2018 MLB Preview: NL West

nlwestFor a number of years, the National League West was a story of two teams as San Francisco and Los Angeles were far and above everyone else.

Nobody else seemed to have a shot, as these two long-time rivals would go head-to-head regularly and whoever won would be a favourite to make a deep run.

The rest of the teams were reduced to being role players in trying to take wins away and have their own effect on the division in some way.

It may not have made for the most exciting battle in the league but it was still a good battle although it was only two teams involved.

Things began to shift though as the Giants and Dodgers were joined by some other promising teams.

Throughout the last few years, the Rockies and the Padres saw some good seasons where they were challenging the top teams.

It always led to a similar end though as the West was still ruled by the top two teams as the others just didn’t have what it took to stay with them.

That was until 2017 when the Diamondbacks and Rockies challenged the top of the division at the start of the season.

It was the usual season all over again as the Dodgers were still the best in the division and everyone expected the others to drop off.

They never did as the D-Backs and Rockies stayed right along the Dodgers the entire season pushing them to the top of the league.

It did help that the Giants struggled throughout the year removing one of the big two from the equation altogether.

The Padres also struggled to keep up and they sunk to the bottom alongside the Giants taking them out of the running.

The three teams at the top had a great fight to get the division title and one of the top spots in the postseason.

That battle led to the West rising to be the best division in the National League leaving no postseason spots for anyone else.

It was a bit of a surprising finish for the West as nobody expected that many teams to be that great in the west.

It was a fantastic season and as the 2018 season was set to begin things are shaping up to be just as good if not better.

Improvements have been made and stars are still throughout the division leaving many to see them as the best division for another year.

The big question will be which teams can take those postseason spots as there could be more than three teams fighting for the top spot this year.

However it shakes out the West seems to be the best bet for the postseason in the National League and it seems clear that this is the battle to watch.

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Things had sunk pretty low in 2016 for the Diamondbacks as they were a team struggling with a mess of a roster that was never going to compete with the big franchises in the west. So heading into 2017 they made massive changes firing their management group and bringing in a host of new faces to try to turn things around. They were not a team requiring a big rebuild but they needed to find stability from the top and as a result, aridbacksmany believed that there was little reason for optimism in a new season. There was too much to clean up and so they would struggle to compete with the big teams and surely sink to the middle if not the bottom of the league. That change in management turned out to be exactly what they needed as the Diamondbacks were one of the biggest surprises of the season. The change at the top provided stability right away while new manager, Torey Lovullo got the best out of his players. They quickly rose to the top of the division and began challenging for the division title then made it past the wild card game. That is where their great season ended but it was far more than anyone expected and with that great season came more expectations for the new year. The D-Backs are a team that people are watching to see what they can do with a far more stable lead-up to the season this time around. The talent is all still there with few losses that will keep them as a team to watch in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. The offence will be led once again by Paul Goldschmidt who continues to put up big numbers consistently. Although J.D. Martinez was only with the team for a short time his power will be missed but with Jake Lamb, A.J. Pollock as well as a young prospect in Ketel Marte the offence remains steady. The rotation will also remain steady as Zach Greinke leads the way for a young but promising group that includes Robby Ray and Taijuan Walker. They might be younger but they have shown plenty of promise that leaves the rotation in good hands. The biggest changes came in the bullpen with the departure of Fernando Rodney leaving a pretty open closer role. The D-Backs will likely use a combination of Archie Bradley, Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano to close out games. The D-Backs didn’t take massive steps forward but the young guys on their team have that extra experience making them a team that should make the postseason.

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It was another surprise for the West in 2017 when the Rockies rose to the top of the division and competed with the Dodgers for the top spot. They couldn’t get much further though as they only found their way to the wild card game where they lost to the Diamondbacks. The reason the rise was so surprising because for years the Rockies consistently struggled due to the environment in which they play. Denver is notorious for colrockiesbeing the highest city in the USA with the city being nicknamed the mile-high city. That environment is not the best for any baseball team as the thin air in the stadium leads to a lot of runs. That has left the Rockies in a strange spot as they could put up big numbers on the offence but their pitchers constantly struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark. It has kept them struggling to find pitchers that could help the offence and keep games in reach so they struggled to find the postseason. Last year was different though as they were finally able to get that balance and make a serious run at the postseason. The question for the new season is if it was just a one-off or if they can keep up their momentum from a year ago. The Rockies looked to make some moves in order to keep the momentum going and some of the biggest came in the bullpen. They lost a number of relief pitchers but made some smart moves to try to mitigate those losses. Adding Bryan Shaw and Wade Davis gives the Rockies a very good 8th and 9th inning pair that are sure to reduce the loss of the other pitchers. In the rotation, the loss of Tyler Chatwood is going to be tougher to overcome as they never really addressed the hole in the rotation. That leaves a pretty young group led by Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson as well as 23-year-old German Marquez to pitch in one of the toughest parks in the world. That is going to be the difference for this team as the offence is in good hands with some of the top talent in the league. Nolan Arenado is one of the best third basemen in the league and leads the group but with Charlie Blackmon coming into his own and Trevor Story looks to steady himself after a spectacular rookie year two years ago the offence is powerful. The pitching will always be the problem for the Rockies and without many improvements that will continue to struggle. They can still be good but the improvements made in other places could hurt their chances of finding the postseason again.

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The Dodgers have been one of the best teams in the last few years constantly rising to the top of the league throughout the regular season. Through that time they have also become notorious for falling short when they get beyond the regular season. Every year they seem to find their way to the top of the regular season standings taking multiple division titles and every time they enter the postseason they are eliminated. Each year is ladodgerssupposed to be the year that they finally get over the hump and find their way to that title that has eluded the franchise since 1988. Last year seemed to be the time as the team was looking good with some new additions that put them into the World Series. They still couldn’t get it done though as they lost to the Houston Astros. It was another year of the same for the Dodgers as they were so close and yet couldn’t get it done when the games mattered the most. As they head into a new season a lot of the conversation is the same as the years before with their roster full of talent that is good enough to take a championship. Yet will they be able to pull it off and take home a title? That question will haunt them for a long time if they can’t finally get their hands on the Commissioner’s Trophy with the talent that is on this roster. That talent has always started from the bump as they still have one of the deepest group of pitchers in the league. It all starts with perennial Cy Young Award nominee, Clayton Kershaw who has rarely had an off year and is a part of the conversation as one of the greatest of all time. Although they did lose Yu Darvish and he leaves a hole that is tough to fill the Dodgers still have a good group behind Kershaw that includes Alex Wood and Kenta Meada. In the bullpen, Kenley Jensen is looking to continue a stretch of being one of the best closers in the game. The talent doesn’t stop there though as the offence has plenty of depth itself. Their best bat is perhaps their most unpredictable as well as Yasiel Puig has a lot of talent but is unpredictable. Matt Kemp returns to provide more stability while the youngsters like Cody Bellinger and Cory Seager add even more depth to the offence. The Dodgers are still one of the best teams in the league and will have to fight with so many improved teams but that is never the question. They should make the postseason but where they can go beyond that remains the biggest question.

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The San Diego Padres are a team that has been rebuilding for the past few years and hasn’t been able to keep up with their division rivals. That rebuild is beginning to show signs of success and unlike some teams, they are in no rush to try to speed things up. They have been making careful moves throughout those few years to build a team that can be good not just for one season but for years to come. The 2018 offseason was sdpadresanother step towards that as they didn’t go crazy with signings to load up and take advantage of their young talent. Instead, they signed a few big names and made sure they were going to be around for a while so that when their young talent begins to develop they have the pieces in place. It is a slow process and the build has not been the most entertaining for the fans who have had to sit through the bad seasons. In 2018 the Padres are hoping that the limited moves that they made can help them move further up the standings. The biggest move they made was to add one of the biggest bats in free agency to the roster in signing Eric Hosmer. He will bring a new level of power to the lineup and beside Wil Myers gives the Padres a legitimate heart of the order that can put up runs. The rest of the offence is made up of some young talent that the Padres are hoping can develop into the players that they have the potential to be. Manuel Margot, Carlos Asuaje and Austin Hedges could be the future core of this team. If they can provide some great support to that middle of the lineup the Padres could be better than expected although that is a big question mark. The rotation has a lot more questions as Clayton Richard leads the way along with Tyson Ross but neither have proven to be great pitchers. The core of this group for the future will lie in the bottom of the rotation where Bryan Mitchell, Dinelson Lamet and Luis Perdomo will be this year. All of those pitchers are young with good arms but they have a lot of development left. The Padres are a team doing the rebuild the right way as they are not taking massive steps but instead ensuring that they are building a good team for years to come. That will mean another year without the postseason but they are sure to show promise this year and provide some excitement for the future of the team with so many great prospects that are looking to develop this year.

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The San Francisco Giants have been one of the more consistent teams over the last decade continually rising to the top. They have competed with the Dodgers for the top spot in the division for years and took three World Series titles in that time. Last year was a massive change in that pattern though as the Giants fell apart right from the start of the year. It was a shocking turn of events for a team that was sitting on top for years sfgiantsbut not one that was entirely out of character. Like any successful team, the Giants had to deal with the fact that their best players were going to move on either for bigger paydays or because of declining ability. That coupled with the fact that the Giants were hit with some major injuries pretty early in the season had them struggling to keep up with the rest of the division. Heading into the new season the Giants were not ready to give in just yet and they made some important moves to improve the team. With a core of talent that has remained at the top of their games and the new additions, they are hoping for a bounce-back season. It is already going to be tough though as the Giants have already seen the same issues that hurt them last year creep in before the season even begins. The issues came only weeks before the start of the season as the Giants lost two of their best pitchers. Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija will both miss significant time to start the season after Bumgarner fractured his hand and Samardzija has a strained pectoral muscle. That is a big blow as that leaves Johnny Cueto to lead the team and some questionable pitchers filling the rest of the roles. With Bumgarner, Cueto and Samardzija the rotation is a good one but without two of them, it is not nearly as potent as it could be this year. They will look to get through that with an improved offence after the additions of Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. Longoria adds a power hitter that the Giants have always struggled to find while McCutchen gives them another solid hitter. These two added to a group that includes Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence should help boost production. The roster is definitely improved from last year and they are hoping to move their way out of the basement. The offence will need to carry this team for the first month as they await the return of Bumgarner and Samardzija which is going to hurt their chances of making the postseason.

Prediction:
The division that used to be a battle between two legendary teams is far more than that. It is becoming the best division in baseball and one of the toughest divisions to win and in 2018 that trend will continue. A lot of the teams in the division have gotten better through the off-season and if could lead to an even tougher battle for the top of the division. The Dodgers still seem like the best team as their talent is among the best in the league and they will come out on top again. Arizona is improved enough to take second and will likely take a spot in the wild card while the Rockies might struggle to find a wild card spot as the third-place team. The Giants are improved but injuries have already hurt their chances to compete this year. The Padres are still rebuilding and although they have a lot of potential they won’t get out of the basement this year It will be a tight battle once again though and anything could change throughout the season in what is likely to be the best division in baseball again.

nlwest-prediction

 

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