2015 MLB Preview: NL West

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The National League West is home to the new dynasty in the MLB but it is far from a division dominated by that team.

The San Francisco Giants have won three World Series titles in the last five years as they have been the team to watch in the west for years.

Yet despite their level of play they are far from guaranteed a spot in the postseason every year.

That has a lot to do with their long-time rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A new ownership group has made the Dodgers a contender every year and they continue to fight the Giants for the division crown and usually one of these two gets that title while the second falls into the wild card.

There are four other teams in the division though and some are sick of taking a back seat in the division race.

The Diamondbacks where a teamed poised to be contenders until a lack-luster off-season while the Padres set on a path towards a quick rebuild in order to get back on track.

As every team looks for a chance at the postseason it is getting that much harder to find a spot in the postseason.

Of course the same is said about this division as the rest of the divisions and that is that everything has to go right for any of these teams to make it.

Despite their talent a team can easily fall out of the race in a matter of weeks. That is almost what happened last year to the Giants who had an extended period where they looked like anything but a championship team.

That run pushed them further to the bottom of the division but just in time they rose up to take a wild card spot.

That is the advantage of having a team like the Giants had, one that had been in the World Series and the postseason multiple times, they simply don’t give up.

Their run at the end of the season was enough to give them a chance and that is all they needed to get to the World Series.

The rest of the division is looking to take advantages of the falls that will certainly happen again by some teams as they hope for their own good season.

For some teams all it takes is for their team to remain healthy and they can walk into the postseason while for others it might take a lot more.

If these other teams can have their team healthy while also finding some surprises in their lineup they might find their way to the postseason.

Then again it is almost impossible for a team to go through the entire marathon of a season without injuries.

That is where the best teams separate themselves as their depth shines through in the long season.

Somebody will separate themselves from the rest and win this division. Whether it is one of the usual suspects or a surprise team remains to be seen as the season begins.

The Dodgers and Giants are hoping that they can remain at the top and both earn a postseason berth although they will try to one up each other and win their longtime rivalry for another year.

While these two teams will focus on themselves the Diamondbacks and Padres look to move up the standings and find their way to the postseason.

With the Rockies sitting in the bottom of the division they don’t look to be true contenders but they will try to surprise everyone and make their own run at the crown.

Whether or not that happens the West is in for another great fight to determine who could be the next division winner and potentially the next champion.

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The Arizona Diamondbacks have been the team that has struggled for most of the last few years but they briefly saw a resurgence. In 2013 they were the team to watch as they gave the San Francisco Giants a run for their money in the division race. That momentum disappeared quickly in 2014, though as they only managed 64 wins all year. This year they get a chance to see what their team is truly made of in a quiet off-season. There were no free agents to re-sign for Arizona but it didn’t stop them from making some moves throughout the winter. The major moves were concentrated on a pitching staff that had the 5th worst ERA in 2014. The D-backs signed three new starting pitchers that all look to play big roles in the top five. Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster will fill in near the back-end of the rotation and hope to improve on their ERAs that hovered around 5.00 in 2014. The biggest addition will be Jeremy Hellickson who was one of the most promising young pitchers in Tampa Bay. After a season where he only pitched 13 games he will take on a big role in Arizona sitting behind Josh Collmenter as the top two pitchers that will try to become a good one two punch in the desert. The offence did not seen as much of a focus in the off-season as a team with the sixth worst run production will not see much change. The hope is that Paul Goldschmidt can return to form after an all-star 2013 gave way to a 2014 where he dropped from 36 HR and 125 RBI to 19 HR and 69 RBIs. They will hope to see some support for Goldschmidt with their biggest addition in Yasmany Tomas who the D-backs hope is the next Cuban star along the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Abreu. If Tomas can be the powerful hitter that he has been rumoured to be the D-backs could have a legitimate power bat in the lineup. The D-backs did not improve much this off-season and it won’t be enough to make the postseason as that promise from two years ago has faded and the opportunity to get better has passed them by this year.

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The Rockies have often been the forgotten team in the West as they have often fallen back in the standings without having a team good enough to compete. The same was true of last year as they remained among the bottom teams in the league with only 66 wins. Their top players have been sliding back while changes to the ballpark have not helped their pitching staff in one of the most hitter friendly parks. All of that seems to be set to begin again in 2015 as the Rockies were quiet in the off-season and did not do anything to change their lot in the division. The lack of moves come on the heels of a new general manager, Jeff Bridich. Usually the introduction of a new general manager will mean one of two things, either a lot of changes in the first year or in the second year. It seems like Bridich might be going for the second option as he did not get very active this year. A few minor changes were more focused on getting the Rockies in a better position financially by unloading big contracts from older players. Overall much of the old guard remains though and it seems like Bridich may be waiting to see what he has before he starts making big moves. The two players that many see as not lasting long in the mile high city are Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Both have been staples of the team but if a rebuild is truly coming both may be getting a season to prove their worth for a trade. Those two longtime Rockies will need to be good if the hopes to be even somewhat competitive as they represent the offence for the team. The rest of the offence is a mix of former great players and young potential but nothing too significant. The pitching staff is much of the same as no new additions, aside from adding promising prospect Jairo Diaz, have left them with the same rotation that had the league’s worst team ERA. With few changes to a bad team there is not much hope for the Rockies this year as it seems to be a year of wait and see for their new general manager.

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The Los Angeles Dodgers have been taking on a new attitude since they were bought by the Guggenheim Partners. They were always a powerful team but fell under financial issues until this new ownership group began spend money at the level that the Yankees have for years. That spending spree has led to plenty of success as the Dodgers remain one of the top teams in the MLB year after year. That great success has not been translated to the postseason though as the Dodgers continue to fall off quickly despite their role as favourites to make the World Series. Instead their longtime rivals have taken that role and for the Dodgers it has not sat well. Last year they finished in first place in the division but lost in the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals in only five games. That led to some major changes in the off-season but some that were against what the new attitude of the team. The Dodgers decided to shed the big contracts and trade away big name players in place of smaller name talent. The moves on the surface seem like the Dodgers got worse but in reality not much has changed except for the payroll. Although Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, and Dan Haren are all gone for 2015 the Dodgers replaced them with younger players that they can pay less and have more room to develop. They will welcome Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal, Joel Peralta, and Brandon McCarthy. All will be effective in their positions and will fill in with an already strong core of players. Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Zach Grienke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu all return along with team leader, 2014 NL Cy Young and NL MVP Clayton Kershaw. The base is good and although there are questions if Gonzalez and Juan Uribe can stave off the decline and if Yasiel Puig can be managed the team remains in strong hands. The new additions will prove to be smart moves that saved the team money but kept them as contenders. That is where they will end up at the end of the year once again as the changes were not enough to sink potential World Series hopes for the Dodgers.

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The San Diego Padres have been a team on the middle of the pack for a while now as they are often better than the teams in the basement but not good enough to compete. Last year they ended up right in the middle as the D-backs fell fast and the Rockies continued to struggle. They couldn’t compete with the Dodgers or the Giants in the end though and eventually they fell to third place with another losing record. The disappointing season ended up being a wake-up call for the Padres though as they were set to begin a busy of-season. The new attitude came along with a new general manager in A.J. Preller, who unlike Colorado’s new manager got to work early. He made his mark in a big way through his overhaul of the outfield replacing all of last year’s starters with upgraded talent. The new outfielders all bear some resemblance in the fact that they were all former top prospects. Matt Kemp was the man the Dodgers were to build around until an injury hurt his performance and Justin Upton was the leader in Arizona before deciding to leave for Atlanta to play with his brother. Wil Myers joins both of these players in the outfield after being the best player in the Tampa Bay Rays system and will get to prove that he still has that potential in only his third year in the MLB. With Myers, Upton, and Kemp manning the outfield the Padres are immediately better but the Padres weren’t done there. They also upgraded their rotation in a big way winning the James Shields sweepstakes. That addition adds to a rotation that was already one of the league’s best despite a lack of big names. With Andrew Cashner and Tyron Ross leading the way the Padres had a 3.27 ERA as a team and adding Shields’ 3.21 ERA should only help the cause. The Padres have improved this year with a new powerful outfield and better pitching but there could always be problems. If everything goes right and every player plays the way they can the Padres could be fighting for the division. If the new additions can’t improve the team and the pitchers that played so well last year take a step backwards it could be another middling finish.

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The San Francisco Giants were at it again in 2014 as they solidified themselves as the best franchise of this new era. For years the Giants were without a World Series waiting 49 years before they broke the streak in 2010. Since that 2010 season the Giants have added two more World Series titles including one form 2014. Last year was a wild ride for the Giants as they could not stay in the hunt for the division title all year, struggling to find a rhythm. It took almost all season to get that rhythm as they made the postseason with a wild card berth and only lost one game on their way to the World Series. There they beat the Kansas City Royals in a classic series that gave them their third championship in five years. Not everything will go right for them but the Giants still have a team that is championship caliber. That includes last year’s postseason star, Madison Bumgarner who will lead an unchanged rotation that includes Matt Cain, Tim Hudson, and Jake Peavy. The rotation is a good one with Bumgarner entering his peak development years but there are some members of the staff that may be seeing a decline soon. Meanwhile the offence remains mainly the same but the loss of Pablo Sandoval is sure to hurt an offence that has struggled to produce at times. Buster Posey remains the leader and young stars like Brandon Belt and Joe Panik will try to make up for the loss while new addition Nori Aoki should only help the offence. The question is not whether or not the Giants are a championship caliber team because there is no doubt that they have the talent to win championships. The question becomes can they do what is usually the toughest thing to do in professional sports, overcome the hangover. It happens in every sports almost every year where the best team from a year ago struggles to keep everything together for another year. Injuries or players having an off-year can be enough to derail a repeat championship but with the talent on this team it is not out of the question to see them back fighting in the postseason to earn another championship.

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Prediction:
The West is in for another great year but for most of the teams that is not good news as the top teams will remain there. The Dodgers continue to lead the pack in the division as a new rebuild has not made them any worse and so they will be the class of the division. Following close behind will be the San Francisco Giants as the World Series champions will again be strong. Both teams will fight to the bitter end for the division but the Giants will fall just short. Meanwhile the Padres will be left out as the better team that can only do so much against two very good teams. The Diamondbacks and Rockies did not improve this year as they missed an opportunity to get better as they will not be in the race much all season.

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