A 2022 Quick Look at the National League West

Friday, April 01 2022 @ 06:36 AM EDT

Contributed by: Eephus

Hey, there's a season! Lets do this again.

With a shortened spring training, opening day is right around the corner. All 30 MLB teams are brimming with pre-season optimism, watching young players and marquee additions alike hit rockets off fences or throw blazing laser beams past hopeless batsmen. Spring is that time of year when anything and everything seems possible, nay, probable. A truly wondrous and romantic annual moment that awakens the imagination and snaps the doldrums of frozen idle time.

Well too bad for that, because I'm here to tell you who's gonna be terrible! *Endless villainous cackle*

Now to be fair, with the postseason now expanded to twelve teams thanks to the thankfully agreed upon new CBA... two extra spots do give some fringier squads a chance to make it. Personally I disagree with the new format (despite how it comes a year too late for the formidable 2021 local club). The Wildcard Game was genuinely a lot of fun and you further enhance the risk in a bad year of a sub .500 team making it in (lets all agree it would be the Cardinals... it's always the Cardinals). 

Minor quibbles of course, because MLB baseball is coming at ya! As I do every year I feel like doing one of these (I kid, it's a labour of love)... lets start in the NL West. A division with probably the most sure thing in baseball, a couple of big question marks, and two teams so forgettable I can't even name multiple players on either one without looking them up. Heck, if it weren't for a bizarre big free agent signing and persistent trade rumours, I might not be able to name anybody. Lets go! 

Oh, and I'll using the format I did last year: asking a pressing question of each team and then attempting a quippy response. Feels like late March to me, baby.

San Francisco Giants (2021: 107-55, 1st, lost in NLDS)

Q: Was 2021 all just a one time, magical veteran player fluke?

A: Not gonna lie, I had to stop myself from the instinct of writing the Dodgers here in the division winner slot.

I mean in all seriousness, who saw the Giants doing that? This has to be the most unexpected 107 win season in my lifetime, personally. Heck, how many 107+ win seasons have there even been since I was born? Lets have a quick diversion and look it up... to quote our local legend: "A Data Table!*"

*- this will be a discount data table

1998 New York Yankees - 114-48
2001 Seattle Mariners - 116-46
2018 Boston Red Sox - 108-54
2019 Houston Astros - 107-55
2021 San Francisco Giants - 107-55

Odd how three of the five have been in the past four seasons... and one of those seasons of course you'd only win 107 if you resorted to shady multiplication. I wasn't following baseball when the '98 Yankees stomped the league (bless you, Super Nintendo) but I really liked the 2001 Mariners. Johnny Olerud, rookie Ichiro, prime Jamie Moyer (few folks enjoy their prime years at 38)... Ed Sprague had 100+ at bats and was above average! It was his last season appearing in the majors. Boy I disliked those '01 Yankees... teenage me jumped for joy when Luis Gonzalez blooped that ball over the drawn-in infield down in Arizona. The 2018 Red Sox I despise on principle, though grudgingly I confess that team was pretty damn good. I remember the 2019 World Series (legitimately a classic) and don't recall that the Astros won that many games. Explains why they were such strong favourites I guess. 

Alright back on track. The 2021 Giants enjoyed impossibly unprecedented success: they're the only team of that 107 win club above that didn't make the playoffs the year prior, not to mention even have a winning record (and that prior year was the "16 teams make it" COVID season). I remember commenting how this was an old core of once star position players, that they'd need a past prime career year from multiple guys just to have a chance. Turns out they lapped that lofty goal: Brandon Crawford at 34 with a .894 OPS... Buster Posey, also 34, bouncing back after some notable 2018-19 decline and bowing out of the shortened year... a .304/.390/.499 line in 450 PAs... Evan Longoria still battling injuries but chipping in his first 120 or better OPS+ since his Tampa Bay days with the Rays (I know what I did there). Meanwhile, San Francisco also employed a legion of switchable part time players that all graded as league average or better hitters. Darin Ruf, Alex Dickerson, Steven Duggar, Donovan Solano, Wilmer Flores... it goes on.

The absence of Posey via retirement is going to really hurt, and it's pretty hard to ask the remaining core of Crawford and Brandon Belt to do it again a year further into their mid-30s. Also maybe a stretch to count on such production from your interchangeable part-time pieces. To their credit, the Giants seem to have accepted this and instead focused on their pitching staff instead. Kevin Gausman headed north but they brought back 2021 stalwarts Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani, took a high risk-high reward flyer on Carlos Rodon, added some depth in Alex Cobb and Matt Boyd, while they still have a potential emerging ace in Logan Webb. The floor is high and this should be a strong starting pitching staff.

Will it be enough, though. There's certainly enough evidence and talent here to make me say this will be at least a good team. How that path leads to the postseason is a murky one, though that extra wildcard spot helps immensely.

Los Angeles Dodgers (2021: 106-56, 2nd, lost in NLCS)

Q: I don't really have any questions.

A: Yeah fair... this team is pretty damn stacked. They were pretty damn stacked last year too. 106 wins in a regular season, by the way, is the most wins by any team in MLB history to not win their division. Hard to say the Dodgers have gotten much worse since then, is it.

Ah whatever, lets take a quick look anyway. Gone from 2021 are Corey Seager, Max Scherzer and Kenley Jansen. Certainly not nothing. In is Freddie Freeman, plus a full season of Trea Turner who can slide over to shortstop now with Seager gone. This team is ridiculous, they'll be just fine. Might even root for them a bit myself (I like Freeman a lot) as long as Trevor Bauer stays far, far away.

San Diego Padres (2021: 79-83, 3rd)

Q: What exactly went wrong here?

A: Seemingly everything. They were the darlings of the 2021 preseason prediction world and I was completely onboard. Despite the flashy moves (Darvish, Snell, Musgrave, Kim) I didn't pick them to win the division as some did... hurray for me! I also predicted the Padres to finish 19 games ahead of the Giants, whom once the season closed they trailed by 28 games. Oops.

The 79-83 record explains it pretty accurately: they were just a mediocre team. Middle of the pack in nearly every offensive category, middle of the pack in preventing offensive categories. The new pitching additions were fine, although none except for maybe Musgrove were truly outstanding. Most of their regulars were league average or better and most of the good ones appeared in 130+ games. They had the super-duper star (Tatis Jr.), a serviceable bullpen, yet it all went wrong.

Point the finger at August 10th. The Padres beat the Marlins 6-5 to improve to 67-49, in third place in the NL West but with a five game cushion for the second NL Wildcard spot and an even bigger lead over the then NL East leading Phillies. The math is obvious but here it is anyway: they would only win 12 more contests all season. A particularly gruesome 4-18 stretch to finish September sealed their disappointing fate all the more.

What's next? Well... Fernando Tatis Jr. is out potentially for three months with a wrist injury... so that's not exactly encouraging. They made no notable addition on the free agent market or via the trade route, so the guess would be they're hoping for internal bounce-back. Something like Jurickson Profar being better than exactly replacement level, or something like Mike Clevinger getting back from Tommy John and picking up where he left off, or something like Chris Paddack re-discovering his rookie form, or something like Ha-Seong Kim making some gains with the bat... he'll get plenty of chances with Tatis Jr. out.

Problem is, the Padres need most of those things to go right, or a bunch of other unforeseen things to occur. Such things can and always do happen over the course of a baseball season, but San Diego needs quite a few of them and there are also always things that go wrong to muck up the plan, as last year proved convincingly. If they're still in the race when Tatis Jr. gets back, they've probably got a real shot at a playoff something. It was so easy to bet on them last year, now it feels so easy to bet against them. A super interesting team to keep an eye on.

Colorado Rockies (2021: 74-87, 4th)
Arizona Diamondbacks (2021: 52-110, 5th)

Q: All right! Lets play everybody's favourite preseason game! Which of these were actual players on either of these teams, and which ones are fakes?

A: Thanks for playing everybody. And away we go! We've got Samuel Borges, Austin Gomber, Yonathan Daza, Nanaldo Pannozzo, Pavin Smith, Paul Fulton, Elvin Drost, Connor Joe, Kolten Skillman, Daulton Varsho and finally... Joe Mantiply and Marco Martinez! Now remember, studio audience and those of you playing at home, it's a perfect 6/6 split! And have at it!

I suppose this is semi-mean to the Rockies, who were a bad but not a completely subterranean team in 2021. Still, Kris Bryant (fine player that he is) won't fix any of their many, many problems.

As for Arizona... their sudden devolution into the worst team in baseball was surely the third biggest surprise in this division. Not that their 2021 team was destined to be good or anything, rather that I expected their badness to be... less epic. Regardless, they're gonna be pretty terrible for a while onward and beyond the Ketel Marte Trade Watch (edit: he signed an extension? Cool I guess), or a fun bounceback year from Madison Bumgarner (what the heck is he doing there anyway?)... there isn't a whole lot of excitement to tune into here. Both these are teams currently in a cycle of adding useful-ish relievers to hopefully trade for lottery tickets in July.    

Prediction time! I've been very wrong before, don't forget.

LA -- 103-59
SF -- 87-75
SD -- 85-87
COL -- 66-96
ARI -- 62-100

The Dodgers are just too good, too deep. While the Giants should be respectable at the very least and I expect the Padres to bounce back... this is an easy prediction. San Francisco gets that slight edge for me because the floor is high enough (good rotation) while the Padres excel in talent and ceiling, but the question marks are a lot to overcome. Hey, not every young team gets it right away. Meanwhile the Diamondbacks are hoping they're two years away from being two years away, and the Rockies are operated like it's 1995 (or 1795) by crazy foolish people.

Stay tuned next time for the National League Central! Where I try and pretend the Reds simply don't exist.... sigh....