I’m at least grateful that James Shields had enough courtesy to sign with a team of which I had yet to write. That certainly made life easier for me as I worked on all of these posts. The Padres certainly have been the busiest team in the west. But, the question always is – did they make the right moves? Every year, there is a team or two that makes several huge moves in an attempt to become suddenly relevant. But, there are as many times (if not more times) in which it fails to make any difference. Most recently, I recall everyone thinking the Blue Jays were going to run away with the AL East after several acquisitions in the offseason leading up to the 2013 season. And, a season before that, it was the Marlins who signed several big-name free agents, and were expected to jump to the front of the division. Both of those teams actually finished in last place, rather than first. So, beware. There’s no guarantee that making a big splash in the offseason will bring about any amount of success when the games are actually played. With that in mind, here is how I see the NL West playing out:
- Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)
- San Diego Padres (87-75)
- San Francisco Giants (82-80)
- Colorado Rockies (74-88)
- Arizona Diamondbacks (72-90)
You might say I’m drinking the Padres Kool-Aid . . . sort of. The signing of Shields actually did make a significant difference – but, you’ll see why when it comes time for my playoff predictions next week. For now, let’s see how we got to this point…
While it is a little bit tighter of a race, the Dodgers still have the best rotation in the division, top to bottom. Kershaw is obviously not just the best pitcher in the division, but he’s the best in the National League, and possibly in the entire game right now. Greinke would be the ace on every other team’s staff in this division – and he’s #2 in LA. Ryu and McCarthy are average pitchers, which is fine if they’re in the #4 & #5 spots. The wild card might be Brett Anderson. If he can remain healthy, he has the stuff to be a legit top-of-the-rotation guy. And, he might only be LA’s 3rd best pitcher. The offense is still the best in the division, even after losing Kemp, Ramirez and Gordon. Kendrick may not have Gordon’s speed, but he’s a much better defensive and all-around offensive player at 2B. Joc Pederson is a stud, and can be a 30/30 guy at the top of the lineup. Mix those in with Puig, Gonzalez, Uribe and Crawford and this lineup has very few holes. The team defense and speed will be at or near the top of the division, as well – for basically the same reasons I just mentioned the offense will be excellent (Kendrick, Pederson, et al.). The one area of concern for the Dodgers is one that didn’t rear its ugly head until the playoffs – the bullpen. A below-average bullpen is an easy weakness to mask in the regular season if you have 3 or 4 quality starting pitchers. But, come playoff time, you need a strong bullpen (just ask Kershaw). But, when League & Frias are two of your best relievers (1.46 & 1.24 WHIPs last year, respectively), you aren’t exactly elite. It isn’t the worst in the division. But, don’t be surprised if it’s an issue yet again come playoff time.
With the signing of Shields, the Padres starting rotation went from middle-of-the-pack in this division, to just a notch behind the Dodgers. Assuming Shields would now be the ace of the staff, you have Shields, Cashner and Ross at the top. That’s an impressive combination. Despaigne isn’t exactly anything to write home about, but as a #4 or #5 starter, he’s more than adequate. The real question might be whether or not Ian Kennedy can get back to his Arizona days. Back when he was winning 20+ games with an ERA below 3.00. It’s not like he was terrible last year (3.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) – but, if he improves just a little, the Padres could have the best overall rotation in the division. The bullpen is also one of the best in the division – four players posting a WHIP at or below 1.10 last season. And, their team defense and speed will be even better this year than last – when they were actually quite good already. But, the reason they will fall short of the Dodgers is the offense. Kemp and Upton are nice middle-of-the-order guys. But, beyond those two, the Padres only have one other batter that is even somewhat significantly above average (Derek Norris – who has never played more than 127 games in a season). This will create some problems in pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
Their bullpen is probably the best in the division – Casilla, Machi & Romo all posted WHIPs below 1.00 last year. But, they’re gonna have to lean heavily on that bullpen in order to be successful at all this year. Bumgarner was the only above-average starter on the team in 2014 (117 ERA+). Hudson, Peavy, Vogelsong and Cain combined for an average FIP over 4.00. It may not be the worst rotation in this division – but, it’s still in the bottom 1/3 of the league. And, while everyone around them was working toward improving their offense, the Giants lost a valuable leader, quality fielder, and above-average bat in Sandoval. Posey and Pence are comparable to Upton & Kemp, and they do have a few more above-average bats (Belt, Pagan, Panik). So, they’re a notch above the Padres offensively, but that’s as far as it goes. And, while they aren’t bad defensively or on the base-paths, they are definitely the worst in this division. Once again, it looks like the odd year is not going to be kind to the Giants.
Anyone know who won the NL batting title last year? Anyone? How many guesses do you think you’d need before you guessed Justin Morneau? And, he’s not even considered the biggest threat in their lineup. If Tulo & Cargo can remain healthy (and, that’s a big “if”), this offense could be stellar. And, it’s a good thing, because otherwise this would likely be the worst team in the division. Only two starters in the rotation posted even slightly above-average seasons last year (an aging DeLaRosa & a young Tyler Matzek – though, both finished with ERA’s above 4.00). Four of the five best relievers on the team finished 2014 with a WHIP of 1.19 or worse – including Rex Brothers at 1.85! And, while the team defense and speed isn’t bad – it still manages to be near the bottom in this division. The Rockies will really need their offense to be spectacular, to keep this team from ending up in the cellar of this division.
The only reason I have Arizona below Colorado is because of the Rockies offense. While the Rockies can at least expect some excitement in that part of their game – the Diamondbacks have nothing above middle-of-the-pack in their entire team makeup. The rotation is easily the worst in the division. Collmenter is the only starter on the team who finished last season even a little above average (11-9, 3.46 ERA, 1.13 WHIP). Their #3-5 starters had three of the five worst seasons as starters last year . . . in the entire division. Their bullpen is only slightly better than Colorado’s. Four of their five best relievers finished 2014 with a WHIP above 1.20 (though, none worse than 1.36). Their offense is mediocre. Goldschmidt – who has also had health issues of late – is a stud. Tomas has 30-HR potential, but he likely will take a year or more to adjust and mature (just 24 years old). A.J. Pollock has the potential to be very good – but, he has yet to play a full season either. And, beyond these three, the Diamondbacks offense is nothing to get excited about. Which is pretty much what I would say for their upcoming season.