistake and utilize them more than they utilized the trio of overpays. I’ve always liked Chris Rusin as a lefty long reliever, and though he’s coming off a very rough season, I still have a reasonable amount of hope he can be a decent swingman for them. Still, this bullpen is downright awful; it’s hard to see the Rockies competing for a playoff spot with this group of relievers.

Depth/Prospects

The anticipated debut of top prospect Brendan Rodgers is a major story heading into the season, but we could also see middle infield prospect Garrett Hampson and top pitching prospect Peter Lambert make their respective debuts this season as well. Still, in terms of major league depth, the Rockies have little pitching depth outside of Anthony Senzatela, and the major league position player depth is also thin.

Final Verdict

The Rockies had the lowest run differential out of any playoff team last season by a large number, and it’s caused many to overrated them. With an average lineup and below average pitching staff, this team looks more like a sub-.500 team than a playoff-caliber team in 2019.

Fifth Place: San Francisco Giants

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Photo Cred: LA Times

Projected Record: 77-85

Lineup

Steven Duggar CF

Joe Panik 2B

Buster Posey C

Brandon Belt 1B

Evan Longoria 3B

Brandon Crawford SS

Mac Williamson LF

Gerardo Parra RF

Pitcher

Last year, the Giants ranked near the bottom in every offensive category. Since they’re returning practically the same old, regressing lineup, that should remain the case in 2019. The only two bright spots on this team are Brandon Belt (high OBP, good fielding) and Buster Posey (top catchers), but the former struggles to stay healthy and the latter is coming off of hip surgery. Joe Panik could have a better season with an improved BABIP, but he and Brandon Crawford are at best an average middle infield duo. Evan Longoria had an on-base percentage under .300, and though he’s an alright fielder, an OPS under .700 certainly won’t cut it at third base. Mac Williamson does have power potential, but he’s also failed to show it up to this point, while Gerardo Parra had just a .714 OPS despite playing his home games in Colorado last season. There’s close to zero reasons to have optimism for this group; scoring runs looks to be a critical issue for the club once again.

Rotation

Madison Bumgarner

Derek Holland

Dereck Rodriguez

Drew Pomeranz

Jeff Samardzija

Though playing at Oracle Park should help, the Giants rotation looks to be average at best. Madison Bumgarner is a postseason legend, but he’s also coming off of back to back seasons with a FIP right around 4.00. Derek Holland was solid last season, but he was awful before that, and he and Jeff Samardzija are little more than veteran innings eaters. Dereck Rodriguez shined in his rookie season, but there are several indications with his underlying numbers that he’s about to take a major step back. Drew Pomeranz could emerge as the team’s best starting pitcher outside of Bumgarner if he bounces back the way he should in a change of scenery, but that’s not necessarily a compliment. There’s a chance that playing at such a pitcher’s friendly ballpark for their homes games will help boost the production of this group. Still, this rotation is a mix of pitchers whose best days are behind them.

Bullpen

Will Smith

Tony Watson

Reyes Moronta

Mark Melancon

Travis Bergen

Sam Dyson

Ty Blach

Though it goes completely under the radar, the Giants bullpen is actually a well above average unit. Will Smith was fantastic as the team’s closer last season and could emerge one of the top trade targets this season. Tony Watson, another lefty, is well-suited to be an effective bridge to Smith, while there isn’t a clear weakness with Reyes Moronta. Mark Melancon and Sam Dyson should at least be fine middle relievers, while Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen has shined in Spring Training. There’s a lot of different options for the final spot in the bullpen, but if the team decides to go with Ty Blach, they’ll add yet another left-handed relief pitcher to the bullpen that fits perfectly as their long-reliever/spot starter. San Francisco’s bullpen will play a major role in keeping the team relevant this season, and looks to be a top-ten unit; it’s very well balanced.

Depth/Prospects

The depth for the Giants isn’t as atrocious as it has been in previous seasons. Yangervis Solarte, Alen Hanson, Connor Joe, and even Pablo Sandoval bring versatility to the team, while Austin Slater and Chris Shaw are also options in the outfield. Both Erik Kratz and Aramis Garcia are capable of filling in for Posey if injured, and the team has a surplus of pitching at the moment. Still, outside of pitching prospect Shaun Anderson, not a lot of help is coming from the minors this season.

Final Verdict

With a strong bullpen and some versatility and depth, the Giants should be a decent team in 2018. However, a lackluster lineup and rotation will prevent them from competing in this division.

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