This Saturday, I'm previewing the National League West.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers -- 2014 Record: 94-68; Projected Record: 96-66
The Dodgers are easily the best team in the National League West. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is true. The Dodgers are stacked all around the diamond, and this offseason they made perhaps the best move of the offseason, hiring (not signing) Andrew Friedman, the former Rays' general manager, to be their President of the Baseball Operations. They also hired Farhan Zaidi, the Athletics' assistant general manager, to be their general manager. These hires of the top sabermetric minds throughout the baseball world, plus the Dodgers' deep pockets, will put them in the best of the best in baseball.
The Dodgers' 2014 season ended with just one postseason win against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. Clayton Kershaw, the National League Cy Young unanimously, looked to have run out of gas. the team just faltered by the end, even upon the heels of a 94-win season. The Dodgers' best offensive performers last season were Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez, who left for Boston. The team was among the better offensive teams in baseball, scoring the sixth-most runs. Their best pitching performer was easily Kershaw. Their pitching staff was also among the best in baseball, posting the sixth-lowest ERA in the Majors. The Dodgers' early exit out of the playoffs did not reflect the type of season they had.
In 2015, the Dodgers look to repeat their success. Replacing Ramirez is Jimmy Rollins, acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. At second base, they will be upgrading Dee Gordon with Howie Kendrick, whom hit for a .744 OPS over 674 plate appearances last season, as compared to Gordon's, who posted a .704 OPS. In order to allow Joc Pederson to get the starting spot out in center field, they dealt Matt Kemp to the Padres. They got an upgrade at catcher, replacing Yasmani Grandal over A.J. Ellis. The Dodgers' starting rotation is relatively still the same, as Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu return, with the new front office bringing in bounce-back candidate Brett Anderson and the reliable Brandon McCarthy. The Dodgers are ready to finally make a deep run into the postseason, and contend with the Nationals to represent the National League in the World Series.
2. San Diego Padres -- 2014 Record: 77-85; Projected Record: 86-76
The Padres and their have a lot to be cheering for this season. First, their front office, led by new GM A.J. Preller, had quite an uncharacteristic offseason to say the least, making huge moves en route to the Padres being considered the "winners" of the offseason. Despite all the success in the offseason, including the largest free-agent contract signed in team history, are the Padres willing and to break the trend that shows that the teams that perform well in the winter months don't perform well during the season? I'm skeptical. Even still, Padres fans have an exciting team to root for, perhaps being the most "exciting" team since 1998, when San Diego went 98-64 and won the National League.
Last season was easily an unforgettable one. The Padres went 77-85, finishing third in the NL West. They fired their GM Josh Byrnes, and perhaps made their best move by hiring Preller on August 6. The team has a completely different look now than it did then, but one bright spot from the 2014 Padres was starting pitcher Andrew Cashner, who in 19 starts posted a 2.55 ERA and 1.127 WHIP. The 28-year-old Cashner was a former 1st round pick by the Cubs in 2008, but was considered a bust until he posted a 3.09 ERA in 175 innings with the Padres in 2013. Cashner will be back in 2015, and hopefully be able to stay on the field for the entire year, as he missed some time due to shoulder inflammation.
This offseason, the Padres went out and spent. Whether that was a good thing for them is beyond me, but all I know is that they signed James Shields; acquired a whole new outfield in Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Justin Upton; acquired a catcher in Derek Norris; and a third baseman in Will Middlebrooks. This retooling is something that baseball aficionados are not unfamiliar with. The 2012 Marlins tried to do something like this, as did the 2013 Blue Jays. Will the 2015 Padres be any different?
3. San Francisco Giants -- 2014 Record: 88-74; Projected Record: 84-78
It's an odd year. The Giants won't be a playoff team this year. Thus far through Spring Training, they have not looked good, already losing outfielder Hunter Pence for some time due to a broken forearm. The Giants win the World Series in the even years and "retool" in the odd years, winning the series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. If there is any year to retool, this is it. The Giants have a really solid all-around team and are very fundamentally sound. They always seem to have a good starting rotation, clutch bullpen, and solid offense and defense. The Giants also have one of the best managers in the game with Bruce Bochy. Something tells me, however, that this isn't the Giants year.
The 2014 Giants won the World Series. They were a Wild Card team and snuck into the playoffs, knocking off the Pirates, Nationals, Cardinals, and Royals en route to the championship. What went right for the Giants in 2014? Every single player in their lineup posted a OPS+ (Adjusted OPS due to Park Factors) over 100, or above-average. Of course, they were led by catcher Buster Posey, who hit .311/.364/.490 with 22 homers and 89 runs batted in, further establishing himself as one of the best in the game. Madison Bumgarner carried the staff and won World Series MVP and looks to keep his title as ace of the team. The rest of the rotation, including Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum all return. Will they be able to perform at the levels they did last year? Hudson, at 38, registered a 3.57 ERA in 31 starts. Peavy was acquired at the deadline and posted a 2.17 ERA down the stretch. I am not sure they can continue their successes.
This offseason, the Giants worked on retaining most of their team, and not adding many pieces, even considering some notable losses. One big loss was the loss of third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who signed with the Boston Red Sox. Other was that of Mike Morse, who left for Miami. They did sign outfielder Nori Aoki and third basemen Casey McGehee to replace those guys. Overall, the Giants have a good team, but after some key losses during the offseason, they will not be a playoff team. They'll be decent, probably above-average, but not good enough to stack up against the better Wild Card teams in the National League.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks -- 2014 Record: 64-98; Projected Record: 70-92
The Diamondbacks were another NL West to replace their general manager, firing Kevin Towers for Dave Stewart. They also fired manager Kirk Gibson and hired interim manager Alan Trammell. They hired manager Chip Hale this offseason in a pretty good move. Regardless, the Diamondbacks aren't going to contend in 2015 and may not contend in the next couple of years. They have a young stud in first basemen Paul Goldschmidt, but other than that, they don't have a team that can contend this season and probably not next season.
The Diamondbacks' 2014 season was that of a disaster. Goldschmidt and outfielder Mark Trumbo missed time due to injuries, as none of their pitching staff posted a ERA sub-3.40, with just one pitcher (Josh Collmenter) having an ERA sub-4. The Diamondbacks traded their top pitcher last season, Wade Miley, to the Red Sox this offseason, so their staff takes even a bigger hit. Two others pitchers--Bronson Arroyo and Patrick Corbin--missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. This upcoming season looks like a "get back in shape" season for the Diamondbacks, seeing if any of their injury-plagued players can rebound in 2015. My gut says that they will, but not until the team is buried in the NL West. The Diamondbacks won 94 games in 2011 and have not been the same since. This upcoming season does not look like they will be back to that.
The Diamondbacks took a gamble on Yasmany Tomas this offseason, signing him to a big contract. Tomas possesses a ton of raw power, but it is very unknown if it can translate to big league parks and pitching. In Cuba, he was a prolific slugger, but as an outfielder. The Diamondbacks are trying to convert him to a third basemen, which could even hurt his development even more. Another issue that the Diamondbacks may run into is out at catcher, where Tuffy Gosewisch is currently starting. The team has blatantly refused to go look for another catcher, so that could be a huge weak spot. Options could include Dioner Navarro of the Blue Jays or Wellington Castillo of the Cubs.
5. Colorado Rockies -- 2014 Record: 66-96; Projected Record: 63-99
There isn't much to like about this season's Colorado Rockies. They always have to seem good offense, but that cannot seem to stay on the field, and well below average pitching. The Rockies, if their pitching could just produce more, could be a dangerous team behind the core of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. But when those guys aren't on the field due to injury, and the pitching staff continues to give up home runs, the team finds itself in the bottom of the National League West, and always seems to be stuck there. I'm not convinced 2015 will be any different.
Last season, the Rockies saw their offense average over 4.5 runs per game, but their pitching staff giving up over 5 runs per game. That isn't a stat to be proud of. The Rockies' best starting pitcher--ERA-wise--was Tyler Matzek, who went 6-11 with a 4.05 ERA. Blame it on the altitude in Coors Field all you want, but that is bad any way you slice it. The Rockies' best performer last season was easily shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who hit .340/.432/.603 (!!!) in just 375 plate appearances due to injury. Tulowitzki always has trouble staying on the field. That's something he'll need to do better this upcoming season if the Rockies want to be more successful.
In order to bolster their pitching staff, the Rockies went out and signed former Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick. The move does not look good on paper--Kendrick is a fly-ball pitcher and could give up a ton of home runs in Coors. Other than that, their rotation looks relatively the same, except for the fact that top prospect Jon Gray could come up to the big leagues at some point this season, perhaps even by Opening Day. He is listed as the team's fifth starter on their official depth chart. He'll be a guy to watch out for this season, especially to see how he performs. He was the Rockies' first round pick in 2013, and was ranked as baseball's 24th-best prospect as by Baseball America.