The National League West has long been the ignored little brother of Major League Baseball, however, that is all set to change.
With the NL West determined to change the narrative in 2021, they look like one of the most competitive divisions in Major League Baseball.
With the NL West determined to claim the title of “Best Division in Baseball”, and not just because the division is home to the reigning World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The other four teams in the division could all very well make some noise, albeit with varying degrees of probability. Let’s take a look at what each team has been up to and just why they may be poised to make a move or at least keep things interesting.
NL West Determined: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks faded fast in the Costco sample-sized season that was 2020. Including one stretch that saw them lose 18 of 20 games. Still, there were undeniable flashes of brilliance by the club. Young players starting to make a name, and a strong finish. Topping that list was the performance of Zac Gallen.
Pitching Rotation, Bullpen, With Upside
Gallen, 25, continued a streak that he began in his rookie season in 2019 by opening up his career with 23 straight starts giving up three earned runs or less. If he can combine with a resurgent Madison Bumgarner, that would be quite a formidable top of the rotation. There is also a large upside to Merrill Kelly, who suffered a Thoracic injury in late August. There is a lot to be desired in the bullpen, however, where Junior Guerra and Stefan Crichton were the only bright spots, while closer Archie Bradley struggled.
On the other side of the ball, the D-backs had one major standout in Kole Calhoun. Calhoun had an OPS+ of 127 and he did well in everyone’s favorite traditional stats with 16 homers and 40 RBI. His batting average was low, but, he turned in a .338 OBP that made up for it.
Aside from Calhoun, there were underwhelming performances, including Christian Walker and David Peralta. Peralta didn’t show the power everyone is waiting for. He did hit for a nice average and can work walks, but his lack of slugging led to an OPS+ of just 106. Starling Marte did show flashes of why he was brought to the desert, but, injuries sidelined Marte for just under half the season.
Overview: Manager Troy Lovullo feels that Arizona underperformed last year and should have been a playoff team. That’s probably a reach, but they certainly could have been better and would need just a couple of things to go right for them to create some havoc and are no automatic win on the schedule as they stand now.
NL West Determined: Colorado Rockies
Let’s face it, the will he or won’t he element of a Nolan Arenado trade means just about everything to the Rockies look and approach to the 2021 baseball season. For the sake of this writing, we will assume he is staying.
This is the team in the National League West that easily has the most holes. Manager Bud Black has said he would like to add a proven hitter to either the outfield or the right side of the infield. If they can add such a hitter and maintain Arenado, as well as Trevor Story, the offense should be just fine.
The bullpen saw some decent years and the starting pitching had some bright spots, but, pitching in Colorado will always be a nightmare. Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez both kept their ERA under 4.00, which is no easy task when playing at Coors Field. In the bullpen, Yency Almonte was a solid option, having an ERA of just 2.93 and averaging just under a strikeout per inning. As a staff, they walk too many and that is playing with fire in the thin Denver air.
Overview: It would take stars aligning and people performing at their peaks, but, with the NL West determined, it wouldn’t be impossible for the Rockies to cause some trouble.
NL West Determined: San Francisco Giants
The Giants are the team with the biggest swing room for possible success to a possible disaster. They are starting to develop a core of hitters and the long lost power is seeming to have returned. Mike Yastrzemski is the ultimate in the late bloomer. He has shown well in two partial seasons. It will be nice to finally see him for a full season. Alex Dickerson is also a bright spot on this team, but he has had an injury-plagued career so far. He will likely find himself in a platoon, which will help with some of the wear and tear.
The Giants also saw some exciting things from Austin Slater, but, he was injured for part of the season as well. Health is a major factor in how successful the offense is. To contend, it is going to take one last golden day in the sun for their three beloved veterans, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford. That may be the tallest order from Crawford, who is set for a sharp decline, despite what looked like a resurgence. The Statcast report on the 2020 season showed Crawford had quite a bit of luck on his side. With many of his potential hits and homers landing at a higher level than can normally be expected.
Pitching remains the big mystery. The Giants began last season with no true closer and that remains the case after a disastrous attempt at the role from Trevor Gott, and closer by committee finish. Addressing that role should be a top priority. A strong comeback season from Johnny Cueto would also go a long way in helping the Giants improve their rotation. Bright spot Drew Smyly has moved on, but Kevin Gausman will return. Expect the Giants to invite a host of veteran arms to camp, whenever that may be.
Overview: The Giants seem destined for the middle of the pack in the National League West, but, they can contend this year if they play their cards right and get production from their aging veteran core.
NL West Determined: San Diego Padres
In case you haven’t realized, the Padres are coming for the Dodgers in an attempt to become the new kings of the National League West. The Padres added Blake Snell via trade and seemingly have a deal in place with the Cubs to acquire Yu Darvish.
These moves will go a long way in erasing the gap left by Mike Clevinger, who will be out the entire 2021 season with Tommy John surgery. He is signed already for the 2022 campaign and with Snell and Dinelson Lamet, hints at an extremely bright pitching future for the Padres.
Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.are a killer one-two punch, of course, but the entire lineup is filled with obstacles for opposing pitchers. Jake Cronenworth (128 OPS+), Trent Grisham (122 OPS+, 10 HR), Eric Hosmer (131 OPS+), and a resurgent Wil Myers (.959 OPS, 159 OPS+, 15 HR, and 120 total bases) will make sure National League West pitching facing the Padres will have no proverbial, “day at the park.”
Overview: They have also added Ha-Seong Kim from the KBO who has a massive upside. The National League West, and indeed the entire league, need to take notice of what is going on in San Diego. Right now the pendulum on their potential swings from “really good” to “scary good”.
NL West Determined: Los Angeles Dodgers
What can you say about the team that has now won eight straight National League West titles? Yes, it was a shortened season, perhaps some have a point in saying Dave Roberts didn’t have a long enough season to do his normal damage to the bullpen, but a .717 winning percentage and a march through an expanded playoff to a World Series Ring are no small accomplishments.
The talent that comprises the Dodgers is unmatched in the league, even in the wake of San Diego’s recent moves. Then consider that reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger had a down year and Justin Turner, despite postseason heroics, is rather obviously in decline. The Dodgers have a fluid lineup filled with players who can cover multiple positions allowing them to put their hottest lineup out there day in and day out.
Pitching has now officially become more than Clayton Kershaw, as Walker Buehler is poised to take the ace label from Kershaw. Dustin May proved to be a formidable arm over his 10 starts, though one would like to see him improve his strikeout to walk ratio (2.75:1). Julio Urias is only getting better after a solid season, Ross Stripling can spin a gem and Victor Gonzalez had an incredible showing after coming back from injury in 2017 and almost quitting the game entirely. Gonzalez and Urias were signed together back in 2012.
Overview: I fully expect the Dodgers to win their ninth straight National League West title. It will, however, not be an easy go, or anything resembling a foregone conclusion. Only San Diego has made what could be called big splashes, so there is plenty of offseason left for other teams to improve either incrementally or drastically.
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