From the East to West, next up in our MLB divisional preview series is the NL West, which boasts the team many are picking to be the National League representative in the World Series and the current favorite to win the championship, the Los Angeles Dodgers (+325).
At the end of March, the Dodgers sat tied with the New York Yankees at +350 odds to win the World Series but despite no games being played or moves being made, the Dodgers have now taken over that top spot where they stand as the sole favorites.
It should come as no surprise as LA is a juggernaut of a baseball team and one that really should have won a World Series in the last decade. For as good as LA has been, the Dodgers also seem to fall just short in the playoffs. Might 2020 be their year?
It’s hard to really imagine anyone in the NL West appearing as a viable challenge to the Dodgers winning their eighth straight divisional crown. For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at how all five teams in the NL West shape up and what we might expect from them this year when baseball finally gets underway.
Los Angeles Dodgers (+325 to win World Series, +165 to win NL Pennant)
In 2017, the Dodgers reached the World Series for the first time since 1988. That year, the Dodgers won it all and in 2017, the team poised to do the same. They didn’t, falling short to the at-the-time feelgood storybook ending of the Houston Astros.
As we learned in what has now become a prolonged offseason, the Astros’ fairytale was more a heavily manipulated nightmare. Houston cheated by stealing signs giving their hitters an advantage over pitchers all year long. The Dodgers were the biggest victim. If not for the cheating, the team may have won the World Series. LA’s last title remains the one they achieved in 1988. The Astros were not stripped of theirs though there were calls for such a decision. Now that the truth is out, many within baseball believe the Dodgers have never been more motivated or hungry to win a title.
They have absolutely got the roster to do so. The Dodgers pretty much put it all on the line to win this year when they sent a boatload of prospects to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for the one-year services of Mookie Betts.
Undoubtedly one of the best players in the game, Betts was a huge get but should there be no season in 2020, and Betts decides to walk and sign a deal with a new team, all that would have been for naught. LA is hoping that is not the case though as Betts could well be the final missing piece to an offense that was already scoring runs left and right.
Betts was an extra base machine last year, totaling 40 doubles to go along with 29 home runs. Add this to Corey Seager’s 44/19 line and Cody Bellinger’s 34/47 line, you have got an insanely potent lineup. Seager won the Rookie of Year in 2016, Bellinger was Rookie of the Year the following year and MVP in 2019. Betts was MVP in 2018. It is almost unfair how much talent under the age of 28 is on this team.
The Dodgers could probably dominate games on offense alone but they don’t have to. The official MLB website predicts the Dodgers will add to last year’s 106-win total by two. Consider it a luxury and testament to just how good the Dodgers are when Clayton Kershaw doesn’t have to be the ace anymore. Remember he is a former 3x Cy Young Award winner who was so good one year he accomplished the rare feat of a pitcher winning the MVP Award (2014).
That is not saying Kershaw won’t be the top starter but the Dodgers acknowledge he is not as dominant as he once was. He may start second in the rotation. A 3x Cy Young winner may start second. That’s depth.
The Dodgers also added David Price, who oh yeah, also won a Cy Young, doing so in 2012, the year Kershaw captured his second. From MVPs in the lineup to Cy Young winners in the rotation, there is so much hardware within the Dodgers, but the one thing missing are rings. They will hope to change that and will have a really good shot at it this season.
San Diego Padres (+4500 to win World Series; +2400 to win NL Pennant)
You have to drop 18 spots in the United States’ online sportsbooks’ World Series odds to find the next NL West team staked to win the title and that’s the San Diego Padres. Even at that, the Padres are just the third favored team to win their own division at +1100 compared to –900 for the Dodgers. It is almost as if the season isn’t worth playing and we should just crown LA the NL West champion already. That is not how it goes because no matter how ridiculously overmatched things are, the games aren’t won or lost on paper. That happens on the field.
San Diego’s crown gem is Manny Machado, a man they paid a lot of money with a significant amount of years, to be a lot better than he was last year. The 27-year-old one-time Dodger, Machado had statistically the worst season of his career in his first with his new team. His average was the lowest of his career and his strikeout total was the highest.
Machado did mash 32 home runs, but overall, he was average and the Padres didn’t pay for average. Machado is still the main piece with this team but he will have to go back to the guy of 2015-18 for the Padres to start making any headway in the Dodgers’ division to lose. Beyond Machado, the Padres boast one of the best and most exciting young players in the game in Fernando Tatis Jr. If he can clean up his defense, Tatis will be a real lineup asset for San Diego.
The Padres have a load of talent to rely on offensively. Not as much as the Dodgers, but no one has that. Fans in San Diego acknowledge this is an uphill battle but many would be content with just a winning season, after the team has woefully underperformed over the last two. Their pitching isn’t great but it should be serviceable and their bullpen is an asset and actually pretty deep. A winning season isn’t out of the question, and neither is a wildcard spot in an expanded playoffs.
Arizona Diamondbacks (+6000 to win World Series; +2500 to win NL Pennant)
Does it bear repeating? I think it does. This is how much better the Dodgers are projected to be than the rest of the lowly NL West. The Diamondbacks have the second best odds to win the NL West, +800, compared to LA’s -900. It’s not even close.
It may seem weird to keep bringing the Dodgers up when talking about these other teams, but when you consider this season will see these guys basically playing for second, it’s not all that odd at all.
There’s an interesting proposal going around right now, one that would see the MLB season start in May or June with all games played in spring training facilities in Arizona as well as Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks. There won’t be fans in attendance but would the Dbacks benefit from any sort of home / road field advantage given this is their state? Perhaps, but even with homefield advantage, it is going to be tough to pick up wins for Arizona.
The Diamondbacks will be hoping that Christian Walker’s revelatory season last year wasn’t just a fluke and was a sign of more to come. Walker got his first big break last year and made the most of it, actually matching top DBack Paul Goldschmidt in several offensive categories. This is big for Arizona as Walker could be a piece of the team moving forward as it builds toward a goal of beating the Dodgers for the NL West and then challenging for a title. Another piece could be Ketel Marte, who really dazzled for the Diamondbacks last year and could be expected to be even more valuable in 2020. The team also added Starling Marte in the offseason, a solid acquisition.
From the mound, the big story is going to be seeing Madison Bumgarner playing for the divisional rival. With the San Francisco Giants for so long, Bumgarner now joins the Diamondbacks at a different stage of his career. He won’t be the Bumgarner of old and Arizona isn’t even expecting him to be. He is still better than a heck of a lot of arms out there and should help the Diamondbacks from the top of the rotation.
Colorado Rockies (+15000 to win World Series; +8000 to Win NL Pennant)
As much as there is a drop off between the Dodgers and the Padres and Diamondbacks, there is an even more significant drop between those top three and the expected bottom dwellers of the division.
The best of these two worst teams is the Colorado Rockies, who are longing for the days of 2007 and ‘Rocktober’ while standing at a major crossroads between ineffective and ready for a complete overhaul. The Rockies aren’t that far removed from playoff success but man does it feel like they are.
Nolan Arenado is still the guy but it is hard to believe the Rockies won’t try to trade him during the 2020 season. It’s tough given Arenado is still owed a lot of money, but at the same time, he is one of the top third basemen in the game both offensive and defensively. He’s a player the Rockies would love to rebuild a contender around and save for a trade. They may get that chance as Arenado is under contract for a long time to come. Trevor Story is another talented young player but ultimately, Colorado’s offense is too thin. They have only looked average by nature of playing in the band box that is Coors Field but top to bottom, this isn’t a good lineup.
Things don’t get any better on the mound as Colorado’s bullpen is somewhat of an unmitigated disaster. They are stuck with what they have, given long contracts for veteran relievers as part of their plan for success. It didn’t work and now the hope is these guys can just pitch at an average level for the rest of their time in the black and purple. Starting pitching isn’t much better as the Rockies have two guys who are okay, but the bottom falls out from the third to fifth spots in the rotation. This isn’t a team built to compete, short of a miracle season akin to the Rocktober of 13 years ago.
San Francisco Giants (+20000 to win World Series; +8000 to win NL Pennant)
Of all the stories of a mighty rise followed by a devastating fall in baseball, that of the San Francisco Giants probably takes the cake. For six years, the Giants were somewhat of a dynasty winning World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 and haven’t won the West since 2012. They won just 77 games last year, 71 the year before that and 64 the year prior. So I guess you could say they are improving steadily? The only problem is this team needs a rebuild but it doesn’t seem ready to pull the trigger.
Buster Posey is on his last legs literally, as 2019 was a horrible year for the once great Giants’ catcher. Bumgarner is gone, perhaps the last strong piece of a once great team. Mike Yastrzemski may be able to account for some production but beyond that, this is a team that doesn’t have an identity aside from being old.
San Francisco has almost no bullpen to speak of and their starters Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto are near the end of their contracts, having been signed when this team was still holding onto hopes of being a contender. Those hopes are long gone as reality is looking San Francisco in the face. They may not win a single game against the Dodgers in 2020 and a 100-loss season doesn’t feel out of the question.