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Season Preview: NL West

By Patrick Gunn

Yankees Baseball is racing towards us as the winter snow melts into April rosebuds. With that said, the Yankees have some competition to get back to the World Series. I will dig into the Bombers’ competition around the league over the next few weeks, going through every division ending with the AL East. I’m basing my predictions for the season on the team’s PECOTA projected records, statistics from last season, and overall talent.

AL West Preview

The National League West is incredibly top-heavy. This division features two teams that can legitimately win the World Series and three teams that could pick in the top-10 of the 2022 draft. Anything can happen, though, and the West has plenty of talent to make things interesting. Here’s where PECOTA stood on this division:

1. Dodgers (103.9-58.1)

2. Padres (95.0-67.0)

3. Diamondbacks (79.2-82.8)

4. Giants (74.3-87.7) 29-31

5. Rockies (61.5-100.5)

FIRST PLACE: Los Angeles Dodgers

Last Season’s Record: 43-17, World Series Champions

Most Exciting Part of this Team: The Core.

The Dodgers consistently excel because of the tightly wound core of home-grown talent, superstars, and underappreciated diamonds in the rough. That group finally won a World Series last year, energized by Mookie Betts’ trade and supplemented by Corey Seager elevating his game (career-high 152 OPS+) plus a bounce-back year from AJ Pollack and the growth of Will Smith. And the Dodgers have room for growth; Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy both had sub-.800 OPSs last season and splurged to add Trevor Bauer to a rotation with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and a returning David Price. Bauer may have been overpaid for his entire package, but the talent is here for a deep run.

Biggest Question: How’s the bullpen?

The Dodgers have always had questions surrounding the back end of their bullpen after Kenley Jansen. Those fears almost reared their ugly head last year, but Los Angeles rebounded from a tough game four. Still, the depth behind an aging Jansen is the closest thing the Dodgers have to a “weakness” this year, with LA relying on Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol to keep improving and for the depth to play out.

Pat’s Prediction: 98-64

Honestly, the Dodger’s bullpen is a minor issue, as Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, and Dustin May can all switch between bullpen spots and starts. Simply put, the Dodgers are easy favorites to repeat as World Champions. The only reason I don’t have them winning 100 games is because of the team I’m excited to introduce next…

SECOND PLACE: San Diego Padres

Last Season’s Record: 37-23, NL Division Series Loss

Most Exciting Part of This Team: Seeing them play.

That may not be descriptive, but the Padres are so much fun I feel like that sentiment is justified. San Diego and A.J. Preller did everything most teams are avoiding. Trading prospects for big named pitchers in Blake Snell and Yu Darvish while still maintaining a high-level farm system. Signing a stud from South Korea in Ha-Seong Kim. Signing their young electric star Fernando Tatis Jr. to a massive extension to keep him in San Diego for more than a decade. The Padres arrived last season and did everything possible to compete with the Dodgers.

Biggest Question: But really, can they dance with the Dodgers?

That may not be descriptive, but the Padres are so much fun I feel like that sentiment is justified. San Diego and A.J. Preller did everything most teams are avoiding. Trading prospects for big named pitchers in Blake Snell and Yu Darvish while still maintaining a high-level farm system. Signing a stud from South Korea in Ha-Seong Kim. Signing their young electric star Fernando Tatis Jr. to a massive extension to keep him in San Diego for more than a decade. The Padres arrived last season and did everything possible to compete with the Dodgers.

Biggest Question: But really, can they dance with the Dodgers?

San Diego would be easy favorites to win their division everywhere else in baseball. Unfortunately, they have to look up to LA’s enormous shadow here. The Padres made a lot of moves, but they are still relying on a questionable bullpen, with soon-to-be 36-year-old Mark Melancon and Keone Kela to help out. Also, Eric Hosmer (101 OPS+ with the Friars) has never hit consistently with San Diego, ditto for Wil Myers.

Pat’s Prediction: 96-66

San Diego absolutely will push the Dodgers this season. Adding Darvish and Snell massively boosts their rotation depth, and a lineup with Tatis and Manny Machado in the middle is going to score plus Jake Cronenworth, Kim, and Trent Grisham. I’m skeptical of their bullpen, but the Padres have talent there. I’m just not sure they can leap the Dodgers yet, but every series between these two teams is must-watch television.

THIRD PLACE TIE: San Francisco Giants & Arizona Diamondbacks

I’m clumping these two together because both teams have some decent players but strike me as okay. Both have the potential to fight for a wild card spot if they play their cards right, sit a notch below the Dodgers and Padres but above the Rockies.

First, San Francisco:

Last Season’s Record: 29-31

Most Exciting Part of This Team: Veterans Turning Back the Clock

The Giant’s young core is still a few years away, but San Francisco is built on older players getting a chance to show their skills. Buster Posey? Yep. Brandon Crawford? You bet. Brandon Belt? Wilmer Flores? Evan Longoria? Johnny Cueto? Alex Wood? Aaron Sanchez? All welcome on the 2021 Giants.

Biggest Question: Where’s this team’s plan?

The Giants appeared to start tearing down its core in 2019 and then somehow finished a tiebreaker away from a playoff spot albeit while finishing under .500. This offseason, San Fran made few moves to push the needle in either direction. Watch out for this team’s April and May, which will most likely determine the Giant’s future trajectory.

Pat’s Prediction: 78-84

My guess is the Giants get off to a decent start and have some tough decisions to make at the trade deadline because of their near .500 record. This is a mediocre, old baseball team with some talented players and the potential to make teams sweat. With that said, the Giants are not close to the Dodgers and Padres, and they most likely are not going to the playoffs.

Now, Arizona:

Last Season’s Record: 25-35

Most Exciting Part of This Team: Zac Gallen

This trade has worked out exceptionally well for Arizona. Gallen has been stellar since coming over to the desert, striking out 28.2% of batters, allowing an exit velocity against below 87 mph, and posting a phenomenal 163 OPS+. He’s only 25, so Gallen has plenty of time to keep growing and improving.

Biggest Question: What’s your deal?

Arizona has a .500 record (192-192) since winning 93 games and making the playoffs in 2017. The D-backs do have a +93-run differential over that span, outscoring opponents on average of 31 runs per season, so maybe they are underachieving a bit. With that said, Arizona is reliant on a mix of decent veterans – including Kole Calhoun, Joakim Soria, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Ahmed, Caleb Smith, Eduardo Escobar, and Tyler Clippard – a Madison Bumgarner coming off a disastrous 2020, and inconsistent yet talented pieces in Ketel Marte, David Peralta, and Christian Walker. The Diamondbacks are an enigma, with the talent to surprise people and the bust potential to disappoint others.

Pat’s Prediction: 78-84

The Diamondbacks do have some intriguing talent here but not enough to make the playoffs in my opinion. They need to at least go .500 against the Dodgers and Padres and dominate the bottom of their division to do that and I’m not sure if Arizona is capable of that. Gallen should be good again, and I’d assume one member of the triad of Marte, Peralta, and Walker hits decently. If anything, expect the unexpected from Arizona.

FIFTH PLACE: Colorado Rockies

Last Season’s Record: 26-34

Most Exciting Part of This Team: Trevor Story

He’s one of the best shortstops in the game just entering his age-28 season. Story has had an OPS+ of 122 with a .909 OPS since a poor 2017 season. He also has a positive lifetime defensive-WAR to go with his thump in the middle of the lineup and 2020 saw him run for a career-high 65% extra bases taken. Not to mention that Story has hit for a respectable .760 OPS away from Coors Field in his career. That may be important, because…

Biggest Question: Does Story last the season in Colorado?

The Rockies have slim to no chances of competing after sending Nolan Arenado – and potentially $51 million – to the Cardinals. That hurt, as does the dwindling decay of the Rockies’ depth in terms of pitching, hitting, and prospects. With that said, Story is a free agent after this season and would net Colorado a king’s ransom in terms of prospects if the Rockies make the right move and if this team is willing to make a trade.

Pat’s Prediction: 62-100

Yes, I think the Rockies will lose 100 games. Having over 30 games against the Dodgers and Padres hurts, but this team is flat-out awful. German Marquez and Jon Gray are talented but have to pitch in Coors Field, and behind them is an inconsistent Kyle Freeland and a weak bullpen composed of reclamation projects Daniel Bard, Mychel Givens, and not much else. The offense will get home runs from Coors but not much else. Yes, they made the playoffs two years ago, but their best player from that team is gone and the pitching has evaporated since then. I’m not expecting much from the Rockies this year.

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