Every team in Major League Baseball has an X factor to their success before the regular season begins. Here is every National League West team’s 2019 X factor.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
Yes, arguably the greatest regular season starting pitcher of this century is the Dodgers X factor. Why? His health and never-ending postseason struggles.
Right now it appears unlikely that Kershaw will be healthy enough for the Dodgers’ opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks due to shoulder inflammation. This is disturbing based on how the southpaw has pitched a full season just once in the last five seasons due to injury. Plus, he struggled to assert himself in the postseason, the World Series in particular, once more, and now there are people of the mindset that the Dodgers are Walker Buehler‘s rotation (which seems extreme, but is a development nevertheless).
The Dodgers have won the NL pennant in each of the last two seasons, as well as the NL West in each of the last six seasons. They also have a deep pitching staff and depth chart, but they’re vulnerable. Without Kershaw, the Dodgers’ reign of dominance in the NL West could be said and done. On the other hand, if he’s healthy and his potent self, the Dodgers will remain a powerhouse.
Colorado Rockies: Jon Gray
The Rockies have been a Wild Card team in each of the last two seasons mostly due to their offensive firepower, headlined by the likes of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story. Meanwhile, they also have a reliable starting rotation which includes Kyle Freeland and German Marquez. If Gray can return to his old ways, the Rockies will have one of the best starting rotations in the sport.
Last season was a discouraging period of time for Gray. He struggled with his command, was hit hard, and recorded a 5.12 ERA. As a result, manager Bud Black opted to not use him in any of the Rockies’ four playoff games, as well as their Game 163 tiebreaker with the Dodgers. One year ago Gray was the Rockies ace, but now he’s a forgotten commodity.Sometimes, the success of an @MLB team can be decided by one player and their performance. Here are the X factors for the NL West, via @RPStratakos.Click To Tweet
The Rockies have a veteran bullpen to complement their evolving starting rotation and the bats to provide them with run support. If he can regain his command, pitch to his capabilities, and limit the baserunners he surrenders, Gray would make a reliable Rockies rotation electric and the ballclub a force to be reckoned with — if they weren’t already.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Jake Lamb
The D-Backs have taken a lot of hits this offseason by trading and/or losing Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, and A.J. Pollock to free agency. With that said, they still have a starting rotation of veteran pitchers and a lineup of proven commodities. But to even come remotely close to replacing Goldschmidt and Pollock’s production, the D-Backs need others to step up offensively, such as Lamb.
One year ago the D-Backs had a respectable and well-balanced lineup, which Lamb was a focal point of. In fact, he blasted a combined 59 home runs and totaled 196 RBIs from 2016-17. The third baseman-turned first baseman was limited to 56 games due to injury last season, but, when at full force, has shown that he can be a source of power in the middle of the D-Backs lineup.
The playoffs are a long shot for the D-Backs this season, but there are scenarios where they can be in the mix to shock the baseball world. Most, if not all of those scenarios involve a collective resurgence at the plate, as well as Lamb staying healthy and producing at a high level.
San Francisco Giants: Evan Longoria
The Giants were all in on 2018, acquiring Longoria and Andrew McCutchen via trade in the winter. But it didn’t go as planned. Their starting rotation was banged up all season, their offense was extremely underwhelming, and the Giants finished the season 73-89 — missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. They also did little to nothing to upgrade their roster this offseason, so they will need bounce-back seasons from their veterans, Longoria in particular.
Last season was arguably the worst season of Longoria’s 11-year career. Hitting a career-worse .244 while totaling just 16 home runs and 54 RBIs (which were also career-lows), the veteran third baseman didn’t perform up to expectations — which was a theme with the Giants roster in 2018.
Longoria is regarded as one of the best third basemen in MLB and being a vacuum at the hot corner. It’s difficult to envision last season repeating itself, but the Giants need the 33-year-old to have a resurgent season if they’re going to compete in a highly competitive NL. And if Longoria can do as such, he makes a lineup that features Buster Posey (when healthy), Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Joe Panik deeper. Plus, their starting rotation remains intact.
San Diego Padres: Wil Myers
The Padres made headlines this offseason when they agreed to a 10-year, $300 million deal with star infielder Manny Machado. While he doesn’t make them a playoff contender, the signing is a step in the right direction from a talent perspective for the Padres. Now they need other everyday players to come into their own and/or revive their careers, such as Myers.
Myers’ Padres tenure has been defined by inconsistency and injuries. He’s one of the most versatile players in the sport, shown he can be a key contributor to a team’s offense, and hit for power, but it has come in spurts. Last season Myers appeared in just 83 games due to injury and hasn’t hit above .260 in his four seasons with the Padres.
The Padres have a respectable offense that includes Machado, Eric Hosmer, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and potentially Fernando Tatis Jr. Sure, their starting rotation is the reason they’re being held back, but it’s difficult to pinpoint an ace, or soon-to-be force, in their starting rotation. Plus, aces such as Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, and Gerrit Cole will be free agents after this season for the Padres to pursue.