Bryan Altman and Tom Bogert, CBS Local Sports
Opening Day is right around the corner. As the calendar gets ready to turn to April, we prepare for another spring/summer full of the thrills of the diamond. With spring training games starting to wind down and teams heading back to their hometowns to get the season started, it’s time for some previews of how we project each division to play out. Follow along with us throughout the week as we go around the horn.
For the last three years, it’s been the Los Angeles Dodgers atop the NL West at the end of the regular season and the Dodgers are certainly still in a position to find themselves there again in 2016.
However, the San Francisco Giants – winners of three of the last five World Series’ have retooled once more and are gunning for the NL West crown. Throw in an improved Diamondbacks team and the race for the NL West title promises to be one of the more intriguing ones league wide this season.
2015 Champs – Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Order Of Finish
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
This decade, the Giants have pretty much just opted to not even deal with the whole ‘playoffs’ thing unless they’re going to win it all. Each of the last three years the Giants have made the playoffs, they’ve won it all.
On top of that, odd years like 2011 and 2013 and 2015 don’t really do it for them either. In 2010, 2012 and 2014, the Giants made the postseason and won the World Series and it’s a very real possibility that they will do so again in 2016.
The Giants were good last year and they’ve bolstered their lineup through a combination of getting players back from injury and from free agency.
Their two biggest moves in free agency were signing Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, two of the best pitchers available this offseason. While both have had their fair share of struggles in recent years and their respective ERA’s have ballooned (Samardzija – 4.96, Cueto – 3.44) and both are now in their 30s, Cueto gave reason for optimism in last year’s playoff run with the Royals while Samardzija has looked sharp in spring training thus far.
The Giants’ starting rotation has been injury-riddled for some time as well and both Cueto and Samardzija logged over 30 starts last year, which will be a major help for the Giants.
At the plate, the Giants will be getting back Joe Panik and Brandon Belt, both of whom missed significant time due to injuries last year and are major contributors to the Giants’ offensive. Belt batted .280 and had 18 home runs in just 137 games last year while Panik played in just 100 games but had an impressive .312 average and 29 extra-base hits as well.
Oh yeah, and they’ll be complementing that Buster Posey guy who had a .318 batting average last year along with third All-Star game nod. With a revamped pitching core and a solid one-through-nine lineup, the Giants are poised to get back to the top of the NL West.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers had two aces and somehow let one slither out of Los Angeles and into the desert to play for their rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks. While losing Zach Grienke will undoubtedly hurt the Dodgers, they’re still set to be a force in the NL West both on the mound and at the plate.
But let’s start on the mound, where Clayton Kershaw will surely continue his dominance of all that stand at the plate before him. The Dodgers’ stud right-hander was slightly upstaged by Grienke and Jake Arrieta’s absurd seasons, but don’t be fooled, Kershaw was still his dominant self. Kershaw finished 2016 with a 16-7 record, a 2.13 ERA and became the first starter since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson both did it in 2002. Kershaw will be his usual explosive self in 2016, you can bet on that.
An interesting bet that the Dodgers made this offseason was on Japanese starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, who is poised to try and fill a Grienke-sized void in the Dodgers’ rotation.
Maeda is reportedly having an impressive spring for the Dodgers and has fit right in with the club. He’s known as a steady pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal that doesn’t feature a particularly deadly pitch but all viable options to get hitters to miss.
How well Maeda can deliver in his first year will be an important element of the Dodgers’ success this year.
The Dodgers’ one-through-nine lineup is relatively unchanged from last year’s version and that can be both a good thing and a bad thing depending on how young players developed, especially Yasiel Puig. Many thought the Dodgers might move on from the talented but mercurial outfielder but he’s still in Dodger blue. Can he regain his form from 2014 and live up to the hype? His success will have a direct impact on the Dodgers’ fortunes this year as well because the offense needs to pick up the slack left behind by Grienke’s departure.
The Dodgers were 19th in the league in runs scored, even though their on-base percentage was fourth best in the league at .326. They need to manufacture more runs and with the same lineup as last year by and large they’ll need guys like Puig, Joc Pederson and Corey Seager to step into bigger roles.
Arizona shocked the baseball world when they announced the signing of starting pitcher Zach Greinke to a monster 6-year $206 million deal, wrestling the 32-year-old away from division foe Los Angeles Dodgers. They gained a true ace to pair with a true stud hitter in Paul Goldschmidt.
Last season, Greinke posted a stiff 1.66 ERA to pair with a 19-3 record and 200 strikeouts for the Dodgers. The rotation was still thin behind Greinke, so the Diamondbacks up and traded for Atlanta Braves pitcher Shelby Miller, who posted a light 3.02 ERA of his own. But because he played for the abysmal Braves, he lost 17 games.
Miller is a good pitcher, but the folks around MLB front offices reckon the Diamondbacks gave up way too many top line prospects to get him. But it shows the club is committed to doing everything to win now, to not spoil Goldschmidt’s prime nor the Greinke signing.
Back to Goldschmidt, the first baseman has established himself as a legitimate stud. Last term he batted .321 with 33 home runs, 110 runs batted in and 21 steals, numbers that few can match.
Outfielder A.J. Pollock enjoyed a career year last season, hitting 20 homeruns and stealing 39 bases while posting a .315 batting average. The power may fleet a bit, in his only other full season in the majors he hit just 8 home runs, but that won’t change his speed nor should it effect his batting average all that much.
The bullpen is decent. Closer Brad Ziegler keeps the ball in the park better than most with a staggering 75% groundball rate and proved to be a reliable closer in his first year on the job last season. It’ll be interesting to see if the 36-year-old will keep up the quality this season.
There’s a lot to like in Arizona, but they’re still not up to par with the San Francisco Giants nor the Dodgers.
Even when the Colorado Rockies aren’t contending for the division, they’re a ton of fun to watch when home at Coors Field.
Coors Field is a launching pad where the thin air allows balls to travel and runs to accrue at a rapid rate.
For all the fun to watch balls fly over the wall, the Rockies are one of those teams that are more attractive in fantasy baseball than in real life. Troy Tulowitzki is gone and Carlos Gonzales may be soon to follow, but at least Nolan Arenado made up for the former’s departure with a breakout season to the tune of 42 home runs and 130 runs batted in. The third baseman is a great hitter, but any power hitter is going to benefit from Coors. The best part about Arenado is that he’s still just 24 years old, so it’s just the beginning for him.
Outfielder Charlie Blackmon, who also has been the subject of some trade rumors, has an exciting power/speed combination that has seen him flirting to join the 20-20 club the past two seasons. He may just get over the home run hump after hitting 17 last year to go along with his 43 steals.
Jose Reyes had, like most hitters tend to, a bump in productivity when he was imported from Toronto as makeweight in the Tulowitzki deal. As he waits the verdict on a possible suspension, and it should be in the 30 game region that Aroldis Chapman got, Trevor Story has been awarded the start at shortstop on Opening Day. If the 23-year-old shows promise, he may steal even more at bats from Reyes.
Looking even further down the tunnel at shortstop in Colorado, Brendan Rodgers, the third overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, has shown Tulowitzki-like potential.
As for the pitchers, young children look away. As usual in Colorado, there’s nothing to see here. Maybe the Rockies have something in Jon Gray but he’ll be hamstrung to the ballpark that so dominantly benefits hitters. See: Gray’s ERA was 2.70 on the road in four starts but it was 5.53 cumulative in nine total starts, showing the negative effect that Coors Field has on pitchers.
San Diego Padres
This time last season, the San Diego Padres were all the rage. Padres’ general manager A.J. Preller was wheeling and dealing with any other club that’d answer the phone. The incomings of pieces that were meant to awkwardly fit and mold into a contender while the prospects being sent away were too many to count. After a hugely disappointing 2015 limping to a 74-88 record, the dust has settled after a few more transactions. Justin Upton has come and gone, as has Craig Kimbrel.
What’s left? Not much to love. Their lack of talent is compounded by the top heavy nature of the NL West, almost certainly leaving San Diego to sit in the basement of the division.
The top of their rotation with James Shields, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross under performed last year, and they all should bounce back. The bullpen has been slashed again, thanks to Kimbrel’s departure, leaving Fernando Rodney to man the ninth inning, where he’s not going to find all that many save opportunities.
San Diego’s offense is desolate. It relies heavily on Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Yangervis Solarte and just may feature Melvin Upton. That’s bleak.
For all the dismay and disappointment since his rookie season, Myers is still just 25-years-old. He’s got time to figure it out. Second baseman Cory Spangenberg will have his first full season as an every day player, so that’s cause for excitement as well.
The Padres were able to net some prospects back, namely Manuel Margot, an outfielder that came to San Diego from Boston as part of the Kimbrel deal. He’s not near the major league team yet. But it’s got to be expected that 26-year-old outfielder Jabari Blash with mercifully wrestle some at bats away from Upton so the Padres can see if they’ve got a player for the future.
That’s what 2016 will be all about for San Diego in all likelihood: trying to move in the right direction and finding players that will be there long term.
Beyond trying to catch glimpses of the future, there’s not much to find at a baseball diamond in San Diego this season.