The NL West still belongs to the Dodgers unless it doesn’t.
The Rockies and Diamondbacks may end up deciding how many NL West teams make the postseason. If they’re bad teams, the division would have a decent shot at getting three teams into the playoffs. That’s no sure thing, especially given how much pitching the Diamondbacks have accumulated.
Also, if Mark Trumbo is healthy and Yasmany Tomas is the real deal, the Diamondbacks would be headed in the right direction, and that would be bad news for those Wild Card berths. On the other hand, the NL Central has five solid teams fighting it out, and that competitive balance is going to take its toll on the standings.
Meanwhile, in the NL East, the Phillies and Braves might end up being worse than the Diamondbacks and Rockies. Bud Selig’s legacy is that he reshaped the landscape to give every team a chance to compete. That reshaping has given us some chaotic finishes the last few seasons, but it has made preseason forecast more meaningless than usual.
The Dodgers will probably still be the NL West favorites despite San Diego’s signing of James Shields and the earlier acquisitions of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, Brandon Morrow, Clint Barmes and Josh Johnson. I like typing all those names just to remind myself what an amazing few months new Padres GM A.J. Preller has had.
The Dodgers aren’t without questions. But the top of the rotation is so strong and the defense so much improved that it’s almost impossible to pick against them. It was fascinating watching new President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman remake a club that won 94 games.
He did it, though, and beautifully, acquiring Jimmy Rollins to play short and Howie Kendrick to play second and Brandon McCarthy to slip into the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. If rookie center fielder Joc Pederson is the real deal and if Carl Crawford stays healthy, the Dodgers may be the best team in the game, an exciting, interesting little club that does everything at a high level.
There’s a case to be made for either the Giants or Padres, but both those clubs have some questions. For instance:
- Will the Giants have enough offense in the wake of Pablo Sandoval’s departure? They probably need full and productive seasons from Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan. They need Joe Panik to continue to progress. And they need Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki to be productive.
- The Giants have a deep rotation, but they’re counting on Matt Cain again being Matt Cain and Tim Hudson spinning his magic one more time. These aren’t huge questions, and given that GM Brian Sabean has a knack for filling holes and that manager Bruce Bochy makes it all work and that the core of players are tough, resilient and winners, the Giants are again in a good place.
- The Padres need Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy to combine for close to 100 starts. If that happens, the Padres would have a chance to win the division. Offensively, the questions are whether Wil Myers and Will Middlebrooks will bounce back from tough seasons. If you look at the Padres from a certain angle, you see a team capable of winning 95 games. But there’s the potential for disappointment, too.