The National League West has been a division dominated by the Los Angeles Dodgers for the last handful of years. Last year, however, the Dodgers only won the division by one game ahead of an exciting Colorado Rockies team. It was a race that went down to the wire and could have easily gone the other way.
This year it should be a very close race again, with L.A. and Colorado expected to lead the way at the top of the West. The San Francisco Giants failed to make any notable moves in the offseason while the Arizona Diamondbacks traded their best player in Paul Goldschmidt and the San Diego Padres acquired a franchise-changing star in Manny Machado.
Here is a preview of the NL West for 2019.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers made several moves this offseason, most notably trading Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood to the Cincinnati Reds while signing flamethrowing righty and Southern California native Joe Kelly from the Boston Red Sox. They also signed former Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollock to a five-year, $60 million deal. He will serve as their primary center fielder and should add a spark in the heart of their lineup. Getting Corey Seager back from Tommy John surgery will also be a huge plus for this Dodgers team, who lost for the second year in a row in the World Series last October to the Red Sox.
Players to Watch: Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, A.J. Pollock, Walker Buehler
Having their star shortstop in Seager back should prove to be beneficial for LA, as he will look to replicate his impressive 2017 campaign. Seager played just 26 games in 2018 before going on the shelf, hitting just .267. But in 2016 and 2017 he solidified himself as one of the best all-around shortstops in the game with two consecutive All-Star Game appearances. He clubbed over 20 homers in both those seasons while hitting right around .300 in back-to-back campaigns. He’s a solid defender who can absolutely rake at the plate and chances are he will pick right up where he left off.A division sure to be exciting in 2019, @quinnallen23 continues the @BB_Essential preview series with a look at the National League West.Click To Tweet
Kershaw will begin the year on the IL after not pitching at all in spring training due to shoulder problems. The hope was to get him in Cactus League action before it ended so he could be their opening day starter, but unfortunately, he isn’t at 100 percent and will throw to live hitters at some point this week. As he continues to age, the injuries are occurring more and more for Kershaw, who is arguably one of the best pitchers to ever play the game. He posted solid numbers last year per usual with a 2.73 ERA across 161 innings. He also dealt with back and bicep problems in 2018 that kept him out for almost two months; he will need to stay healthy this year to give Dave Roberts close to 200 innings like he has in the past.
The Dodgers biggest offseason acquisition, Pollock, comes over from the NL West rival Diamondbacks. Pollock had a down year last season, hitting just .257 while cranking 21 homers and driving in 65 runs. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner back in 2015, which was his best season where he hit .305 with 20 homers and 39 stolen bases. Pollock will be a solid addition to the Dodgers both offensively and defensively. The 31-year old has solid speed both on the basepaths and in the outfield while being able to hit for average and power. It will be interesting to see if he can put up the type of numbers he did in 2015 with his new team.
Buehler showed everyone how special he really is last year, especially when he shined in the playoffs, emerging as LA’s most electric arm in the rotation. If Kershaw can’t stay healthy, or pitch to the level he has in past years, I do believe Buehler will emerge as the ace of this staff. His ability to blow a heater by the game’s best hitters in the high 90s and spin a curveball like no one’s business will be very exciting to watch this year.
Hill will be back around mid-April from a knee strain, Kershaw will be back around the same time from shoulder issues*
RHP Kenley Jansen
LHP Pedro Baez
LHP Julio Urias
RHP Joe Kelly
2. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies had quite the year in 2018, finishing with their best-ever road record, going 44-38 away from Coors field. They played in the NL West tiebreaker against the Dodgers but lost, then eliminated the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field. They were knocked out in the NLDS by the Milwaukee Brewers, but overall, it was a very good season for the Rockies. They didn’t make any big splash this offseason, but did lock up arguably the best third basemen in baseball, Nolan Arenado. He signed an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies. DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino both left the mile high city for the Yankees, while Carlos Gonzalez is now with the Cleveland Indians. They will have a few different bodies at various positions, including newcomer Daniel Murphy at first base, but should still be a contender with a solid starting lineup and a young, exciting rotation led by Kyle Freeland.
Players to watch: Kyle Freeland, Nolan Arenado, Daniel Murphy
Freeland was absolutely spectacular in 2018, throwing over 200 innings while posting a stellar 17-7 record to go along with a 2.85 ERA. He emerged as the ace of this staff and will start on opening day against the Miami Marlins on Thursday. He really improved last season compared to 2017, where he had a 4.10 ERA in 156 innings pitched. He’ll continue to be a workhorse at the top of this Rockies rotation, and if he can stay healthy, Freeland will definitely throw over 200 innings once again in 2019.
Arenado is the leader, the heart, and the soul of this team. He’s an absolute grinder who comes to the ballpark every single day ready to compete and play his heart out. He was rewarded with a huge contract, but don’t think he’s going to sit back and take it easy. A wizard with the glove and an absolute stud at the plate, Arenado has been an All-Star in each of the last four seasons and won four straight Gold Gloves at the hot corner. He hit .297 last year with 38 homers and 110 RBIs but don’t be surprised if he breaks the 40-homer mark as he did in consecutive seasons back in 2015 and 2016, where he hit 42 and 41 long balls respectively.
Murphy was signed by Colorado to a two-year deal, which can run through 2021, back in December. He’s been a very solid hitter his entire career with a lifetime .299 average. His homers were slightly down last year, clubbing just 12 between stints with the Washington Nationals and Cubs, but he still hit .299. Murphy will play first base for the Rockies and add another offensive spark to an already exciting lineup. His career-high in home runs for a single season is 25, but we could see the 33-year old hit more than that at the high elevation of Colorado where the ball flies off the bat.
RHP Seunghwan Oh
LHP Jake McGee
RHP Wade Davis
RHP Bryan Shaw
3. San Diego Padres
The Padres were dead-last in the NL West in 2018 at 66-96. They have really struggled the few years in all aspects of the game, but this season brings a little bit of hope. They have an exciting young shortstop in Fernando Tatis Jr.who has made the opening day roster and they also won the Manny Machado sweepstakes, bringing him to San Diego on a 10-year, $300 million deal. The Padres also signed Ian Kinsler, a reliable second baseman who has been a solid big-leaguer for many years. But despite acquiring Kinsler and Machado, the Padres are still rebuilding and aren’t expected to be a contender in 2019. Hopefully, with the few players they did acquire, they can win more than 66 games this season. Making the playoffs next season seems like a realistic goal for the Padres.
Players to watch: Manny Machado, Wil Myers, Chris Paddack
Machado will be watched very closely this season after holding out until almost the end of spring training for a contract. Ultimately, Machado chose a young Padres team, where he will look to lead their offense along with Myers and Eric Hosmer. The four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover will look to keep up what he has done his entire career thus far and that’s play stellar defense and smoke homers. The former first-round pick has hit 30-plus home runs in each of the last four seasons.
Myers will be looking for a bounce-back year after an injury-plagued 2018 where he played just 83 games, hitting .253 with just 11 homers and 39 RBIs. He’ll look to get back to his 2017 form when he clubbed 30 homers. The veteran will be a huge part of their offense and needs to have a good year where he hits for power and average as their everyday left fielder. He’s also a serious base-stealing threat so it will be important that he gets on base to give himself the chance to swipe bags because that’s also a vital part of his game.
Paddack is an interesting case. He hasn’t even made his big-league debut yet, but is set to start San Diego’s third game of the season. Paddack spent last season in both High-A and Double-A, really putting himself in the talks of the big-league rotation with a stellar spring training. He posted a 2.13 ERA, striking out 20 hitters in just 12 innings while giving up just two free passes. In a rotation filled with rookies, not a lot is expected of the Padres pitching staff. But given his performance in the Cactus League, Paddack could surprise this year with a respectable rookie campaign.
4. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have struggled for the last few years after winning the World Series back in 2014. They have seen themselves at the bottom of the NL West for the last two seasons, but despite that, they do have a pretty solid team. Buster Posey is back, healthy, and should contribute both offensively and defensively. The Giants will need to see more consistency from an offense that is clearly capable of more considering the type of talent they have. When it comes to their rotation, it’s the same story. With guys like Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija, they should be putting forward better performances on the mound if their guys stay healthy.
Players to watch: Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Evan Longoria
Posey hit .284 through 105 games last season before he went on the shelf requiring hip surgery. But the 31-year old hit just five homers during that span, which is substantially less than the 15-25 he usually hits in a season. Posey is still one of the best catchers in the game and can be a game changer in many ways. With a brand new hip, he should be mobile and could split time between catcher and first base just to keep his legs fresh since they also acquired Erik Kratz to eat up some innings behind the plate.
Bumgarner didn’t make his season debut untill mid-June last season after suffering a pinkie injury. When he did return, Madbum was impressive per usual with a 3.26 ERA through 129.2 innings. He’s not the same overpowering lefty with an electrifying fastball, but he’s deceptive and his arm slot still fools hitters and gets the job done. He barely breaks 90 mph anymore, but his ability to pitch and locate all of his offerings, which all have movement, is what makes him successful. Bumgarner is still the ace of this staff and will be relied upon heavily in 2019.
Longoria struggled in his debut season with the Giants in 2018, hitting just .244 with 16 bombs and 54 RBIs. He also made a career-high 15 errors at third base, something he will also need to improve. Longoria did play with the Tampa Bay Rays his entire career, so maybe playing in a new city takes some getting used to. But after a season of getting the kinks out, a lot more will be expected from him in 2019.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs lost three of their best players in Goldschmidt, Pollock, and Patrick Corbin, but received two solid players in return with Carson Kelly and Luke Weaver in the offseason. However, this season should be a year of transition for Arizona. They aren’t expected to make any huge splash, especially because they didn’t really acquire any big names in the offseason when they lost their main guys like Goldschmidt and Pollock. But they still have a decent lineup that can produce and a rotation with some experience, headlined by Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray.
Players to watch: Zack Greinke, Ketel Marte, Carson Kelly
Greinke is the most experienced arm in the Arizona rotation, as he heads into his 16th big-league season. He enjoyed a decent campaign last year, going 15-11 with a 3.21 ERA in 207 innings pitched. He isn’t showing any notable signs of aging, except for a little less zip on his fastball, But his pitch ability is still as good as ever. Greinke will be Arizona’s opening day starter on Thursday against the Dodgers and will be one of their most reliable arms this year alongside Ray.
Marte is an exciting young talent who has a lot of loud tools. He’s an extremely good athlete who plays both positions up the middle and the outfield. He’ll likely spend most of this season in center field since Nick Ahmed will be at shortstop and they need to fill the void left by Pollock. But his athleticism plays even better in center field because he can run down balls in the alleys. At the plate, he has hit .260 in each of the last two seasons and hit a career-high 14 homers last season with Arizona. Marte also legged out a major-league best 12 triples last year.
Kelly will get his first opportunity to be a starter at the major-league level this season. He really struggled offensively in three different big-league stints with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2016-18. But Kelly is an elite catcher, and that is one of the biggest reasons he has risen to the big leagues. Arizona will hope he can find his stride at the plate this year. He’s yet to hit his first big-league homer through 63 games. With the chance to start on a daily basis, I do think Kelly will definitely begin to improve with the bat as he gets more consistent plate appearances.