A quick and dirty look at some of the other divisions around baseball...
The National League West is full of interesting storylines for 2015.
They've got the Dodger$, the completely transformed San Diego Padres and
of course the defending champs. Here are three questions facing each
team in the division.
1. Will Paul Goldschmidt play more than 109 games?
The past two seasons, Goldschmidt has been one of the very best hitters in all of baseball. Unfortunately, he suffered a broken hand last August that caused him to miss the last two months of the season. Hand injuries can problematically linger for hitters, and a fully healthy Goldschmidt would go a long way to make the Diamondbacks 2015 season, well, slightly interesting. Here's hoping he's fully recovered.
2. Young Pitching (Will Break Your Heart)
Looking back at The Young Pitcher Contest, it seems a lot of us are eagerly awaiting Archie Bradley's arrival to the big leagues. Many thought it would happen last season, but an elbow injury sidelined Bradley for two months. Once he came back, he didn't pitch especially well, and his overall line for 2014 was not at all appealing. Still, Archie is only 22 and apparently now fully recovered. It's going to be a big year for him and an opportunity on the big team is surely his for the taking. Likewise with Patrick Corbin, who was emerging as one of the great left-handers in the National League before Tommy John surgery robbed him of 2014 before throwing a single inning. Corbin isn't expected back until June but an eventual return to his previous all-star form could make this team, well, slightly more interesting. Ugh.
3. Whose Catcher Is It Anyway?
The frontrunner for the everyday catching job is a dude named Tuffy Gosewisch, which frankly sounds like something you could order in a really strange sandwich shop. The Tuffy Sauce is filled with secret spices! Gosewisch has a career OPS of .512, which is pretty horrifying. Even 2013 Arencibia was noticeably better than that. Many have thought the Diamondbacks an obvious suitor for Dioner Navarro, but it really doesn't make sense for Arizona to give up anything useful for one season of a player, particularly in a season you don't expect to contend. Which is fine, I guess. Extra Dijon on my Tuffy Gosewisch, please. No onions.
Overview: there are some interesting stories kicking about (what Tomas is gonna do, if Trumbo can bounce back with some thump) but this team is not going to be very good. The starting rotation is full of questions and injuries, and many of their bonafide major league position players have already been traded away (Prado, Gregorius, Montero, Parra). Get ready for a long summer in the desert.
1. How much can Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez stay on the field?
Tulowitzki is a monster of a ballplayer. Here's a shortstop (an excellent defender there, nevermind) with a career batting average right around .300, a slugging percentage of .517 and multiple 20+ HR seasons on his resume. And he just turned 30. Sure there's the Coors Effect, but his career road line of .274/.349/.469 can certainly fit into any lineup. The bad news? He hasn't played anything close to a full season since 2011, and only has one 100 game season in the last three. Carlos Gonzalez (or CarGo, if you need a rental) swims along that same boat. Gonzalez has only played 180 games the past two years, and wasn't particularly good when he did play in 2014. Keeping these two on the field is crucial for the Rockies to have any hope of respectability.
2. Arenadonator: ready to break out?
Already one of the finest fielding third basemen in the game (if not the best), Arenado posted a very solid 2014 offensively. It will be interesting to see if he takes another step forward with the bat, which could very well make him one of the best players in the division. Staying healthy will also be key: Arenado only got into 111 games in 2014.
3. Pitchers? Please Don't Run Away!
Checking over the rotation. Wow, that is... not inspiring. A bunch of guys that seem like they've been around forever: Franklin Morales? Jhoulys Chacin? Juan Nicasio? How are all these guys still in their 20s? Weren't they on that 2007 team that was unbeatable for three weeks at almost just the perfect time? (Looking it up, Morales indeed was on that team). Well, they have LaTroy Hawkins. That's sorta cool.
Overview: Seriously, if you're a roughly average-to-below average major league hitter, roughly in your early 30s and a free agent, you've gotta sign a one year deal to play in Colorado. History tells us again and again that you will have an out-of-your-mind career year, probably hit .330, and land a modestly huge contract from a club desperate for bats. So, probably the Mets. I'm looking at you, Ike Davis, David Murphy, Ian Kinsler and Andre Ethier. It's not too late! Anyhow, this team will probably score a ton of runs even without Tulowitzki and Car Rental Man, but that pitching staff is not worth the deposit money.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
1. A New Look
The Dodgers were almost as busy as their rivals south down the coast. Gone are Matt Kemp, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett, Dee Gordon, and Hanley Ramirez, replaced by Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Yasmani Grandal and Brandon McCarthy. There would seem to be an offensive hit from that, though that might be countered by the defensive improvements of Rollins over Ramirez, Kendrick over Gordon and anyone over Kemp. It will be interesting to see how well this new lineup manages to function, featuring plenty of good hitters but not much true star power beyond Puig and Adrian Gonzalez.
2. Kids In The Hall
There are some really interesting rookies coming up for the Dodgers. Joc Pederson and Corey Seager are two of baseballs highest regarded prospects, and it seems quite likely both will have the opportunity to make an impact some point in 2015. Also in the mix is 28 year old Cuban Alex Guerrero, an outfielder having a nice spring and considering the amount of guaranteed money owed to him, will likely get every chance to take a job and run with it.
3. The Strange Case of Clayton Kershaw
If you could have any pitcher on the planet to pitch for your team, no it's not gonna be Marcus Stroman (sorry), it's gonna be Kershaw. The Great Clayton already has three Cy Young Awards (would've been four if not for that knuckleballing author guy, whatever his name is) four straight NL ERA titles, and he just turned 27 a few days ago. But there is a big blemish on the record of this prodigious pupil of pitching: the postseason. To say Kershaw has had some troubles in October would be quite accurate: he's 1-5 with an ERA of 5.12. To be fair, much of that damage is thanks to the Cardinals beating on him pretty good, but it goes without saying that the Dodgers need Kershaw to figure this out.
Overview: There's more than enough here to make it work. The 2014 Dodgers were a very good team but their defense was their weak link. I don't think it's a coincidence that Andrew Friedman joins the front office and immediately their moves are to improve that area. Defense is important, and going from bad to at least average can make a big difference. They'll win the division.
1. Who's On This Team Again?
Whoa. That was wild. The Padres made so many trades this winter I think Steve Finley was back on the team briefly. Certainly new GM A.J. Preller isn't lacking of ambition, and many of his moves seem sure to add some punch to an offense that was "hobo fighting for a sandwich" in 2014. Fans of Toronto's beloved baseball team, however, can attest to the reality that just throwing a bunch of sexy names against a wall doesn't automatically equal a parade to the World Series. Sometimes it takes time for these new players to build cohesion, and some of them might turn into Emilo Bonifacio. (Remember how excited we were about him? He can play anywhere! He could steal 50 bases! He's a switch hitter! He's the steal of the deal! Ah memories.)
2. Sneak Into The Playoffs?
That being said, San Diego had a pretty good pitching staff to begin with. Adding James Shields in that ballpark only makes that better, and probably puts off those concerns of his declining velocity for about another half decade. There's certainly an opportunity for this team to win enough games to squeak into a playoff spot. The NL East has the Nationals and everybody else (sorry Miami), the Central is really interesting but could easily be a case of five good-not-great teams beating up on each other, and the West will likely have two teams that will be awful (Arizona and Colorado). And it's not like the Padres were awful in 2014: 77-85 isn't "look away in horror" bad. Really though, most of their fortune will come down to...
3. The Bats
The 2014 San Diego Padres scored 535 runs. Um, that's not gonna work well. Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera scored more than half that many by themselves. The man who led the team in runs scored was Seth Smith with 55, and he's gone now anyway. As a team they slugged .342, which okay sure it's the National League, but come on. Steve Tolleson had a better slugging percentage than that, and I don't hear too many folks raving about what a great power hitter he is. Hmmmm, maybe this new GM acquiring as many good hitters as he can isn't some wild and crazy strategy after all.
Overview: If this offense can go from Boxcar Bob to something approaching league average, this could be a pretty good team with that assortment of quality starting pitchers (Kennedy, Cashner, Erlin, Shields and Ross) and that often good bullpen of theirs. One thing please though: if Brandon Morrow cracks their rotation and pitches as well as we know he can, lets agree to a treaty of Minimal Bellyaching. Does anyone think an ERA of 2.50 in Petco translates seamlessly to the AL East? Sign right there please, dotted line.
1. Can They Hit?
Who knows. They just won the whole blasted thing while hitting about as poorly as you possibly can to do that. Losing Sandoval will sting, as will not having Pence to start the year. Isn't it funny how every Giants postseason run, the commentators are always raving about how "pure" a hitter Brandon Belt is, how he's about to set the National League on fire and we should just invest in fire extinguisher futures? Belt has had some injury issues and does play in a park allergic to home runs, but I'm amused at the thought of this happening all over again during the Giants 2016 run. "He really figured something out about himself in the second half." "Oh yeah, Joe. Look at his hands! They're away from his body compared to before when they were, away from his body!" I'm sorry Brandon, we're still good right?. Right? All the best in 2015.
2. Reclamation Projects
During the Giants (really damn fun) 2014 run, there were a couple of names that seemed to float away into the clouds: Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Forgetting about The Freak isn't too surprising: he's been pretty awful for three years now and pitched in just one postseason game in 2014 (mopping up a bullpen mess once the Royals already had a big lead in Game Two). At this point, it's hard to expect a return to the Freakishness of 2008-11. Another name we didn't hear too much of is Matt Cain, who was injured halfway through 2014 and never made it back. Unlike Lincecum, Cain was fabulous in 2012 and still pretty all right in 13-14 before the injury, so there's more hope for a recovering Cain than for a healthy Lincecum, I suppose.
3. The Defense
Folks, this is a flat out beautiful defensive team. Posey is a bit below that Yadier Molina level but who can hold that against him. Belt is a very good defender as is Panik from what we saw last year, while Brandon Crawford would probably have about three Gold Gloves already if he played in the American League (that Simmons guy just ruins it for Crawford and my man Zack Cozart). The outfield is good too with Blanco, Pagan (if he's healthy) and everyone's favourite Hilariously Awkward But Great Ballplayer(TM): Hunter Pence. Barring some injury disasters, their run prevention is strong enough to keep them interesting/in contention.
Overview: I'm going to say this right here and now. If the Giants miss the playoffs completely in 2015, they'll win the whole thing again in 2016. It's how they roll.
Division Overview: The Padres have become very interesting (a real wildcard, as it were), the Giants are sure to be competitive, and with some luck the Rockies might stick around also. But this one belongs to the Dodgers, easily. Here's how I see it shaking down from a wins standpoint:
LA - 95-67
SD - 87-75 (2nd wildcard)
SF - 83-79
COL - 72-88
ARI - 65-97
Up next: the NL Central, where I'll try to be somewhat partial. (You mean the Reds aren't going to win 106 games...?)