Baseball Essential 2018 Preview Series: National League West

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Baseball fans, players, and experts all agree: the National League West is the toughest and deepest division in Major League Baseball. From bringing three teams to the postseason last year to the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the NL pennant, those beliefs are justified by the teams in the five-club subclass.

The Dodgers are returning a splendid roster with which they advanced all the way to Game 7 of the World Series, followed by 2017’s second and third-place teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, looking increasingly ready to pounce on a pennant chance. Not far behind sit 2017’s fifth-place San Francisco Giants, whose new, retooled roster will cause the division’s top teams trouble as the Giants look to make postseason noise yet again.

They’re not ready to make a charge yet, but the San Diego Padres are not be overlooked in a division full of title-caliber clubs. According to infamous player agent Scott Boras, the Padres are “a volcano of hot talent lava,” and it’s tough to argue that. Through youth and spending more on the free agent market, it’s not long until then contend.

Until then, we look at 2018. Here’s an outlook and a preview for all five teams in the NL West, listed by projected standings finish.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers keep their place at the top of the division coming into 2018, and for good reason. Los Angeles saw an MLB-high 104 victories, a dominant run through the NL postseason – in which they lost just one game before the World Series, and a youthful core start to blossom into league-renowned superstars in 2017. Though the Dodgers didn’t get measurably better over the offseason, they retained every core piece that was instrumental in their pennant-winning campaign last season, including former Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and perennial Cy Young Award contender Clayton Kershaw.

(Sept. 8, 2017 – Source: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig, Cody Bellinger

With Justin Turner on the shelf to start the season due to a broken hand suffered in a spring training exhibition, it will be interesting to see how he returns and how effective Turner, who hit .322 with 21 home runs with 130 games last season, is after a severe injury. Yasiel Puig might have more pure skill than anyone in the Dodgers, but you never know what you’re going to get out of the right-handed right fielder. Puig is always an entertaining player to watch, but if you’re a Dodgers fan, you want to see more consistent value from him.

 

The NL Rookie of the Year, Cody Bellinger, has 45-home run pop that MLB fan got to see last season with the lefty at just 22 years old. Bellinger will only get better from here, and with Giancarlo Stanton out of the National League, could pace the senior circuit in long balls.

Projected Lineup (with Turner in the fold);

CF Chris Taylor (R)
SS Corey Seager (L)
3B Justin Turner (R)
1B Cody Bellinger (L)
RF Yasiel Puig (R)
LF Joc Pederson (L)*
2B Logan Forsythe (R)
C Austin Barnes (R)
Pitcher

Matt Kemp (R) is projected to appear often in left field as well.

Projected Rotation:

LHP Clayton Kershaw
LHP Alex Wood
RHP Kenta Maeda
LHP Rich Hill
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu

Notable Relievers:

RHP Kenley Jansen
LHP Tony Cingrani
RHP Josh Fields
RHP Pedro Baez

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

Baseball Essential’s Joe Jacquez contributed to this section.

The Diamondbacks were one of the feel good stories of the 2017 season. Under the direction of first year manager Torey Lovullo, Arizona finished second in the NL West with a 93-69 record, a 24-win improvement from 2016.

The D-Backs made the playoffs for the first time since winning the division in 2011, defeating the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game at Chase Field before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series. The D-Backs led the majors with a +291 run differential increase from the previous year, fueled by baseball’s eighth best offense (812 runs) and third best pitching staff (3.66 combined ERA).

J.D. Martinez certainly helped the D-Backs get over the hump, and Arizona will miss his production in 2018, but they added Steven Souza Jr. in a trade from the Tampa Bay Rays. Souza is on the disabled list with an injury, but the D-Backs also added Jarrod Dyson to the outfield and bullpen pieces, including closer Brad Boxberger, late-inning reliever Yoshihisa Hirano and Fernando Salas.

With largely the same team from last season, the D-Backs should once again contend for a wild card spot and possibly challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers in a ultra competitive division.

(Oct. 6, 2017 – Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Zack Greinke, Steven Souza Jr., Ketel Marte

Greinke proved his worth in 2017, but velocity was an issue for the second spring in a row and on top of that, he tweaked his groin on March 14. This injury will prevent Greinke from starting on Opening Day. Of course, the D-Backs need the right-hander to perform at the top of the rotation for Arizona to repeat last year’s success. Velocity should not be as big of an issue if his other pitches are effective but after a rollercoaster spring, he will remain a question mark. Greinke did pitch well in his final spring tune up against the Cleveland Indians.

Souza Jr., when he returns healthy, will try to come close to replacing the production Martinez provided. Nobody should expect him to go on the kind of tear Martinez did, but Souza actually had a higher bWAR then Martinez and has better range in the outfield.

Ketel Marte and the D-Backs committed to each other for the long haul, officially agreeing to a five-year extension on Tuesday. Marte hit .412 in the postseason and can make all  the plays at second base and shortstop. Marte is primed for a big year at the plate. He certainly has a lot to prove after getting paid.

Projected Lineup:

LF David Peralta (L)
CF A.J. Pollock (R)
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
3B Jake Lamb (L)
RF Steven Souza Jr. (R)
2B Ketel Marte (S)
C Alex Avila (L)
SS Nick Ahmed (R)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Zack Greinke
LHP Robbie Ray
RHP Taijuan Walker
LHP Patrick Corbin
RHP Zack Godley

Notable Relievers:

RHP Brad Boxberger
RHP Archie Bradley
LHP Jorge De La Rosa
RHP Fernando Salas

3. Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies have not won a postseason game since 2009, but 2018 might be the season Coors Field sees a playoff victory. As long as the Rockies’ main core of NL Batting Title winner Charlie Blackmon, Gold Glove winner Nolan Arenado, and former league-leader in hits DJ LeMahieu stays together, the postseason is always in sight. With one of the best bullpens in MLB and a formidable starting rotation, the Rockies could very well leapfrog their rivals in Arizona as the West’s second-place team in 2018.

(Sept. 25, 2017 – Source: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Wade Davis

Nolan Arenado is one of, if not the best defensive player at third in the game’s history, and the righty is only 27 years old. His five Gold Gloves, over 100 defensive runs saved, and dazzling highlight-reel plays nightly are never to be underappreciated, though he’s just as great with the bat in his hands. Carlos Gonzalez is an intriguing, somewhat enigmatic player who returns to the Rockies on a one-year contract – if he can bring his superior power from the left side back, he will be a key cog in the Colorado lineup again.

Wade Davis is one of the best closers in the game, on his third team is as many years. It will be interesting to see how Davis, previously a World Series champion with the Kansas City Royals, adjusts to the thin Coors Field air in Denver and how it impacts his pitching game.

Projected Lineup:

CF Charlie Blackmon (L)
2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
SS Trevor Story (R)
RF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
1B Ian Desmond (R)
LF Gerardo Parra (L)
C Chris Iannetta (R)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

RHP Jon Gray
LHP Tyler Anderson
RHP German Marquez
RHP Chad Bettis
LHP Kyle Freeland
RHP Antonio Senzatela

Notable Relievers:

RHP Wade Davis
RHP Bryan Shaw
LHP Jake McGee
RHP Adam Ottavino

4. San Francisco Giants

Obviously the culture in San Fran, after a memorable run of three World Series titles in just five years, expects winning and accepts nothing else. On account of this, and their 64-98 2017, the Giants reloaded their pistol in the biggest way, landing established All-Stars Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in offseason trades. It was a move made out of necessity, as they could not contend with the likes of L.A. and Arizona without a little help. They’re gonna need all thehelp they can get without ace Madison Bumgarner for awhile.

(Sept. 3, 2017 – Source: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Andrew McCutchen, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey.

One of the sport’s best players over the last decade, it will be interesting to see how McCutchen adjusts from one environment to another, shifting from the laughable Pittsburgh Pirates to the World Series Or Bust Giants in right field. Perhaps the NL’s best and most entertaining shortstop on the defensive side of the diamond, Brandon Crawford could have a rebound year with more support around him at the dish. Buster Posey is the unquestioned leader of the Giants, and how he approaches the 2018 campaign with new players around him is something to keep an eye on.

Projected Lineup:

CF Austin Jackson (R)
2B Joe Panik (L)
RF Andrew McCutchen (R)
C Buster Posey (R)
3B Evan Longoria (R)
LF Hunter Pence (R)
1B Brandon Belt (L)
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

LHP Madison Bumgarner
RHP Jeff Samardzija
RHP Johnny Cueto
RHP Chris Stratton
LHP Ty Blach

Notable Relievers:

RHP Sam Dyson
RHP Hunter Strickland
LHP Tony Watson
RHP Mark Melancon

5. San Diego Padres

If you’re a Padres fan, then I’m sorry, but this isn’t your year. But that’s fine! It isn’t supposed to be. Rather, the Padres are set for the future. San Diego is all about the future, and the future of the Padres will be worth the wait.

(Aug. 28, 2017 – Source: Denis Poroy/Getty Images North America)

Players to Watch For: Eric Hosmer, Manuel Margot, Brad Hand

Watching Eric Hosmer lead a group full of promising youngsters as a veteran winner himself will be very fun, and the younger guys on the team can certainly learn from the former Royal who signed for eight years this past offseason. Manuel Margot is part of that super young core of position players and is expected to take the next leap into stardom very soon. Brad Hand is a reliever, but might be the best pure pitcher on the team.

Projected Lineup:

CF Manuel Margot (R)
RF Wil Myers (R)
1B Eric Hosmer (L)
LF Jose Pirela (R)
2B Carlos Asuaje (L)
3B Chase Headley (S)
SS Freddy Galvis (S)
C Austin Hedges (R)
Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

LHP Clayton Richard
RHP Luis Perdomo
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Dinelson Lamet
RHP Colin Rea

Notable Relievers:

LHP Brad Hand
RHP Craig Stammen
RHP Kazuhisa Makita
RHP Kirby Yates

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