Last year Colorado did what they seem to do about every decade, surprised people and made a race out of the West. Can they do it again this year? Can the Dodgers merely sleepwalk their way to a remarkable 7th-straight division title? Basically, San Diego decided the time was right to show some respect to their fans and begin to take a run at it, while the trio of teams with caps that aren’t ocean blue and white seemingly decided to just throw in the towel and think about being good around the time Obama’s girls can run for president.
TEAM BY TEAM:
Arizona – their franchise player is gone, their best pitcher is gone, and their second-best-if-healthy player is gone. Granted there are still some good pieces in play in the desert – for all the money he gets, or perhaps because of it, Zac Greinke may still actually be an under-rated pitcher. David Peralta has good power, Jake Lamb can hit ok when he’s healthy (see 30 HR in ’17, .509 slugging in ’16) but is coming back from shoulder surgery which limited him to 56 games last year. Robbie Ray is a question mark and now the clear #2 pitcher. After a Cy Young-candidate 2017 (15-5, 2.89) he saw his ERA jump by over a run last year, no doubt due to an unfortunate 70 walks in just 123 innings.
Colorado – Credit to the Rockies for locking up their current face of the franchise and MVP-favorite, Nolan Arenado,for eight more years. Arenado might be the best all-round player in the league, so they won’t be missing aging former-face-of-the-franchise Carlos Gonzalez too much. Add in the likes of Daniel Murphy, Charlie Balckmon and Trevor Storey, and the thin mountain air, and this team should score some runs, per usual. Also per usual, the pitching is the question mark. Bud Black is a rare former pitcher-turned-manager who helps his young arms out quite a bit, and Wade Davis is still one of the premier closers around. Kyle Freeland could turn some heads in his third season, after a more-than-solid 17-7 with over 200 innings last year…Judging from his opening day 7 inning start yesterday (just 2 hits allowed) he’s ready to be the ace Colorado’s never really had; German Marquez is decent as a mid-rotation guy and they have a lot of confidence in 21 year-old Peter Lockhart, a prospect they expect by mid-season. The rest of the staff though doesn’t look so bright and they’ll have trouble winning over 90 again this year.
Los Angeles – the problem with being a Dodgers fan now is that nothing short of a World Series pennant is going to be very satisfying. after 6 division championships in a row and being on the losing-end of back-to-back World series, being really good in the NLDS or such just won’t cut it. They have a great lineup, and are going to benefit from having a healthy Corey seager back in the infield after Tommy John surgery. MLB itself says he is one of top 10 players in the league if healthy and SI say he’s best behind Arenado and Kris Bryant. I am not much on their signing of injury-plagued aJ Pollock, who’s likely only slightly above-replacement even if he does play, but Justin Turner on the other hand, may be the most-under-appreciated position player in the NL. The Dodgers live and die by pitching though, and even with Clayton Kershaw and his wonky back, they should be living large. Walker Buehler was by concensus the best rookie pitcher in the league last year and is throwing harder from all reports. Rich Hill is old but still solid, and then there’s Hyun-Jin Ryu, who quietly may be on his way to becoming the best Asian-import pitcher to date in the MLB…last year he had a dazzling 1.97 ERA over 15 starts and his ERA has never gone above 3.77. Even though 32, look for him to continue on with his career 3.5 K:BB and ERA around 3.18 or better. Then, they have apparently two of the best pitching prospects around ready to burst through should Kershaw’s injuries be worth than expected- Dustin May and Tony Gonselin.
San Diego – I give the Padres a world of credit for doling out the big bucks to bring in a legit superstar in Manny Machado. That alone should give the fans reason to rejoice. Although they already had reason for optimism with perhaps the best all-around farm system in the sport, highlighted by shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., baseball’s #2 prospect; and Chris Paddack (last year 2.10 ERA and WHIP well below 1 in AAA,astonishingly walking only 8 through 89 innings) as good a choice for rookie of the year as any pitcher. Kudos to San Diego for starting the season with them instead of doing the usual song and dance to reduce their service time. But for all that, there’s not quite enough veteran star power there to make them serious contenders, even if Eric Hosmer can look better in his second year of his $144M mega-deal (last year, he hit .253, 18/69, .720 OPS compared to average of .292 with 25 HR, 99 RBI and .821 OPS over previous two years in KC).
San Francisco – SI rank them 14th among the league’s 15 team and pointedly note that they have “done nothing” over the off-season. A team of players who were great in their prime (Madison Bumgarner, Evan Longoria) and were short-of-great but were over-rated in their prime (Jeff Samardzjia, Derek Holland,Pablo Sandoval) dominate the lineup. For example, Samardzjia has a career WAR of 12 and this is his 12th season; he essentially had one excellent year, Brandon Belt, once a top prospect, and first baseman is into his 9th year and has never yet hit 20 homers or 85 RBIin a season. 2014. Bumgarner is still pretty decent, but no longer a workhorse. He has had the best ERA of any starter in losses over the past 5 years. On the plus side, Pudge’s son Dereck Rodriguez looked very promising last year in his half-season at the major league level and could find himself the real ace of the staff by May; they also have a great prospect in Joe Bart. Unfortunately, he’s a catcher and the one still superstar-quality player they have is, yep, their catcher, Buster Posey.
Los Angeles – 96 – 66
Colorado – 82 – 80
San Diego – 78 – 84
Arizona – 70 – 92
San Francisco 66 – 96