The Arizona Diamondbacks are on fire.
At the conclusion of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, the Arizona Diamondbacks were seeking to make a splash in order to once again make them respectable. It would take $206.5 million over six years to lure starting pitcher Zack Greinke away from the Los Angeles Dodgers as he was seen as a piece that would help the Diamondbacks get back to the playoffs. Prior to joining the Diamondbacks, Greinke was a three-time All-Star, while also winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2009 as a member of the Kansas City Royals. In 2015 with the Dodgers, Greinke was 19-3 with an earned run averaged of 1.66 while he also struck out 200 batters. Greinke could have remained with the Dodgers to keep the best one-two starting pitching combinations in Major League Baseball going as he would have been alongside starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. But a big payday along with giving up the spotlight of Los Angeles was too much for Greinke to pass up on.
Greinke’s first season in Arizona was not one to write home about as he failed to live to the massive expectations which were placed on him. In Greinke’s first start with the Diamondbacks, he surrendered 7 earned runs in just 4 innings of work which included giving up three home runs as Arizona fell to the Colorado Rockies at home 10-5. Greinke would never recover as he went 13-7 on the season with an earned run average of 4.37. Greinke also had a stint on the disabled list and he appeared to be another player who succumb to the pressure of signing a big contract.
However 2017 has been a reversal of fortunes for Greinke as he has already matched his win total from last season. Greinke is 13-4 with an earned run average of 3.10, while he is on pace for his third 200-strikeout season in the last four years. Greinke’s turnaround this year has coincided with the turnaround of the Diamondbacks whose record of 63-48 has them currently in possession of the second wild card of the National League.
The Greinke that were seeing this year is what the Diamondbacks envisioned when they brought him in last year as he has now given them a frontline starter. Greinke’s presence has helped the Diamondbacks pitching staff overall as their 3.53 earned run average is second in the National League only trailing his former team in the Dodgers. Arizona is also second in the N.L. in strikeouts with 1018, while their 57 quality starts are fifth.
Greinke might not be on the level of Hall of Fame starting pitcher Randy Johnson who signed a four-year $52.4 million contract with the Diamondbacks in 1999 as he was sought after to help a budding expansion team, but he is still important. And just like Johnson, the folks in the desert are hopeful that Greinke can help them win a World Series.
With the dominance of the Dodgers this season, there is absolutely no way that the Diamondbacks can make up enough ground to catch them for first place in the National League West as they currently trail Los Angeles by 15.5 games. But Arizona’s chances of earning one of the wild card slots in the N.L. is pretty good. Barring injury Greinke would get the baseball for Arizona in that wild card game which would give him a chance to revive his status as a big game pitcher, while also redeeming himself for his last postseason start which resulted in the Dodgers being eliminated by the New York Mets in 2015.
However the fact that the Diamondbacks are even in the hunt for a playoff spot this year comes down to Greinke seeking to put 2016 behind him and show that he is still one of the best pitchers in baseball. Every fifth day that Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo gives Greinke the baseball, he is giving it to an ace that his teammates can rely on, while he also has Arizona smelling the playoffs.
When you think about life in the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants come to mind rather quickly as they are two of the most iconic franchises in Major League Baseball. Both the Giants and Dodgers have been playing baseball now for more than 130 years as their rivalry has spanned from the Big Apple to the Golden State. The Dodgers and Giants are typically the teams to beat in the N.L. West which is evident by their combined 11 division titles since 2000. However 2017 is shaping up to be a different year in the N.L.West.
Whereas the Dodgers and Giants were expected to be postseason contenders here in 2017, the same could not be said about either the Colorado Rockies or Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks have not made the postseason since they last won the National League West in 2011, while you have to go back to 2009 to find the last time in which the Rockies made the playoffs, and they’ve never won the the division.
But as of today there is a battle going on to see who is going to be the new sheriff in town as it is the Rockies who are sitting in first place in the National League West with a record of 41-23, while the D-backs are three games behind them in third place. The Dodgers are right in the mix in second place as they are 2.5 games, while the wheels have fallen off of the Giants express as they’re currently struggling in fourth place and 15 games out. And for the first time in the history of the National League West, there is a strong possibility that three teams could reach the postseason from this division.
The Rockies have always been known for their offense as the high altitude and the thin air of the Rocky Mountains is always an advantage for them. But this year pitching is defining the Rockies as their team earned run average of 4.01 is fifth in the National League which is a far cry from last season when Colorado’s team earned run average of 4.91 was 13th. Led by rookie starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela who has 8 wins, the Rockies have three starting pitchers that already have at least 6 victories to their credit this season.
Relief pitcher Greg Holland is in his first season with the Rockies and he has quickly regained the form that made him one of the top closers in baseball a few years ago. In September 2015, Holland had to undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery and he had to watch from the sidelines as the Kansas City Royals won the World Series without him. Holland would sit out all of 2016 as he was recovering and when he became a free agent this past winter, the Rockies took a flyer on him for a one-year deal for $6 million. And this season Holland’s presence is shortening the game for the Rockies pitching staff as his 23 saves are by far the best in Major League Baseball.
But even as improved as the Rockies pitching staff has been, you still cannot overlook their Murderers Row like lineup. The Rockies are maintaining their status as one of the best hitting lineups in Major League Baseball as only their 328 runs scored are second in the National League only to the 329 of the Washington Nationals. It’s the usual suspects in the Rockies lineup leading the way such as outfielder Charlie Blackmon and third baseman Nolan Arenado are each having solid campaigns, but they are also receiving a surprisingly positive contribution from first baseman Mark Reynolds.
The Rockies are the seventh Major League Baseball franchise that Reynolds has played for and with a .304 batting average to go along with 17 homers and 53 runs batted in, he is on pace for one of the best seasons of his career.
The Rockies were a team that flew under the radar when the season began, but after they finished the month of April with a record of 16-10, they began to turn some heads. And by the end of May, Colorado had the look of a club that could hang around in the playoff race. However now that we’re in June and the Rockies are still in first place in the National League West which has seen them secure series wins over the Milwaukee Brewers who are in first place in the National League Central, the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and both World Series participants from last October in the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, they are exuding confidence with a ton of that credit going to their first-year manager Bud Black.
After nine seasons as the manager of the San Diego Padres with only two winning campaigns and no playoff appearances, Black has found new life in Denver. Black appears to be on the same path of another former Padres manager in Bruce Bochy who has gone on to win three World Series Champions with the Giants as both are making the most of their new opportunities in Major League Baseball.
Like the Rockies, there weren’t high expectations for the Diamondbacks outside of their organization. Two of the last three seasons saw Arizona lose at least 93 games, while their was a shakeup within their front office last year. General manager Dave Stewart and manager Chip Hale were each relieved of their duties with the Diamondbacks, while the same fate appeared to be awaiting Tony La Russa who is the team’s chief baseball officer. La Russa was able to survive the chopping block as Mike Hazen would become the Diamondbacks new general manager and Torey Luvollo would become their new skipper. And this combination has been a breath of fresh air for Arizona as they are on pace for their first winning season since 2011.
A big reason for Arizona’s turnaround begins with starting pitcher Zack Greinke. After Greinke went 19-3 with an earned run average of 1.66 in 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he opted to become a free agent. Greinke would join the D-backs after both sides agreed on a six-year deal for $205 million. But Greinke’s first season with the Diamondbacks was not a memorable one as he battled through injuries, while also attempting to over pitch. And in the end Greinke was 13.7 with an earned run average of 4.37.
However Greinke didn’t develop a reputation of being one of the best pitchers in baseball of this era by accident and he has regained his form here in 2017. Through 13 starts Greinke is 8-3 with an earned run average of 3.20.
Offensively Arizona is third in the National League in runs scored with 321 as they have one of the most potent lineups on the Senior Circuit. For the seven-year Major League Baseball career of Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, he has been the All-Star caliber player that not too many people know about. Goldschmidt is a lifetime .300 hitter that has averaged 29 homers per season while he has also finished second in the N.L. MVP voting twice. Goldschmidt is once again having a solid campaign as he is currently batting .314 with 13 home runs and 47 runs batted in while his on-base percentage of .441 is the best in the N.L.
Diamondbacks third baseman Jake Lamb is only in his fourth season and after making huge strides last year by hitting 29 homers and 91 runs batted in. Lamb is building off of that here in 2017 as he is leading Arizona in homers with 16 and runs batted in as well with 56. And it is not that far-fetched to see Lamb go yard 40 times this year.
Like Black with the Padres, Luvollo has pushed all of the right buttons in his first season with the Diamondbacks. However the Diamondbacks have benefited from an easy schedule as their only marquee series win to the point of this year came against the Indians. Arizona has come up short in their meeting with the National League East leading Washington Nationals as well as versus the Rockies. And as the Diamondbacks schedule will get more difficult as the season progresses, they are going to need to find statement victories against quality teams if they expect to be a serious contender.
Then there is the case of the Dodgers who are the four-time defending National League West Champs. The Dodgers fell two victories short of reaching the World Series last year and they are poised for another run. Pitching wise the Dodgers are leaning on starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw who is arguably the best hurler in the game. Kershaw has already taken home the National League’s Cy Young Award three times and he is once again in the running to take home the hardware. Kershaw is 8-2, while his 2.20 earned run average is leading the way in the N.L. Kershaw already has 101 strikeouts to his credit here in 2017 which includes a season-high 14 against the Brewers on June 2 as he is well on his way to striking out at least 200 batters in a season for the seventh time in his career.
The Dodgers were expected to be thin in their starting rotation behind Kershaw this season, but starting pitcher Alex Wood is 6-0 with an earned average of 1.69, while starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy is 5-3 with an earned run average of 3.28. And after relief Kenley Jansen saved 47 games last year for the Dodgers, he has picked up right where he left off from as he’s already closed out 10 games this year for Los Angeles and they’ll be plenty more to come.
The Dodgers lineup has been a middle of the pact unit so far this season, but they recently received a boost when third baseman Justin Turner returned from the disabled list. Shortstop Corey Seager is the reigning National League Rookie of the Year and he’s off to a solid start this season as he is batting with .271 with 8 home runs and 25 runs batted in, while outfielder Cody Bellinger could be this seasons’s Rookie of the Year as he currently leads the club in home runs (12), as well as runs batted in (31).
Like the Diamondbacks, the Dodgers have not had too many marquee series wins so far as once you get past their sweep of the Cubs last weekend, it has been pedestrian like for them.
But what we are setting up for over the last three-plus months of the regular season is an interesting race in the National League West between these three teams. And it will be interesting to see which club will be the first to make a move to upgrade their respective teams.
The Rockies lineup is set, but it wouldn’t hurt them to get another starting pitcher for the postseason push. The Diamondbacks could use some more depth in their lineup, and you can never have enough pitching and the same could be said in regards to the Dodgers. And as the Giants and Padres appear to be watchers on at this party, it will be an interesting battle between these three clubs.
With the overall struggles of the National League East and Central, the possibility of the Dodgers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks all making the playoffs is pretty good. And with plenty of games remaining between these three teams along with the fact that these clubs want to avoid having to participate in the N.L. Wild Card Game if they don’t have to, then it should be game on in regards of the battle to capture this crown.
Since 2002, the Giants are the only team that calls the National League West home to make the World Series, but things could be different here in 2017.
X-San Francisco Giants 90-72
2016 saw the San Francisco Giants be unable to kept their trend of winning the World Series in even-numbered years going. 2010, 2012, and 2014 each saw the Giants win the Fall Classic, and once last October rolled around you got the feeling once more that they could make a run. But after the Giants were able to get by the New York Mets in the National League’s Wild Card Game, they were over matched by the Chicago Cubs in the divisional series. The Cubs beat the Giants at their own game which was solid pitching and timely hitting.
But whereas the Giants were a playoff team in 2016, they were extremely flawed. At the All-Star break, San Francisco’s record of 57-33 was the best in Major League Baseball, however they would struggle mightily in the second half of the season as they went 30-42 the rest of the way. Now it will be interesting to see what version of the Giants that we’ll see here in 2017.
Last year the Giants team earned run average of 3.65 was fourth in the National League and they have the elements to once again be a solid unit. Starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner has emerged as one of the best in the business. Bumgarner has won 51 games over the last three years and it could be much more if the Giants either gave him run support, or if the bullpen preserved leads for him. But make no mistake about it that Bumgarner and his long pitching motion that comes from his 6’5″ frame will one again make life tough for hitters in the N.L.
2016 marked the third time in the Major League Baseball career of starting pitcher Johnny Cueto that he won at least 18 games as the native of the Dominican Republic can flat out pitch. Cueto is a wizard on the mound as he is a cross of Satchel Paige, Pedro Martinez, and Luis Tiant. Cueto is a showman, and when he’s on, good luck to any hitter that faces him.
Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija has periodically shown flashes of brilliance, but he’s been too inconsistent throughout his career to be considered an ace. However as Samardzija is set to begin his first full season in San Francisco, he can provide the Giants with depth in their starting rotation as he has the potential to win 15 games.
The Giants acquired starting pitcher Matt Moore from the Tampa Bay Rays just prior to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline last July. Moore got off to a slow start with the Giants as he lost his first three starts with the club before he rebounded to win three out of his last four. Moore got a no-decision in Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series against the Cubs, but if he’s able to put the elbow and shoulder issues that hindered him with the Rays on the back burner with the Giants, he could be a solid fourth starter for them.
However even if the Giants are able to get quality starting pitching here in 2017, they are going to need more production from their bullpen. Last year the Giants had 30 blown saves which led the National League, and it also became their undoing in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy was forced to go with a “closer-by-committee” as everyone in the bullpen took their turn in blowing games.
The Giants made it their business this off-season to sign relief pitcher Mark Melancon. Over the last two years Melancon has combined to save 98 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals as he was vital as far as each club making the postseason with him. But even with Melancon, San Francisco will need relief pitchers such as Hunter Strickland and Will Smith to be a bridge between the starting rotation and him.
The Giants offense also went into a nose dive during the second half of 2016 as they finished the year ninth in the National League in runs scored with 715 and they were 13th in home runs with just 130. The Giants will once again have the same light hitting lineup in 2017 as they’ll once again have to manufacture runs.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford led the Giants in runs batted in for 2016 with 84. But even with Crawford, catcher Buster Posey, and first baseman Brandon Belt, the Giants don’t have a hitter in the middle of their lineup who can put fear into an opposing pitcher as a power threat. Outfielder Hunter Pence will be 34-years of age next month, and injuries are beginning to get the best of him as San Francisco should be thankful if they can get 125 games out of him this year.
The Giants are once again a flawed team here in 2017, but for Bochy and his team, they’ll benefit from the National League West being weak overall, and they should be able to take advantage of it.
Y-Los Angeles Dodgers 88-74
This decade has seen the Los Angeles Dodgers be one of the more consistent teams in Major League Baseball. The Dodgers last losing season came in 2010, while they’ve made the postseason in each of the last four years. But the one thing that continues to elude the Dodgers is that they still have not been able to reach the World Series since they won it all in 1988.
After squeaking past the Washington Nationals in the National League Divisional Series last October, the Dodgers found themselves possessing a 2-1 series lead in the NLCS against before the wheels fell apart. The Dodgers then had a front row seat to see the Chicago Cubs win their first N.L. Pennant since 1945. And since the Cubs were able to win their first World Series Championship since 1908, the Dodgers are hopeful that they’ll be able to end their long drought this October.
But for the Dodgers to become a legitimate World Series contender, they are going to need more depth in their starting rotation. The Dodgers team earned run average of 3.70 was fifth in the National League last season, but they were last in quality starts with just 60.
Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball and he is the workhorse of the Dodgers rotation. Last year marked the first time since 2009 that he failed to throw at least 190 innings during the season as he only made 21 starts. Kershaw’s sloping curve ball can make the best hitters in baseball look foolish, and if he is able to remain healthy in 2017, a 20-win campaign, along with his fourth National League Cy Young Award are not out of the question. However Kershaw can only pitch once every fifth day as someone else in the Dodgers starting rotation will need to provide consistency behind him.
Last year as a rookie, starting pitcher Kenta Maeda went 16-11 with a 3.48 earned run average. Maeda seemed unfazed in his first Major League Baseball season after he left his native Japan. But what will Maeda be able to do for an encore after he received solid run support, while the rest of the league has a feel from what he can now do?
Behind Kershaw and Maeda, there’s nothing but question marks in the Dodgers starting rotation. Starting pitchers Scott Kazmir, Rich Hill, and Brandon McCarthy have spent nearly as much time on the disabled list during their respective careers as they have pitching. And for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, if he’s able to get 150 innings in 2017 apiece out of this trio, it will be a blessing in disguise.
But if the Dodgers can get to the ninth inning with a lead, they can give the baseball to one of the best closers in Major League Baseball in relief pitcher Kenley Jansen. Last year Jansen saved 47 games for the Dodgers which was tied for second in the National League, and in the process he became the franchise’s all-time leader in the category.
Last year the Dodgers offense was a middle of the road group in the National League, but that could change here in 2017. It hasn’t taken shortstop Corey Seager that long to show that he is a future star for the Dodgers. Seager was a September call up for the for the Dodgers in 2015 and also appeared in the postseason for them. But last year Seager batted .308 with 26 home runs, 72 runs batted in, and 40 doubles as he became the 12th player in the illustrious franchise history of the Dodgers to be named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. The Dodgers have been high on Seager since they made him a first-round pick in 2012. And this year Seager has the ability to hit 35 home runs, while also becoming the Dodgers cleanup hitter as long as he is able to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump”.
In 2014, the Dodgers picked up third baseman Justin Turner from the scrap heaps. Prior to joining the Dodgers, Turner has bounced around Major League Baseball with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets. But after the Mets decided to non-tender Turner, he got a spring training invite from the Dodgers. And as Turner was joining the team that he grew up watching as he’s from Long Beach, California, he received a new baseball life.
In each of Turner’s two seasons with the Dodgers, his offensive numbers have increased which included him leading the club in homers (27), and runs batted in (90) last season. This off-season Turner would receive a new four-year deal from the Dodgers that is worth $64 million. But it will be interesting to see if Turner’s production was just a lead up him getting a long-term deal, or that has he turned the corner in his Major League Baseball career.
Outfielder Joc Pederson is another power bat for the Dodgers, and he is a player that is learning better plate discipline while improving as an overall hitter. Including Pederson, the Dodgers have a plethora of young talent in their outfield, but it all comes with question marks. Like Pederson, outfielder Trayce Thompson has the ability to hit 25 homers, but he has yet to show that he can remain healthy as in two seasons in Major League Baseball, he has only appeared in 124 games. Outfielder Yasiel Puig has never been able to live up to his full potential, and if somebody within the Dodgers organization is able to get through to him, he could be a diamond in the rough for manager Dave Roberts.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez will be 35-years of age in May. And although that Gonzalez doesn’t appear to be power hitter that he was earlier in his career, he is still one of the better contact hitters on the Dodgers, while also possessing of the best gloves in the game at first base.
This off-season the Dodgers acquired infielder Logan Forsythe from the Tampa Bay Rays. Forsythe is a career .255 hitter, but his main contributions in Los Angeles will come on defense as he’ll spend the majority of his time at second base where he should form a solid double play tandem with Seager. Forsythe should split time at second base with veteran Chase Utley. Utley appeared to be finished during the end of his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015, but when he was traded to the Dodgers, it gave him a new lease on his baseball life as he’s originally from nearby Pasadena.
It didn’t take catcher Yasmani Grandal that long to get settled in with the Dodgers as in his first year in Los Angeles, he hit a career high 27 home runs. But Grandal’s main contributions with this Dodgers team will come behind the plate as far as calling games for the team’s pitching staff. And with catcher A.J. Ellis having been traded to the Phillies this off-season, more will be on the plate of Grandal as he must now develop a rapport with Kershaw who no longer has his personal catcher.
You can expect 2017 to feature another dose of the West Coast’s version of the Hatfields and the McCoys as the Dodgers and Giants are once again expected to stage another fierce battle in order to determine who’ll win the National League West.
Colorado Rockies 75-87
The past six Major League Baseball seasons have been a struggle to say the least for the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies have not had a winning season since 2010, while they have not reached the postseason since 2009. The Rockies have never won the National League West in their 24 years of existence and 2017 is expected to once again be a struggle in the Rocky Mountains.
After four seasons as the manager of the Rockies, Walt Weiss decided not to return in 2017. Weiss has been replaced in Denver by former San Diego Padres manager Bud Black. Black will look to have more success in Denver than he had during his nine years with the Padres as he was never able to lead them to the playoffs.
Hitting has never been the issue for the Rockies as the thin air in Denver allows them to consistently put up quality numbers on offense. The Rockies led the National League last season in runs scored (845), hits (1,544), and team batting average (.275), but their team earned run average of 4.91 was 13th.
Starting pitcher Chad Bettis led the Rockies in wins last season with 14, but he also had an earned run average of 4.79. Bettis’ road earned run average was also higher as it was 5.06 in games that were started away from Coors Field. And with a pitching staff that is once again expected to give up its fair share or runs, it will once again be on Colorado’s offense to give this team any chance.
The Rockies belted 204 home runs in 2016 which was third in the National League and they have a bevy of hitters that have the potential to each pound out at least 30 homers. Third baseman Nolan Arenado is looking to lead the N.L. in home runs and runs batted in for the third consecutive season. Arenado blasted 41 homers last year while driving in 133 runs and he has put his name into the conversation along with Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs as far as being the best young third baseman in the game. In nine Major League Baseball seasons, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is averaging 31 home runs per season, and even at the age of 31, his bat doesn’t appear to be slowing down at the plate. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon is coming off of a career year as he batted .324, while belting 29 home runs and 82 runs batted and he should be in line for more of the same this year. Last season shortstop Trevor Story appeared to be in line to win the N.L’s Rookie of the Year Award until an injury limited hm to just 97 games. But in those 97 contests, Story showed that he is ready to be the next big power hitter for the Rockies as he blasted 27 home runs and 72 runs batted in. In six MLB seasons, infielder DJ LeMahieu is a career .300 hitter and he’s fresh off leading the N.L. in batting last season at .348. LeMahieu also had an on-base percentage of .416 as this lineup doesn’t have too many soft spots.
But the rich got richer over the winter when the Rockies signed Ian Desmond. Desmond is an infielder by trade, but he was able to reinvent himself last year with the Texas Rangers as he batted .285 with 22 home runs and 86 runs batted in. And now Desmond will join another deep lineup that he should benefit immensely from being in, while the thin Rocky Mountain air won’t hurt either. But after suffering a broken hand in spring training, Desmond’s Rockies debut will be put on hold for a few weeks.
Make no mistake about it that the Rockies will score runs in 2017. But as always will Colorado be able have enough pitching in order to remain in contention this year?
Arizona Diamondbacks 70-92
The Arizona Diamondbacks will enter the 2017 Major League Baseball season seeking their first winning season since 2011 which was subsequently their last trip to the playoffs. Since that time the Diamondbacks have been an organization without a plan as they haven’t been sure whether or not that they want to rebuild or become a contender. The Diamondbacks front office hasn’t been on the same page and thus the team has suffered as they’ve been far from a contender in the National League West. After the Diamondbacks lost 93 games last year, general manager Dave Stewart was fired, and all signs pointed to the team’s president of baseball operations in Tony La Russa getting his walking papers as well. But La Russa was able to hold on, while the D’Backs have welcomed a new general manager in Mike Hazen, along with a new manager in Torey Lovullo. But even with the Diamondbacks having new front office personnel, they’ll still be facing an uphill battle in the N.L. West.
Like the Colorado Rockies, the Diamondbacks are going to have to rely heavily on their lineup to carry them this season. In 2016, the D’Backs pitching staff was dead last in the National League in earned run average at 5.09. Arizona believed that starting pitcher Zack Greinke would be the solution to their starting pitching issues as they gave him a six-year deal for $206.5 million. But Greinke was unable to consistently resemble the player who won 19 games in 2015 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, while leading the N.L. in earned run average at 1.66. However Greinke was only able to win 13 games while posting an earned run average of 4.37.
Some people feel that Greinke might have been “pressing” in his first year in Arizona as he wanted to show why he deserved get the big contract, but either way he will need to bounce back in a big way in order for the Diamondbacks to have a legitimate chance to make the postseason here in 2017.
This off-season the Diamondbacks did acquire starting pitcher Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners in the hopes of strengthening their rotation. Walker is only 24-years of age, but he has never been able to live up to the expectations that were placed on him. However a change of scenery could be just what Walker needs.
The Diamondbacks lineup will miss the contributions of infielder Jean Segura who led the club in batting last year at .319, but was traded to the Mariners for Walker. However, Arizona will need outfielder A.J. Pollock to bounce back after his 2016 Major League Baseball campaign was derailed. An elbow injury limited Pollock to just 12 games last season and the D’Backs will need him to resemble to player who earned his first All-Star Game nod in 2015 when he batted .315 to go along with 20 homers and 76 runs batted in.
After defecting from Cuba in 2014, it hasn’t taken outfielder Yasmany Tomas that long to get adjusted to Major League Baseball. Last year was Tomas’ second MLB season and he led Arizona in home runs with 31. Tomas will team with first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to give the Diamondbacks one of the best three-four combos in the National League West. For Goldschmidt’s six-year Major League Baseball career he has averaged 29 homers per year, and like I said before, the only thing that is preventing him from being a household name is the fact that he plays on a losing team. However the hitting prowess of Goldschmidt and Tomas more than likely won’t be enough for the Diamondbacks.
Arizona’s first 14 games in 2017 will be against teams that made the playoffs last season with 11 of those coming against the Dodgers and Giants as it will more than likely be tough sledding early on in the desert.
San Diego Padres 61-101
Two of the few good things that the San Diego Padres currently have going for them is that they play in one of the prettiest cities in the United States, while they also have one of the best stadiums in Major League Baseball. The Padres have not had a winning season since 2010, and they have failed to make the postseason since 2006. The one good thing about the 2016 MLB season for the Padres was that they were able to show off Petco Park to the baseball world by hosting the All-Star Game. But as the Padres lost 94 games, they also finished in last place in the National League West. And as the 2017 MLB season is set to begin, there isn’t that much optimism as far as the Padres being a contender.
A.J. Preller is set to begin his second full season as the general manager of the Padres, and after spending 2015 attempting to buy a contender, he spent 2016 waving the white flag. The Padres have traded nearly all of their valuable players which has left manager Andy Green in a bind in order to make San Diego contend.
The Padres can hang their hats on the fact that they have first baseman Wil Myers in the middle of their lineup. After Myers won the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2013 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, he found himself traded to the Padres following the 2014 Major League Baseball season. After Myers missed time during his first three Major League Baseball seasons, he appeared in 157 games last year for the Padres as he hit a career-high 28 home runs. The Padres see Myers as a center piece for the future which led to both sides agreeing on a six-year extension that is worth $83 million which will keep him in San Diego through 2023.
But unfortunately for the Padres, there is not that much talent on this team aside from Myers which means that it will be a very long summer in San Diego; especially since the folks there can no longer look forward to watching the Chargers pay football.
Y-Wild Card Berth
Although that the 2016 Major League Baseball season is in the books, the action is heating up on the hot stove. 29 teams are out to topple the Chicago Cubs as World Series Champions, while the Cubs want to remain as the kings of the mountain. MLB’s Winter Meetings are set to take place next month, while we all are awaiting a new collective bargaining agreement, but there are some moves that could be made in the next few weeks on the trade front and here they are.
Chris Sale-Starting Pitcher-Chicago White Sox
The past five years have seen Chris Sale become one of the better starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. Over that stretch Sale is 68-47 while he’s also been a five-time American League All-Star. But as good as Sale has been, he has been unable to make the White Sox a contender as they’ve finished with a losing record in each of the last four years.
The boiling point between Sale and the White Sox may have been reached this past summer when he was sent home after he allegedly destroyed the team’s throwback uniforms that they were scheduled to wear during his start as he wasn’t a fan of them. It appeared that this would be the opening for White Sox president of baseball operations Kenny Williams to pull the trigger on trading Sale, but he decided to hold on.
However as the off-season is here, there are several contenders such as the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers to could be in line for a quality front line starter such as Sale which could see valuable prospects return to the White Sox organization.
Joey Votto-First Baseman-Cincinnati Reds
After the Cincinnati Reds fired manager Dusty Baker following the conclusion of the 2013 Major League Baseball season, their fortunes have changed. Under Baker, the Reds made the postseason three times during his six years in Cincinnati. But since Baker was fired, the Reds have not had a winning season as they appear to be in rebuilding mode.
The past decade has seen first baseman Joey Votto emerge as one of the best players in Reds franchise history. Votto’s career on-base percentage of .425 is tops in Reds franchise history while his batting average of .313 is fifth, and his 221 home runs are ninth. Votto has a National League MVP to his credit as he took home the honor in 2010, while he has also earned one N.L. Gold Glove Award. But as the Reds are rebuilding, Votto is 33-years of age and he has hefty contract attached to him.
Votto is under contract through 2024 and he is still owed $192 million. Quality first baseman are tough to come by in baseball which makes Votto a hot commodity for contenders around baseball such as the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, and New York Mets if they are willing to take on his take on his massive contract for the next eight years.
Evan Longoria-Third Baseman-Tampa Bay Rays
For the last nine years, third baseman Evan Longoria has become the face of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise. The Rays made Longoria the third overall pick of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft, and he would be vital in their American League Pennant in 2008. In a Rays uniform, Longoria has gone on to be a three-time A.L. All-Star while he is also the organization’s all-time leader in home runs (241), doubles (302), and runs batted in (806). And at the age of 31, Longoria is coming off of a career-high in home runs with 36.
But Longoria is putting up these numbers for a Rays team that is coming off of their first, last place finish in the American League East since 2007 as they are in full rebuild mode and trading their best player in franchise history could be beneficial for both sides. Longoria is still owed $107 million through 2023, and as the Rays play in one of the smaller markets in Major League Baseball, it doesn’t make financial sense for the organization to keep a player who will command a high salary on a cellar dweller.
If the Rays are interested in trading Longoria, you can expect a plethora of teams to inquire about his availability. The Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants could all be in play for Longoria as they’re all contenders that need help at the hot corner.
Ryan Braun-Outfielder-Milwaukee Brewers
From 2007-2012, the Milwaukee Brewers were one of baseball’s better teams with outfielder Ryan Braun at the forefront. In 2007, Braun was named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year as he batted .324 with 34 home runs, and 97 runs batted in. Braun would continue to put up impressive numbers for the Brewers which included him being named as the N.L.’s MVP in 2011.
But shortly after that Braun’s popularity began to fade when he was linked to the Biogenesis scandal. Braun’s involvement would see him suspended by Major League Baseball for parts of two seasons and he quickly became an afterthought.
However at the age of 32, Braun is coming off of one of his best seasons as he batted .305 with 30 home runs and 91 runs batted in this past year for Milwaukee. The Brewers went 73-89 here in 2016 as they are an organization that needs to figure out which direction that they are headed in.
Braun has five years and $91 million remaining on his contract and if a big-market team such as the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, or Texas Rangers would be willing to take on the money, they could potentially get a quality veteran bat in the middle of their lineup.
Paul Goldschmidt-First Baseman-Arizona Diamondbacks
Over the past few years I have maintained that if Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt played in a bigger market, or on a better team that he would be a household name. Goldschmidt got a taste of the postseason in 2011 as a member of the Diamondbacks, but as his play as has improved, the team around him has gotten worse.
Each of the last four seasons have seen Goldschmidt be an All-Star which included this year as he batted .297 with 24 home runs and 95 runs batted in. But the last three years have seen the Diamondbacks finish with a losing record.
There have been wholesale changes over the past few weeks in the Diamondbacks front office as it isn’t clear how much power that the team’s president of baseball operations Tony La Russa still has being that a new general manager in Mike Hazen has been brought in. And if the Diamondbacks truly feel that it’s time to start over, they could get a king’s ransom in return for Goldschmidt as he is the complete package for as a first baseman being that he can hit for power and average, while he’s also one of the better defensive players in Major League Baseball at his position.
And if Goldschmidt is made available by the Diamondbacks, expect teams such as the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, and St. Louis Cardinals to be in the mix.
Brett Gardner-Outfielder-New York Yankees
New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner will never be confused with being one of the most talented Major League Baseball players, but he makes up for it with heart and sheer determination. Gardner has spent his entire nine-year career with the Yankees which has seen him win a World Series Titles along with one All-Star appearance. Gardner is a lifetime .264 hitter, and although that he doesn’t have the speed that he did earlier in his career to steal bases, he is still an above average defensive presence in left field for the Yankees.
The past few years have seen the Yankees flirt with dealing Gardner who is now 33-years of age as New York is looking to get younger. But the only way that I see this scenario playing out where Gardner is trading during the off-season is if the Yankees are able to sign a free-agent outfielder such as Yoenis Cespedes which would make the veteran player expendable.
And if that’s the case I could see the Yankees trading Gardner to a litany of teams as they would more than likely be looking for some help to their pitching staff in return.
Andrew McCutchen-Outfielder-Pittsburgh Pirates
As the Pittsburgh Pirates have returned to respectability, outfielder Andrew McCutchen has become the face of that movement. McCutchen was the 11th overall pick of the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft by the Pirates, and by 2009, he was ready for his debut. In 2013, McCutchen helped the Pirates reach the postseason for the first time since 1992, and his .317 batting average, to go along with 21 home runs, 84 runs batted in, and 27 stolen bases were good enough for him to be named as the National League’s MVP. McCutchen is a five-time All-Star, but he had a down year in 2016 as he only batted .256 and you have to wonder at the age of 30 if his productivity is set to decline?
I equate McCutchen’s numbers in 2016 to that of simply a down year for both he and the Pirates. But if the Pirates are serious in trading the former National League MVP, there will be plenty of teams that would be interested in his services.
Brian Dozier-Second Baseman-Minnesota Twins
The past six years have seen the Minnesota Twins be one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball which included them losing 103 games this past season. But one bright spots for the Twins over the last few years has been the emergence of second baseman Brian Dozier.
In each of Dozier’s six seasons, his productivity has increased which saw him hit 42 home runs this past season.
Dozier isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until 2019 and it is hard to believe that the Twins will be a legitimate contender before then. And as the Twins are in need of an injection of talent, a trade of Dozier could bring back some quality prospects for their minor-league system. I do expect to see teams such as the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Toronto Blue Jays show interest in Dozier if he is made available by the Twins.
Carlos Gonzalez-Outfielder-Colorado Rockies
The thin air of the Rocky Mountain region allows the Colorado Rockies to consistently have one of the best offenses in Major League Baseball with one of the prime examples of that being outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez has spent the last eight seasons with the Rockies which was highlighted by him hitting 40 home runs in 2015. This past season Gonzalez batted .298 with 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in.
But as good as Gonzalez’s production has been, he is not going to get the Rockies any closer to being a contender being that their pitching staff continuously struggles as their 4.91 team earned run average was 13th in the National League this past season.
Gonzalez just turned 31-years of age last month, and he is set to earn $20 million next season in the final year of his contract. I doubt that you’ll see Gonzalez re-sign with Colorado once his deal is up which means that it is prudent for the Rockies to attempt to trade him now in order to get some value back for him.
Unlike other players on this list, I don’t see Gonzalez getting traded over the winter due to his contract. However if the Rockies fall out of contention next season, you can expect to hear Gonzalez’s name in trade talks leading up to the trade deadline as there will be interested teams even if they know that he could only be a rental.
Joe Mauer-First Baseman-Minnesota Twins
The offensive skills of Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer have declined rather rapidly ever since he was named as the American League’s MVP in 2009. That year saw Mauer bat .365 with 28 home runs and 96 runs batted in, but he hasn’t come close to that production in recent years as he only batted .261 with 11 homers and 49 runs batted in this past season.
Mauer is a fan favorite in the Twin Cities being that he was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. But baseball is a business and if the Twins could find a way to deal Mauer, they might think about it. Mauer is 33 years of age with $46 million remaining on his contract over the next two years. And a change of scenery to a contending team could be just what the doctor ordered for Mauer to resurrect his career.
X-San Francisco Giants 90-72 (3)
Since 2010, the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in each even numbered year while failing to make the postseason in the odd numbered years. And if that trend continues, the Giants will once again be hoisting the World Series trophy this October.
Under executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy, the Giants formula has been simple as they rely on solid pitching, timely hitting, and crisp fielding.
Pitching wise the Giants have one of the top starting pitchers in Major League Baseball in the form of Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is coming off of consecutive 18-win seasons and there is no doubt about him being the ace of the staff in San Francisco. But besides Bumgarner, the Giants only had one starting pitcher win at least 10 games last season which is a good indication as to way they failed to make the playoffs.
To remedy that Sabean, and new Giants general manager Bobby Evans dipped into free agency this off-season to sign starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. What the Giants are hopeful to get in Cueto is a pitcher that is much more suited to play in the National League. In nearly eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Cueto went 92-63 with an earned run average of 3.21. Cueto was traded last year to the Kansas City Royals where he helped them to win the World Series which fits right in to what the Giants want to accomplish. Like Cueto, Samrdzija has pitched better in the NL, and the Giants will need him to be effective in order to add depth to the end of their rotation.
The Giants and Bochy will one again rely on one of the better bullpens in Major League Baseball to finish games. Last season relief pitcher Santiago Casilla was tied for fifth in the National League in saves with 38, and if he is able to reach the 40-save mark this season, it should mark a solid campaign for San Francisco. The Giants also enjoy the luxury of having a solid bridge between their starters and closers with relief pitchers Hunter Strickland and Sergio Romo. Strickland has a power arm that could eventually close games while Romo can be very crafty with his off-speed pitches.
For the Giants, catcher Buster Posey is still one of the best in the game as far as his ability to call a game behind along with what he is able to do with a bat in his hand. Posey was named as the National League MVP in 2012, and his clutch bat is important in the middle of San Francisco’s lineup.
Aside from Posey, the presence of outfielder Hunter Pence provides the Giants will leadership in their lineup. Last year injuries limited Pence to just 52 games and his presence was missed. San Francisco is backing on Pence being healthy in 2016, and along with emerging stars such as infielders Kelby Tomlinson, Brandon Crawford, and Matt Duffy, this Giants lineup will be tough on opposing pitchers.
Brandon Belt provides another quality bat for the Giants at first base while signing former Washington Nationals outfielder Denard Span could fly under the radar at first, but with his speed at the top of the San Francisco lineup, they should be poised for another run at the World Series Title.
The Giants are clearly the class of the National League West, and with the veterans on their team, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Los Angeles Dodgers 85-77
The last three Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Los Angeles Dodgers win the National League West, but success in the postseason hasn’t followed them. In both 2013 and 2014, the Dodgers were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals; while last October saw the Dodgers fall to the New York Mets in the National League Divisional Series. The Dodgers struggles in the postseason led to the departure of manager Don Mattingly who unfortunately had to shoulder the blame for their playoff woes. Mattingly has been replaced by former MLB outfielder Dave Roberts who is looking to inject some new energy into a Dodgers team that is good enough to win their division, but have come up short in October.
The Dodgers have been stung this off-season in free agency. It was a bit shocking when starting pitcher Zack Greinke decided to opt-out of his contract with the Dodgers, and it was even more startling when he signed a six-year, $206 million deal to join the Arizona Diamondbacks. What the Dodgers lost in Greinke was a pitcher that went 19-3 last year with an earned run average of 1.66 as his production won’t be that easy to replace. Aside from losing Greinke, the Dodgers have been quiet in free agency as their brain trust of president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, and general manager Farhan Zaidi have played it close to the chest as they are looking to start fresh without a ton of spending on bloated contracts.
Los Angeles still has starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw at the top of their rotation. Kershaw is a three-time National League Cy Young Award winner that is coming off of leading the Senior Circuit last season in strikeouts win 301. Kershaw is indeed one of the best pitchers in the game right now, but he only pitches once every fifth game and there are a ton of question marks behind him in the Dodgers rotation.
Starting pitcher Scott Kazmir has been a journeyman throughout his Major League Baseball career while he has only reached the 200-inning plateau once. The same can be about starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson as far as being journeymen whom the Dodgers are rolling the dice on in 2016.
Los Angeles will also have to smooth things over with relief pitcher Kenley Jansen after they flirted with acquiring relief pitcher Aroldis Champman from the Cincinnati Reds. The deal to get Chapman fell through as he ended up with the New York Yankees, and now the Dodgers must convince Chapman that they still have faith in him to close out games in the ninth inning.
Last year the Dodgers offense was a middle of the pack unit in the National League, but they have two youngsters that have tremendous potential. In 2015 as a rookie, outfielder Joc Pederson was on fire to begin the Major League Baseball season until word got around the league that he couldn’t lay off of the breaking pitches. Pederson did hit 26 home runs while driving in 54 runs, but he only batted .210 while striking out 170 times. Pederson must develop more plate discipline as he must learn to work the count. Corey Seager is the Dodgers shortstop of the future. Seager didn’t get as much playing time last year as Pederson did, but the Dodgers do view him as someone who could be a spark for them early in the batting order, and his name should be in consideration for the NL’s Rookie of the Year in 2016.
Last season Mattingly was attempting to get outfielder Enrique Hernandez more playing time due to the fact that he saw the potential in the youngster to be an everyday player. Hernandez is an infielder by trade, but if Roberts puts the same patience in him that Mattingly did, the Dodgers could have a solid player on their hands.
The Dodgers also do have a veteran presence in their lineup. 2015 saw infielder Justin Turner have a career year as he batted .294 with 16 home runs and 60 runs batted in. Turner also kept the Dodgers lineup afloat in the postseason as he batted .536 with 6 doubles. The Dodgers also have a pair of professional hitters in second baseman Howie Kendrick and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez while Gonzalez’s glove at first base is still one of the best in the business. But all is not a bed of roses for the Dodgers as they are stuck with a pair of injury prone outfielders in Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. And then there is the case of outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Puig was able to burst onto the scene for the Dodgers in 2013 with a .319 batting average to go along with 19 home runs and 42 runs batted in. Puig has a ton of potential, but I am not sure if anyone within the Dodgers organization will be able to get through to the enigmatic youngster in order to have him put it all together for a full season.
Although that the Dodgers play in a big market and they have one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball, they are an organization that is transition due to Friedman and Zaidi playing things a little closer to the chest while developing their young talent with an eye on sabermetrics. And since the Dodgers brain trust wasn’t on the same page with Mattingly, things could be different under Roberts as he fits more into their new system.
Arizona Diamondbacks 81-81
The Arizona Diamondbacks have become bottom feeders in the National League West, but they are hoping for a quick turnaround in what could be the weakest division in Major League Baseball in 2016. The Diamondbacks brain trust of president of baseball operations Tony La Russa, general manager Dave Stewart, and manager Chip Hale are all set to embark on their second year in the desert as they are attempting to build Arizona into a contender. In recent years the Diamondbacks have played it close to the chest, but they decided to make a splash this off-season when they signed starting pitcher Zack Greinke.
Greinke opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers to test free agency, but nobody expected him to join the Diamondbacks. It took six years and $206.5 million for Greinke to come to the desert, but the D’backs are hopeful that Greinke can provide them with a dominant ace at the front of their starting rotation that they have lacked since the days of Brandon Webb. In 12 years as a Major League Baseball pitcher, Greinke has complied a record of 142-93 with an earned run average of 3.35 while winning the Cy Young Award in both the American and National Leagues. Greinke’s presence automatically improves the Diamondbacks pitching staff as they were ninth in the team earned average in the NL last season at 4.04, and 11th in quality starts with just 69. But behind Greinke, the D’backs are lacking depth in their starting rotation and he will only take the mound once every fifth day.
The Diamondbacks had one the most prolific offenses in the National League last year and they will once again have first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of their lineup. Goldschmidt is a three-time National League All-Star while finishing second in the NL MVP voting in two of the last three years. Goldschmidt would be more of a household name, but being that Arizona has not been a good team while also getting lost in the shuffle in the West, there are some people that don’t know too much about him.
The National League West should be up for grabs this year with 85 wins possibly being enough to win it. And if the Diamondbacks can get on a roll at some point this year, they could be postseason bound for the first time since 2011.
San Diego Padres 67-95
Last year saw the San Diego Padres attempt to buy a contending team, but it simply blew up their faces. The Padres would acquire relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel, along with outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers via trades while spending big in free agency on starting pitcher James Shields. The Padres lacked cohesion all season long which reflected in their record as they suffered through their seventh losing campaign in the last eight years.
A.J. Preller has nearly two years under his belt as the Padres president of baseball operations/general manager and he is attempting to help the team shed their image of being a perennial loser. But to make the Padres a contender in 2016, Preller will have his work cut out for him.
After going through three different managers last year, the Padres have settled on Andy Green to be their skipper in 2016. Green doesn’t have any prior managerial experience in Major League Baseball on his resume, but he comes to the Padres after spending last year as the third base coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks. And now Green will look to infuse some life in the Padres.
Of the Padres big moves last year, only Kemp, Myers, and Shields are still in San Diego as Kimbrel was traded to the Boston Red Sox and Upton signed as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers. And it will be Myers and Kemp that must find a way to carry the Padres lineup.
As a team the Padres must find a way to get better at the plate as they were last in the National League in both team batting average (.243) and on-base percentage (.300) while striking out 1,327 times which was third. The Padres must learn to do the little things at the plate better such as getting more quality at-bats which is something that new hitting coach Mark McGwire will look to preach to them.
Behind Shields in the Padres rotation, there isn’t that much protection as this team will more than likely be fighting an uphill battle in the National League West.
The only highlight for the Padres in 2016 will be the fact that they are hosting the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
Colorado Rockies 62-100
The Colorado Rockies are coming off of their fifth consecutive losing season which is their worst stretch in franchise history. And although that the National League West is expected to be down in 2016, the Rockies will still have a hard time keeping up. Walt Weiss is set to embark on his fourth season as manager of the Rockies. As always Colorado’s bats should keep them in contests, but one thing that this organization has consistently lacked since its inception has been pitching.
The Rockies were dead last in the National League last season in team earned average at 5.04 while also only managing to get 54 quality starts which was also last, and the bad news for Colorado is that it won’t get any better for them in 2016.
For the Rockies to have any chance this year in the National League West, their bats are going to have to keep them in games and ultimately win them. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez along with third baseman Nolan Arenado could each flirt with becoming the first player in Rockies franchise history to hit 50 home runs in a single season if each player is able to remain healthy. But with an eye towards the future, it will be interesting to see if this will be the year that Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich will make a move to trade Gonzalez or Arenado in the effort to obtain some starting pitching.
For the folks in the Rocky Mountains, they will spend the summer months looking ahead to training camp for the Denver Broncos as they won’t get that much out of their baseball team.
Throughout his Major League Baseball career, Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has put up big numbers. Goldschmidt made his MLB debut with the Diamondbacks in 2011 and it didn’t take him that long to put up big numbers at the plate. In 2012, Goldschmidt became the Diamondbacks every first baseman and he went on to bat .286 that year with 20 home runs and 82 runs batted in. In 2013, Goldschmidt led the National League in home runs (36) and runs batted in (125) as he made his first MLB All-Star Game appearance. Goldschmidt also finish second to Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen that year in the NL MVP voting. This season Goldschmidt has even flirted with becoming the first NL player since Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1937 to hit for the Triple Crown and he is leading the Senior Circuit in runs batted in (94), third in batting average (.331), and he’s tied for sixth in home runs with 26 which included a 482-foot blast last night against the Cardinals. And in just five seasons with the D’Backs, Goldschmidt is already fifth in career WAR for the organization with 22. Goldschmidt has managed to do this while playing his home games at Chase Field in Phoenix which has deep outfield dimensions. In a very short period of time Goldschmidt has developed a reputation around MLB as being one of the premier players, but he’s someone that the casual fan probably doesn’t know about.
Goldschmidt plays in Phoenix where the Diamondbacks tend to be somewhat of an afterthought. The Diamondbacks have not a winning record since 2011 which was subsequently the last time that they made the playoffs. And when a team is not playing on the big stage, their players don’t get that exposure. However things are changing in Phoenix.
Tony La Russa was named as the Diamondbacks president of baseball operations last year. La Russa spent 34 years as a Major League Baseball manager as he won three World Series Titles with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals while also taking the Chicago White Sox to the playoffs. And La Russa along with Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart, and manager Chip Hale are attempting to change the culture in the desert from top to bottom.
The D’Backs lost 98 games in 2014 and led by Goldschmidt, they are a different team in 2015 as they are well on their way to eclipsing their win total from last season. The Diamondbacks more than likely will miss the playoffs this year, but they are an improving club. And if the D’Backs are ready to contend for the National League West crown in the near future along with becoming a consistent playoff team, the name of Paul Goldschmidt will then become a household name.
X-Los Angeles Dodgers 92-70
Don Mattingly has four years under his belt as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and in each season under him the team’s win total has increased. But unfortunately for Mattingly and the Dodgers, the team still has not claimed a World Series Championship since 1988. The Dodgers had a good team last season, but they ran into the ultra tough St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series. And because of the loss the Cards, the Dodgers had some wholesale changes this off-season.
Ned Collettti is no longer the general manager of the Dodgers as he has taken a position in the front office as a special adviser to the team president. Colletti was replaced as Dodgers general manager by Farhan Zaidi. Prior to joining the Dodgers, Zaidi was the president of baseball operations for the Oakland Athletics were he was a sabermetrics disciple of the A’s general manager Billy Beane. The Dodgers also added depth in their front office by making former Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman their new president of baseball operations. Friedman was the architect behind the Rays turnaround as he built one of the best minor-league systems in all of baseball. And with Friedman and Zaidi running the show now for the Dodgers, their Opening Day roster will look vastly different when they take the field this season.
In spite of the fact that he hit 25 homers last season for the Dodgers, outfielder Matt Kemp was traded this off-season to the San Diego Padres. 2012 and 2013 were two injury filled seasons for Kemp and the new regime in the Dodgers front office views him as a player with declining defensive skills. And once you factor in that Kemp is still owed nearly $110 million on his contract over the next five years along with the fact that the Dodgers have a crowded outfield, he was traded in spite of the fact that he will remain in the National League West as a member of the Padres. Kemp’s departure has paved the way for prospect Joc Pederson to make his presence known in the Dodgers outfield. Pederson only appeared in 18 games last season for the Dodgers, but they are high on his overall talent. Yasiel Puig is entering his third season with the Dodgers and he has cemented himself at their everyday right fielder. Puig has tremendous potential and he should be in the running for the NL MVP this year. Outfielders Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier are extremely injury prone at this point of their careers which makes the presence of Scott Van Slyke that much more important on the Dodgers roster as he can play all three outfield positions.
Heading into this season the Dodgers will have a veteran presence on their infield. The Dodgers gave up on speedster Dee Gordon at second base as he was traded to the Miami Marlins this off-season. The Dodgers were able to replace Gordon with a quality veteran at second base as they acquired Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Angels. Kendrick is a professional hitter which is evident by his career .292 batting average along with his good glove work. Aside from Kendrick, the Dodgers acquired shortstop Jimmy Rollins from the Philadelphia Phillies. In the past Rollins has been a thorn in the side of the Dodgers when he helped the Phillies knock off Los Angeles in consecutive National League Championship Series’ in 2008 and 2009. Now at the age of 36, Rollins is out to show the baseball world that he can still get it done along with providing some veteran leadership in the Dodgers clubhouse. If Juan Uribe is unable to go every day at third base, Mattingly can rely on veteran utility man Justin Turner to fill the void while first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has one of the best gloves at first base in Major League Baseball along with still providing a power bat from the left side of the plate.
Led by starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers starting rotation is top heavy and they will need to find some more depth. Kershaw went 21-3 last season with a 1.77 earned run average while striking out 239 batters. In the process Kershaw was named the NL MVP and he became the first pitcher to win the award since Bob Gibson in 1968. It will be tough for Kershaw to follow up his stellar season with another year of amazement, but if anybody could do it, he’s the guy. Behind Kershaw, the Dodgers have starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu who are both capable of winning at least 15 games, but the question marks will surround Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy behind them.
Relief pitcher Kenley Jansen can give you butterflies from time to time, but Mattingly will trust him in the ninth inning as he should once again be one of the top closers in the National League. Jansen could be a slow starter this season as he missed spring training this season after undergoing foot surgery.
Even if the Dodgers get off to another slow start it would not hinder them that much as they will once again be the team to beat in the NL West.
Y-San Francisco Giants 85-77
If the recent trend of the San Francisco Giants continues then they won’t be a playoff team in 2015. Since 2010, the Giants have gone to the postseason in even numbered years with each trip to October resulting in a World Series Championship. But unlike the past few years this season will be tougher than the others for the Giants to repeat as World Series Champions.
The Giants lost their starting third baseman Pablo Sandoval in free agency as he joined the Boston Red Sox. Sandoval was a part of the Giants core that won the World Series Titles and he was always a big contributor come October. San Francisco will definitely miss Sandoval at the hot corner as Giants general manager Brian Sabean had to do some patchwork there as he signed journeyman infielder Casey McGehee. But without Sandoval, the Giants still have catcher Buster Posey and outfielder Hunter Pence to carry the offense. Last season Posey led the Giants in batting average (.311), home runs (22), runs batted in (89), and on-base percentage (.364). Posey will be 28-years old when the season begins and Giants manager Bruce Bochy has already begun the process of monitoring the amount of games that Posey catches and you can expect to see him more at first base this season. Pence is entering his fourth season with the Giants and he has emerged as the guy that sets the tone for this team in the clubhouse and on the field. But the Giants will begin this season with Pence on the disabled list after he suffered a broken arm as the result of being hit by a pitch during spring training.
The only knock on Giants outfielder Angel Pagan throughout his Major League Baseball career is his ability to stay healthy. In the last two seasons Pagan has combined to miss 157 games and the Giants will need him to be available for at least 120 games this season as he is a threat to steal bases along with having tremendous range in the deep center field at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
But make no mistake about it that the Giants bread is buttered with their pitching. The Giants pitching wasn’t as dominant in 2014 as it has been in past years as their team earned run average of 3.50 was seventh in the National League. But last October, the Giants rode the left arm of starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner to a World Series triumph. Bumgarner went 18-10 last season with an earned run average of 2.98 as he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. But last October, Bumgarner was unhittable. Last fall, Bumgarner would go 4-1 while surrendering just six runs in 52.2 innings pitched in the playoffs and he would be named World Series MVP. Bumgarner is only 25-years old and he is the undisputed ace of this pitching staff.
But behind Bumgarner there are plenty of question marks in the Giants starting rotation heading into this season. The velocity of Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum has dipped over the past few years as he is no longer a power pitcher, but more of a junk pitcher. Starting pitcher Matt Cain is looking to rebound after missing the second half of last season after undergoing elbow surgery and he’ll be approached with the kid gloves to begin this campaign. The Giants acquired starting pitcher Jake Peavy just prior to last season’s trade deadline and he had a revival in coming back to the National League. In 2007, Peavy won the National League Cy Young Award a member of the San Diego Padres. The Padres traded Peavy to the Chicago White Sox in 2009 before becoming a member of the Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team in 2013. Last season with the Giants, Peavy went 6-4 in 12 starts with a 2.17 earned run average. The Giants would re-sign Peavy this off-season and it will be either penthouse or outhouse with him.
Santiago Casilla will more than likely begin the season as the Giants closer, but it would not surprise me to see Bochy use a closer by committee until he figures out the right formula for his bullpen.
The Giants first seven games of the season will be played on the road as they will look to avoid the World Series hangover.
San Diego Padres 83-79
The San Diego Padres are coming off of four consecutive losing seasons, but that did not stop them from turning heads this off-season. Padres general manager A.J. Preller has been on the job for less than a year and he made some headlines for himself when he began wheeling and dealing. At Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, the Padres acquired outfielder Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kemp is coming off of his best season since he finished second in the National League MVP voting in 2011. Kemp will be in the middle of the Padres lineup, but injuries have cut down his defensive range which could be a concern. The Padres would also acquire outfielder Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves and outfielder Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays. Myers will be the Padres everyday center fielder with Upton in left and Kemp in right. None of these players have tremendous range and in a big outfield like the one at Petco Park this will be an interesting experiment.
The Padres did also acquire catcher Derek Norris from the Oakland Athletics who will be charged with working with a pitching staff in San Diego that had the second lowest earned run average in the National League last season at 3.27. The Padres are expecting James Shields to be the guy at the top of their starting rotation. The Padres recently signed Shields to a four-year deal worth $75 million after he went 14-8 last season with an earned run average of 3.21 in helping the Kansas City Royals win the American League Pennant. Now at the age of 33, Shields will be asked to be a leader on the mound as well as in the clubhouse for the Padres. Behind Shields, the Padres are hopeful that starting pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross will put together complete seasons while veteran Ian Kennedy could provide some stability as well in the back end of the starting rotation.
Relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit only saved 11 games for the Padres, but he’ll be a little bit busier in 2015 if San Diego is to stay in contention for a postseason spot.
The Padres came away as one of the big winners in the off-season. But for Padres skipper Bud Black he must find a way to make his new talent gel while living up to higher expectations.
Colorado Rockies 75-87
The Colorado Rockies are coming off of their fourth consecutive losing season and in an improved National League West, they will be fighting an uphill battle in 2015. Walt Weiss is set to begin his third season as Rockies manager and he has a lineup that can contend, but it just comes down to his key players remaining healthy. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, third baseman Nolan Arenado, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez are expected to be key contributors in the Rockies lineup, but last season they combined to miss 234 games. When healthy Tulowitzki is one of the best hitting shortstops in Major League Baseball, but there is a big if around his ability to be available for the Rockies and the same can be said for Arenado and Gonzalez. There are also trade rumors that are swirling around Tulowitzki and Gonzalez and if neither player wants to be in Denver, then Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich needs to ship them out of town in order to prevent any distractions to his club.
In his first season with the Rockies, first baseman Justin Morneau was able to revive his career. Morneau had spent his entire career in the American League as a member of the Minnesota Twins until he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013. Last season with the Rockies, Morneau led the National League in batting average at .317 and his veteran presence will once again be important in Colorado’s lineup.
Historically hitting hasn’t been the Rockies problem; rather pitching. The Rockies 4.84 team earned run average was by far the worst in the National League last season. Rockies starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa was the only pitcher for Colorado to win at least 10 games last season and without that much improvement coming down the pike in 2015, it will be another long season in Denver.
The Rockies have the bats to contend in the NL West, but without solid pitching it will be a mute point.
Arizona Diamondbacks 63-99
2011 seems like a distant memory in the world of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks won 94 games that year en route to winning the National League West. And after consecutive 81-win seasons, the Diamondbacks bottomed out last year as they lost 98 games. Late last season Tony La Russa took over as the Diamondbacks president of baseball operations. As a Major League Baseball manager, La Russa won 2,728 games which is third all-time to go along with three World Series Championships. Now he is out to show what he can do in the front office. One of La Russa’s World Series Titles came as the skipper of the Oakland Athletics and the D’Backs front office will definitely have an Oakland feel to it this season. La Russa hired former A’s pitcher Dave Stewart as the Diamondbacks general manager and he’ll look to bring the same toughness to the front office that he brought to the mound every fifth day that he pitched. After three seasons as the Athletics bench coach, Chip Hale will get his first shot as being an MLB manager with the Diamondbacks.
La Russa’s championship teams were always defined by pitching which is something that the Diamondbacks must improve on as their team earned run average of 4.26 along with their 75 quality starts were 14th in the NL. La Russa and Hale will have their work cut out for them as only one starting pitcher (Josh Collmenter) won at least 10 games for the Diamondbacks last season. It isn’t that much better for the Diamondbacks starting lineup as after first baseman Paul Goldschmidt the talent is scarce at best.
It will take La Russa some time to turn this around for the Diamondbacks, but for 2015 the parade will simply pass them by,