X-Los Angeles Dodgers 99-63
During the 2010’s, the Los Angeles Dodgers stated their case in regards of being the team to beat in the National League West. During the decade the Dodgers only finished with a losing record once, while they won the last seven division titles. However the Dodgers success in the regular season has not led to the postseason success that they’ve been seeking.
2019 was another prime example of that as after Los Angeles was able to win a franchise best 106 games during the regular season, they were unable to overcome the eventual World Series Champion Washington Nationals in the divisional round as they’d blow a 2-1 series lead. And now as the start of the 2020 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner, the Dodgers once again are the overwhelming favorites to win the N.L. West; but will they be up for the challenge of accomplishing that, as the World Series Titles which has eluded them for 32 years?
The Dodgers organization is one of the oldest in Major League Baseball, and throughout their history, they’ve been second to none in regards to developing talent. Outfielder Cody Bellinger is coming off of one of the best seasons in franchise history as he batted .305 to go along with 47 home runs and 115 runs batted in. And in doing so Bellinger became the 14th player in Dodgers franchise history to be named as the National League’s MVP. Bellinger will once again be in the running for the MVP honors as aside from his power numbers, he has also become a more disciplined hitter which includes him making more contact and cutting down on his strikeouts.
Having a healthy Corey Seager at shortstop will benefit the Dodgers as he is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2018, while Los Angeles is also counting on another big season from veteran infielders Justin Turner and Max Muncy. But the Dodgers biggest move this off-season came in the form of a trade as they acquired outfielder Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox.
The Dodgers acquired Betts from the Red Sox just prior to the start of spring training after Boston was unable to agree with the center fielder on a long-term deal. Aside from helping the Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series, Betts was also the American League MVP that year. What Betts gives the Dodgers is a bona fide lead-off hitter that is not only a table setter for the rest of the lineup, but he can also hit for power as he has hitting 28 homers per season in his six-year Major League Baseball career. Betts is also a threat on the bases which will be important as the aggressive Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will be utilizing the hit and run more in 2020. Betts also knows how to flash the leather as he can cover plenty of ground in the outfield, and his range will make life easier for the players at the corner outfield positions.
The Dodgers lost starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu jn free agency as he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, but the Betts trade also saw them acquire starting pitcher David Price from the Red Sox. Injuries have gotten the best of Price in recent years as he no longer has the velocity that he once did, but he can still be a viable option for the Dodgers in their rotation. And as new Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior takes over for the retiring Rick Honeycutt, he’ll definitely have to monitor Price’s innings in 2020 in order to maintain his effectiveness.
For more than a decade starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw has been the ace of the Dodgers rotation. Kershaw’s sloping “12-to-6” curveball has kept hitters around the National League off balance, and in the process he has taken home a trio of N.L. Cy Young Awards. But unfortunately for Kershaw, he has become the whipping boy for the Dodgers inability to get it done in the playoffs. After Kershaw surrendered the game-winning home run in Game Five of the National League Series against the Nationals, his critics were quick to say that he no longer had it. But the 32-year old Kershaw is out to show that he still has it, while he is also closing in on some history as he is only 233 strikeouts away from becoming the Dodgers all-time leader in the category.
And now as Kershaw is the seasoned vet of the Dodgers rotation, the young phenom is Walker Buehler. After Beuhler finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2018, he’d win 14 games last season which included a pair of complete games. And just as Kershaw has established himself as one of the premier strikeout pitchers, Buehler is not that far behind as after striking out 215 batters last season, he has the potential to build off of that.
Los Angeles also has one of better bullpens in the National League which includes relief pitchers Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen. Baez recorded 25 holds last season, while Jansen continues to be one of the best closers of this era. In each of the last six seasons, Jansen has recorded at least 36 saves in each season, and as long as his cut fastball continues to cut, hitters in the N.L. will have a problem doing any damage against him.
For the Dodgers after being so close to winning it all in recent years, there are some people who feel that this is their season where they’ll put it all together in order to claim the franchise’s first World Series Title in 32 years.
Arizona Diamondbacks 88-74
The Arizona Diamondbacks spent the majority of the 2019 Major League Baseball season hovering around the .500 mark. But the Diamondbacks would finish the year on a positive note as they won eight of their last ten contests. And as the D-backs finished just four games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the final wild card spot in the National League, will they be able to build off of their late season push to make a run at the playoffs in 2020?
What kept the Diamondbacks afloat last season was their offense. Arizona was sixth in the National League in 2019 in runs scored (813), as well as hits (1,419). Last year was the first full year in Arizona for third baseman Eddie Escobar and he made the most of it as he launched a career best 35 home runs, while also driving in 118 runs. But it wasn’t just Escobar’s power that helped the Diamondbacks offense as he also led the N.L. in triples with 10. And if Escobar is able to find a way to build off of that production, he could be in the mix to make the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.
But make no mistake about it that Arizona’s best every day player is utility man Ketel Marte. Marte’s .329 batting average was tied with Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers for tops in the National League. Marte also belted 32 homers to go along with an on-base percentage of .389 as he had 77 extra-base hits in total. And along with Escobar, Marte gives the Diamondbacks one of the most potent hitting combos in the N.L.
The Diamondbacks also added some depth in the outfield this off-season as they signed former Los Angeles Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun, while they also acquired outfielder Starling Marte from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Marte has always been a solid player throughout his time in Pittsburgh which included him winning a pair of Gold Gloves. Marte now gives the D-backs an everyday player in center, while manager Torey Lovullo now has the luxury of utilizing three quality defensive outfielders, along with Marte and Calhoun.
Like their offense, Arizona’s pitching staff was a middle of the pack group in the National League last season. The Diamondbacks team earned run average of 4.25 was seventh in the N.L., while their .251 opponent’s batting average was tied with the New York Mets and San Diego Padres for ninth. Arizona is hopeful that they will remedy that and improve those numbers as they signed a former rival in starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner spent the first 11 years of his Major League Baseball career with the San Francisco Giants which included helping them win three World Series Championships. The Giants were always a tough team for Arizona to get past in the N.L. West with Bumgarner’s swooping curve ball being a big part of that.
Arizona gave Bumgarner $85 million over the next five years, and they are hopeful that his championship experience will make its way to the desert. Bumgarner has been durable throughout his career as he has made at least 30 starts in a season seven times, while his proven ability to be a frontline starter will make the Diamondbacks a force to be reckoned with in the National League West.
Five of Arizona’s first seven opponents this year finished 2019 with a winning record, although that this team may start off slow, do not overlook them in regards to making the playoffs.
Colorado Rockies 87-75
After making the postseason in 2017 and 2018, the Colorado Rockies were once again expected to contend for a playoff berth in 2019. But that was not the case for the Rockies who dug themselves into a 3-12 hole to begin the season which they were never able to recover from. And heading into the 2020 Major League Baseball season, the Rockies do have the talent in place to rebound in order to once again be a factor in the National League West, but things could also implode for them before the campaign even gets started.
Over the winter, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich was shopping All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado which drew the ire of Colorado’s best player. Since then Arenado has let it be known publicly that he feels “disrespected” by Bridich as this situation could get ugly if the Rockies are unable to smooth things out.
What the Rockies have in Arenado is a player who has averaged hitting 36 home runs during his seven-year career in Denver, while also becoming the leader of this club. Arenado’s contract with the Rockies run through 2025, but if Bridich is unable to calm the flames of the All-Star third baseman, he will have to kick things into another gear in order to ship the disgruntled slugger out of town.
But aside from the issues involving Arenado, the Rockies still have one of the best hitting lineups in baseball. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon still is one of the best lead-off hitters in Major League Baseball. Blackmon has a knack for getting on base which is evident by his .360 career on-base percentage, while he is also closing in on recording 50 triples for his career.
Shortstop Trevor Story is coming into his own as he has built off of the potential that he displayed in 2016 when he was fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Story has appeared in the All-Star Game in each of the last two years, and he has always been able to display power at the plate, but now he has become more disciplined at the plate as well. In each of the last two seasons, Story has hit above .290, while he has also cut down on his strikeouts after he led the N.L. in this category in 2017. Story has also improved as a fielder as he only had 8 errors last season in 606 chances as he’ll be a dark horse in 2020 to be the N.L. MVP.
Injuries limited infielder Daniel Murphy in his first year in Colorado, but the veteran should be able to bounce back the second time around. What Murphy gives the Rockies is more depth as he falls into the category of being “professional hitter”. Murphy is a career .298 hitter, and in the cavernous Coors Field, he should have a field day in regards to hitting in the gaps.
But even though that the Rockies will score plenty of runs, will they be able to find enough quality pitching to offset it? Last season the Rockies team earned run average of 5.56 was by far the worst in the National League, while they only had 46 quality starts. Steve Foster is in his sixth season as Rockies pitching coach and he will attempt to get the most out of a starting pitching staff which includes German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, and Jon Gray. Colorado will rely heavily on their bullpen as the likes of relief pitchers Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw will be vital to their postseason chances.
Rockies manager Bud Black has 11 years worth of managerial experience in the Majors, and he will look to push all of the right buttons in 2020 to get the Rockies to the postseason for the third time in the last four years.
San Diego Padres 77-85
With the start of a new Major League Baseball season right around the corner, the San Diego Padres are in an all too familiar position for them as the expectations for this club are once again very low. The Padres have finished in the basement of the National League West in three of the last four years, while their new manager Jayce Tingler does not have any previous experience in the position. The Padres do have some young talent on their roster, but how far will the youth be able to carry them as they look to become relevant in the N.L. West?
Last year saw the Padres make a splash in free agency when they signed third baseman Manny Machado to a 10-year deal for $300 million. Machado’s arrival did raise the bar of expectations for the Padres, and he was able to have a solid first season in San Diego as he batted .256 with 32 home runs and 85 runs batted in. However, Machado never became the transcending player that the Padres expected him to be. There was plenty of pressure on Machado after he signed such a massive deal, but as the 27-year old is in the prime of his career right now, there is hope in San Diego that he’ll be able to build off of his first season there, and even become a National League MVP candidate this year.
Heading into last season there was plenty of hype around rookie shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. as he was one of the top prospects in Major League Baseball. Last year Tatis finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting as he hit .317 to go along with 22 homers and 53 runs batted in. Tatis will look to build off of his strong rookie season as he looks to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump”, but he’ll also need to improve his fielding as he committed 18 errors in just 83 games at shortstop.
The Padres also have solid veterans in their lineup that includes first baseman Eric Hosmer, along with outfielders Wil Myers and Tommy Pham as this has to be one of the better lineups in the National League which would be a huge shot in the arm as San Diego was 13th on the Senior Circuit last year in runs scored.
But whereas the Padres offense should be much improved from last season, their will still be plenty of question marks around the pitching staff in San Diego. Joey Lucchesi was the only Padres starting pitcher to win 10 games last season as this unit was ninth in the National League in quality starts (49), and 12th in team earned run average (4.60). San Diego does have a new pitching coach in Larry Rothschild who has nearly 30 years worth of experience in the position.
The Padres will be a work in progress all season long, but they are still a ways away from ending their 15-year playoff drought.
San Francisco Giants 63-99
The 2020 Major League Baseball season will mark the beginning of a new era for the San Francisco Giants. After 13 years as the manager of the Giants, Bruce Bochy decided to retire, and he leaves a lasting legacy in the Bay Area which includes leading San Francisco to three World Series Championships. And in Bochy’s place steps Gabe Kapler as his hire by the Giants raised some eyebrows.
The Giants hired Kapler just weeks after he was fired as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. And in two seasons with the Phillies, Kapler compiled a record of 161-163 as his squads grossly underachieved after Philadelphia’s front office spent heavily in free agency which included signed outfielder Bryce Harper last spring. The biggest things that hurt Kapler during his time with the Phillies were his over focus on sabermetrics and analytics, as well as his micromanaging of the roster which alienated some of his veteran players. But in spite of all of this, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi feels that Kapler is the right field general to lead this team, however will that be the case in San Francisco in 2020?
The Giants began the off-season by suffering a huge blow to their team when longtime starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner left in free agency to join the Arizona Diamondbacks. And in losing the Bumgarner, the Giants lost their ace who struck out at least 200 batters in four of the last six seasons.
Last year the Giants were ninth in the National League in team earned run average (4.38), while they were eighth in quality starts (51). But now San Francisco will be relying on a pair of veterans to lead their starting rotation in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija who not only have their best years in the rear-view mirror, but they must also do something that has been difficult for them to do in recent years which is to proving the Giants with quality innings, while also being able to remain healthy.
The Giants will enter the 2020 Major League Baseball season looking to an improve an offense that was near the bottom of most stats in the National League in 2019 which included being 14th in on-base percentage (.302), and batting average (.239). The Giants have a new hitting coach this year in Donnie Eckler who will looks to get the most out of a veteran lineup that more than likely won’t spend the entire season wearing black and orange. Catcher Buster Posey, along with infielders Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford were part of three World Series Championship teams for the Giants last decade, and as they are all aging players with contracts that are set to expire at the end of the 2021 season, this San Francisco team which is clearly in rebuilding mode might look to field trade offers for them this year.
The Giants will be facing an uphill battle in the National League West all season long. And with six of San Francisco’s first nine games this year versus the divisional powerhouse in the Los Angeles Dodgers, this season could get away from the Giants before it even starts.