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,