We have to come the end of the 2017 MLB previews, Nation! Today, we put the National League West under the microscope for Chris Jordan’s take. It’s a division of haves, have-nots, and want-tos, so sit back and remember that within 24 hours of your reading this, Major League Baseball will be here for 2017!
Click to take a look at our other posts in this series:
All teams are listed in predicted order of finish, and as a reminder, our picks for significant postseason action will be at the end of this post.
San Francisco Giants
2016 Record: 87-75, 2nd in NL West.
Big Questions: 1. Is Mark Melancon the answer to the Giants bullpen woes?
2. Can Hunter Pence stay healthy?
3. What about the rest of that SF outfield? (Yikes!)
Synopsis: The Giants ended their run of World Series championships in even-numbered years by not advancing past the NLDS last season. Now it’s time for them to start a new odd-numbered year trend. Their bullpen was close to an all-time worst in 2016, blowing 29 save opportunities combined. This more than likely prevented them from winning the division, which would have changed the shape of the playoffs for sure. Bruce Bochy is the best manager in MLB and always gets exactly what he needs from his starting nine every game. With their huge hole in the bullpen addressed, and with most of the same roster returning, there is no reason to believe that the Giants won’t contend in the West this season.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Melancon. The elite closer should be miles ahead of anything the Giants threw out there in the ninth last season.
2. Pence. The team’s fiery spiritual leader on the field and in the clubhouse. A full season of health will make the offense that much better.
3. Buster Posey. Perhaps it’s time to consider saving Posey’s body and start playing him at first base more. If only he wasn’t so good at being a catcher.
Predicted 2017 Finish: 1st in NL West
Los Angeles Dodgers
2016 Record: 91-71, 1st in NL West
Big Questions: 1. Is Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in the world, starting to show signs of wear and tear?
2. Can Rich Hill make more than one start in a row?
3. Is this the year that Yasiel Puig finally shows up?
Synopsis: The Dodgers have gone 28 years without a championship. That is the team’s longest drought since moving out of Brooklyn. “Win now” seems to be the mantra of current ownership, as they went out and gave boatloads of money to bring back three of their key players: Hill, Justin Turner, and closer Kenley Jansen. Without them, the Dodgers wouldn’t have gotten to the NLCS last year.
Add them to a young nucleus of NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Puig, and the Dodgers have a good mix of veterans and youth. Manager Dave Roberts worked wonders with this team, especially after losing Kershaw for most of the second half. Hopefully, it will be easier for Roberts in 2017, but the Dodgers are running out of time to get over that postseason hump.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Kershaw. He is the best pitcher in baseball…when healthy. Staying off the DL is key to the L.A. pennant hopes.
2. Puig. The Dodgers shipped him to Triple A last season, showing that they are running out of patience. This could be it for Puig if he doesn’t put it all together.
Predicted 2017 Finish: 2nd in NL West
2016 Record: 75-87, 3rd in NL West
Big Questions: 1. Is new manager Bud Black the man that can lead the Rockies back to contention?
2. Will the bullpen shape up and protect those late-inning leads?
3. Can this team, with some spring training woes, stay healthy enough to hang in there?
Synopsis: The Rockies have not won a division title since their inception in 1993. Bud Black was hired to change all that. He brings experience to the table, as well as pitching insight, something that will benefit the young starting rotation. Pitching success is hard to come by at Coors Field, but somehow Jon Gray, Chad Bettis, and Tyler Anderson went a combined 20-6 at Coors, showing that there may be hope for starters yet. Bettis is out with an unfortunate cancer diagnosis, but the Rockies will push on in their quest for respectability.
The bullpen is the big question, and adding lefty Mike Dunn is not the answer. Someone needs to step up and provide some stability down there. Maybe that falls to Jake McGee, Greg Holland, or closer Adam Ottavino. The Rox have the arms, they just need good luck (and health).
The only notable offensive addition is Ian Desmond, who the Rox have pegged to play first base. He will miss time with a spring training hand injury, however. DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, and Carlos Gonzalez make up one of the toughest lineups in the NL.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Arenado. A perennial MVP candidate and Gold Glove winner, his consistency should continue this season, sparking the offense.
2. Gray. The third overall pick in the 2013 draft, he looks to continue his mastery of Coors and be the ace this staff needs.
3. The bullpen. Colorado has some proven arms, but their park is hell on pitchers, so if there is no stability to protect late leads, then all of this offense is for nothing.
Predicted 2017 Finish: 3rd in NL West
2016 Record: 69-93, 4th in NL West
2. Can Shelby Miller be fixed?
3. Can a new manager (Torey Lovullo) and new front office turn this team around?
Synopsis: There were a lot of expectations put on this team in 2016, mainly due to the money spent to get ace Greinke and the dealing of an entire farm system to Atlanta to get Miller. Both failed to meet those expectations…and then some.
Just 69 wins would be the final tally for the Snakes in 2016, and a contributing factor was the injury bug. Outfielders Pollock and Peralta were down almost all season, Greinke missed close to two months, and Miller had issues with his index finger.
A new year should yield different results. Bounce-back years for all those mentioned, coupled with the presence of mashers Paul Goldschmidt, Yasmany Tomas, and Jake Lamb could get the D-Backs back to a respectable, but not yet a contender, finish. There are a lot of “wait-and-sees” with this team, however.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Goldschmidt. Maybe the best first baseman in MLB. His combination of contact, power, and speed is valuable to this team, and without him, they are competing with the Padres for the basement.
2. Greinke. He needs a bounce-back season to justify that huge contract. Greinke is one of the game’s elite starters, however, and should be his usual self.
3. Pollock. The center fielder was just starting to come into his own after an All-Star 2015. Hopefully, last season’s broken leg is in the rearview for him and he can pick up where he left off.
Predicted 2017 Finish: 4th in NL West
San Diego Padres
2016 Record: 68-94, 5th in NL West
Big Questions: 1. How long will the Padres be paying rent to live in the basement of the NL West?
2. Is there anyone other than Wil Myers in this lineup?
3. Will anyone want to trade with A.J. Preller ever again?
Synopsis: Just a few seasons ago, the Padres sold the farm to acquire players that would help them win immediately. They are now paying the price for those moves, as the farm system is slowly being built back up with the big league product still waiting. The Padres must practice patience once again.
Meanwhille, in acquiring fresh blood for the farm, A.J. Preller had his business practices called into question after failing to disclose medical information on a couple of midseason pitching deals. The team may be hard-pressed to find willing trade partners due to Preller’s poor business ethics, and also because the roster outside of Myers is whole lot of nothing.
It’s going to be another long season for you Padres fans. All four of you.
Most Important Player(s): 1. Myers: The only guy in the lineup that poses any type of threat to opposing pitchers. The Padres need him to have another solid season.
2. Ryan Schimpf: He hit 20 home runs last season, but with a .217 average. Maybe he could have an even better season, but he could just as easily lose the starting job at third base if he doesn’t hit.
3. Manuel Margot: One of the prized prospects received from the Red Sox for Craig Kimbrel in 2015. Winning the starting center field job shouldn’t be that difficult with this roster.
Predicted 2017 Finish: 5th in NL West
BONUS PICKS (Just a refresher. Personally, I made my picks very late at night. Ask me again I’d probably give you totally different answers for most of these. And, yet, I will stand by them!
American League Champions:
Joel Barnhart: Houston Astros
Chris Jordan: Boston Red Sox
National League Champions:
JB: Chicago Cubs
CJ: Chicago Cubs
World Series Winner:
JB: Houston Astros
CJ: Boston Red Sox
JB: Manny Machado
CJ: Mookie Betts
JB: Corey Seager
CJ: Kris Bryant
AL Cy Young:
JB: Justin Verlander
CJ: Corey Kluber
NL Cy Young:
JB: Madison Bumgarner
CJ: Clayton Kershaw
And, just like that, the season is upon us! Drink it in, Nation! Baseball is back!