MLB Divisional Preview: NL West
In the last rendition of the MLB Divisional Preview I will be previewing the NL West. It should be an exciting race in the West this summer with the defending World Series Champions the San Francisco Giants, the star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers and the much improved San Diego Padres.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
Manager – Chip Hale
General Manager – Dave Stewart
Home Ballpark – Chase Field
2014 Record – 64-98
Key Departures – Miguel Montero, Didi Gregorious, Wade Miley
Key Additions – Yasmany Tomas, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Jeremy Hellickson
Key Returners – Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, Bronson Arroyo, Josh Collmenter, Addison Reed, Trevor Cahill, Aaron Hill, Chris Owings, AJ Pollack, Mark Trumbo
Arizona was ravaged by injuries last season. The Diamondbacks spent the whole season without staff ace Patrick Corbin and most of the season without their two best bats, Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo. This Diamondbacks team just does not have enough talent at the big league level in the lineup and on the pitching staff to stay out of the NL West cellar.
Corbin emerged as the staff ace in 2013 when he won 14 games and was named to the All-Star team. It looks like he won’t be ready for opening day, but the team is looking for him to return sometime this season. Josh Collmenter was recently named the Opening Day starter for Arizona and has been a reliable pitcher since his debut in 2010. Collmenter is not going to overpower hitters with his fastball. He has to really work to get hitters out by changing speeds and using his off-speed pitches effectively. At best he’s a No. 3 starter, but on this Diamondbacks team, he is probably the No. 1 or No. 2 guy in the rotation. Behind Collmenter the Diamondbacks have a plethora of youngsters. Rubby De La Rosa was acquired in the offseason from the Boston Red Sox and has really impressed this spring. He will probably break camp with the big club and be in the rotation on Opening Day. The once top prospect in the Dodgers organization has a ton of talent and potential but has yet to put it all together. Another guy who has impressed this spring is the Diamondbacks’ overall top prospect Archie Bradley. Bradley is only 22, but he is the type of pitcher who can anchor a rotation. He has a fastball in the low to mid 90s with a devastating curveball to boot. If he keeps on impressing this spring, the Diamondbacks would have no choice but to let him to break camp with the big league club. Jeremy Hellickson was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2011 for the Tampa Bay Rays and since then he has kind of fizzled out. The Rays decided to ship him to Arizona this offseason, and maybe a change of scenery will help out the young right-hander. If he regains the form he had in 2011 and 2012, the Diamondbacks could come out as bandits in this trade. Veterans Trevor Cahill and Bronson Arroyo will also be a part of this rotation. Cahill might be on a bit of short leash since his performance has really taken a nosedive during the past two seasons. If he doesn’t get the job done, the Diamondbacks have three guys behind him who can take his spot in Chase Anderson, Allen Webster and Randall Delgado. Those three guys will also battle it out for the fifth spot in the rotation as well. In the bullpen the Diamondbacks have veterans David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler to be setup men to closer Addison Reed. Hernandez and Ziegler could probably be used as trading pieces at the trade deadline as there won’t be any need for them on a team that projects poorly for the 2015 season. The Diamondbacks are not too far off from being a pretty good team. They have a lot of youth in their starting rotation, and if Archie Bradley continues to develop at a positive rate, he can be the ace of this staff. That being said, a contending team just is not in the cards for Arizona this season.
The Diamondbacks might have the most overlooked player in baseball in Paul Goldschmidt. He’s a guy that doesn’t get as much pub as Miguel Cabrera or Jose Abreu, but he is just as good as those guys. His being overlooked has much to do with him playing out on the West Coast; so much of the country does not get to see him play. Goldschmidt was having another great season in 2014 before being sidelined with an injury mid-year. He is an MVP-caliber player, and I expect him to bounce back from the injury and put up big numbers this season. Arizona made a bit of splash this offseason by signing Cuban import Yasmany Tomas. Tomas could provide another big back behind Goldschmidt as he is known to have 25-30 home run power. But Tomas is just 24, so there is a chance he might start the season in the minors. He has struggled this spring, which has upped the chances even more that he will begin 2015 in Triple-A. Mark Trumbo is also another big bat that will likely hit behind Goldschmidt. Trumbo has huge power but is also troubled by strikeouts. He strikes out an awful lot, but he still puts up some decent power numbers. If he and Goldschmidt stay healthy, the Diamondbacks will have a potent 1-2 in the middle of the order. It looks like Arizona will go young at every other position. In centerfield the talented A.J. Pollack will get the nod. Pollack is pretty much the type of player who can do it all. He hits, fields and runs at an exceptionally high level. He had trouble staying healthy in 2014, but the Diamondbacks seem pretty set on Pollack being the fulltime centerfielder. It will be interesting to see what the young man can do in a full season. The Diamondbacks are also going to go young at shortstop with the 22-year-old Chris Owings. Owings saw some action at the big league level last year when he split time with Didi Gregorius. Owings is an exceptional talent at shortstop. He can pick it in the field. The Diamondbacks are just waiting for his bat to come along. He can definitely hit in that .270-.275 range, and we’ll see what he can do in a full season in 2015. The Diamondbacks will be an incredibly young team in 2015, and it should be a season filled with growing pains. I still see a few years before this team in ready to compete again.
4. Colorado Rockies
Manager – Walt Weiss
General Manager – Jeff Bridich
Home Ballpark – Coors Field
2014 Record – 66-96
Key Departures – Michael Cuddyer, Josh Rutledge
Key Additions – None
Key Returners – Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arrenado, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Justin Morneau, Willin Rosario, D.J. LeMahieu, Jorge De La Rosa, Eddie Butler, Rex Brothers, Jordan Lyles, Tyler Matzek, Latroy Hawkins
The Rockies have some of the most talented position players in baseball. Their lineup is loaded from top to bottom. They just have one issue: pitching. Since the team’s inception in 1993, the Rockies have never had a dominant pitching staff, which might be because of the very hitter-friendly Coors Field. Once again, the Rockies should have the ability to surprise some people in 2015 because of their great lineup, but their pitching will really hold them back.
The Rockies pitching staff is nothing to write home about. It was the worst staff in terms of ERA last season as it ranked dead last in team ERA. The 2015 staff is filled with young and fairly unproven players, so there is some hope in the Mile High city. Tyler Matzek, Jordan Lyles and Eddie Butler are three pitchers that Colorado is very high on. The trio is under the age of 25 and has the talent to be the core of the rotation going forward. Matzek and Lyles saw significant action at the big league level in 2014 and were so-so. Lyles has been a big league starter since 2011, when he was 20 years old and with the Houston Astros. Luckily he’s still fairly young, so he still has a chance to figure it out. Matzek’s first big league season was anything but forgettable. He won only six games and had an ERA of 4.05. Growing pains were to be expected in his first season, so I think he will be improved in 2015. Eddie Butler has a chance to be very good. The hard-throwing right-hander saw only 16.1 innings in the big leagues last year, but he has the stuff to make him a dominant pitcher. Butler has a fastball in the upper 90s, but he needs to be able to harness it. He runs into some control issues at times which lead him to be ineffective. If Butler finds his control, he can be a great pitcher to put behind the guy I’m going to talk about next. Jonathan Gray was the Rockies first round pick in 2013, and he has the stuff to make him the best pitcher the Rockies have ever had. Gray is a 6-foot-4, 240-pound right-hander, so he has the body type to be a horse and an ace in the pitching staff. His fastball runs up to the mid to high 90s, with an absolutely devastating slider. He’s performed considerably well so far in spring training and has a chance to break camp with the big club. If not, he’ll surely be with the big league team at some point this season. Jorge De La Rosa was set to be a candidate for the Opening Day starter, but injuries have held him back this spring and will not be ready for opening day. He is the only true veteran in the Rockies rotation. Kyle Kendrick was also signed during the offseason and will be the Opening Day starter. Colorado’s bullpen is full of question marks. Latroy Hawkins in entering the last season of his career and is the only certainty. He’ll be the closer after saving 23 games last season. Rex Brothers and Adam Ottavino had pretty average years last season, and the Rockies will need those two to step up in the ‘pen. Overall the Rockies have some talent in the rotation; it’s just a matter of that talent developing at the big league level. Until that happens the Rockies will have nothing better than a mediocre pitching staff.
One of the best offenses in the game resides in Colorado. The Rockies were the third-best offense in baseball last season in terms of scoring runs. Troy Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in baseball when he is healthy, but that’s the problem with Tulowitzki. He’s averaged only 88 games during the past three seasons and has only played in 150-plus games during his nine-year career. If he can stay healthy, the Rockies’ offense should be even better than it was last season because he is bound to put up big numbers in the thin air of Colorado. Carlos Gonzalez is kind of a similar story. He also hasn’t stayed healthy during the past three seasons. When he and Tulowitzki are both healthy, there might not be a better combination in baseball. The Rockies really need these two guys to stay healthy as they have invested much of their future in CarGo and Tulo. Nolan Arenado is one of the most underrated and un-talked about third baseman in baseball. He has proven his abilities in the field as he won back-to-back Gold Gloves in his first two seasons and looks to be a perennial winner of the award. He was out because of an injury for a good amount of time last season, but his bat looked like it was coming around. A full season from Arenado will help out of the Rockies immensely. He has a chance to develop into one of the best third basemen in the game. After having down years in his last few years in Minnesota and Pittsburgh, Justin Morneau reemerged last season in his first year in Colorado. Morneau won the National League batting title in 2014 by hitting .319. On top of his great hitting prowess he is also a great fielder. He has certainly reemerged as one of the best first basemen in the National League. Last season the Rockies received breakout campaigns from Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson in 2014. Blackmon hit 19 homers, knocked in 72 runs, played in 154 games, was named an All-Star and hit .288. Dickerson had an even more impressive year. He hit 24 homers, knocked in 76 and hit .312. Assuming Carlos Gonzalez stays healthy, the Rockies have an elite offensive outfield. Colorado has the offensive pieces to compete for a championship right now. Unfortunately, the Rockies’ pitching staff will bring them down to the bottom half of the division.
3. San Francisco Giants
Manager – Bruce Bochy
General Manager – Brian Sabean
Home Ballpark – AT&T Ballpark
2014 Record – 88-74 (WORLD CHAMPIONS)
Key Departures – Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse
Key Additions – Casey McGehee, Nori Aoki
Key Returners – Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson, Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt, Yusmeiro Petit, Jake Peavy, Hunter Strickland, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Gregor Blanco, Santiago Castilla, Sergio Romo
By winning three of the last five World Series, the Giants have inserted themselves into a class above the rest. It should be no surprise they won the World Series last season, as last year was an even year (they won it in 2010 and 2012 as well). That being said, the Giants will take a step back this year as the rest of the division got that much better.
The name Madison Bumgarner became synonymous with the word legendary after his performance in the World Series last season. His postseason performance was so good that it overshadowed his regular season work. He won 18 games for the Giants in 2014 and posted an ERA of 2.98, and with his performance in the postseason, he has worked himself into the category of elite pitchers. He did throw more than 270 innings in 2014, so it will be interesting to see if he can hold up for a whole season in 2015. The Giants are going to expect more out of Tim Lincecum this season. The former two-time Cy Young winner’s performance has really trailed off during the past three seasons. He’s been so bad at times he has had to be moved to the bullpen. His velocity has dropped considerably, and he just isn’t the pitcher he once was. That being said, he can still be a valuable pitcher if he learns to pitch like the pitcher he is now and not the pitcher he was four years ago. Matt Cain did not get a chance to pitch in the postseason in 2014 due to injury, but before that he and Bumgarner formed a pretty formidable duo at the top of the Giants’ rotation. If he manages to stay healthy and pitch up to his potential, then missing out on big name pitchers such as Jon Lester in free agency should not hurt as much. The Giants’ rotation should round out with Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong. Peavy was once one of the elite pitchers in baseball, but he has gotten older and his skills have diminished. He can still be an effective No. 4 or No. 5 starter and win 10-12 games. Vogelsong was re-signed by the Giants this offseason after two pretty mediocre years in 2013 and 2014. He’ll probably be on a short leash to begin the season, as the Giants have Yusmeiro Petit, who was great in long relief and in-spot starts last season, waiting in the wings. I expect the Giants to have a great bullpen again this year with Sergio Romo and Santiago Castilla at the back end. Hunter Strickland’s role should expand after we saw him used extensively in the 2014 postseason. The Giants have a good enough pitching staff to compete, but with the improvements of the other two teams, I don’t know if they stack up. That being said, the Giants are a team that always finds a way to win, so I could see also see them grabbing a wildcard spot.
The lineup took a blow this offseason with the loss of Pablo Sandoval. The Kung Fu Panda was one of the major contributors in the middle of the Giants’ lineup for the past six seasons. He was almost a guarantee 15-20 homers and 80-90 RBIs, not to mention his performances in the post season. The Giants replace him in the form of Casey McGehee, a guy who had a bounce-back year in Miami last season. He doesn’t provide as much pop as Sandoval did but should be a good replacement for the Panda. One of the best catchers in the game resides in San Francisco. Buster Posey has solidified himself as the face of the Giants’ franchise and maybe Major League Baseball as a whole. Posey gets it done with the bat while playing one of the most demanding positions in sports. Besides breaking his leg in a home plate collision in 2011, he has managed to stay pretty healthy. I expect the former MVP-winner to have another fantastic season and keep the Giants in the race throughout the summer. The Giants have one of the most consistent and eccentric players playing right field for them in Hunter Pence. Pence has played in all 162 games for the past two seasons. He is one of the most reliable and durable players in Major League Baseball. He hit 20 homers and knocked in 74 runs in 2014, but he does have the ability to hit 25-30 homers and knock in 90-100. I think for the Giants to be in the race, Pence will have to do the latter. Brandon Belt will also need to stay healthy. He played in only 60 games last season, but when he is healthy he has the potential to hit 20-plus homers. That’s something the Giants need with the loss of Sandoval and Morse. Nori Aoki was brought in during the offseason to play left field. Aoki will be a valuable on-base guy batting in the lead-off or two-hole spot in the lineup. Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik will have a full season to play with each other in 2015 as the Giants double-play duo. Panik was fantastic after being called up in the middle of the year last season to play second base. He hit .305 in 73 games for San Fran in 2014 while playing a great second base. You know what you’re going to get with Crawford: very little offense but a pretty reliable glove. Lastly, Angel Pagan had a great 2014 before being sidelined for the postseason with a back injury. He should return and be the leadoff man this season. I think the Giants will compete for a wildcard spot in 2015, but I think with the improvements of the Padres they will come up just short.
2. San Diego Padres
Manager – Bud Black
General Manager – A.J. Preller
Home Ballpark – Petco Park
2014 Record – 77-85
Key Additions – Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, James Shields, Will Middlebrooks, Clint Barmes
Key Departures – Everth Cabrera, Seth Smith, Jesse Hahn
Key Returners – Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Joaquin Benoit, Ian Kennedy, Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Cameron Maybin, Kevin Quackenbush, Nick Vincent, Dale Thayer
For the first time since I can remember, the Padres should have an offense — a real, live offense that actually scores runs. For the past 13 seasons San Diego has finished in the bottom half of Major League Baseball in runs scored. I expect that to change dramatically in 2015 with the additions of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Wil Myers. Not mention the already fantastic pitching staff they already possessed. The additions the Padres made in the offseason should propel them to their first playoff appearance since 2006.
This was a staff that ranked in the top 10 in almost every major pitching category a year ago, and they just might have gotten better with the addition of James Shields. Shields had been the ace of the Royals staff for the past two seasons, but he does not need to play that role in San Diego. Andrew Cashner has the potential to be the anchor of this staff. He has a mid 90s fastball with an ankle-breaking curveball. He had trouble with injuries a year ago but should be a go in 2015. Ian Kennedy won 13 games for the Friars in 2014, but it was not too long ago he won 21 games for the Diamondbacks. He is only 30 years old and can be a pretty valuable No. 2 or No. 3 starter on this Padres team. His win total should rise as he finally has an offense that can put up runs. Tyson Ross put up incredible numbers last year. He did only win 13 games, but he had an ERA below three and struck out 195 batters in 195.2 innings. Much like with Kennedy, Ross’s win total should only rise with the presence of a top-notch lineup behind him. The foursome of Cashner, Shields, Kennedy and Ross should be one of the best in the National League. Joaquin Benoit will be the closer of a relatively unknown bullpen. Kevin Quackenbush, Dale Thayer and Nick Vincent all should be setup men for Benoit. The Padres definitely have the pitching pieces to compete for the playoffs this season.
There is finally some thump in the middle of the Padres lineup with Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers. Kemp had the makings of a superstar before injuries brought him down during his past few years in Los Angeles. He has huge power potential for 30-40 home runs and hit more than .300. He’ll play right field for San Diego this season and probably hit at the three or clean up spot in the order. He has the potential to hit for big power numbers even with playing in a pitcher friendly park. Justin Upton should complement Kemp very nicely in the order. Upton also has the potential for 30-plus homers and 90-100 RBIs. The Padres haven’t seen a duo like this in since Greg Vaughn and Ken Caminiti. Wil Myers had a great rookie year for the Rays in 2013. His play was so good he earned the AL Rookie of the Year award. He had a sophomore slump in 2014, a season filled with injuries and slumps for many former rookies. The Padres are banking on the once top prospect to have a bounce-back season in 2015. Jedd Gyorko had a 2014 much similar to Myers. Gyorko had a great rookie season in 2013 hitting 23 home runs for the Padres, and last season he just hit 10 homers with an average of .210. He’s poised to have a bounce-back year for San Diego. Yonder Alonso should not have as much pressure on him to produce with the additions of Kemp and Upton. Without that pressure his numbers should go up this season. He is a former first round pick with 20-plus home run potential. Derek Norris will give San Diego a catcher with some major run producing potential. Norris had an All-Star season for the Oakland A’s last season while splitting time with Stephen Vogt and Geovany Soto. He should get the bulk of the work for the Padres, and his numbers should only go up. Will Middlebrooks was once a prized possession of the Boston Red Sox, but he never lived up to the hype and was shipped to San Diego this offseason. With a less pressured environment in San Diego Middlebrooks should finally start to produce. The revamped San Diego Padres have the lineup to make the playoffs this season. I see them grabbing one of the wildcard spots along with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Manager – Don Mattingly
General Manager – Ned Colletti
Home Ballpark – Dodger Stadium
2014 Record – 94-68
Key Additions – Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Brandon McCarthy, Yasmani Grandal, Chris Heisey, Joel Peralta, Brett Anderson
Key Departures – Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Brian Wilson
Key Returners – Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Grienke, Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe, Hyun-jin Ryu, Kenley Jensen, Joc Pederson, JP Howell, Brandon League, Andre Ethier, AJ Ellis
The Dodgers are one of the most talented teams in baseball and were probably the best team during the regular season last year, but they ran into the St. Louis Cardinals again in the postseason and were sent packing early. 2015 should be another big year for the Dodgers, and they should capture the NL West for the third consecutive year.
When you have the best pitcher on the planet in your rotation, you know you’re going to have a pretty good chance of being a really good team. That’s exactly what the Dodgers have in Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw had a historically great season in 2014. He won 21 games, struck out 239 batters and posted an ERA of 1.77, a performance which won him his fourth consecutive ERA title. In fact the Dodgers went 23-4 in games that Kershaw started. He did all this while missing the first month of the season with an injury. Unless he gets injured, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be the best again in 2015. Behind Kershaw is Zack Greinke, and he is no slouch. He probably does not get the recognition he deserves behind Kershaw. Greinke won 17 games for the Dodgers in 2014, and I expect to have another great season for LA this season. Hyun-jin Ryu has been nothing but good since migrating to Major League Baseball in 2013. The Korean South Paw has posted back-to-back 14-win seasons for the Dodgers. He battled with injuries last season, and it seems to be the same heading into 2015. He is slated to begin the season on the DL, but the Dodgers are not too concerned with this being a season-long issue. Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson should round out the rotation for LA. McCarthy was great after being traded to the Yankees in the middle of the year in 2014. He really started using his cut fastball more, and it made him a much more effective starter. Anderson has struggled with injuries during the past few seasons, but when healthy he can be an effective starter. Kenley Jansen posted 44 saves for the Dodgers in 2014 and was one of the best closers in the National League. He is also expected to start the season on the DL with a foot inury but should be back by the middle of May. JP Howell, Joel Peralta and Brandon League will all get a shot to close while Jansen is sidelined. With Kershaw at the top of the rotation the Dodgers will win the NL West for the third consecutive year.
Not many teams can lose a guys like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp and be still in a good position to win like the Dodgers are. Yasiel Puig has been great since debuting in 2013. He really catches your eye with his flashy diving catches, towering home runs and all-around exciting play. The Dodgers are going to expect more run production out of Puig in 2015. He looked like he was well on his way to a career year after the first three months of 2014, but his production really fell off during the past three months. He definitely has the ability to hit 30 homers and knock in 100 RBIs, he just now needs to go out and do it. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best first basemen in baseball. Last season was the fourth out of the last five seasons in which Gonzalez knocked in 100 RBIs. He is a model of consistency, and he’ll have another great season in 2015. In my opinion, Jimmy Rollins is an upgrade over Hanley Ramirez at the shortstop position. Even in his old age Rollins is a better fielder than Ramirez, and he can still produce with the bat. Yes, Ramirez might be the better offensive player, but Rollins is a better all-around shortstop. Joc Pederson will be a name to be aware of as the season. He is the Dodgers top prospect and possesses a ton of power. He hit 33 home runs a year ago in the minors and is expecting to be the Dodgers Opening Day center fielder. If he performs up to expectations, Dodger fans will forget all about Matt Kemp. Howie Kendrick will take over at second base for Dee Gordon this season. Kendrick has quietly been one of the better offensive second basemen in baseball during the past six seasons. He definitely is not a downgrade to Gordon. Yasmani Grandal will probably get a shot at starting catcher for the Dodgers. Grandal was once a top prospect of the Padres organization but was traded to the Dodgers after they acquired Derek Norris. If Grandal plays up to his potential he will provide more production than AJ Ellis, who has been the starter for the last three seasons. The Dodgers have the lineup to win the NL West and have a pretty deep run into October.
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