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Saturday, April 04, 2015

2015 MLB Previews: NL West

Finally, onto the division that really matters. What in the world is going to happen in the NL West in 2015 you say?

It's a tough division to pick as all have question marks heading in. Will the Giants make up for the loss of Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse (plus Pence for the first couple weeks of the year) on offense and will that rotation stay healthy and effective all year long. With LA, they still have some issues with their outfield, where Andre Either seems the odd man out and isn't happy about it. They also will be without closer Kenley Jansen through at least April and Hyun Jin-Ryu for perhaps the season (which could sway some momentum). Then there's new-kid-on-the-block Padres who added a lot of talent, but they have so many new faces and what not it's going to be a challenge for all of them to come together. The top-three teams are all right there, neck-'n-neck and going to be in it till the very end (barring major injury to one of them). Here's how we over at GBB see the West breaking down in 2015:


1st Place, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig Ready to Make MVP-Run

SS Jimmy Rollins
RF Yasiel Puig
CF Joc Peterson (R)
1B Adrian Gonzalez
2B Howie Kendrick
C Yasmani Grandal
3B Juan Uribe
LF Carl Crawford/Andre Ethier

LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Zach Grienke
LHP Brett  Anderson
RHP Brandon McCarthy
RHP Chad Gaudin/LH Hyun-Jin Ryu*
SU: RH Juan Nicasio
CL: RH Kenley Jansen*
*Jansen out at least first month of season; Ryu still undetermined timetable, out at least 1-2 months possibly 4-6

Key Reserves: OF Scott Van Slyke, IF Justin Turner, OF Andre Ethier

I see them getting off to a bit of a slow start, but once everyone is back, I'm a bit afraid they're gonna sky-rocket. I originally was thinking of placing them third when Ryu's injury was first reported as a possible year-ender, but apparently the Dodgers believe his absence will be closer to a weeks rather than months. Plus, if Jansen (who's already making significant progress and said to be ahead of schedule) is back when he's expected at the start of next month, they shouldn't miss a beat. Now if they don't get Jansen and Ryu back by May, things could shuffle a bit for sure.

There is nobody better than their 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Grienke at the top, but Brett Anderson's never pitched anywhere close to a full big league season in over half a decade and McCarthy's posted ERA's of 4.73 and 5.33 over last two seasons in the NL West though he did look dominant at times in 2014. The one area that really scares me though is that the Dodgers now have some actual leadership in the clubhouse outside of the coaching staff (something sorely lacking there the last few seasons). Kendrick and J-Roll may not be quite the offensive threats they were 5 years ago, but they're still more than adequate and should play huge roles in the clubhouse. No doubt, those guys aren't going to make up the offense they lost in losing Kemp, Gordon and HanRam, but the Dodgers believe young guys like Puig and Peterson are ready to be stars while J-Roll and Kendrick are still no slouches at the dish.

I like Puig's game and abilities probably two-times more than I hate his antics, which is really saying something (he's gonna be right in the thick of the MVP race), and Joc Peterson's a stud and if he's the next Mike Trout like everyone in SoCal is hyping him to be, that 1-5 is going to be sick and the Dodgers are going to be better off without those departed starts. Even that bottom won't be too shabby if Crawford and/or Ethier lock down a spot and have a nice healthy year.

It's really gonna come down to their pitching, which outside of Kershaw and Grienke (which is the best 1-2 punch in the game) things take a mighty fall and that bullpen has questions up and down the line too. Just too much going on in LA with injuries and question marks right now. If they would have come in healthy, they would have been favorites. Rollins, Kendrick and McCarthy are all proven vets with big clubhouse presences that will bring much needed leadership. If, of course, Ryu and Jansen are both back May 1st and everyone, for the most part, stays healthy then move them ahead of both SF and even the revamped Padres and it's not even close (on paper that is, they'll still have to prove it). Just because of that pitching front end and guys like Puig, Peterson and Gonzo, they still have the most impacting talent in the division. If I were them though, I'd try and showcase Ethier and flip him for some starting pitching depth. We all know they'll get one if they really need one eventually so count on it. Plus, I think Justin Turner may be a better daily option at third at this point should 36 year-old Juan Uribe continue to slow down this year (0 HR, .535 OPS in 50 spring AB's) although he did hit .311 last summer. At the least, Turner provides one of the better utility infielders in the game and, again, Ethier is a starting outfielder and 2-6 hitter one half the lineups in baseball, or more. Certainly the Giants'. With Scott Van Slyke and A.J. Ellis, these guys have depth out their rear-end, just adding to their toughness over a full season.

Their pitching can be great and they have more offense than the Giants and Padres, if healthy. As much as I wanna throw up to write it, if things go as planned for them, they should be the division winners.

2nd Place, San Diego Padres *NL WILD CARD*

Kemp Back in the Elite Class
CF Wil Myers
1B Yonder Alonso
RF Matt Kemp
LF Justin Upton
3B Wil Middlebrooks
2B Jedd Gyorko
C Derek Norris
SS Alexi Amarista

RHP James Shields
RHP Andrew Cashner
RHP Tyson Ross
RHP Ian Kennedy
RHP Brandon Morrow/*Josh Johnson
SU: Joaquin Benoit
CL: Craig Kimbrel
*Johnson recovering from TJ Surgery, out until roughly mid-season

Key Reserves: OF's Melvin Upton, Wil Venable, IF Wil Middlebrooks/Solarte

I was originally on the fence, but when I typed this I had the Giants finishing second and the second wild card team in the NL. However, after the Pads just went out and got Craig Kimbrel to now give them one of the best bullpens to go along with that strong starting five on the eve of opening day, it made my mind up for me. I can definitely see Bud Black working with this group of talent now. To me, this division is still going to be three-team race between the Pads, Giants and Dodgers but of all the teams in the NL West this off-season, I like what the Pads have done most, by far. For the Padres to take it though, they're gonna need to come together as a team early with all the new faces and have their new additions all perform up to their capabilities. So far, so good in spring, but spring is only spring, so lets see how things go when things start counting for real. The one issues with them is they have questions surrounding guys not in their outfield and their defense could hold them down a bit. Again though, love their new outfield and like the young core they have and the tremendous depth they've assembled (much deeper than LA and SF). Justin Upton and Matt Kemp are both very much in the prime of their careers and capable of breaking off MVP campaigns and both have incentive as Upton is a pending free agent and Kemp wants to show last seasons comeback was just the beginning. Then there's Wil Myers (former BA #1 prospect) who many expect this to be the year he breaks out and puts it all together being his third full year in the league, he just has to stay healthy.

The other Wil, Middlebrooks, also has huge potential and is entering his fourth year in the league. He had that great rookie half year in '12 (15/54/.288//.835) then still hit 17 jacks in '13 in just 94 games, although it came with a .227 average. Last year was his worst by far as he battled injury again and went just 2/15/.191/.522. If he's healthy though, he's gonna be counted on to protect Upton, especially if Gyorko struggles out of the gate again..

*(Note, this was written before Kimbrel trade)*
They have a nice young pitching rotation that acquired themselves a true ace in James Shields and have developed a true #2 in Andrew Cashner. Ross (13 W, 2.81 ERA) and Kennedy (13 W, 3.63 ERA 200 IP , 207 K) aren't too shabby themselves and will be three and four starters in this rotation. As always, like death and taxes, you can count on the Padres pen being solid again too, although they don't have the star power they've had in the past. Now without Huston Street,  Benoit will be full-time door-slammer and may even be a better closer anyway (based on his numbers over the last two seasons). They also have Corey Leubke, who was the talk of San Diego just two years ago when he was in his groove as a starter, who they expect back from TJ Surgery around mid-season too. Even if Johnson and Leubke don't come back strong, the Pads are gonna be tough, but if they do come back strong, look out! A few of their key hitters (Alonso, Gyorko, Myers) are coming off down seasons though, and if some of those guys and/or others struggle in that lineup and Kennedy and Ross each pitch like '12 and '13 instead of '14, they'll easily be leapfrogged by SF or LA, there's just no room for error in this division. With their aggressive approach to this year though, something tells me they aren't done dealing and will do whatever is in their power should they be short a player or two at the deadline. Shortstop and possibly first base are a couple places they could look to upgrade offensively, although both those guys are stronger defenders on an otherwise average defensive squad.

There one downfall could be their lack of a true lead-off guy. Myers may be able to get the job done, but ideally they'd probably like him down in the 5th or 6th spot protecting Upton and Kemp and have a true blue leadoff guy out there but that's not that case at the moment. Again though, I'm not putting anything past them as far as going out and getting what they need.

3rd Place San Francisco Giants
SF Needs Buster to be MVP-Like

LF Nori Aoki
2B Joe Panik
CF Angel Pagan
C Buster Posey
RF Hunter Pence*
1B Brandon Belt
3B Casey McGehee
SS Brandon Crawford
*Pence to start year on 15-day DL, expected back by late-April

LHP Madison Bumgarner
RHP Matt Cain
RHP Jake Peavy
RHP Tim Hudson
RHP Tim Lincecum
SU: Sergio Romo
CL: Santiago Casilla

Key Reserves: OF Gregor Blanco, OF Justin Maxwell, IF Joaquin Arias

Speaking of banged up teams, the Giants enter the year, a team drastically low on impacting offensive bats, are going to be without Hunter Pence the first few weeks. That's more crucial than LA losing out on Jansen for a month cause Pence is an everyday, middle of the order guy. Assuming Pence is be back mid-April and Cain is closer to his  pre-2013 version, than the Giants should be just fine though. There is still some concern with Hudson turning 40 years of age in July and Peavy looking a bit tired in October last year and coming off a terrible Spring, they certainly have questions of their own in the rotation (that's not even mentioning the enigma that is Tim Lincecum). It's why Brian Sabean brought back Ryan Vogelsong. It wouldn't surprise me to see Romo close a little more to keep Casilla fresh though early in the year. The interesting part will be how Ryan Vogelsong will adapt to being in the pen full-time. On the positive side, they now have two guys in the pen able to step into the rotation and they're both legit options who are in most other teams rotations so there's depth there for sure. The pen will be nice, and the lineup should scrap together enough runs needed. Plus, you know they won't hesitate to go get that missing piece at the deadline if need be.

I sure hope I'm wrong and they end this sill odd-year curse, but they are the lesser talented team of the three now I think, although with a healthy staff, I still think they edge out San Diego. They're gonna have to figure out how they're gonna put runs on the board with regularity after losing Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse, but I think the two players they added (Aoki and McGehee) both have games that should translate well here. It's just that they don't have many guys who can get your 2 or 3 runs with one big swing of the bat and we saw how crucial it was in the playoffs last year with Morse's big jack and in 2012 when Pablo set the tone for the series with that three-homer game vs. Detroit in game one. One guy who can, Brandon Belt, needs to stay healthy for 150 games and the dude could have no problem knocking out 30 and hit .300. So long as they can scrap together some runs like they always seem to do, and Matt Cain and Jake Peavy don't dive off the deep end like Lincecum did in '13, then they should be OK. That is, of course, also assuming the core guys like Pagan, Posey, Pence, McGehee and Belt can stay off the DL for any prolonged period (Pence's used up his to start the year, hopefully that's it for him). If they're close enough by the deadline and need that extra arm of two or another bat, Sabean has shown more than willing to make the addition, so I always favor them when on the fence. Another area they have the rest of the NL West beat is that trade deadline as most their trades tend to work out. You can't say that about the rest of the division, especially LA (Jury's still out on SD's but those were off-season deals anyway so way different story). I see them slightly behind the improved Pads and a little more significantly behind a healthy Dodger team, but a deal here or an injury there could shift everything within these top-three.

Note: Obviously we'll talk much more in our Giants preview coming up when we preview each player and break down the 25-man roster that will enter the season prior to Monday's opener.

4th Place, Colorado Rockies
Top-3 Hitter In Game When On

CF Charlie Blackmon
LF Corey Dickerson
SS Troy Tulowitzki
RF Carlos Gonzalez
3B Nolan Arenado
1B Justin Morneau
C Wilin Rosario/Nick Hundley
2B D.J. LeMahieu

LHP Jorge De La Rosa
RHP Jordan Lyles
RHP Kyle Kendrick
LHP Tyler Matzik
RHP Eddie Butler
SU: LH Rex Brothers
CL: LaTroy Hawkins

Key Reserves: OF Drew Stubbs, IF Daniel Descalso

As always, that lineup will be fun to watch and should score an ample amount of runs, and like always, that pitching staff is going to have their issues pitching half their games in a hitters paradise. Add that to the fact that they don't have many great arms and their pitching should again should be their weakness in 2015. Their bullpen isn't great, and their closer is 42 years of age (although he's still a pretty darn effective relief pitcher while usually pitching in hitters parks over the years). I've always like De La Rosa, and he's seemed to figure out how to succeed at Coors Field, plus there are high hopes for youngsters like Jordan Lyles and Tyler Matzik. If those three all have good years, then the Rockies may be players in this division after all. I mean, they should have no problem whatsoever putting runs on the board, as two studs are both coming off injury shortened years and are starving to put together a full, healthy season. Those two guys are Tulo and CarGo and if those guys play 150 games apiece and others who broke out last season like Blackmon, Dickerson and Arenado further their development, then this may be one of the best offenses in the National League. That's a lot that has to go well though, and though it may happen, I have a hard time seeing them overtaking one of he big-three in this division.

5th Place, Arizona Diamondbacks
Top-5 Power Bat in MLB

CF A.J. Pollock
LF David Peralta
1B Paul Goldschmidt
RF Mark Trumbo
3B Yasmany Tomas*
2B Nick Ahmed
SS Chris Owings
C Tuffy Gosewisch

RH Josh Collmenter
RH Jeremy Hellickson
RH Ruby De La Rosa
RHP Chase Anderson
RHP Randal Delgado/LH Patrick Corbin**/RH Bronson Arroyo**
SU: RH Brad Zieglar
CL: Addison Reed
*Tomas will start year in AAA but expected in Arizona by May
*Both Arroyo and Corbin expected out until at least mid-season (TJ Surgery)

Key Reserves: OF Cody Ross, IF Cliff Pennington, IF Aaron Hill

The D-Backs just don't have near enough talent to keep up with the rest of the division, especially in the pitching department. Their bullpen is average at best and their closer goes through patches when he's easily beatable (but also has his dominant moments too). I mean, Collmenter's their opening day starter, so that goes to show you their rotational depth. Even if Corbin and Arroyo come back, they count on too much out of these guys until maybe late-season if their in the hunt, which is highly unlikely.

Goldschmidt is the real deal, and I like Hellickson, plus I can't wait to see what Tomas does in the majors cause I was totally on board with the Giants giving him a shot and he's come one strong of late. Aaron Hill declined majorly last season (costing him his job to start the year) and although Chris Owings looks like a decent young shortstop and was BA's #66 prospect pre-2014, he hardly seems like a game changing offensive presence. They just don't have the pitching (unless Arroyo and Corbin come back earlier and are strong from the get-go) and don't have quite enough offense to over the lack of it, even with Goldschmidt being a monstor and if Tomas proves himself. I think it's gonna be a long season in the desert.
The Giants Baseball Blog


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