Spring training is in full swing. We’re less than 20 days from MLB Opening Day; the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and everything is awesome. With that, let’s get to it. Here’s how I think the teams of the National League West will fare in 2015.
Los Angeles Dodgers
94-68 in 2014
Key Additions: SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Howie Kendrick, RP Joel Peralta, C Yasmani Grandal, SP Brandon McCarthy, SP Brett Anderson, RP Chris Hatcher
Key Losses: OF Matt Kemp, 2B Dee Gordon, SS Hanley Ramirez, RP Brian Wilson, RP Chris Perez
It’s not very often that a team wins more than 90 games and gets a makeover, but that’s exactly what happened to the Dodgers after being knocked off by the Cardinals in the playoffs for the second straight year.
The 2014 team had the talent, but many critics said it lacked the team leadership and the bullpen needed to go deep in October. The Dodgers responded by bolstering their defense with the additions of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick and by trading Matt Kemp to San Diego, making room in center for the defensively superior Joc Pederson.
The additions of veterans Rollins and Kendrick should help the team both on the field and in the clubhouse. The Dodgers went with the idea of “addition by subtraction” when they cut ties with relievers Brian Wilson and Chris Perez, who both sported an ERA over 4.00 in their 2014 campaigns with LA.
The addition of Yasmani Grandal is an interesting one. The young catcher has already missed significant time due to injury and a PED suspension, but the analytical minds of the new Dodgers front office undoubtedly love one specific part of his game: his pitch framing. He lead the majors in getting strike calls when he should, clocking in at 89%. The league average is 83%, and his catching counterpart A.J. Ellis sat at only 80% last season. Though it’s seemingly a miniscule statistic, getting those “extra” strike calls could be the difference between winning and losing. Oh, and he hits better than Ellis.
The back end of this rotation, headlined by Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, completely relies on health. McCarthy and Anderson (especially the latter) are injury prone, and the depth in the bullpen will be a question mark until it proves itself. However, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game, Zack Greinke is an ace that will serve as a two, and Hyun-jin Ryu is one of the better threes in baseball. Oh, and Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez are still at the heart of this lineup.
For now, the Dodgers are the most well-rounded team in the division. Keep an eye on Pederson, who has the talent to take the league by storm and help the Dodgers lock up the division title for the third straight year.
Prediction: 93-69, First in NL West.
San Diego Padres
77-85 in 2014
Key Additions: OF Matt Kemp, OF Justin Upton, OF Wil Myers, SP James Shields, C Derek Norris, 3B Will Middlebrooks
Key Losses: C Yasmani Grandal, SS Everth Cabrera
We’ve seen some drastic overhauls in baseball; however, I don’t think I’ve ever been as shocked by an offseason as I was with the Padres. This is the team that had a historically bad offense in 2014. They hit a grand total of .171 in June, which is the worst offensive month by batting average since 1914 (which is as far back as the wonderful website Baseball Reference tracks splits).
New general manager A.J. Preller apparently wasn’t a fan of being the laughing stock of the division (“yay, we get to play the Padres today!” is probably a thing of the past), so he went out and got arguably one of the better outfields in the league. Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers will patrol the outfield grass in Petco Park this season. If healthy (a good sized “if”), it’s hard to bet against them, regardless of the park they’re playing in. In fact, Kemp has hit an unfathomable .322 average at Petco Park in his career, a full 36 points ahead of his .288 average at his former home in Chavez Ravine.
I personally think that Myers’ best years are ahead of him, and Upton should do fine in San Diego, where he sports a .291 career average. He’ll likely slug against his former team in Arizona, so heads-up Diamondbacks fans.
Though I don’t believe that anyone in the Padres rotation is near as dominant as the aces in Los Angeles or San Francisco, it’s incredibly solid. The projected rotation is as follows: James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, and Brandon Morrow. They’ll be consistent, especially in their pitcher-friendly home park.
Cashner is one of my favorite pitchers in the league, Shields can still bring it (for now), and Kennedy as a four is enviable. Heck, even Morrow has some bounce-back potential, and if not they have the surprisingly good Odrisamer Despaigne to fall back on.
The Padres might not be able to wrestle the division crown away from the Dodgers, but don’t be shocked if they’re breathing down their division rival’s necks the entire season.
Prediction: 89-73, Second in NL West, Wild Card Berth
San Francisco Giants
88-74 in 2014
Key Additions: 3B Casey McGehee, OF Nori Aoki
Key Losses: 3B Pablo Sandoval, OF Michael Morse
This is the pick that I’m least confident about.
Once you overcome the “even year” stuff, you see that the Giants have built their dynasty on solid pitching, timely hitting, and a lack of mistakes in the clutch. They also have the uncanny ability to capitalize on an opponent’s mistake, and that’s what makes them so hard to rank.
While the top two teams at least attempted to make their teams better in the offseason, the Giants decided to stand pat. The loss of Pablo Sandoval will be particularly hard to overcome. Say what you will about his weight or his inconsistency, his unreal .344 batting average in the postseason will be sorely missed. Replacing him with Casey McGehee shouldn’t sink them, but he’s a downgrade.
Hunter Pence is a catalyst for this team, but a broken forearm will sideline him until May. Madison Bumgarner can be downright dominant, but will pitching over 270 innings last year come back to bite him? After Bumgarner, the rotation has a lot of question marks. How will Matt Cain and Tim Hudson rebound from their respective surgeries? What are we supposed to expect from Tim Lincecum?
Expect Brandon Belt to finally tap into his potential and slug for the Giants this year, as he and Buster Posey will have to carry the offense until Pence returns. Nori Aoki will also probably be a thorn in the side of the rest of the NL West with the Giants; his game should translate well in San Francisco, and he just seems like the type of player who shouldn’t be good, but will be because he’s on the Giants.
With Bruce Bochy at the helm and in control of a solid bullpen, I could never count the Giants out. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did way better than this projection. They just make it really hard to justify getting ranked any higher than third, but if anyone can make do with what they have, it’s the Giants.
Prediction: 85-77, Third in NL West.
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64-98 in 2014
Key Additions: 3B Yasmany Tomas, SP Jeremy Hellickson, SP Yoan Lopez
Key Losses: C Miguel Montero, SP Wade Miley
Here’s where predictions get a bit bleaker.
Let’s start with the positives: I like the Diamondbacks offense. Mark Trumbo is due for a bounce back year after losing a good part of the 2014 campaign to injury. Paul Goldschmidt is simply one of the best players in baseball. Yasmany Tomas has the potential to destroy opposing pitching, assuming that all the hype is warranted.
Unfortunately for Arizona, that’s about where the positives end.
Their pitching is not great. I like Patrick Corbin a lot, but he’s coming off of Tommy John surgery and won’t be back until summer. So in the meantime, the ace is… Josh Collmenter? That’s not a knock on Collmenter, he’s a solid pitcher. However, he’s simply not an ace. When a must-win game rolls around for the Diamondbacks, turning to Collmenter just doesn’t compare to anyone else in the division, besides the Rockies.
Archie Bradley, Peter O’Brien, and Braden Shipley are all highly touted prospects in positions of significant need for Arizona. They have the potential to be very good, but there were concerns about Bradley’s elbow last year and the current catcher situation could result in O’Brien getting called up before he’s ready.
The defense isn’t too great either. Trumbo isn’t a natural outfielder at all, and it’s hard to know what to expect from Tomas at third. Everywhere else isn’t too bad, but those two players could be exploited by some well-placed hits.
This team can compete if the others in the division falter, and if they strike gold and their prospects come up and wreak havoc on the league, and if their stars manage to stay healthy. That’s simply too many “ifs” for a team in the 2015 National League West.
Prediction: 69-93, Fourth in NL West.
66-96 in 2014
Key Additions: SP Kyle Kendrick, C Nick Hundley, RP John Axford
Key Losses: OF Michael Cuddyer, SP Brett Anderson
When you build your team to succeed in Coors Field, one loose cog in your plan can completely derail it. This is the story of the Colorado Rockies, who continue to hope that a tremendous offense will make up for almost no pitching.
The Rockies have an enviable lineup. The emergence of Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon helped to take some pressure off the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, while Justin Morneau should continue to consistently destroy baseballs. Colorado has one of my favorite up-and-coming players in third baseman Nolan Arenado, a defensive wiz who can tear the cover off the ball.
As with Arizona, the list of positives is depressingly short. The Rockies starting rotation is bad. Kyle Kendrick, who sported an ERA well over 4.00 in his last two seasons in Philadelphia, is their number three. That pretty much sums up everything you need to know. He has given up an average of 24 home runs per season over his 8-year tenure and that number is going to go up with the altitude of Coors Field.
Their prospect list isn’t impressive, their pitching is going to get torn apart, and their lineup simply can’t stay in one piece. If Tulowitzki can stay healthy, he’s arguably the best shortstop in baseball. If Gonzalez stays healthy, he’s one of the best outfielders in the game. But year-in and year-out we want to see Tulo and Gonzalez stay healthy, but year-in and year-out it doesn’t happen. I don’t really see a reason that it finally comes together on the health front for Colorado, so expect them to patrol the basement of the division in 2015.
Prediction: 65-97, Fifth in NL West.