The X-Factors of the National League

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Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

NL West:

Dodgers: Yasiel Puig

The 2015 season for Yasiel Puig was nothing short of a disappointment. A hamstring injury derailed most of his season and, when he returned, the injury appeared to impact his play. He struggled so much that he fell out of favor with then Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and found himself on the bench, even when he was active. The Dodgers cannot afford Puig to have a repeat 2015 season. Their offense looked average at best in the NLDS when they were defeated by the Mets in five games. To be fair the Mets do have one of the – if not the – best rotations in baseball. Nonetheless, the Dodgers need someone besides Adrian Gonzalez to man the middle of the order. Puig still has a ton of potential and is still young, so hopefully he can chalk up his 2015 campaign as an anomaly.

Giants: Jeff Samardzija

I could have picked a slew of players for the Giants, including Brandon Belt and fellow newly-acquired starter Johnny Cueto. However, I elected to choose the Giants’ other new starting pitcher, Jeff Samardzija. The Giants gave him a five-year deal despite his abysmal 2015 season, so we can assume that the Giants believe that last season does not represent the type of pitcher Samardzija truly is. The Giants need a formidable #2/3 pitcher behind Bumgarner – who has carried a hefty load over the past few seasons. Cueto can certainly slot into that role, too, but Samardzjia needs to prove he is worth the money the Giants gave him. Pitching in pitcher-friendly AT&T park and in the NL West should help Samardzjia return to form.

Diamondbacks: Brad Ziegler

I am not crazy, trust me. The Diamondbacks made the most noise this offseason signing Zack Greinke and Tyler Clippard while trading for Shelby Miller and Jean Seagura. They also have two All-Star position players, A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt. But none of those players are the Diamondbacks x-factor. That man would be Brad Ziegler. Yes, Brad Ziegler. He had a very good season as the Diamondbacks closer last year and needs to repeat his performance in 2016.

Tyler Clippard should help strengthen the Diamondbacks bullpen, but I do not trust Clippard that much. The Diamondbacks can have as many hitters and starting pitchers as they want, but if they cannot hold a lead, they will not find themselves in the postseason. The Diamondbacks hope that Ziegler can hold the leads handed to him and help them reach the postseason.

Padres: Wil Myers

The Padres were the talk of the offseason last year when new GM A.J. Peller made numerous moves to revamp their roster. Peller’s experiment failed miserably as they were the same old Padres in 2015. Peller and the Padres, thus, did almost an entire one-eighty this offseason and actually traded away players such as Craig Kimbrel, in order to revamp their farm system. Wil Myers was one of those players that the Padres acquired in their crazy 2015 offseason and he still remains on the team. He struggled with wrist injuries last season, which is never a good sign for a hitter, but Myers hopes that the offseason has allowed his wrist to fully heal. If he can stay on the field in 2016, Myers could finally show his full potential and be a bright spot in an otherwise cloudy situation.

Rockies: Jon Gray

I had the hardest time picking the Rockies x-factor for 2016. I would pick Nolan Arenado, but I think he will build on his MVP-type 2015 campaign. And, while that will help the Rockies, it will not be enough to get them close to the playoffs. The Rockies need pitching, badly. I really cannot remember the last time the Rockies ran out a decent pitching staff. The last good pitcher they had was Ubaldo Jiminez, but that was for one-half of a season. And then they traded him. The Rockies still have very little starting pitching and they desperately need Jon Gray, a young, well-regarded prospect to step up. If Jon Gray can show his ability translates to the big leagues the Rockies might have found their next good starter. Or their first good starter. Either way, Jon Gray having a good season would go a long way in the Rockies moving towards relevance again.

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