Most people would tell you the American League East is the most interesting division in baseball this year, but truth be told, the National League West might be just as intriguing. It’s a division that sent three teams to the postseason last year and one to the World Series.
Then it’s the division that handed out the biggest offseason contract — Eric Hosmer’s eight-year, $144 million deal with the San Diego Padres. And where the San Francisco Giants brought in two big-name veterans in Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria.
In short: Every team is fascinating.
Can the Giants find their magic again even after losing Madison Bumgarner to injury? Are the Padres ready to shock everyone and compete this quickly? Will the Rockies and D-backs continue their playoff pushes. And then there’s the Dodgers. We know they’re good — but they’ve got even bigger monkeys on their back. Not only are they expected to repeat as division champs yet again, but they’re chasing down a World Series drought too.
While the Dodgers still seem like the class of the division — even with star third baseman Justin Turner out to start the year — this division is dense with storylines and possibilities. So we’ll dissect the NL West with a look at its new faces, its biggest questions and what each team would have to do to win.
In case you need you a reminder of who plays where now:
Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
The Padres got their man. Even though they were in close competition with Hosmer’s previous team, the Kansas City Royals, the Padres won out. They gave Hosmer the biggest and richest contract in franchise history, and now he’s on their team. Next stop, the World Series! Wait, that’s not right. Next stop, fourth place in the division! Yes, that’s better. Hosmer’s a talented guy, and he definitely makes the Padres better than they were last year, but he alone won’t be able to lift the Padres from their multi-year sink into the deep swamp basement of the NL West. Hosmer’s very presence on the team means they’re a little more threatening to the Diamondbacks and Rockies, who won’t be able to count on the Padres for easy wins anymore. It’s a start.
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies learned a lesson at the end of their 2017 NL wild-card game loss: even a lineup full of prolific hitters can’t help you if your bullpen collapses. It’s a lesson they’ve learned before, but that game was a painful reminder. So the Rockies got serious about their bullpen during the offseason, and they weren’t afraid to spend some money to do it. They ended up signing Wade Davis, the best closer on the market, to a three-year deal. Even though 2017 was a down year for him (a 2.30 ERA qualifies as a “down” year for a guy who had a 1.18 ERA from 2014 to 2016), the Rockies obviously weren’t scared. When it comes to finding pitchers who can handle hurling in the thin air of Coors Field, they can’t be scared of anything. Davis will have to adjust to pitching in Denver, and if he can, he’ll be nailing down saves and helping the Rockies get back to the wild-card game once again
Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, San Francisco Giants
Seeing McCutchen and Longoria in Giants uniforms is weird, since both players are (and will continue to be) so associated with their previous teams. But baseball is about new beginnings, and McCutchen, Longoria, and the Giants are all getting one in 2018. And the Giants definitely need one. They had a definitively terrible 2017 season, but instead of blowing everything up and starting over, they decided to retool and bring in some seasoned veterans. Neither McCutchen or Longoria are the players they were five years ago, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make an impact. They’re steady and consistent, and sometimes that’s what a team needs when trying to plot a course forward. But it’s not like the rest of the Giants’ lineup is a talentless black hole. There are still a number of difference-making players that could help lift the Giants past the upstart Diamondbacks and Rockies. So if the rest of the Giants lineup does what it’s supposed to do, McCutchen and Longoria might have the chance to chase some postseason dreams and feel a little even year magic of their own.
FOUR BIG QUESTIONS ABOUT THE NL WEST
Good news: We’ve got 162 games to figure out the answers:
Can the Dodgers avoid a hangover after that long offseason?
If any team is equipped to do so, it’s the Dodgers. Granted, they lost more than they gained in the offseason, but they still have Clayton Kershaw, they still have Kenley Jansen holding down the ninth inning and they still have all the important pieces of their offense. That gives them a strong base of leadership and production. They should be due for some better luck healthwise too after two years with plenty of injuries. The division might present more of a challenge than anything, and that should force the Dodgers to stay sharp.
How important was J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks?
We know the numbers. After Martinez arrived to Arizona in July, he launched 29 home runs in 62 games. It was crazy production that elevated the Diamondbacks to another level. With him gone now though, will they be able to stay at that level or even advance? Bringing in Steven Souza Jr. and Jarrod Dyson as a replacement combo actually makes them more versatile, but Souza’s already dealing with an injury. It’s reasonable to expect A.J. Pollock, Jake Lamb, Yasmany Tomas, and David Peralta to have better seasons at the plate. And we know what Paul Goldschmidt will be. If Zack Greinke is healthy and Robbie Ray is really for real, there’s a great foundation in place.
Will the Rockies have enough offense?
It’s a surprising question to have about a Rockies team, but the truth is they have more questions than answers beyond Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. You would think re-signing Carlos Gonzalez would help ease those questions, but there’s a reason he was still available in March. He struggled last season. Ian Desmond was a bust. Trevor Story is inconsistent. They still don’t have a set first baseman. They should pitch well and hit some homers, but they might end up needing production from young players like David Dahl, Raimel Tapia and even Brendan Rogers to be a factor.
Are the Giants too old?
That might seem harsh, but it’s also fair given the Giants’ recent approach. The Giants only won 64 games last season with an aging core, and part of their solution was to acquire a pair of veteran hitters who appear to be on the decline in Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. Granted, both players should still be notable upgrades over the players they’re replacing. The Giants also added two more veterans in outfielder Austin Jackson and reliever Tony Watson. All reasonable moves for a team that’s close to winning, but with next to no options left in the minor leagues and Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija already hurt, the Giants will be dangerously reliant on getting 2014 production from players in 2018.
HOW THEY COULD WIN
Every team can’t win. Most won’t. But here’s how each could *could* win the NL West:
• Los Angeles Dodgers: Just continue existing, basically. A record number of injuries tried to derail the Dodgers a few years back, and even that couldn’t do the job. Losing Clayton Kershaw for a while last season couldn’t stop them either. The Dodgers are still the deepest team in baseball and they have the most money to spend. They should be fine, even if adversity hits them even harder.
• Arizona Diamondbacks: J.D. Martinez who? The D-Backs prove that the real power was within them all along. It helps that A.J. Pollack stays healthy and turns in an All-Star season. Zack Greinke’s spring worries are just that and he’s fine during the regular season. The humidor helps the rest of the rotation, and allows Patrick Corbin to perform like it’s 2013. Robbie Ray finds a way to limit walks.
• San Francisco Giants: 30 is the new 20 for the team’s veterans. Hunter Pence overcomes his leg issues to post a healthy and productive season. Evan Longoria posts an OPS over .900 for the first time in his career. The two Brandons turn in bounce-back seasons, as does Johnny Cueto. Jeff Samardzija’s performance finally matches his strong peripherals. Madison Bumgarner stays away from dirt bikes.
• Colorado Rockies: The offense is the offense, except Ian Desmond turns in the type of year the team expected when it signed him for $70 million. The pitching staff isn’t merely as good as last year, but the youngsters take steps forward. Jon Gray reaches the 200-inning mark, Tyler Anderson’s strong peripherals result in a low ERA and Kyle Freeland ups his ground ball rate enough to do an imitation of Aaron Cook in his prime.
• San Diego Padres: Clubhouse impact already matters, but Eric Hosmer proves it really really matters. He lives up to all the flowery quotes he’s received over the years and wills the Padres to 20 extra wins. Not only that, but he finally starts putting the ball in the air consistently and crosses the 30 home-run mark for the first time ever. He also inspires Wil Myers to stop striking out, Austin Hedges to hit .250 and Tyson Ross to believe it’s 2014 again. When they write the book on the Padres’ dynasty 30 years from now, Hosmer’s signing is the first chapter.
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