The last five years, the Los Angeles Dodgers have played for and won the National West division titles. Expect that streak to continue again in 2018. The National League West division is considered to be the strongest in the National League and perhaps, all of baseball. Four teams out of the five in the NL West could easily compete for the division title or both of the two wildcard spots. That’s how strong and deep this division have in talent. Let’s take a look at why this division is the strongest in all of baseball.
- Los Angeles Dodgers
After losing in the last baseball game of the season in November, the same team returned to spring training determined to get back to the World Series. The team want to help bring a World Series trophy back to Los Angeles after a 30 year drought. Experiencing what an atmosphere of a World Series, the Dodgers are hungry to get back and will do so under the leadership of ace Clayton Kershaw, third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen. This team is stacked in talent, from their minor league system through their major league team. This is a big year for outfielder Chris Taylor, who broke out last year, to prove that he isn’t a fluke. Taylor hit a career-high 21 home runs with a .288 batting average. First baseman Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers’ full time starting first baseman. He also gained 15 “man” pounds in preparation for the long and rigorous 162 game schedule. Expect Bellinger to avoid the sophomore slump. Turner is nursing a broken hand that he suffered in spring training. He will return in May. In the meantime, the Dodgers will have Logan Forsythe manning the hot corner, while utility man Kike Hernandez and longtime veteran Chase Utley will be splitting time at second base. Back up catchers Austin Barnes and Kyle Farmer will get some time at second and third base respectively. Corey Seager is expected to have another consistent season at the plate while outfielder Yasiel Puig could be primed for a breakout year after finishing strong in the second half last year. The x-factor in the offense could be outfielder Matt Kemp who returns to LA after spending the last three years in the basement of the NL with the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves. Kemp reported to spring training 40 pounds lighter and won the starting left field job. The entire pitching staff is ready for another season of pitching well consistently. Kershaw leads an starting rotation that consists of 2017 all-star Alex Wood and quality pitchers in Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu. This staff can reach six innings or more on a consistent basis. Despite the loss of Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson in the bullpen, Kenley Jansen will incorporate the mindset of dominance once again into the current bullpen that includes Tony Cingrani, Josh Fields, Pedro Baez and newcomers J.T. Chargois and Scott Alexander. Chargois could easily finish the season as the new set-up man, that’s how good he is. Alexander will be counted to pick up where he left off after coming to LA in a trade with the Kansas City Royals, where he made the tough outs vs left and right-handed batters. This team is so deep that they will be on a mission to get back to the World Series and win it for the first time in 30 years.
2. Colorado Rockies
I truly believe that this is the year for the Rockies to step up and get a hold of the wildcard spot as they have such a strong and dangerous offense with the likes of superstar outfielder Charlie Blackmon, who won the NL batting title last year when he hit a .331 batting average and had 37 home runs in the leadoff spot; superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado, has one of the best gloves at the hot corner in all of baseball and has a quality power bat (Arenado hit 37 home runs and had 137 runs batted in); and second baseman DJ LeMathieu, who has not only a solid glove but has shown the ability to consistently get on base. The Rockies have a great offense and while it helps to have essentially two pitching coaches in manager Bud Black and pitching coach Steve Foster, I think the Rockies starting rotation still needs a lot of work to improve. It is a toss-up on who is the next best pitcher after Jon Gray, but the Rockies improved their bullpen via free agency tremendously with the additions of set-up man Bryan Shaw from the Cleveland Indians and closer Wade Davis from the Chicago Cubs. They can help keep the team in ball games during the late innings of the game. If the starting rotation can pitch six innings consistently before handing the ball to the bullpen, this team has a shot at making playoffs as one of the wildcard spots. Do not underestimate the Rockies.
3. San Francisco Giants
Let’s face it, the Giants are a mostly veteran team. That’s not a bad thing, but these veterans are on the wrong sides of age. They’re all declining. This team is the oldest in the division and that’s why I think they will not make playoffs. If they do, they will have recent history on their side. It is a big risk that the Giants traded for new third baseman Evan Longoria, who is being paid by the Giants for the five years left on his contract. I think Longoria will produce, just not at the numbers or even similar to what he did in Tampa with the Rays. If Longoria and fellow new teammate, outfielder Andrew McCutchen, had joined the Giants four years earlier, this team would have seriously challenged the Dodgers for the division title. Madison Bumgarner will be out until all-star break healing his broken pitching hand after hit by a line drive in spring training. Johnny Cueto looks like his old self after fixing his pitching mechanics a bit in the offseason. Cueto and Ty Blach will be counted on to keep the team in ball games while Bumgarner is out. I would have included Jeff Samardzija in that group, but he is out of his prime and can’t be relied on to be consistent. Buster Posey is the only player that I could trust to deliver, but second baseman Joe Panik has quietly been very consistent with his overall play and doesn’t get enough credit.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks were in second place last year. I don’t think that will happen again this season. While the majority of the team from last year returned, the loss of outfielder J.D. Martinez will greatly affect their play. Martinez was hitting home runs left and right during his limited time with the D-Backs. Martinez hit 29 home runs in 62 games once he came to Arizona. The D-Backs acquired outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason and will have huge shoes to fill as another power bat in the lineup. While they have first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who continues to blossom as a superstar, I worry that D-Backs will be wasting his time that he has left still on his current contract with Arizona, it is possible that Goldschmidt could leave to join a playoff team. Don’t get me wrong here, Arizona is a playoff team, but playing in the toughest division, Goldschmidt may not play in October for the next few years unless the Giants have another massive losing season, which I doubt, and the Rockies continue to get hit hard because of their pitching staff I also have some concerns with the starting rotation. I think Zack Greinke is on the decline due to age. Robbie Ray will have to prove he put the big numbers that we saw back in 2017. Greinke and Ray looked sluggish towards the end of last season and it could be due to the number of innings each pitcher has thrown that led to arm fatigue. The bullpen isn’t that strong this year with the exception of Archie Bradley. I don’t think the D-Backs have it this year to return to second place in the division, but I think they will certainly make it challenging enough to make the other teams worried about their chances to be ahead of Arizona.
5. San Diego Padres
Despite all the new additions the Padres have made, they will still be in the bottom of the division. That is not because they aren’t very good, but the Padres have to go through four teams in this division that all have a better shot at making playoffs with their more talented rosters. It does help a lot having a new face of the franchise in first baseman Eric Hosmer, who joined this offseason via free agency on an eight-year deal, worth $144 million. Hosmer will be the all-star representative for the Padres this year. The Padres acquired a young pitching prospect in Bryan Mitchell, who will start the season in the starting rotation, in a trade with the New York Yankees. The same trade also gave San Diego chance to be reunited with third baseman Chase Headley, who returns after spending four years with the Yankees. The pitching staff is still deemed the Padres’ biggest weakness. Veteran Clayton Richard leads the young starting rotation that includes Mitchell, Dinelson Lamet, Luis Perdomo and Tyson Ross. Lamet will return to the rotation once he heals from a flexor strain in his pitching arm. The injury will sideline Lamet at least the first month of the season. Lamet is easily the best starting pitcher on the team with Perdomo a close second. They have the potential to be great pitchers, but they’re on the young side so it will be some time until they become consistent and big-time pitchers. While the Padres signed closer Brad Hand to a contract extension, if he keeps up his big-time value with quality pitching performances, expect the team to listen to trade offers while his value is at an all-time high.
What do you think of the National League West division predictions? Be sure to tweet your thoughts @TheUtilityMan17 on Twitter!