Our MLB preview series continues as we move from the East coast to the West, to take a look at the home of last year’s World Series winner, the NL West. Because while the NL East may be the best division top to bottom, the NL West is arguably home to the two best teams in baseball in the form of the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres.
2021 should be a dogfight between these two behemoths, who Bovada Sportsbook ranks as one and three in terms of odds to win the World Series (+300 for Dodgers and +750 for Padres). But before we get to that, let’s focus on the best of the rest of the West.
The Dodgers and Padres may be two of the best teams in baseball but low expectations abound for the remainder of the NL West, which in addition to the top-tier LA and San Diego, also includes the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants.
Several of these teams aren’t that far removed from competing for World Series trophies themselves, but now, they languish in mediocrity. According to the Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA Standings (USA Betting is using these projected win totals in crafting our pre-season previews), the Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies are all anticipated to finish below the .500 mark in 2021. To put that into perspective, an estimated nine wins separates the projected first and second-place finishers in the division. An estimated 25 wins separates first and third.
The disparity in the West right now is evident as the division has really become a situation of the haves and have-nots. It just so happens that the two haves, represent two of the division’s three California-based teams. The third team, the Giants, are projected to win over 20 less games than their Golden State counterparts. While in sports the saying that, any team can win on any given day, does hold true, the discrepancies between the top two and bottom three teams in the West seem impossible to bridge. It will be very difficult for the Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks to go toe-to-toe with the World Series champion Dodgers and the Padres, who were rivaled only by the New York Mets when it came to offseason spending.
So now we will analyze each NL West team as part of this preview and predictions article.
Colorado Rockies (projected to win 61.5 games; +7500 to win the NL West)
One of baseball’s youngest teams, having been incorporated just 27 years ago, the Rockies have had a series of up-and-downs over their young history. After winning 91 games and reaching the playoffs in 2018, the Rockies shaved off 20 wins and missed the postseason in 2019. Their COVID-shortened 2020 campaign was also uneven.
Now, Colorado seems to be in full rebuilding mode, having finally parted ways with their biggest star and biggest bargaining chip, Nolan Arenado. With revenue tight due to the pandemic-shortened and fanless 2020 season, the Rockies had no choice but to move Arenado’s contract to the St. Louis Cardinals, receiving a haul of prospects in return. The team still has some pitching depth, but, in a hitter-friendly park like Coors Field, asking the rotation to hold down the fort with one of the league’s weaker offenses will be no easy task. It is for that reason that not only are the Rockies projected to finish last in the West, but last in all of MLB.
Arizona Diamondbacks (projected to win 74.3 games; +6000 to win the NL West)
The Diamondbacks finished in last place in the West last year, but even so, the team didn’t really go out and break the bank in the offseason. Internally, the feeling was that Arizona, who opened the 2020 year expecting to compete for a playoff spot, had the pieces in place already to make that run this year. Time will tell if that is the right decision. The Diamondbacks would need a minor miracle, or a slew of injuries to half of LA’s roster, to win the NL West this year, but, they may still have a shot at a wildcard berth, one they very well could be competing against the Giants, among other teams, for.
The team’s biggest offseason move, was acquiring Joakim Soria to anchor the backend of the bullpen. Other than that, Arizona looks primed to focus on the future, with eyes on promoting a series of prospects, several of whom could be real difference-makers soon.
San Francisco Giants (projected to win 79.2 games; +3600 to win the NL West)
Just one win separated the Giants from the playoffs last year, which would have marked their first postseason appearance since 2016. San Francisco isn’t that far removed from being baseball’s even-numbered year juggernaut, winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. For that reason, the team, despite missing many of those championship players, still believes they are in a spot to contend. Winning does that and when you were as good as the Giants were over those five years, it’s hard to question their motives.
That said, San Francisco hasn’t finished over .500 since 2016 and they still have a way to go until they can return to the top of the NL West. In the meantime, however, San Francisco spent this offseason bolstering their pitching, a seeming commonality around the division as these teams hope to keep LA’s offense at bay. The Giants also still have some talent in their lineup and should be expected to produce a modest amount of runs this year. The gap between them and the rival Dodgers has grown significantly over the last five years, but that doesn’t mean the Giants can’t possibly compete for a wildcard spot in 2021.
San Diego Padres (projected to win 95 games; +195 to win the NL West)
When the 2021 offseason began, many teams were sitting back and waiting for the first major dominos to fall in hopes that cheaper, perhaps even bargain level players would fall into their laps and that the market would soften in more team-friendly deals. Many teams had to be payroll conscious, much like the aforementioned Rockies. Even some of the league’s larger revenue-earning squads found themselves in need of cutting some corners to make the most of their finances. All else being equal, every team seemed to get hit in one way or the other, from the impact of COVID on revenue.
That didn’t stop one team, the Padres, from making splash after splash almost immediately after the free agency period began. San Diego were players in just about every big name on the market, and they landed pretty much every guy they really targeted. Blake Snell came first, marking the real opening bell of the offseason. Then a day later, the Padres added yet another ace to their rotation in Yu Darvish. The Padres clearly prioritized pitching, a necessity if they want to compete with the juggernaut that is the Dodgers.
Snell and Darvish, and the later addition of Joe Musgrove, took the team from an okay rotation in 2020, to arguably the best in baseball entering this season. Then of course, there was the record-shattering deal that will keep one of baseball’s best hitters, Fernando Tatis Jr., in San Diego for the next 14 years. Only two years prior, the Padres flexed their muscles in free agency as well, signing Manny Machado to a 10-year deal. Now, they will keep two of the best hitters in baseball together for at least eight more years. If San Diego doesn’t win it all in 2021, that’s okay, because their window is only just opening.
Los Angeles Dodgers (projected to win 103.9 games; -250 to win the NL West)
The Dodgers didn’t need to do anything in the offseason but stay pat and they still would have been the best team in baseball with the best odds to win it all. Instead of having a championship hangover, the Dodgers went to work and threw their hat into several huge free agency signings, if for nothing else to raise up the price for their competitors. Ultimately though, the team in its current incarnation, found a way to get even better than the group that dominated the pandemic-shortened 2021. The rich got richer.
The Dodgers are the best team in baseball on paper and it wouldn’t be a shock to see them win an obscene number of games in 2021. The only thing that could keep them from besting the record for most wins in a season, is probably the fact they must play in a division with the Padres. Even so, LA is favored to win the division with nine more wins than San Diego, a league-high 103 in total.
LA lost a few players in free agency, namely Joc Pederson, but they are still poised to be the top team in the league. The team countered their losses, and in some ways countered San Diego’s moves, by signing Trevor Bauer to join an already stacked pitching staff. On offense, LA had no needs as the lineup of Mookie Betts, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Gavin Lux, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and others, are more than enough. It is almost unfair how good LA projects to be this year. Almost.
NL West Predictions and Betting Picks for this Preview
While picking the favorite won’t win you much cash, LA is definitely the class of the division. A potential flyer on the new-look Padres could be worth the risk, but USA Betting’s advice and prediction is to stick to the numbers and take the Dodgers to win the NL West yet again.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.