The noise surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers’ failure to sign Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado has been impossible to avoid.
In fact, it’s so loud that if you were new around here, you’d begin to think that the 2019 version of the Dodgers was poised to fall back to earth after back-to-back World Series appearances (their first in 20 years).
But if that were you, you’d be shocked and confused to hear that the Dodgers are a heavy favorite to return to the postseason. Like, heavy favorite.
Not only are oddsmaker extremely bullish on the Dodgers because of how talented their roster is, it’s a byproduct of how mediocre the rest of the National League West is.
While the NL West was among the best divisions in baseball as recently as a few years ago, it’s clear that this is definitely no longer the case. And so, with Opening Day on our doorstep, let’s take a look at how the division is shaping up this season (from best to worst).
2018: 91-71, tied-fist in division (lost Game 163 at Dodger Stadium)
To build off of an impressive (some would say “over-achieving”) 2018, the Rockies remained relatively quiet this past winter. Their biggest move (aside from re-signing Nolan Arenado) was the addition of Daniel Murphy to a lineup that was somehow in need of offensive firepower. The reason for the need was the loss of D.J. LeMahieu and Carlos Gonzalez.
Murphy aside, however, the Rockies’ season will come down to whether or not they can find some consistency amongst their younger players. In looking back at 2018, it’s fascinating to see some young guys explode onto the scene while others faded into obscurity.
Among the explosions offensively was Trevor Story, who increased his power while also raising his batting average by over 40 points. On the mound, similar improvements were made by German Marquez (whose FIP dropped an entire point) and Kyle Freeland (whose ERA dropped 1.30).
On the flip side, expected ace Jon Gray regressed (ERA increase of almost 1.50) while Charlie Blackmon saw his WAR decrease by more than half.
In looking at projections for 2019, many expect the overall trajectory of the Rockies to point downward slightly. Offensively, Story, Blackmon and Arenado will continue to mash. But on the mound, Gray could remain stagnant while Freeland might come back to earth.
All in all, the Rockies could challenge Dodgers for the first two-thirds of the season before fading into a serious Wild Card battle.
San Diego Padres
2018: 66-96, fifth in division (25 games back)
Oh how the times have changed. Long the laughingstock of the division, folks around the league are starting to take note of what the Padres are doing down in beautiful Petco Park.
While lean years have led to a budding farm system, that crop of young talent is on the verge of reaching the Majors and potentially taking the NL West by storm. Fortunately for the Dodgers, the key phrase there is “on the verge,” as many believe the youngsters’ impact to be a couple of years away.
In the meantime, the Padres signed Machado to pair long-term with the likes of Fernando Tatis Jr. (No. 2 prospect in baseball), Mackenzie Gore (No. 15), Luis Urias (No. 23), Francisco Mejia (No. 26), Chris Paddack (No. 34), Luis Patino (No. 48 prospect) and others.
While many are expecting the success of this club to be in the future, this group has the upside to compete today. Now, that’s not to necessarily predict a postseason appearance in 2019.
But in this weak division and with the youthful influx of talent coming, the Padres should some noise at some point this season and potentially finish above .500 for the first time since 2010.
2018: 82-80, third in division (nine games back)
Just as quickly as the Padres have seemed to turn things around, the Diamondbacks seem to have torn things apart. Gone are Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock; each with next-to-nothing in their place to help them in 2019.
Zack Greinke is still around (the Dodgers will see him on Opening Day), but beyond him the cupboard in Arizona appears to be pretty bare. Offensively, the ZiPS projections don’t project a single player with more than 20 home runs or 80 RBI.
On the mound, Greinke should remain solid — along with Robbie Ray — but beyond that it’s a pretty average staff that doesn’t appear to have the quality needed to make up for what should be a dud of an offense.
San Francisco Giants
2018: 73-89, fourth in division (18 games back)
Let me introduce the Giants to their room for the next few years: last place. The Padres kept it warm last year, but while they’re on the up-and-up, it doesn’t appear the Giants can say the same.
Beyond hiring former Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi as their president of baseball operations, there wasn’t much to speak of for the Giants during an offseason that saw the club get older.
Their biggest signing was Derek Holland, while Hunter Pence and Hunter Strickland both are gone. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Giants have somehow managed to combine a brutal MLB roster with one of the six-worst farm systems in the entire league according to ESPN’s Keith Law.
The point is, the future isn’t bright for the Giants. They aren’t projected to be good this season, and yet it might be their best season for the next three to five years. It’s possible they sneak as high as third place in the NL West, but they won’t contend for anything this year or anytime soon.