With Opening Day fast approaching, I will take a look at each of the American and National League Divisions, analyzing why each team could win the division and why they might not. Today, I will break down the National League West.
2017 Record: 93-69, 2nd place (lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS)
Why they could win the division: Arizona still has many of the same pieces from last year’s surprising playoff team. First Baseman Paul Goldschmidt is still around to terrorize opposing pitchers. He’ll see plenty of strikes batting in front of young slugger Jake Lamb (30 homers in 2017). A.J. Pollack and the newly-acquired Jarrod Dyson will balance out the lineup with some speed, not that Arizona had problems in that department (seventh in steals last year). Regarding the rotation, the D-Backs’ starting five remains intact. Considering they ranked third in starters ERA last year, that’s a good thing. There’s enough talent here for the D-Backs to make another playoff run.
Why they might not win: The D-Backs ranked in the top 10 in runs and OPS last year, but they could struggle to repeat that success without J.D. Martinez. The newly minted Boston Red Sox DH played just 62 games in the desert, but his 1.107 OPS was a key factor in Arizona returning to the playoffs. Fast as Dyson is, I don’t think he’ll come close to matching that level of production. Their top-five bullpen also went through some changes, losing closer Fernando Rodney (Minnesota) and setup man David Hernandez (Cincinnati). Brad Boxberger, Fernando Salas, and Japanese signing Yoshihisa Hirano will replace, but can this trio replace their production? Arizona also has to hope that starters Robbie Ray (2.89 ERA, 3.72 FIP) and Taijuan Walker (3.49 ERA, 4.04 FIP) don’t regress to the mean. If the hitting and pitching regress, it could spell trouble for Arizona.
Final Record: 82-80, 2nd
2017 Record: 87-75, 3rd place (lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Wild Card Game)
Why they could win the division: The Rockies offense was awesome last year. They finished in the top five in batting average, on-base percentage, OPS, and runs. Of course, Colorado hit much better within the friendly confines of Coors Field (.862 OPS at home compared to .703 on the road), but they didn’t rely as much on the long ball as people would assume (21st in MLB last year). Most of the 2017 lineup returns for another go (only Jonathan Lucroy, a rental, departed), so there’s no reason to expect anything less than top-tier production in 2018. The pitching, always a question mark for Colorado, was good enough last year (16th in starters ERA) to lift the Rockies into the postseason. If they can repeat their relative success, the Rockies could be dangerous once again.
Why they might not win: Because of where they play, Colorado will always struggle with consistent pitching. Their home/road splits are alarming; pitching to a 4.93 ERA at home compared to 4.09 everywhere else. The bullpen struggled especially–Colorado ranked 20th in relievers ERA last year, but new closer Wade Davis should lower that number. How many save chances will he get if the starters and middle relievers can’t hold leads. If the offense slips even a smidge in 2018, the pitching may not be good enough to make up the difference.
Final Record: 81-81, 3rd
Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 Record: 104-58, 1st place (lost to the Houston Astros in the World Series)
Why they could win: Even with some losses, the Dodgers are still stacked from top to bottom. Their lineup is still littered with young talent, and their rotation still looks pretty good. They still have arguably the best young player in the game (Cory Seager). They still have the best pitcher in the game (Clayton Kershaw). They still have arguably the most dominant closer in the game (Kenley Jansen). Los Angeles should win the division again, but their real test will come in October, where they always seem to fall short.
Why they might not win: The talent in the NL West means that the Dodgers have less room for error than they did a season ago. Still, it would take some injuries and some players underachieving to open the door for the other teams (L.A. has already lost Justin Turner and Julio Urias for an extended period of time). The improvements of the other west teams have loosened the Dodgers’ grip on the division.
Final Record: 95-67, 1st (eliminated in NLCS)
San Diego Padres
2017 Record: 71-91, 4th place
Why they could win the division:
Why they might not win: This was one of the worst offenses in baseball. In fact, the Padres were the least productive team in MLB in terms of runs last year. The return of Chase Headley and the signing of Eric Hosmer won’t change that much. The pitching–23rd in starters ERA and 24th in relievers ERA–wasn’t much better. San Diego didn’t make many changes here either, so I expect the same lack of production. With their prospects still a couple of years away from call-ups, Padres fans should expect to see plenty of losses.
Final Record: 69-93, 5th
San Fransisco Giants
2017 Record: 64-98, 5th place
Why they could win the division: On paper, the Giants offense looks pretty good. Not only are they going to get full-season production from Buster Posey and Bandon Belt, but they will also get a boost from new stars Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. The rotation should be fine once Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija return from the DL. The back end of the bullpen, headlined by Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, looks pretty reliable as well. If all goes well, San Francisco appears primed for a rebound.
Why they might not win: With this roster, San Francisco would’ve been a legit World Series contender…in 2012. They’re banking on a lot of veterans to find their former form, which could end in disaster. The offense should improve on its 29th ranked run scoring total from 2017, but will it be enough to buttress the pitching. The Bumgarner, Samardzija, and Melancon (questionable for Opening Day) injuries will put the Giants behind the eight-ball a little bit. That lost time could prove the difference between the Giants playing into October or not.
Final Record: 80-82, 4th