NL Western Division Picks


Photo by USA Today



National League – Western Division predictions

  1. LA
  2. Colorado
  3. San Francisco
  4. Arizona
  5. San Diego

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Winners of back-to-back National League Pennants and six consecutive division titles the Los Angeles Dodgers of 2019 smack of the Brooklyn teams of the late 1940s through the 1950s who dominated. During that baseball era of one winner and no playoffs, the Dodgers reeled off winner after winner through pitching, hitting and defense.

Today’s Dodgers lead by depth at pitching, depth at fielding and depth at hitting all which seem to point toward another championship. But you can never tell if injury to a key player or two scuttles the whole smooth operation. Analytics be damned, injury can wreck even the best of plans.

Other teams hungry to supplant Los Angeles are a year or two away except for Colorado which recently re-signed its marquee player Nolan Arenado. They remain in the hunt after last year nearly toppling the mighty Los Angeles blue machine. The Rockies have pitching, hitting and defense. They also have an excellent manager in Bud Black.

San Francisco suffered through an anemic offense last year and has not addressed that issue with any effect. But they do have Madison Bumgarner and the lefty pitcher has not ever failed to meet expectations. Injury to the southpaw at the beginning of last season seemed to derail the entire team. But hitting or lack of seems to be the major problem for the Northern California team and with Buster Posey slowing down it doesn’t look to get better any time soon. Pitching depth remains at a low except for its relief corps which continues to remain strong. But you can’t win the Western Division on relief pitching alone.

San Diego picked up Mario Machado with a $300 million price tag signaling an end to the rebuilding period. They are coming to play for rings. Though not ready for prime time yet, they have the offense ready to roll they just need some starting pitching depth to help their excellent relief pitching. They could easily edge ahead of San Francisco if their rookies hit as well as advertised. They have a few good ones.

Arizona surprised many when it unloaded star hitter Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis. That was followed by allowing budding pitching star Patrick Corbin to opt out through free agency and sign with Washington. That put a damper on any plans for battling for the division title and puts them in the rebuilding stage though they do have some pitching remaining. It’s just not enough.

     

Predictions:

L.A. Dodgers  

Led by manager Dave Roberts the team has health questions with its stars Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager and Justin Turner. All suffered injuries last year and further injuries could hamper the team’s plans for a return to the division title. But this team has plenty of ammunition at every position especially pitching. They are loaded with starters and back up starters like Julio Urias, Caleb Ferguson and Ross Stripling. Any other team would kill for pitchers like these. Despite depth at pitching and fielding last year showed that when third baseman Justin Turner was injured the team took a nose dive. He’s the straw that stirs the drink and the red head needs to stay healthy. If the Dodgers have any Achilles Heel it would be Turner.

But it’s difficult to beat a team with a starting rotation of Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu. And any relief corps that has Jansen, Pedro Baez and Scott Alexander, plus recently added former Boston flame thrower Joe Kelly will be hard to take down. This team is Mariana Trench deep.

Hitting-wise the Dodgers dealt Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp who both gave the team offense last year. On the field Puig was their best all-around defender and hit in the clutch all season long. He will be missed unless Alex Verdugo and new signee AJ Pollack can pick up the baton.

A very big question looms over shortstop Seager who missed the entire season because of surgeries to his elbow and hip. Though still young, his position at short is a demanding one especially when it comes to throwing on the run. They may be sorry they let Machado go via free agency. He was an upgrade defensively at shortstop. Can the Dodgers if Seager drops out of the position? That’s the question.

 

Colorado Rockies

After 162 games last season the Rockies and Dodgers ended in a tie. That says a lot about this team which recently signed third base slugger Arenado to an extension. Now they can attend to business of tracking down the Dodgers.

For years the Denver-based team resorted to trying to lure top pitching to its mountain high elevation stadium with not much luck. Those who signed up quickly departed with damaged egos and damaged statistics. But the organization realized that building from within was the answer. Their pitching is now home grown and thriving behind Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Jon Gray. These guys can really throw and whether it’s at home or on the road they are a handful. Their pitching staff is not as deep as others but if they remain healthy they can deal with any other team. Health is key. The team’s relief pitching has never been a strength and will suffer with the loss of Adam Ottovino to free agency. It’s their only weakness.

It’s well known that offensively the Rockies thrive at home and are not too bad on the road either. A number of sluggers were lost to free agency such as DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holiday and Gerardo Parra. All were veteran hitters who will be missed; They did pick up experts batsman Daniel Murphy one of the smartest in the game. He will thrive in Denver, but his defense lacks.  

Can they catch the Dodgers?

Last year was an amazing display when they managed to surpass Arizona and catch the Dodgers in the final week. But many of those players are now gone. Can this team match 2018’s version. The one constant is manager Bud Black who has a knack for guiding teams through the worst turbulence and into the clear. He’s a very good manager and especially knows how to deal with pitchers.

 

San Francisco Giants

The old gang is breaking down. The team that grabbed three World Series from 2010 to 2014 still kicks around but not as youthful and not as effective. Buster Posey still can hit and may always be able to hit, but the other members have lost some spring to their step and the new players brought in to replace the ineffective players have not shown success.

Pitching was always key to the Giant’s success but even they are breaking down and only Bumgarner remains as a lock down pitcher. The others have succumbed to injury or age. They are a one-trick pony with one excellent pitcher and one excellent hitter. It could take another year under new general manager the former Dodger front-office genius Farhan Zaidi to put together a solid winning team.

Behind lefty ace Bumgarner are a group of pitchers that though effective veterans don’t compare to the Giants hurlers of the past. First there’s regularly injured star Johnny Cueto who since signed hasn’t brought anything to the team. Then you have Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz and maybe Andrew Suarez. All are solid pitchers but can they stop opponents from out-scoring their own anemic hitting team.

The Giants could find the answer from within but the guys that led them to three World Series no longer have the ammunition to bring another.

Expect them to improve on last year’s win total by a few ticks and possibly win 78 to 80 games as long as Posey and Bumgarner are healthy.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Last year the Arizona Diamondbacks were picked by many to win the Western Division and started off fine until the wheels fell off. What happened?

A slow start by their best hitter Paul Goldschmidt didn’t help matters but he then got red hot in the second half. It was too late. Other problems surfaced for the D-Backs including defensive lapses and lack of depth.

Goldschmidt and AJ Pollack departed via free agency and last year’s loss of JD Martinez add up to a very weak offensive team. They still have a few irons in the fire but not enough to compete with powerhouses L.A. and Colorado. New additions Adam Jones, Jarrod Dyson, and Wilmer Flores are interesting pick-ups but replacing Pollack and Goldschmidt is a bit much to overcome. 

One constant has been pitching and with the loss of Patrick Corbin to free agency they need to replace the hole his departure creates. Now Washington has Corbin and finding someone as talented as Corbin will be tough to do.

Zack Greinke continues to bedazzle opponents but he is ageing and though still an excellent pitcher he can’t do it alone. Their pitching staff is weakening and though they have a solid relief corps it’s not enough to hold back the opposition.

 

San Diego Padres

The Padres have dug in and proved it with the $300 million signing of Mario Machado. Though his arrival won’t change the team’s chances to make the playoffs it proves they are finished with focusing on rebuilding, they are reloading now.

Last year the Padres won only 66 games but don’t expect a repeat of that low figure in 2019.

Machado’s arrival along with rookie shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. adds more pop to the lineup that already features Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers, and Hunter Renfroe. Add in Ian Kinsler and the team has the makings of a difficult lineup for opposing pitchers to face on a daily basis.

Defensively the Padres lacked in 2018, but Machado - whether he plays short or third - is one of the best fielders around. He also has a shotgun arm and plays with confidence. That’s addicting to teammates and he could be the ingredient needed to boost the team to pass Arizona.

Another strength of the Padres is their relief corps. They are strong in the bullpen and have a few studs lurking around in the shadows like Matt Strahm, Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen. These guys can throw.

Starting pitching is their primary weakness and despite the signing of Garrett Richards they need a lot more. Richards hasn’t been healthy in four years and his on again off again yearly status wrecks a team’s spirit. The Padres do have starters in the minor leagues who might be ready to step up to the Big Leagues. They already have a few youngsters with experience like Joey Lucchesi and Robbie Erlin who show promise.

It’s just not enough to win this year but next year they could surpass a few teams.

 

 

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