MLB Season Preview: NL West
By: Sam Soergel
The NL West looks to be a much contested division at the top. The Giants will defend their third World Series title in the last five seasons. The Dodgers have the best pitcher in baseball and many other valuable pieces throughout their roster. The Padres were one of the biggest stories of the offseason, bringing in big names like James Shields, Matt Kemp, and many others. The Diamondbacks and Rockies ended at the bottom of the division and, chances are, they’ll be there again
Arizona Diamondbacks (2014: 64-98, 5th Place)
Key Additions: Jeremy Hellickson (P), Robbie Ray (P), Yasmany Tomas (OF) Key Losses: Miguel Montero (C), Wade Miley (P), Didi Gregorius (SS)
The Diamondbacks had a disappointing 2014, almost losing 100 games. Manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers are out. New manager Chip Hale will inherit a club with few big performers outside of Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt. Trumbo’s first year in Arizona did not compare well to his last three years in Anaheim. He hit .235/.293/.415 with 14 home runs in 88 games. Goldschmidt will most likely be in MVP discussion again, but his numbers also dropped last year. After those two, the D-Backs roster consists of a lot of young players with little big league experience. However, they signed Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas to a six year deal this offseason. He’ll provide the lineup with a power boost and could play in the outfield or third base. The team shipped shortstop Didi Gregorius to the Yankees to be the replacement for Derek Jeter. This opens the door for prospect Chris Owings.
Paul Goldschmidt: Because he’s on the D-Backs, Goldschmidt is often overlooked by the public as one of the best in the game, but there’s no doubt he is. He was an all-star the last two seasons and finished second in MVP votes in 2013. He hits lefties well and has a ton of power. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of power to back him up in the lineup.
Prospects: According to MLB.com, the Diamondbacks have the number sixteen prospect in all of baseball, Archie Bradley. He struggled with injuries last season, but he could possibly crack the rotation this season. They also have Chris Owings, who was a highly ranked prospect in the Diamondbacks system and looks to have the starting shortstop job locked down.
Rotation: They don’t have an ace, but they do have a lot of depth. Robbie Ray was brought in from Detroit in a three team trade, Jeremy Hellickson from Tampa Bay, and Rubby De La Rosa from Boston in exchange for Wade Miley. After Josh Collmenter who had a respectable season last year, a lot of the pitchers don’t look like they have enough stuff to make the rotation a strong point, unlike a lot of rotations in their division.
Colorado Rockies (2014: 66-96, 4th Place)
Key Additions: Daniel Descalso (2B), Nick Hundley (C), Kyle Kendrick (SP) Key Losses: Michael Cuddyer (OF)
The Rockies, like the Diamondbacks, are far behind their NL West counterparts. However, they have a lot more key pieces than the Diamondbacks and could be good, as long as they stay healthy. Both team stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez have battled injury recently and their health is crucial to any success the team has. They also have other bright spots in Nolan Arenado, who had a nice season at third, and veteran Justin Morneau who took home the NL batting title last year. Colorado had a good start to last year, going 23-16 in their first 39 games, but finished the season 43-80. They did not have many big offseason acquisitions, and lost outfielder Michael Cuddyer to the Mets, but if their core stays healthy, it looks like they could have a competitive team in 2015. However, the teams above them in the division still look like they have an edge.
Infield: If Troy Tulowitzki can stay healthy, the Rockies will have a strong infield at all positions. At first base, Morneau is a good fielder and should have a strong offensive season again, especially at the hitter friendly Coors Field. D.J LeMahieu won a gold glove at second base last season and his bat is not bad either. Troy Tulowitzki is a great shortstop and an offensive threat when he is healthy, but in his nine year career, he has only played over 140 games three times. Rounding out the infield at third is Nolan Arenado. In his second season, he hit .287/.328/.500 with 18 home runs and also won a gold glove.
Rotation: The Rockies do not have much to offer rotation wise. Jorge De La Rosa is the number one starter, followed by Jhoulys Chachin, Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek, and Eddie Butler. At, 33, De La Rosa is the oldest, with Chacin being 27, and the rest are 24. The roation is young, but it is not enough to compete. Pitching has to be there for a team to win. The team re-signed Jiar Jurrjens, a one-time ace for the Braves, to a minor league contract, so he might be able to help.
Bullpen: Colorado’s bullpen is not that good either. Rex Brothers had a good 2013, but was not as good in 2014. Closer LaTroy Hawkins announced that this season, his 21st in the majors, will be his last, so there could be an age problem there. They signed John Axford to a minor league contract, but control issues have plagued him the last few seasons. The bullpen had a 4.79 ERA last season which was second to last in all of majors.
Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68, 1st Place)
Key Additions: Jimmy Rollins (SS), Brandon McCarthy (P), Howie Kendrick (2B) Key Losses: Dee Gordon (2B), Matt Kemp (OF), Dan Haren (P), Hanley Ramirez (SS)
The Dodgers made key moves this offseason, and while it looks like they lost some really good pieces, they still have what it takes to win their third straight division crown. They lost speedster Dee Gordon in a trade with the Marlins, but replaced him with Howie Kendrick from Anaheim. Kendrick is basically a slower Gordon with a little more power. Another loss was shortstop Hanley Ramirez. One of the best free agents available, he signed with Boston for four years. He’ll be replaced by new acquisition Jimmy Rollins from Philadelphia, but he is older and is not as good as Ramirez. The rotation was helped by the Brandon McCarthy signing as well as bringing in Brett Anderson. After Kershaw, there is Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Rotation: The Dodgers have a great first three starters and while the last two can’t compare to Kershaw, as long as they are healthy, they will be reliable 4 and 5 starters. Brett Anderson was only able to pitch in 8 games last year before being shut down with a back injury. McCarthy had a solid season with the Yankees last year and was rewarded with a four contract from Los Angeles. If he can repeat the success he had in New York (7-5 with a 2.89 ERA) the Dodgers should be happy with their 4th starter. Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and will defend his Cy Young and MVP in 2015. It would not be surprising to many if he got another 20 win season, and 2014 all-star Greinke and Ryu do not disappoint. They also signed Brandon Beachy whose had two Tommy John surgeries, but if he’s healthy will offer more depth to an already strong rotation.
Third Base: Juan Uribe is the everyday third baseman right now. He isn’t bad, but third base looks to be the Dodgers biggest weakness. He only hit 9 homers last year with 54 RBIs. He’s a strong fielder (only 6 errors in 102 games last year), but the Dodgers could use a better bat at the hot corner. Luckily, MLB.com says prospect Corey Seager (#7 in all of baseball) is too big for shortstop and is built better to play third base, but he is only 20. Also, Justin Turner is a valuable infielder off the bench.
Outfield Problem: This is not necessarily a problem that will affect the performance of the Dodgers, just an issue that they should address. The Dodgers have at least four outfielders that could be starting. Ethier has made it clear that he wants to start or be traded. If Carl Crawford stays healthy and performs, both are question marks, there will be no room for Ethier. There would be plenty of suitors for him, but he is still owed a lot and the Dodgers would probably have to eat some of that salary to ship him somewhere else
San Diego Padres (2014: 77-85, 3rd Place)
Key Additions: James Shields (P), Will Middlebrooks (3B), Justin Upton (OF), Matt Kemp (OF), Derek Norris (C), Wil Myers (OF) Key Losses: Jesse Hahn (P), Everth Cabrera (SS)
The Padres were the off-season’s big surprise. They brought in free agents, made trades, and now look to be right up there with the Giants and Dodgers. They have a fantastic new outfield as well as a rotation led by staff ace James Shields, and followed by Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. Their new look outfield consists of Justin Upton from Atlanta, Matt Kemp from Los Angeles, and Wil Myers from Tampa Bay. They also acquired all-star catcher Derek Norris from Oakland and third baseman Will Middlebrooks from Boston. The Padres have a lot of new pieces and could very well keep the Giants or Dodgers out of the postseason.
Rotation: If the Dodgers do not have the best all-around rotation in the NL West, it’s the Padres. They went out and got one of the best free agent pitchers on the market in James Shields. Shields just adds to the rotation with Cashner and Ross, both had ERAs under three last year and Ross was an all-star. After that it will be Ian Kennedy and either Brandon Morrow or Odrisamer Despaigne. Even after trading Jesse Hahn, the rotation for the Padres looks really good.
Shortstop: The outfield looks to provide a lot of offense, but the shortstop position for the Padres can’t say the same. Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes are the options for them. Amarista hit only .239 last year and while Barmes has an outstanding glove, he’s 36 and hit .245 with the Pirates in an injury shortened 2014.
San Francisco Giants (2014: 88-74, 2nd Place)
Key Additions: Casey McGehee (3B), Nori Aoki (OF) Key Losses: Pablo Sandoval (3B), Michael Morse (1B/OF)
The defending World Series champs were able to resign a few of their key pitchers (Ryan Vogelsong, Sergio Romo, and Jake Peavy), but they lost one of the best players in their lineup Pablo Sandoval. He was replaced by Casey McGhee. McGehee is no Sandoval, but he had a solid 2014 in Miami. It looks like they have enough pieces to make a run at another title. Buster Pose is the best catcher in the game, and the infield of Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, and Brandon Belt all had strong playoff performances.
Rotation: The Giants are another choice for best rotation in the division. Playoff hero and staff ace Madison Bumgarner leads a rotation backed by Matt Cain, who looks to come back after injuries shortened his 2014, Tim Hudson, who finally got his World Series ring in his 16th season, Jake Peavy, a Cy Young winner who posted a 2.72 ERA after coming over from Boston, and the two time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. If someone gets hurt or Lincecum gets worse, the Giants also have Ryan Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit who could take a spot in the rotation.
Third Base: Losing Pablo Sandoval is a big blow to the Giants offense. He was a fan favorite and a big threat (literally) in the lineup. The Giants will have to rely on Casey McGehee to replicate the success he had last season in Miami. But it might not happen. Last season’s high batting average could’ve been a fluke.
How they’ll finish:
1st: Dodgers (92-70) – The Dodgers will take home their third straight NL West crown behind Kershaw and Puig. Their rotation combined with offense will make them the team to beat in the west.
2nd: Padres (88-74) – The Padres will beat the Giants for second place. Will the make the playoffs? It will be really tough to do in the NL in 2015. It might take 90 or more wins, but this offseason has the Friars primed for future success.
3rd: Giants (87-75) – The Giants have a stellar rotation and a good offense, but in 2015 their offense won’t be enough to hold off the Padres, and missing hunter Pence for 6-8 weeks early in the season won’t help
4th: Rockies (70-92) – If the Rockies core stays healthy and lives up to expectations, the could be better than a 70 win team, maybe even an 80 win team, but that’s a big if.
5th: Diamondbacks (63-99) – The Diamondbacks do not have enough pitching or offense to be a threat this year, or for a while.