It's a previewy time of year...
I've done these previews on Da Box for a couple years now (with varying
levels of success/completeness) and the one consistent thing I've
personally taken away from writing these is that: they take way
too damn long to write. Seriously yall. I'm not complaining about the
opportunity to write about baseball on a platform where many people will
actually read what you write, that is pretty darn awesome. But going
in-depth into every single team in the majors (30 at last count) while I
honestly don't give two cares about half of them, is very time
consuming. I mean, there's such a thing as a labour of love, and then
there's love's labour's lost (to any English Lit out there, it sounded
way cooler in my head...)
So. In an effort to still enjoy writing these previews and still be somewhat informative about what is happening around the league, I shall tackle just one significant issue facing each team. There is at least one thing of interest every major league team has to both be interesting to an outside fan, and to give varying levels of hope to their awaiting fanbase. Yeah! Here we go!
San Diego Padres (2016: 68-94)
Embrace The Darkness
I believe in a thing called prospects. Or at least, the San Diego Padres do. It's difficult to make any kind of argument against the probability that in 2017 these guys are gonna be bad. Like, real, real bad. Maybe 110 losses bad. They were comparatively bad in 2016, and they ended up trading three of their five most useful players (Drew Pomeranz, Melvin Upton Jr, Fernando Rodney) halfway through the season. Personally though, I don't think they'll lose 110 games, or even 100 actually. For one, that sprawling field they call a ballpark is enough to make the most modest pitcher look like a perpetual flyball out making machine. Second, Ryan Schimpf anyone? Ryan Schimpf? Going once, going twice...
Prediction -- 63-99, 5th NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks (2016: 69-93)
The Important Thing Is That We Both Survived
The Dave Stewart GM era in Phoenix is over. It may have only lasted two years, but the one deal most snakes fans will likely remember is the one that sent #1 pick Dansby Swanson and NL Kevin Pillar Doppelganger Ender Inciarte to the Atlanta Braves for the disaster that was 2016 Shelby Miller. It was a trade highly questionable at the time, considering Miller was more of a nice middle rotation arm than an ace, but the deal looks even worse now than ever since Shelby did his best Joey Hamilton impression last year (that was mean, I know). Arizona does have him under team control through 2019, so there's still time to balance this one out. Sure doesn't look good though.
Stewart did make a few other questionable moves of course. Giving all the money in the desert to Zack Greinke also qualifies as one, since it's the kind of contract an actual honest-to-goodness contending team would hand out, not a 79-83 squad (the DBacks in 2015) with a Stars and Scrubs thing going on. The Yasmany Tomas deal also looks rather bad, as despite his prowess at hitting balls really far (30 dingers in 2016) he seemingly gives it all back with an unusable glove at any position. Fifty-five million bucks left over four years for a DH is a bit excessive, except it's the National League of course so you gotta hide him on the grass somewhere. A nice Stewart move was picking up Jean Segura, whose bat transformed from Darwin Barney level to Robinson Cano level rather inexplicably. The new front office didn't want to bet on that repeating itself, so they swapped Segura for young fireballer Taijuan Walker, which I admit is an interesting move. Walker is still young enough (24) to really become something special, and while pitching in the National League and facing your mound counterparts in the batters box will give his numbers a boost, pitching home games in the launching pad the Diamondbacks call a ballpark just might neutralize that boost.
Anyway, I don't really know where I'm going with this point about the Diamondbacks. Which, frankly, describes exactly how I feel about this team. I don't really know where this is going, there's a lot of noise but little substance (which also describes their uniforms, now that I think of it). Goldy deserves better.
Prediction -- 70-92, 4th NL West
Colorado Rockies (2016: 75-87)
What's The Story (Morning Glory?)
The Rockies miss Troy Tulowitzki. They do, even if they don't know it yet. A big reason for that is the insane 97 games Colorado got out of Trevor Story in 2016. Story came out of nowhere (also known as the Rockies minor league system.... hiiiyo!) to hit 27 bombs, slug .567 and be a positive defender according to Defensive WAR. Naturally, his batting line away from Coors Field was .235/.292/.454, compared to .313/.393/.693 in home games. That's... significant.
Story is an interesting player nevertheless, and his ability to at least somewhat repeat his 2016 and play a full season will be crucial to the 2017 Rockies. There really isn't a lot else to say about this squad. Nolan Arenado is incredible, Carlos Gonzalez is a nice ballplayer when healthy, D.J. LeMahieu being a good hitter is a thing, apparently. This is a hard team to write about. The Coors Field Effect essentially puts these guys into a different baseball universe, where insane offense rules the land and quality pitchers are thrown to the pyre. Once in a while, they luck into a ridiculous surge of insane offense and just enough fire-retardant pitching to be a contending team. Maybe it's this year? Who knows.
Prediction: 84-78, 3rd NL West
San Francisco Giants (2016: 87-75)
Johnny Be Good
The complete collapse of both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain is a thought that would've mortified all Giants fans back in 2011-2012. Well that happened, with Lincecum now wandering the streets in search of food/a minor league deal, meanwhile Cain will be paid at least 28 million bucks while the Giants hope in vain that he doesn't suck anymore as a fifth starter. Despite this misfortune (Young Pitchers Will Break Your Heart) the Giants still look to contend in 2017, at least for a wildcard spot. Madison Bumgarner still does Madison Bumgarner things (like being the best reason to never give the NL a DH. C'mon yall), they have stars up the middle in Brandon Crawford's improving bat and the irreplaceable Buster Posey, a bullpen always finding pieces that work (Mark Melancon will help with that), and a certain HOF manager in Bruce Bochy, for whatever that's worth.
One concern however is the starting rotation beyond Bumgarner. Jeff Samardzija was a mixed bag at times in 2016, Cain hasn't been good in years, Jake Peavy is gone (and wasn't good in 2016 anyway), while Matt Moore was an okay but underwhelming deadline pickup. Fortunately the Giants also have Johnny Cueto, who really seems to prefer pitching in the National League (who wouldn't?). Cueto was unbelievably valuable to the 2016 Giants, using his toolbox of funky deliveries to win 18 games and devour high quality innings like nobody's business. San Francisco will need much of the same from Cueto in 2017 if they hope to challenge the Dodgers or fight for a wildcard game. This could work out nicely for the Giants, but there are a lot of variables. At least give us a full season of Hunter Pence... meet us halfway guys.
Also, did you know Joe Nathan pitched for the Giants in 2016? Joe Nathan!
Prediction: 90-72, 2nd NL West
Los Angeles Dodgers (2016: 91-71)
It's Clayton's World
Yeah, the Dodgers are favoured once again to win the west, and a lot of that is thanks to money. It seems like every year they have more money tied up in injured starting pitching than the Pittsburgh Pirates have for an entire payroll. Well it promises to be much of the same at Chavez Ravine this summer, with Disabled List flirters like Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Rich Hill all 'hopefully' penciled in for significant innings. Hyun-Jin Ryu is also in the mix, though he's only pitched 4.2 innings in the majors since 2014 thanks to yeah... injuries! The only stability with this group falls to Kenta Maeda repeating his impressive rookie season, and of course the incomparable brilliance of Clayton Kershaw.
But even the historical brilliance of Kershaw was detoured by injury in 2016. The Deadly K only pitched 149 innings in 2016 because of a back issue, and while the team around him is probably decent enough to win a weak division without him, this team could really use Kershaw at full health. I mean, what team wouldn't? Here's a quick synopsis of how good this guy has actually been:
W-L: 126-60, ERA 2.37, WHIP 1.007, 1760 IP, 1295 hits (6.6/9), 52.7 WAR (by BBref)
Plus three Cy Young Awards, throw in the fact he's only 29(!) and you've got yourself a legit generational pitcher here folks. The Dodgers will ride as far as Kershaw will take them, it's really a matter of how well the supporting cast can, ya know, support. Offensively they're solid, with hotshot shortstop Corey Seager leading the way, plus tidy trade acquisition Logan Forsythe in the fold to torment teams that aren't the Blue Jays for a change. There will be injuries galore of course, but they'll still win the thing.
Prediction: 94-78, NL West Crown
Join me next time when I tackle the NL Central! Spoiler alert: the Cubs are reeeeeeally good. Like, reeeeeally.