As the 2017 MLB season approaches, the resident baseball nerd here at FirstandMonday.com will be rolling out his pre-season previews, one division at a time.
In this installment, we head back over to the National League to check in on the NL West and their combatants for the 2017 season.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2016 record: 91-71
The Dodgers and their absurdly bloated payroll ($237 million and counting) enter the 2017 season with World Series aspirations. Not like he even needs mentioning, but they do have Clayton Kershaw and he is the best pitcher on planet Earth. This rotation has the potential to be very good, elite maybe, if some guys can stay healthy and others can continue to grow. Kershaw looks to be followed by two more veteran lefties, Rich Hill and Scott Kazmir. Hill has been ace-like over the past couple of years when he stay on the mound, but at times that has been an issue. Kenta Maeda and Brandon McCarthy look to fill out the rotation from the right side, but don’t be surprised if THREE more lefties, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Urias and Alex Wood, get looks for the rotation as well. Urias is a star in the making and both Ryu and Wood have been very good at some points in the past. Needless to say, the Dodgers have a lot of depth here. They also have Kenley Jansen to lock down the ninth inning, and he’s pretty good at slamming the door shut. 1.83 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 104 strikeouts in 2016 with just 9 (!) unintentional walks… wat
Here’s where I get a little unenthused about the Dodgers. On paper the line up looks good, but I just don’t have the same faith in this group that many seem to. The offense will be lead by SS Corey Seager, who had a stellar rookie campaign in 2016, and 1B Adrian Gonzalez, who’s been one of the best hitters in the game seemingly since Moses wore short pants. 3B Justin Turner also returns after re-signing in the offseason, and he’s a purdy good ballplayer in his own right (4.9 WAR in 2016), but the outfield trio of Andrew Toles, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig just doesn’t do a lot for me. Peterson is of the “hit ball far or no hit ball at all” ilk, and who in the world knows what the Dodgers can expect, if anything, out of Puig. He might be really good? He might be non-existent? Your guess is as good as his, mine, or the Dodgers front office. But this group is very young, unlike most of the infield, so there’s plenty of room for improvement in consistency and effort.
Key player: SP Clayton Kershaw (missed 10+ starts in 2016). Oh, so the best pitcher in the world is their key player? Going out on a limb, I know, but Kershaw is the straw that stirs the Dodgers whole drink. He missed a big chunk of last season with a back issue, and if they’re going to get past the Cubs they need Kershaw to be healthy for the duration.
2017 projection: 93-69, #3 seed in NL
2. San Francisco Giants
2016 record: 87-75
The Giants are starting rotation heavy. Well, at the top anyway. Madison Bumgarner kicks off the festivities and he’s one of baseball’s true #1 aces. Johnny Cueto is next up and, on just about every other team, he’s the #1 and also in the discussion as a true ace. Not too shabby for a 1-2 punch. Jeff Samardzija, lefty Matt Moore and the resident old fella Matt Cain round out what should be a really good group… But if one of these guys were to sustain a serious injury? Well, good luck. Depth is a big issue. To salve some issues that the G-Men experienced at the back end of the bullpen last season, they went out on the free market and signed former Pirates and Nationals closer Mark Melancon. While he never gets the attention of a Chapman or Jansen, Melancon has quietly been one of the best closers in baseball over the past few years.
As long as you stay on the infield, everything looks great. Buster Posey is the best all-around catcher in the game, and 2B Joe Panik should rebound after a down 2016 that was largely caused by issues related to a concussion that he sustained. Brandon Crawford is the best defensive shortstop in the National League now days, and his bat has really come along over the past few years too. Brandon Belt should be good for 15-20 homers and a 3 WAR from first base, and that’ll play just fine. But the outfield? It’s woeful. The Giants had a massive hole in left after the 2016 season, and weren’t able to do much of anything to fill it. Past-their-prime stalwarts Denard Span and Hunter Pence will man center and right respectively, but Pence has played just 158 games over the past two seasons and is already dealing with an oblique injury in the spring. Span has clearly lost a step as he enters his mid 30s, and has become a defensive liability in center.
Key player: 2B Joe Panik (1.1 WAR in 2016, down from 3.3 in 2015). As I previously mentioned, Panik suffered a concussion last season that caused him to miss some time, and dealing with post-concussion symptoms seemed to take a bite out of his production. With the outfield as old and decrepit as it is, the Giants need Panik to return to his 2015 form to pick up a significant amount of that slack.
2017 projection: 86-76, NL Wild Card
3. Colorado Rockies
2016 record: 75-87
Stop us if you’ve heard this before. The Rockies are going to hit a lot of home runs, and score a lot of runs, but pitching is a question mark. The rotation is not without intrigue though, as it sports a couple of guys with lot of potential. Big righty Jon Gray will be first out of the gate, with his beautifully long locks and mid-high 90s fastball. He struggled a bit in 2016, but also dominated at times, like when he struck out 16 in a complete game against the Padres. He’ll be followed by young lefty Tyler Anderson, who put together a very nice rookie campaign, and two ground ball specialist veterans in Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood. As we all know, keeping the ball on the ground in Denver is a good thing. Hard throwing youngster Jeff Hoffman, who came to the Rockies in the Troy Tulowitzki deal, looks like he has an edge on the fifth starter spot.
Oh lordy, is this line up going to hit the long ball. While many will immediately think of Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado is the true star of this young team. He’s clubbed 83 home runs over the last two seasons, and he’s also one of the best defensive third baseman in the game. Basically he’s Manny Machado-lite, but his team has sucked so many are unfamiliar with the man. The aforementioned CarGo saw his power numbers dip a bit in 2016, but he compensated by hitting .298, his best since hitting .302 in 2013. He’s not the player he was five years ago, but he doesn’t need to be. The Rockies made a somewhat puzzling free agent signing, giving a boatload of money to former shortstop/outfielder Ian Desmond, who will now play first base, but he had a very good offensive season last year for the Rangers and will look to build on that now in the friendly hitters confines of Coors Field. Did we mention yet that SS Trevor Story hit 27 home runs last year? Or that second baseman DJ LeMahieu hit .348 with 11 home runs of his own? This team is going to score a LOT of runs.
Key player: SP Jon Gray (4.61 ERA in 2016). Tyler Anderson was already very good in 2016, and Gray was good in his own right, but a big step forward by the big right hander could suddenly turn the Rockies into a dark house wild card contender. He has ace potential, he just needs to find a bit more consistency in harnessing his considerable talent. If he does, the Giants will feel the heat.
2017 projection: 83-79
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
2016 record: 69-93
So, remember before last season when (now former) GM Dave Stewart added both Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, and the Diamondbacks were gonna make a playoff run? About that… Greinke wasn’t very good, Miller was really awful, this team lost a ton of games and everyone got fired. The new management will try to pick up the pieces, and Greinke returns to lead the rotation. They’ll need a lot more out of him though, as he makes a metric f*ckton of dough, and 2016 was his worst season in 11 (!) years. You’re making $33 million this year, Zack. Get it together. Former top prospect Taijuan Walker, who came over in a trade from the Mariners, looks to get his groove back in the desert after some less than ideal results up in Seattle. He looks to be followed in the rotation lefties Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin, as well as the previously mentioned Shelby Miller. Miller was an astoundingly terrible 3-12 last season with a 6+ ERA, so it will be interesting to see if he can find a way to rebound or if the damage is irreversible. The ancient archer Fernando Rodney will close out games for Arizona, when they can manage to win.
Poor Paul Goldschmidt. Goldie is one of the best hitters in all of baseball and he’s in the prime of his career, but right now he’s wasting away in Arizona. He’s not entirely without assistance in this line up though, as CF AJ Pollock is a great player in his own right, but he played just 12 games last season due to injury. He’ll be bracketed in the outfield by Yasmany Tomas in left and David Peralta in right, which makes for a fair to middling defensive trio. Pollock is good, and Peralta is roughly average, but Tomas is disastrously terrible. A -2.4 dWAR in 2016 proves that he really should be DHing in the American League, but for now he’s stuck playing the outfield in Arizona. Young 3B Jake Lamb adds offensive upside at third, after he hit 29 home runs last season.
Key player: CF Aj Pollock (missed 150 games in 2016). When healthy, Pollock is a very good ball player and only second on the Diamondbacks in value behind Goldschmidt, but health has been a huge issue. For Arizona to hope to play toward respectability, they need Pollock to come as close as possible to replicating his breakout 7.4 WAR season from 2015.
2017 projection: 72-90
5. San Diego Padres
2016 record: 68-94
Look to the future, ye denizens of San Diego, because right now the picture is bleak. The projected starting rotation for the Padres has just one pitcher who finished 2016 with a sub 4 ERA, and three of the five finished with an ERA north of 5. Horror movie type stuff. The outlook on the rotation as it currently sits is so undesirable that the Padres are toying with the idea of “piggy backing” starters, where they only ask guys to pitch 3-4 innings before giving way to long relief. Do we really need to discuss this more? I didn’t think so.
On the offensive side however, there are some fun things to talk about. Wil Myers seems to have finally matured into the baseball player he was expected to be when he came up as a top prospect for Tampa. He’s still just 26, and is clearly the face of this franchise. Joining him, after getting a rookie cup of coffee last season, is Padres top prospect RF Hunter Renfroe, who in just 36 ABs in 2016 managed to hit .371 with 3 doubles and 4 home runs. And if you like to see a team get some good, old fashioned speed on the base paths then the Padres could scratch that unique itch. They were 5th in baseball in steals last season, and have as many as five players projected in their every day line up who could swipe 20 or more.
Key player: RF Hunter Renfroe (.306 with 34 doubles, five triples, 30 home runs and 105 RBI in minor leagues in 2015). Obviously those are gaudy numbers that he’s highly unlikely to repeat this season in the majors, but they represent the kind of potential we’re talking about for Renfroe. The Padres aren’t winning anything in 2016, but Renfroe and Myers are the blocks to build around for San Diego.
2017 projection: 67-95
If you missed our earlier installments, you can check them out below.
NL East HERE
NL Central HERE
AL East HERE
AL Central HERE