2014 MLB Preview: NL West

Hello, baseball fans, and welcome to the final installment of College Sports Town’s divisional previews for the 2014 MLB season. Last but not least, I will be taking a look at the NL West.  In 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers took the division after a slow start to the season, but this year, they already are atop the West, due to their down-under sweep of the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Yankees West– AKA the Dodgers should be NL West champs for the second straight year, as no team in this fairly unimpressive division has enough firepower to take them down.

Divisional Breakdown

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. Colorado Rockies

5. San Diego Padres

Team Breakdown

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

After an offseason of wild spending, the 2013 Dodgers were a disappointment on June 21, sitting in last place in the NL West. From that day on, however, the Dodgers were one of the best teams in the majors, winning the division, in part due to the arrival of Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig. This year, Puig and Co. are poised to take the division again. The rotation is scary. The outfield is as good as any in the majors, with Puig, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and (eventually when returned from injury) Matt Kemp vying for three spots. The infield is also impressive, with Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, and A.J Ellis. The Dodgers should score plenty of runs. In addition, the rotation will be among the best in baseball. Clayton Kershaw is simply the best pitcher in baseball, Hyun-Jin Ryu should continue his fine play in his sophomore season, and Zack Greinke is fantastic as well. New additions Dan Haren and Paul Maholm provide some rotational depth, as Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley are sidelined for the moment. Regardless of who the fourth and fifth starters are, however, the trio of Kershaw-Ryu-Greinke can be as intimidating as any in baseball. The bullpen is stacked as well. Kenley Jansen is one of the better closers in the MLB, and Brian Wilson and Chris Perez could be excellent additions if they can return to past levels of performance. Basically, this Dodgers squad is loaded any way you look at them.

Verdict

Best Case- The Dodgers ride excellent starting pitching, Puig, Ramirez, and Gonzalez to the World Series.

Worst Case- Injuries to Kershaw and Greinke are more serious than expected, Puig’s career path follows Jeff Francoeur, and the Dodgers barely hang onto a wild-card spot.

Most people are already tired of hearing about Yasiel Puig, but he has the talent to led the Dodgers to the Word Series.

Most people are already tired of hearing about Yasiel Puig, but in all honesty, he has the talent to lead the Dodgers to the Word Series.

2. San Francisco Giants

Last year, contrary to my World Series expectations, the defending champ Giants finished fourth place in the division. This year, the Giants should return to respectability, but not the postseason. The team is mostly unchanged, but I think that last year’s general performance was a fluke, and they will improve. The lineup is fairly solid. Buster Posey is one of the best catchers in the game, Brandon Belt is a solid first baseman, and the newly-extended Hunter Pence was probably the Giants best performer last season. Pablo Sandoval looks slim but powerful, Angel Pagan is a solid leadoff hitter, and new addition Michael Morse has a good amount of pop. As always, however, the rotation is where San Francisco really shines. Each of the Giants prospective starting pitchers has at least one All-Star appearance. Madison Bumgarner is the youngest and probably the best at this point of the starters, but Matt Cain and even Tim Lincecum have the potential to take that title back, and new addition Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong aren’t bad, either. If their starting pitchers can perform well, the Giants have a decent shot of returning to the postseason. The bullpen has the potential to be robust, if Sergio Romo can return to the level of performance he exhibited during the 2012 postseason. The Giants have a talented team, but the question remains: will this squad, so similar to the one San Francisco trotted out each of the two previous years, play like the 2012 World Series champions or the 2013 disappointments?

Verdict

Best Case- The rotation is stellar, Posey and Pence are All-Stars, and the Giants return to the postseason.

Worst Case- For the second straight year, injuries and disappointing performances lead to the Giants returning home at the end of the regular season.

Hunter Pence may have the eyes of a madman, but he can hit a baseball a long, long way.

Hunter Pence may have the eyes of a madman, as exhibited here, but he can hit a baseball a long, long way.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks had a decent 2013 season, finishing 2nd in the West with a .500 record. This year, the Diamondbacks should be about as good, but still finish behind the Dodgers and Giants in the division. The lineup is the most impressive part of this squad. MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt is joined by slugger Mark Trumbo in the heart of the lineup. Martin Prado is a serviceable third baseman, and young shortstop Chris Owings looks promising. If Gerardo Parra can replicate his success from last season, Aaron Hill can play the entire season, and Miguel Montero can return to his All-Star performance level, the Diamondbacks will score prolifically. The concern for the Diamondbacks falls with the rotation. All-Star Patrick Corbin is out for the year, so the rest of the pitching staff will have to pick up the slack if the Diamondbacks are to have any shot at the postseason. 2012 All-Star Wade Miley didn’t look the same last season, however, and former Athletics Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy looked better in Oakland. The Diamondbacks have to hope that Randall Delgado realizes his potential this year, and for star pitching prospect Archie Bradley to quickly make his way to the majors. That being said, the bullpen is fairly solid. Addison Reed, acquired for Matt Davidson from the White Sox, is a fine young closer, Brad Ziegler is one of the more consistent relievers in the league, and former Mets J.J. Putz and Oliver Perez have each become better pitchers following their stints in New York. The Diamondbacks have several robust pieces, but they are unlikely to contend this year.

Verdict

Best Cast- Goldschmidt is MVP, Trumbo hits 40 HR, Bradley is a ROY candidate, and the Diamondbacks make the postseason.

Worst Case- The rotation holds the team back, and the Diamondbacks finish under .500.

Goldschmidt might have the sweetest swing the majors.

Goldschmidt might have the sweetest swing the majors.

4. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies were dreadful last season, finishing last place in the NL West. Even though they seemed far from contention last year, the 2014 Rockies are closer to being a respectable squad. Although they are unlikely to make the postseason this year, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the Rockies’ future. The lineup is relatively impressive. When both are healthy, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are perhaps the most dangerous duo in baseball. Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title last season, and Nolan Arenado is the best fielding third baseman this side of Manny Machado. The question marks at catcher and second base are too important to dismiss, but the lineup should be at-least league average. In contrast, the Rockies rotation is fairly pathetic. Their ace for the time being is the mediocre Jorge De La Rosa, as their best starter, Jhoulys Chacin, is out with right shoulder issues. The rest of the rotation is less proven, as young pitchers Tyler Chatwood and Juan Nicasio will try to improve upon decent 2013 performances and new addition Jordan Lyles will attempt to prove his worth. The Rockies’ bullpen is actually fairly stout, as closer Rex Brothers will be joined by old yet effective reliever LaTroy Hawkins, but the Rockies pitching in general might be pretty difficult to stomach. The Rockies have reason to hope, but they won’t really be in contention this year due to the state of their rotation.

Verdict

Best Case- Tulo and CarGo stay healthy, the rotation is decent, and the Rockies contend until August.

Worst Case- Tulo and CarGo are hurt once again, the rotation is among the worst in the league, and the Rockies finish last in the West for the second consecutive year.

Tu

Tulo and CarGo are a potent combination when they are able to share the field.

5. San Diego Padres

The Padres were worse than their third-place finish let on last year, finishing 10 games under .500. That being said, their young core was improved, and the Padres will look for that improvement to continue in 2014. The lineup is not very strong, but it is fairly young. Everth Cabrera was an All-Star before his PED-related suspension last season, Jedd Gyorko will improve upon an impressive rookie performance, and Chase Headley will attempt to return to his 2012 level of performance, when he took home both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove for NL third basemen. The rest of the lineup, filled with players like Yonder Alonso and Nick Hundley, is a bit of a question mark, however.  On the other side of the field, the rotation potentially could be strong. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are both young and effective, and Eric Stults has a few years left at age 34. Midseason addition Ian Kennedy and free agent signee Josh Johnson could improve the staff if they can replicate their best performances, but that would be a long shot. The better-than-expected bullpen will be bolstered by the arrivals of Joaquin Benoit and Alex Torres, who join former All-Star Huston Street. Like most of the teams in the division, excluding the Dodgers, the Padres have solid young players, but seem unlikely to put the pieces together successfully this year.

Verdict

Best Case- The young core improves, Headley is once again a Silver Slugger, the rotation is decent, and the Padres look like they could contend in 2015.

Worst Case- The rotation crumbles, the young core looks shaky, and the Padres flounder.

 

Everth Cabrera will have to redeem himself following his Biogenesis suspension.

Everth Cabrera will have to redeem himself following his Biogenesis suspension.

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