2014 MLB Preview: NL West

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In every major league in North America there are the haves and the have-nots and more often than not the difference can be seen in the divisions. There are the great divisions that seem to pump out championship team after championship team like in the AL East. Then there are the divisions that seem to be given a postseason spot for being the best of the worst. The NL West was the latter in this equations as they contained some of the worst teams in the league. There was really only one great team in the division as the San Francisco Giants have won the World Series in two of the last four years. Before then the Giants were in the hole in a big way and the rest of the division was in the hole with them. There were legendary teams like the Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers that had lost their luster and were surviving simply on their history. Other teams would take their shots at trying to gain some history like the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 there was not a lot of success from the division. Since 2000 the teams in the NL West have claimed 3 World Series and 5 National League Titles. It was the division that would come up every now and then while they would fall short when it mattered most. All of that has begun to change though as the NL West has quickly become one of the most competitive divisions in the league. It has gone from being one of the worst divisions in the league to a division on the rise. Despite last year the San Francisco Giants are still a threat in every season with plenty of talent while the Los Angeles Dodgers have proven that spending some money can work wonders on a team. Meanwhile the Arizona Diamondbacks are hoping that this year can be their breakout year with a roster that has plenty of potential. The San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies are looking to keep up with these top three and hoping to pull through as a surprise this year. The top teams in this division are all threats to win it all this year but as with every year these teams will need a lot to go right through 162 games to achieve that goal. The NL West has gone from a division that most other teams look past to a division that could pose a serious threat in the postseason. Although not every team is a powerhouse in the division there are a number that could make some noise this year as the division continues to try to show that they are on their way to becoming a better division and becoming a constant factor in the postseason. As they go about this mission they will be trying to fight each other to earn the division lead in a league that is sure to bring a great wild card battle making every division title that much more important for extending a season.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

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The Arizona Diamondbacks have been a team that has looked fairly good in the last two preseasons. Many people would continue to have them as a dark horse to make an impact on the postseason. Both years though, the D-Backs would find themselves in the middle of the division with a .500 record. They have not been able to break through to the winning side of the equations and would not make the playoffs both years. They always seem to be right on the edge of breaking through but have found some issues with questionable moves that have hurt their team more than they helped. Last year it was the decision to trade their best young hitter in Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves for a host of lesser players. That move would not help the D-Backs achieve the goal of breaking .500 as their run output would shrink significantly. Their pitching would hold up well enough for the team to get to .500 but it was their run production would be their downfall. They would look to change that this offseason when they would try to replace the big bat of Justin Upton. The D-Backs would bring in Mark Trumbo from the Chicago White Sox in order to solve their run issues. Trumbo does strike out a lot, 184 times in 2013, but his 100 RBIs and 34 HRs in 2013 are proof that he has the power that the D-Backs are hoping for this year. Trumbo will be added to a lineup with breakout 2013 star Paul Goldschmidt to provide a good 1-2 punch for the batting order although there is not a lot more batters striking fear into opposing pitchers. The D-Backs pitching staff is a good, not great, one with second year starter Patrick Corbin and MLB veterans Trevor Cahill and Bronson Arroyo. The pitching staff has three pitchers that can win games and may not be dominant but will give the team a chance to win. The Diamondbacks are hoping to get away from the .500 level that they have been trapped in for the last two years and will be looking to Mark Trumbo as the help they need to get there. The offence will be better with Trumbo and Goldschmidt while the pitching rotation is sure to give them enough chance to win games but their biggest question will be whether or not it will give them enough wins to overcome the top two teams in the division. The D-Backs will sit above .500 this year for the first time in two years but the playoffs are not in their future as they will remain in the middle of the division and out of a wild card spot.

 

Biggest Loss:
Heath Bell, RHP (Trade, TB)
– To get the offence the D-Backs needed they had to give up something in their three-way trade and that would be Bell who has struggled in recent years but was once a great closer and very well could get back to that level

Biggest Addition:
Mark Trumbo, OF (Trade, LAA)
– The D-Backs had one very clear need for the 2014 season as they would be at the bottom of the league in producing runs and they would go out to try to find some help in that aspect as they would put together a three-way trade to land a power hitter

Player to Watch:
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
– The 2013 Hank Aaron Award winner, Gold Glover, and Silver Slugger has a lot to live up to as one of the most decorated D-Backs ever will enter another season looking to become the home-grown talent to lead the D-Backs to the playoffs

 

Colorado Rockies

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The Rockies are looking to get out of the basement in 2014 after two straight years sitting at the bottom of the division. They have fallen far from 207 when they won the National League but came up just short in World Series. Since that time the Rockies have been losing ground among the teams getting better in the division. The last two years have been the bottom for the Rockies as they have remained last place in the division both years. Last year was no different although they had improved from their 2012 campaign thanks in large part to the addition of new manager Walt Weiss. The Rockies got closer to .500 last year but it was not good enough and there has been a clear pattern in their last few years. Thanks to a hitter friendly ballpark and the thin air in Colorado the Rockies have a great offence. They can put up runs and were ranked #10 in the MLB for total runs scored, although it was the lowest output ever. That thin air and ballpark have also been their downfall though as they would have the 28th ranked team ERA in 2013. They have put together great numbers on offence but have not been able to win because they allow too many runs to make up for. It has been the theme in the last few years for the Rockies and for 2014 they would try to rework their roster. They would see 13 players leave their roster and would not bring in the same amount leaving plenty of openings for young players. The biggest changes would come in the pitching rotation with mainstays like Jeff Francis no longer with the team. The Rockies will stay with Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin but beyond that they are looking for standouts. New additions Brett Anderson, Jordan Lyles, Franklin Morales, and 2013 standout Tyler Chatwood will look to take spots with a host of others looking for the 5 rotation spots to make the big club. This will be the difference between the Rockies moving past .500 or staying below. The offence is not a major concern this year although they hope that the additions of reclamation project Justin Morneau and young outfield Brandon Barnes can add to their output. The Rockies still have a powerful offence but their overhaul of the pitchers is what will make this team sink or swim and it might not be enough. The Rockies might improve again this year but they are still not strong enough in preventing runs and the changes to their rotation and their bullpen will not be enough to bring them out of the basement in the NL West.

 

Biggest Loss:
Todd Helton, 1B (Retirement)
– He was the heart of the team and a true leader in the locker room and his bat, although it was slowing down in the past few years, is sure to be missed and his retirement leaves a hole that someone will need to fill if the Rockies hope to improve on last season

Biggest Addition:
Brett Anderson, LHP (Trade, Oak)
– With the turnover of pitchers in the Rockies’ rotation the biggest addition is one of only three pitchers who seems guaranteed to take a spot in rotation this year if he can stay out of the trainer’s room and put together more than 16 games in a season

Player to Watch:
Justin Morneau, 1B (Free Agent, Pit)
– Morneau was one of the best hitters in baseball until 2010 saw him suffer a season-ending concussion and he has never looked the same since as he is now a rental player looking to make a permanent home and finding his swing once again

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

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The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the two legendary teams in the West that will once again look to fight for the top of the division. The Dodgers were not always at the top as they would see a long stretch of struggle from 1995-2004 where they would not win a division title. They would make their way back in the late 2000s but would be marred by ownership scandal. With the ownership of the Dodgers being fought out in a divorce court the Dodgers would be up and down and never seemed to be a big threat to the World Series. That would change during the 2012 season when an ownership group that including Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson would purchase the team. The Guggenheim Group would set the tone for their ownership when they purchased the Dodgers for an astounding $1.4 billion. Since taking over the team the Dodgers have looked very similar to their counterparts in the northeast. The Dodgers would begin spending money immediately after taking over their team. They would add $431 million in contracts by bringing in Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford. The 2013 offseason would see no end to the spending as the Dodgers would add Zach Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu to the team. The spending did not seem to work at the start but soon it would pay off as the Dodgers would climb to the top of the division by the end of the year. This year the spending would continue but the Dodgers would not go out to get many players instead choosing to re-up some of their top players. The biggest winner would be their all-star and Cy Young Award winning pitcher Clayton Kershaw who would receive a 7-year $215 million contract for his amazing 2013 season. The biggest addition for the Dodgers this year was Dan Haren who will fit in to an already good pitching rotation. The help in the rotation will provide the Dodgers with a good rotation that will not have many breaks from day-to-day. They would not need to make a lot of additions this offseason though as they are the defending division champions and at one point looked to be the favorites to win it all in 2013. The addition of Haren only adds another name to a stacked roster that includes Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, and standout rookie in 2013 Yasiel Puig. It is clear that if the Dodgers can get the performances that they expect from their star they are the favorites to win the division and go beyond as they are early favourites to win it all.

 

Biggest Loss:
Skip Schumaker, UT (Free Agent, Cin)
– The utility man was a great member of the infield that would add 30 HRs and a batting average of .268 last year and although there are plenty of bats in the lineup this one will be missed as losing a 30 R hitter will always be missed

Biggest Addition:
Alexander Guerrero, 2B (Free Agent, Cuba)
– As big as Tanaka has been in the foreign free agent market there was another player who caught the eye of many teams as Alex Guerrero is a player that the Dodgers are hoping becomes the next Yasiel Puig

Player to Watch:
Yasiel Puig, OF
– He had an amazing breakout year in 2013 as the young Cuban star would take the MLB by storm and will now have a lot to look up to as everyone, including the Dodgers, looks for big things from the second year player

 

San Diego Padres

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It was a rough start for the Padres in 2013 as the start of their season would see them play below .500 baseball. That would begin to turn around though as they would see a 30-26 record in May and June to move past the halfway mark. That would be about as good as it would get for them though as they would continue to struggle and would stay in the middle of the division which is where they would finish the season. A number of injuries and even some PED related suspensions would hurt their season last year and another losing season would be the result. The offseason for the Padres would be about rebuilding to try to avoid another losing season but their rebuild would be uniquely San Diego. Unlike many teams in the league the Padres are not known for spending and that would continue this year despite the fact that they would increase their payroll it still would not rock the boat. They would look to improve on a budget as all of their signings were more reasonable than many big signings throughout an MLB offseason. Their biggest signing would only be for $15.5 million over two years for a player that could help them immediately. Joaquin Benoit had a good year in 2013 as the closer for Detroit and will likely play a set-up role with the possibility of taking over the closer role if Huston Street struggles. The Padres would also sign Josh Johnson in hopes that he can play a full season and provide some help in their rotation. They will need this help if they want to have a winning season with as they were among the worst in the NL in team ERA. Their offence was not much better than their pitching but the improvement would not be as obvious at the plate. The Padres would sign a couple good players but nobody that will immediately improve their offence. They will hope that veterans like Carlos Quentin and Chase Headley can play a full season after placing 22 players on the DL last year. They will start in a similar situation this year with Cameron Maybin hurt and Cory Luebke starting the season on the 60-Day DL. The Padres have a good team but they seem to be permanently bitten by the injury bug. If they can get healthy and stay healthy they may be able to surprise some teams but making the playoffs seems to be out of the cards. The Padres could stay in the middle of the division again but with a few teams moving up expect them to struggle to get above .500 with a losing record a good possibility.

 

Biggest Loss:
Luke Gregerson, RHP (Trade, Oak)
– In a somewhat quite offseason for the Padres the trade for Gregerson might have been the biggest move as he was one of the most promising bullpen pitchers on the team and his trade removes a great relief pitcher

Biggest Addition:
Joaquin Benoit, RHP (Free Agent, Det)
– There is no real spot for a closer on this team but it is never a bad idea to have another pitcher that can take over in a bullpen position that is notoriously iffy as Benoit will play the set-up role and could take over the closer role

Player to Watch:
Josh Johnson, RHP
– He has all the talent in the world as he could be one of the best power pitchers in the league but he needs to stay healthy to do so and he has yet to stay on the mound for most of the season and he has another chance to show what he can do

 

San Francisco Giants

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The Giants are a team that has not really found their place in the MLB as they have been up and down for the last few seasons. In 2010 the Giants would have a great run with a devastating rotation that would lead to their first World Series since 1954. Then the 2011 season would come along and the Giants would finish second to the Arizona Diamondbacks and would find themselves out of the postseason. It was strange to see the defending champions not able to make it back to the playoffs the next year but the Giants would see it happen. Then the Giants would rebound for another great year with another great rotation leading the way. The 2012 season would see the Giants take that rotation all the way to another World Series title as they seemed to have recovered from an off-year. It was expected that they would continue to be strong, although maybe not win another World Series, and be one of the best teams in the league. Then the Giants of 2013 would disappoint in an even worse way than in 2011 as they would finish in last place in the division. Nothing would go right for the Giants in 2013 and for many that meant they needed to make some tweaks to what is clearly a talented team. The Giants management would disagree though as they would not be very active in the offseason signing only a few free agents. They would spend a lot of their time locking up the talent they had spent so long on developing. Before the season officially ended last year the Giants would resign Hunter Pence, Time Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, and Javier Lopez. In the offseason they would add Tim Hudson to their rotation and Mike Morse to their batting order. Other than that the Giants are looking to their same lineup as they did a year ago and even longer. The Giants have ridden much of the same lineup since they won the World Series in 2010. The cornerstones are still there in Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Ryan Vogelsong, and Matt Cain. The only big question mark will be Tim Lincecum who received a new deal last year despite a drop in production. The once future of the Giants’ rotation has not met his potential in the past few years and his future as a starting pitcher is in question. Despite that one hiccup the Giants are still loaded with talent and once again are a top team in the division. They will once again be in the fight for the division and the postseason is not out of the question as the talent is too much to overlook.

 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– By locking up Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Hunter Pence, and Javier Lopez the Giants avoided losing any of their best players with only a few players that were reaching the end of their careers left to walk away

Biggest Addition:
Tim Hudson, RHP (Free Agent, Atl)
– The Giants would win both of their World Series with a great rotation and with Barry Zito gone there was a spot open in the rotation that would be filled by Hudson who have a sub 4.00 ERA and a winning record last year

Player to Watch:
Tim Lincecum, RHP
– He was the superstar young gun of the rotation only a few years ago but now he has been struggling and his future is uncertain as this season will be one that he must use to prove that he still has what it takes to be a consistent top five pitcher

 

Prediction:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. San Diego Padres
5. Colorado Rockies

Comments
One Response to “2014 MLB Preview: NL West”
  1. I think it’s a stretch to think Morneau will return to anything close to what he once was.

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