NL West Standings Predictions

Posted: 04/14/2015 by levcohen in Baseball

Let’s continue the preseason (or pre-meaningful results) baseball predictions with the NL West, a division that has a clear hierarchy: the Dodgers are the favorites, the Padres, Rockies, and Giants could all fight for a wild card depending on luck and player development, and the Diamondbacks are one of the worst teams in baseball. On we go, starting with the richest team in baseball:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70): Given how much money they’ve spent over the past few years, LA has to win the division, right? I know that isn’t always how it turns out, but the payroll figures are staggering. The Dodgers’ estimated total payroll, courtesy of Spotrac, is $277 million, which is $61 million more than any other team. Their spending dwarfs San Fran’s by more than $100 million, and the Giants have the fourth highest payroll in baseball. The result is a team that is nowhere near hole-free but is extremely talented. The team’s biggest strength is the top of the rotation, which is composed of Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of this generation, and Zack Greinke, another of the top-10 ish starters in baseball. They also have a great core of hitters, from Yasiel Puig to Adrian Gonzalez to Howie Kendrick to Yasmani Grandal, each of whom is still in or near his prime. There’s also young, cheap talent coming up. Joc Pederson, one of the top prospects in baseball last year as he tore up AAA, is now LA’s starting center fielder and figures to contribute immediately both offensively and defensively. And now that I’ve gotten to the subject of defense, I’ll add this, too: the Dodgers are one of the best defensive teams in baseball, too. Gonzalez and third baseman Juan Uribe are among the best fielders at their positions, and the Dodgers’ only starter who isn’t above-average defensively is the catcher, Grandal. The combination of two aces, some big hitters and lineup balance, and good defense is lethal, even when considering that the bullpen is shaky-at-best without Kenley Jansen, who will miss the first few months of the season. This team is good enough to overcome injuries to Jansen and #3 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu with room to spare. I’ll be shocked if they don’t win the division.

2. San Diego Padres (86-76): San Diego GM A.J. Preller has been a busy man these past few months. I wrote about their offseason a few months ago so won’t add too much, but there has been one more significant move since I last wrote about them; the trade of Carlos Quentin (salary dump), Cameron Maybin (average player), Jordan Paroubeck (mid-level prospect), Matt Wisler (top-100 prospect), and the #41 pick (a competitive balance pick that is tradeable under the CBA) for Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton. There’s no doubt that the Padres overpaid to upgrade their bullpen, but there’s also no doubt that they got better. Kimbrel might be the best closer in baseball, and he’s held a claim to that title for the past half decade, so he’s bound to win the Pads a game or two over the course of the season. On the other hand, he’s only going to pitch around 70 innings, and the Padres had bigger needs. Why didn’t they trade Wisler, Paroubeck, and the pick for, say, a shortstop? The shortstop position, which is pretty darn important, is currently being held by Alexi Amarista, a career .235/.282/.337 74 wRC+ hitter who is also a below-average fielder. Amarista might be the worst starting shortstop in baseball, so it would have been nice to improve at that position. The rest of the roster looks pretty good if not great. The entirely new outfield of Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Matt Kemp has been pretty good so far, and the rest of the lineup (outside of Amarista) is contributing too. Throw in a top-three of James Shields, Andrew Cashner, and Tyson Ross, a really good group without the name recognition of some other top pitchers, and this team is a true threat to make the playoffs. I don’t think they have the stars to get past the divisional round, but any playoff berth would constitute a huge improvement.

3. San Francisco Giants (78-84): The Giants were one of the teams I picked to underperform, as I thought their over/under of 83.5 was just too high, even for the reigning World Series champs. Again, I won’t add much, but boy is this team riddled with injuries. Hunter Pence and Matt Cain are currently on the disabled list, Brandon Belt and Casey McGehee have been in and out of the lineup, and this is generally a team that looks like it’s going to struggle to successfully defend its championship. Of course, a 3-5 record isn’t too bad, and the Giants could sneak into the playoffs if they just tread water for the first few months, but I don’t see it happening. It’s an odd year, after all.

4. Colorado Rockies (76-86): It looks like the Rockies are going to be 6-2 after today. They have a run differential of +15 and are 4-0 on the road, which is especially significant considering road games have always been their bugaboo. We know the offense is good when healthy, and they are hitting .317/.345/.508 on the season and have already hit an incredible 27 doubles, six more than any other team. But the pitching has been good, too; LaTroy Hawkins excepted, the bullpen hasn’t given up a run all season (in 22.1 innings), and young starters Eddie Butler, Jordan Lyles, and Tyler Matzek aren’t giving up many runs. And guess what? I don’t buy any of it. I need the Rockies to show me they can sustain this over the course of a few months before I start believing it. Troy Tulowitzki gets injured nearly every year, as does Carlos Gonzalez. Neither is hurt yet, but history says it’s going to happen, and it’s tough to sustain a hot streak when one of your best hitters is sitting out. Regardless, I think the lineup will be pretty good, because guys like young outfielder Corey Dickerson (.891 career OPS in 721 plate appearances), third baseman Nolan Arenado (becoming a perennial Gold Glove who can also hit), and first baseman Justin Morneau can really hit. The pitching, though, will still be a problem. The bullpen is nearly unchanged from the one that imploded time after time last season, as over-the-hill John Axford is the only notable acquisition. And Matzek and Butler have WHIPs of 1.75 and 1.73 respectively; you have to think that the two of them will start allowing more baserunners to score, as they’ve left 89% and 97% of baserunners on the basepaths, well above the low-70s average. This team is going to fall back to Earth and settle into the fourth spot in this division simply because they still can’t pitch. If Tulo and CarGo stay healthy they might move up a spot, but I still don’t see a playoff run looming.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks (68-94): Just like with Colorado, all you have to do is look at the pitching. Josh Collmenter started opening day. Rubby De La Rosa, Jeremy Hellickson, Chase Anderson… You get the idea. That’s Arizona’s rotation, at least until former ace Patrick Corbin returns from the Tommy John surgery he had last year. The bullpen might be even worse, as Addison Reed, a shaky closer who has a career 4.15 ERA, is by far the team’s best reliever. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Diamondbacks give up the most runs in baseball, even eclipsing the number given up by the Rockies in the most hitter-friendly park in baseball. While the pitching staff is a wasteland, there are some bright spots in the lineup. Ok, maybe one bright spot. Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best players in baseball and always puts up great offensive numbers. Meanwhile, A.J. Pollock is a good all-around player and Ender Inciarte is a great fielder. But who besides Goldy is going to hit? I don’t have a clue. When your staff is as bad as Arizona’s, you have to have a heck of an offense to even get back to average overall. The Diamondbacks don’t have a great offense, which is why I think they’ll be the second worst team in the NL, better than only the Phillies.

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