The countdown to Opening Day is getting smaller. The Opening Series has ended, and there are only four days to Opening Day. Every few days, from now to the beginning of the season, I will be previewing one division, leading up to my postseason picks on Opening Night. After doing the NL East and NL Central divisions, we will continue with the National League West division today.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers -- 2013 Record: 92-70; Projected Record: 97-65
There is no doubt in my mind that the Dodgers are one of the best teams in baseball, let alone the National League. Already 2-0 (following the conclusion of the Opening Series), the Dodgers are flying high, and flying toward the National League West crown. They have the complete package: a great offense and pitching staff, not to mention a pretty good defense as well.
The Dodgers' off season was relatively quiet, but they were able to retain Brian Wilson, Juan Uribe, and J.P. Howell by re-signing them to their respective deals. They also signed former Nationals' starter Dan Haren to a deal, to make up for the loss of Ricky Nolasco to the Twins. Other than that, the Dodgers seemed pretty content with their current roster. We should not blame them. Almost all of their lineup posted OPS+'s (on-base plus slugging percentage adjusted to home ballpark) above the MLB average 100. Their pitchers? Four of their five starters posted ERA+'s above 100.
The Dodgers have a great team, and because they had a tough time beginning last season, they will improve their record by five games. They should be a more "even" team throughout the season, as their clubhouse chemistry seemed to have kicked into action nearing the end of last season. They finished first then, so there is no reason why they should not finish first now.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks -- 2013 Record: 81-81; Projected Record: 88-74
The Diamondbacks are one of the best fundamentally sound teams in all of baseball. Last year, the Diamondbacks posted the fourth-highest fielding percentage in the Major Leagues. They could not contend last season due to their lack of offense. Besides Paul Goldschmidt, the D-Backs had only one player (Martin Prado) that played in over 100 games and posted an OPS+ above 100.
This off season, the Diamondbacks went out and got themselves a hitter. They acquired Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels in a three team trade, in exchange for Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton, who went to the White Sox. Trumbo has rare right handed power, like Goldschmidt, and will surely add to the offense. Even after acquiring Trumbo, the Diamondbacks were not done. They also signed workhorse starter Bronson Arroyo to bolster their pitching staff. He will be a quality innings eater, and will keep the D-Backs in a position to win more games.
The one major loss the Diamondbacks took was the injury to Patrick Corbin, will need Tommy John surgery after finding UCL damage in his elbow. They could bring up prospect Archie Bradley sometime this season, who will fill that void nicely. Regardless, the Diamondbacks are going to be right in the National League playoff mix and just might win the National League Wild Card in 2014.
3. San Francisco Giants -- 2013 Record: 76-86; Projected Record: 81-81
The San Francisco Giants are in a decent position this season. Pablo Sandoval lost a ton of weight this off season, but they still are missing one big power hitter heading in 2014. They have a great pitching staff, and added to it with the signing of Tim Hudson. It just does not look like their offense will be able to support it. Besides Buster Posey, they do not have that big star power in their lineup.
As I said, the Giants acquired Tim Hudson this offseason, after some great seasons in Atlanta. Hudson has never posted an ERA over 3 since 2006. In that stretch (2007-Present), Hudson pitched over 200 innings three times, and pitched over 140 two other times. He is reliable, and if he remains healthy, he'll add to the great San Francisco Giants staff led by Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain.
Overall, the Giants have a good team, but they might just be missing that one piece in their lineup from contention. In 2010 and 2012, when the Giants won the World Series, they did not have that much star power, but they did have one player who stepped up each season, who was able to get them to the World Series. They need another x-factor this season to try and bring the team back to where they were just two years ago.
4. San Diego Padres -- 2013 Record: 76-86; Projected Record: 78-84
The Padres' pitching staff has yet to prove to me top to bottom that they are good enough to be a contender in the National League. I did write a post that the Padres could make the playoffs. Note the key word there: could. The Padres play in a tough division with the team with the highest payroll in all of baseball. They still could be a few years away from contention.
In the article, I touted the Padres signing of Josh Johnson to a one-year deal for 2014. But now, he is injured, and will miss at least one month into the season. Behind Johnson, the Padres' pitching staff consists of Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, and Eric Stults. This rotation does not sound like it can compete with the Giants' nor the Dodgers. Offensively, the Padres are pretty decent, with Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, and Will Venable leading the way in 2014.
The Padres rise to contention has to come from their pitching staff. Looking at their competition, it just looks like the Padres might have to wait a couple of years before their pitching staff builds up talent. They have a good offense, but playing in Petco Park, pitching rules, and good pitching will thrive. They just don't have it to win a playoff spot.
5. Colorado Rockies -- 2013 Record: 74-88; Projected Record: 74-88
The Rockies have a fantastic farm system, and will be great within a few years. For now, they've got a good team, but like the Padres, they are unfortunate to be playing in a division with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Also like the Padres, the Rockies pitching staff seems to be their liability, but unlike the Friars, they have built their team around park strengths. The Rockies offense (playing in Coors Field) is pretty good, while their pitching probably just isn't enough.
This off season, the Rockies dealt Dexter Fowler to Houston, but signed the likes of Justin Morneau and Boone Logan, and traded the Athletics for Brett Anderson. With Morneau, the Rockies will have five of their nine starters post a 100 OPS+ in 2013. However, just two of their pitchers were able to throw over 120 innings and post a 100 ERA+. The Rockies make-or-break part of their season is their pitching staff. They have a good offense, but it's hard to know if their pitching staff be able to hold up outside Coors Field.
The Rockies season does not look that grim, but their pitching staff remains their biggest question mark. If all goes well for the Rockies, they could finish around 80 wins, but 75 wins seems like the right number for the team in 2014. We will have to see if the Rockies can surprise us with a good year, or stay right on par with their projections.