The Dodgers have to be considered heavy favorites to win the NL West crown, possibly the pennant. Under this current ownership group, the Dodgers have reasserted themselves as a relevant championship-caliber ballclub. But after a second straight playoff dismantling at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Dodgers made some fairly significant changes during the offseason. The overhaul began in the front office with the additions of Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi, and Josh Byrnes. The Dodgers allowed moody malcontent Hanley Ramirez to leave via free agency and traded away 2B Dee Gordon, SP Dan Haren, and CF Matt Kemp. In return, the Dodgers added lefty-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal, 2B Howie Kendrick, and former NL MVP Jimmy Rollins to play shortstop. The flurry of moves also opens up a spot for top prospect Joc Pederson to play in center. Up the middle, the Dodgers defense should be much improved after ranking in the bottom third in fielding percentage in 2014.
But fear not: the Dodgers still have plenty of star wattage. Clayton Kershaw will look to press on as the best pitcher on the planet. And co-ace Zack Greinke continues to roll along as well. With these two at the front of the rotation, don’t expect many long losing streaks. A spring injury to Hyun-Jin Ryu has created an opening in the rotation, putting more pressure on offseason additions Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. If healthy, Anderson could put up fantastic numbers. The offense will be spear-headed by the effervescent Yasiel Puig, a truly remarkable talent. As he continues to refine his game, expect Puig to be a part of the MVP discussion for years to come.
The main competition for the Dodgers will likely come from a newly revamped Padres ballclub, helmed by flashy new GM AJ Preller. In a matter of weeks after being named to his post, Preller dealt away Grandal and a bevy of prospects in order to land catcher Derek Norris, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, and outfielders Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers. And a few weeks later, Preller struck again to fortify the rotation through the signing of free agent SP James Shields, whose presence rounds out an impressive starting five including 2014 All-Star Tyson Ross, flame throwing Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy (200Ks in ’14), and former Blue Jay Brandon Morrow. All of these moves leave the Padres with too many outfielders; perhaps Preller can continue to work the phones and find a trade partner interested in Will Venable, Cameron Maybin, or Carlos Quentin. But these new look Padres should be wild-card relevant for 2015. And as the Giants proved last year, all you need is a shot.
Speaking of the Giants, it’s an odd year, so expect them to fall back to mediocrity in ’15. Sure, they still have Madison Bumgarner, but the rest of the rotation is riddled with question marks. Can Matt Cain return to his pre-injury form? How much do Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy have left in the tank? And can Tim Lincecum be relied on at this stage of his career? Losing OF Hunter Pence for a significant period of time in the early going really hurts this offense that will also have to deal with the offseason departures of Pablo Sandoval and Mike Morse. Replacing them are Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki, solid but unspectacular veterans. I think the Giants will struggle to score runs and I just don’t see them having enough pitching to contend this year.
This we know: the bottom two teams in this division are among the worst in the majors. The Rockies and Diamondbacks will have the luxury of beating up on each other, so that might pad the win total for one club. But these teams are bad. You’d be hard pressed to fill out a major league rotation if you combined both teams.
But that sounds like a fun exercise. Here’s what a Rock-backs lineup could look like:
CF A.J. Pollock
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Paul Goldschmidt
3B Nolan Arenado
LF Carlos Gonzalez
RF Mark Trumbo
2B Christopher Owings
C Wilin Rosario
They’d still lose every game 10-8, but this would be a fun team to watch…during batting practice at least.
Seriously, these teams are pretty awful with very little shot at contending. I expect the Diamondbacks to finish in last since the Rockies pitching staff is better by the slightest of hairs.
In all, I think the Dodgers roll to a third straight division crown with San Diego being a part of the wild-card conversation. Otherwise, nothing much to see here.