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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

2018 MLB preview/predictions: NL West

Spring Training is over everyone, and in about 24 hours from posting this, we/re going to see what the new look Giants will look like when games start counting for real!

I know we're all still reeling a little from the Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija news. Now there's a chance closer Mark Melancon starts the year on the DL, or at the very least will be on limited duty to start the year, which would add that much more pressure onto the pitching staff. However, if the Giants are truly a team built to win and play in October, they will find a way to survive until they get their two horses back.

Being a Giants site, I'm not gonna lie and say we're not a little biased in picking the Giants to clinch a wild card spot, but if they survive until they get their starters back and Melancon can comfortably throw when needed, then they'll be in position to do just that. Here's how we see the NL West breaking down in 2018.

1st Place, Los Angeles Dodgers

Lineup:
CF Chris Taylor (R)
SS Corey Seager (L)
LF Matt Kemp (R)
1B Cody Bellinger (L)
RF Yasiel Puig (R)
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
3B Logan Forsythe (R)
2B Enrique Hernandez (R)
*3B Justin Turner expected to miss at least first 6 weeks of season

Bench:
C Austin Barnes (R)
OF Joc Pederson (L)
OF Andrew Toles (L)
IF Chase Utley (L)

The Dodgers will be dealing with a tough injury loss as well to star the year, although at nowhere near the level of the Giants losses. Justin Turner could miss the season's first 2 months but there hasn't been an exact timetable set on his return. Still, the Dodgers have plenty enough depth within their lineup to overcome that loss for the time being, They have a nice mixture of youngsters and productive veterans in their starting lineup, with the return of veteran Matt Kemp but led by one of the leagues brightest young sluggers in Cody Bellinger as well as all-star shortstop Corey Seager.

Rotation:
LHP Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw
LHP Alex Wood
RHP Kenta Maeda
LHP Rich Hill
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu

Bullpen:
CL Kenley Jansen RH
SU Josh Fields RH
LHP Tony Cingrani
RHP Pedro Baez

Of course, we all know how strong their rotation is led by perennial Cy Young candidate and the consensus top starter in the game, Clayton Kershaw. Last year, we saw Alex Wood and Rich Hill also pitch at all-star levels so not only are they talented but they are deep. Their bullpen is just about as strong as their rotation too, led by ace closer Kenley Jansen who is essentially the Kershaw of closers. They have five relievers who finished 2017 with an ERA under 3, so if your going to beat them, your going to have to get to them early because not a lot of leads are going to be coughed up by that bunch.

The Dodgers are the head of the one of the best divisions in baseball, so they'll have some heat on them, but they have more than enough talent to outlast everyone in this division, and after finishing a game short a their first World Series ring since 1988, I expect them to be as motivated as ever in 2018.

2nd Place, Arizona Diamondbacks (NL Wild Card #1)
Goldy

Lineup:
LF David Peralta (L)
CF A.J. Pollack (R)
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
3B Jake Lamb (L)
RF Stephen Souza Jr. (L) *(will start season on DL)
2B Chris Owings (R)/Ketel Marte (S)
C Alex Avila (L)
SS Nich Ahmed (R)

Bench:
OF Jarrod Dyson
OF Chris Hermann (L)
UT Daneil Descalso (L)

The D-Backs could not retain free agent J.D. Martinez, who was instrumental in their success last summer and a primary example of what you want a trade deadline acquisition to do for your team. In his stead though, they still should have enough offense to keep pace with most teams in this league and they still have perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt to give opposing pitchers nightmares. The wild card for them could be Steven Souza, who was acquired in spring training coming off a 30-HR campaign with the Rays and potentially building off that in the offensive friendly environment that is Chase Field. They also have a dynamic top of the order with the steady David Peralta and A.J. Pollack as their table setters.

Rotation:
RHP Zach Grienke
LHP Robbie Ray
RHP Taijuan Walker
LHP Patrick Corbin
RHP Zach Godley

Key Relievers:
CL Archie Bradley RH
SU Brad Boxberger RH
RHP Randal Delgado
RHP Yoshihisa Hirano

The D-Backs pitching finally caught up to their offensive abilities last year and that, coupled with the fact that landed the biggest fish on the trade market at the deadline, clinched them a playoff birth. While their bullpen isn't quite on the Rockies' or Dodgers' level, their rotation is much better than Colorado's and right up their with LA's as one of the best in the league. Grienke is still a stud and a true ace heading into his age-35 season and 26 year-old Robbie Ray has emerged as a legit number two behind him. Really every arm in that rotation is live and is capable of shutting down an offense completely when their on. As a testament to their depth, they have Pat Corbin, who was their opening day starter just a couple years ago, in the 4th slot now and he's as good as he's ever been. If Archie Bradley can rise up in his first year as a closer, which all signs point to being a yes, and the guys fall in line behind him in the pen, then they should again be right in that wild card mix and one way or another will claim a spot in the postseason.

3rd Place, San Francisco Giants (Wild Card #2)

Lineup:
2B Joe Panik (L)
1B Brandon Belt (L)
New RF Andrew McCutchen
RF Andrew McCutchen (R)
C Buster Posey (R)
3B Evan Longoria (R)
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
LF Hunter Pence (R)
CF Austin Jackson (R)

Bench:
UT Pablo Sandoval (R)
OF Gregor Blanco (L)
OF Gorkys Hernandez
C Nick Hundley (R)
IF Kelby Tomlinson (R)
*OF Steven Duggar could be up in April depending on how he starts in AAA

Now, this is the lineup that will likely be trotted out there vs. right-handed starters, which will be the majority of the games. When they face lefties, it will be Jackson and Pence in the 1-2 spot, unless of course Bruce Bochy finds a different formula he likes. He has no problem tinkering with things until he thinks he has the optimal lineup. The Giants reached their primary offseason goal though of revamping and upgrading their offense, not to mention they've gotten much better defensively in the process (assuming Pence can handle LF). Hopefully they've gotten all their big injuries out of the way with Bumgarner and Samardzija and in turn, their lineup can stay on the field and if they do they're going to be a strong team. If Pence can play in 140 games his numbers and void those nagging hamstring issues, his numbers will be there in the end. Jackson is coming off a .318/.387/.482 slasher last year in Cleveland and really rakes lefties, not to mention will provide a nice upgrade with the glove over Denard Span in center.

I think McCutchen and Longoria will make a huge impact in this lineup, and I could see each hitting 25 HR and driving in 85+ runs. If they get that kind of production in front of and behind Posey, then it should help increase his numbers as well. They're going to need this offense to be a strength too, at least until their pitching gets back into shape and if their offense can carry them the first month or so, then they should come out of it alright. In addition to Buster hopefully regaining his power stroke, they need Brandon Belt to avoid any more freak head trauma injuries and they need the 'Baby Giraffe' to sort of breakout this season. He's always had way more potential than the numbers have translated to, and hopefully this is the year he hits 25 jacks and, hitting atop the lineup with his OBP, should score a ton of runs. With the new additions and hopefully the returnees bouncing back, scoring runs should be the least of their problems/

Rotation;
RHP Johnny Cueto
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Chris Stratton
LHP Ty Blach
RHP Tyler Beede
*LHP Madison Bumgarner will miss the first 6-8 weeks
*RHP Jeff Samardzija will miss first 3-4 weeks

Bullpen:
CL Mark Melancon
SU Hunter Stickland
LHP Tony Watson
RHP Cory Gearin
LHP Josh Osich
RHP Sam Dyson
RHP Pierce Johnson
RHP Roberto Gomez
*LHP Will Smith will start year on the DL

Now, obviously there's a lot of asterisks surrounding the pitching staff projections because they enter the season with a lot of injuries to some very key guys. However, if they can stay the course, and stick around .500 until they start getting these guys back, which isn't far fetched at all, but will take a collective team effort, then I think it will just give them that much more juice when Shark, Smith and Bumgarner eventually return. Johnny Cueto has to be the 2016 Cueto, Stratton needs to be the pitcher he was when he was moved into the rotation last year and Blach and Holland each need to be much better than they were a season ago. Blach had some nice starts early on but then became tough to watch as he struggled to get the same big league hitters out 2-3 times per game once the league figured him out. He gets by with his command and moxie and he'll need each to be at an all-time high at least through April.

As far as the pen is concerned, I know a lot of question marks surround closer Mark Melancon but I do believe he'll be OK. He may not be the 1.5 ERA guy he was in Pittsburgh but as long as he can stay healthy and be around a 3.00 ERA and a 1.2 WHIP or lower, then he should be just fine and those aren't outlandish goals. He could be much better, but he cannot be any worse. The rest of the bunch isn't top notch, they are good enough. Strickland can be untouchable at times, just has to keep it consistent, and Dyson, who's been a successful closer in this league, got back into his groove when he arrived in SF last summer. Again, at least until they get those three key guys back, they need everyone to perform up to their capabilities, and maybe a guy or two to exceed expectations. The surprises in the pen were Johnson and Gomez, although both really earned it this spring, with Johnson going unscored upon in 8 outings and Gomez punching out 13 batters in 8 innings.

Being a Giants site, and after the work they put in to make their lineup better, I'm probably a little overly optimistic and possibly just a tad biased with this placement and picking them to sneak away with a wild card spot, but hey, why the hell not? At the same time, if they are unable to stay afloat to begin the year and fall out of things by June, then obviously you can swap them with the Rockies, It sure would be fund to see this wild card race though if the Giants are in the mix as the Rockies, D-Backs, Brewers, Cardinals and Mets all have their eye on playoff spots as well and it really could come down to who can get and stay the healthiest..

4th Place, Colorado Rockies


Lineup:
CF Charlie Blackmon (L)
2B D.J. LeMahieu (R)
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
RF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
3B Nolan Arenado
LF Ian Desmond (R)
SS Trevor Story (R)
1B Ryan McMahon (L)
C Chris Iannetta (R)

Bench:
OF David Dahl (L)
OF Raimel Tapia (L)
IF Pat Valaika (R)

The Rockies really did themselves a favor by bringing back Carlos Gonzalez. Without him they wouldn't have sufficient protection for Nolan Arenado, but he really makes his lineup work. The Rockies will always score runs no matter who they're trotting out there though, especially when they're at home. If Story and Desmond each stay healthy and hit like they can, then this lineup should be no exception to that, and they should be able to slug with most teams even on the road. They have two MVP-type players in Blackmon and Arenado and all-star level guys in Story and CarGo and maybe more. Ryan McMahon will get plenty of time to show his worth while Gerardo Parra recovers from surgery, but when Parra gets back, he'll likely slide into left and bump Desmond over to first base. At that point they're lineup will really be dangerous from 1-8 with proven guys and all of which are either 20- homer run per year guys and/or .300+ hitters.

Rotation:
RHP Jon Gray
LHP Tyler Anderson
RHP German Marquez
RHP Chad Bettis
LHP Tyler Freeland

Key Relievers:
CL Wade Davis RH
SU Jake McGee LH
LHP Mike Dunn
RHP Adam Ottavino
RHP Bryan Shaw

The Rockies again should have a pretty strong bullpen, headed up by newly signed closer Wade Davis as they were a big strength for last years playoff run. They don't have a real clear set-up man, but they have about 4 guys who could serve in the role with no problem which is a testament to their depth there. The rotation has some good, live arms, but they need some guys to take steps forward this year in order to really compete with the D-Backs and Dodgers or even the Giants if they can Samardzija back in April and Bumgarner back in May. Jon Gray, while a nice pitcher is more middle of the rotation than ace, and Anderson is more a #3 or #4 guy and the other 3 would be 4's or more likely 5's in better rotations. They can hit, and they can hold leads late in ballgames but they're either going to need that offense a driving force, or some of those guys in the rotation to take that leap forward. After all, they did get off to a great start last year, which is why they made that wild card birth, because they went just 46-52 in their final 98 ball games, and that, more or less, is the same team they're entering 2018 with.

Again, if the Giants cannot survive the injuries they suffered at the end of spring training, then the Rockies will easily overtake them and would then become neck and neck and neck with the Brewers, Mets and D-Backs for the two wild card spots (with St. Louis always a factor as well).

5th Place, San Diego Padres

Lineup:
CF Manuel Margot (R)
1B Eric Hosmer
SS Freddy Galvis (S)
1B Eric Hosmer (L)
RF Wil Myers (R)
LF Jose Pirela (R)
3B Chase Headley (S)
2B Carlos Asuaje (L)
C Austin Hedges (R)

Bench:
UT Christian Villanueva (R)
OF Hunter Renfroe (R)
C A.J. Ellis (R)
IF Cory Spangenberg (L)

Much like their counterpart up north, the Padres added two bats to the middle of their order, including Eric Hosmer who, along with Wil Myers and youngsters Manuel Margot and Jose Pirela, will be the guys who help lead them out of obscurity and back into relevance. That lineup is definitely on the right track too. They have a true, talented leadoff man and a good centerfielder in Margot who's gonna be a 20-20 threat and the 23 year-old's average and on-base numbers should improve over time. Hosmer is a stud, and is only 28, Myers is the same age and similarly talented, although coming off a down year and the guy projected to protect the is Pirela, who has a ton of talent who slashed .288/.347/.490 with 10 jacks, 40 RBI and 25 doubles in about a half-season's worth of at-bats last year. I like the direction they're headed, but unfortunately for them, they're in one of the most talented divisions in baseball, and unless the Giants completely tank again then they will likely finish at the bottom of it. Their offense is the best aspect of their squad though heading in.

Rotation:
LHP Clayton Richard
RHP Dinelson Lamet*
RHP Luis Perdomo
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Tyson Ross
* Lamet will miss first month, LH Robbie Erlin could fill in

Key Relievers:
CL Brad Hand LHP
SU Kirby Yates RHP
RHP Craig Stammen
LHP Buddy Baumann
RHP Kazuhisa Makita

This is the area in which the Pads are still trying to put together. Richard is not an ace by any stretch, and is likely a four or five starter in a decent rotation. Lamet, the one guy with big potential and stuff, has a bum arm and will be out until at least May, which is a big hit to that rotation. The rest of the guys are either reclamation projects or guys who just aren't that good and would struggle to make nearly any other rotation in baseball. It's weird they threw $144M at Hosmer rather then adding a few much needed starters to their rotation, but they probably made that move with 2020 and beyond in mind.

As far as their pen, there not much better than the rotation, although I do like closer Brad Hand, who k'd over 100 batters last year and rocked an 2.16 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. I honestly would trade Melancon for him in a heartbeat, as he's entering his prime, has really come into his own since becoming a reliever full-time and I think he's only going to get better in his first full season as the club's closer. After him though, they have a few live arms, but they don't have a lot of depth, and once again, I don't think they're going to consistently be able to keep teams off the scoreboard nearly enough to be a winning ball club or even overtake the banged up Giants. Yes, the lineup is halfway decent, but this staff is just not nearly up to par, plain and simple.
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The Giants Baseball Blog
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2 Comments:

  • At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Jason Billingsley said…

    The Giants will be a wild card team even with the injuries. Mark my words! Their lineup is solid and their bullpen will be better than people think. I mean really, if they get lucky, they'll only miss Madison for like 6 or 7 starts and Samardzija for 2 or 3. That's 10 games at most that they have to find a way to win at lest half of, and then those guys should be back. It just sucks that it happened right at the start of the season when we all have these big hopes for the Giants in another even year.

    But I'm holding faith, lesgo Giants! Can't wait for tomorrow then for next week when I get to see Cutch and Longoria and Jackson for the first time up close at the yard.

    I just don't see management letting them be losers this year. They're gonna trade for who they have to trade for or make the moves they have to in order to win, I fully believe that and I think we're gonna come out on top.

    And having Baker in town again is so awesome. In whatever role, he's a great baseball guy and should bring a lot to the front office.

    -J_Bill

     
  • At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's gonna be a fun year. Sucks sooo bad that Madbum is out to start the year, but I never really looked at it like it's really only gonna be 10 starts or something like that that these guys end up missing. THat's a small portion of 162 games so like you said, if they can't figure out a way to survive those games and are way out of it by the time the ace gets back then they probably have no business in the playoff race anyway. D-Backs and Rockies are both much younger and aren't as banged up. The Dodgers are just loaded with talent, so they're not going anywhere. Kershaw missed 5 starts last year and 11 in '16 and the Dodgers didn't miss a beat. If Bum misses 8 this year, if the Giants are good enough they should figure out how to navigate through that. And I don't think it's biased to pick them to take the 2nd wild card. When healthy, they're better than the Rocks I think and better than Milwaukee and St Louis. That's my opinion, I know, but I just have a feeling the Giants are going to be up to the task this year and will prevail through the first month or 2 until they're healthy and ready to go full force for the last 4 months.

     

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