As we approach the 2018 season, our beloved Dodgers are favorites to win their 6th straight National League West crown. They do have to play the games, however, and there are four other teams in the division who aren’t just going to hand deliver the title to Los Angeles. Both wild card teams (Rockies and Diamondbacks) came from our division, so it’s not like the West is replete with pushovers like SOME OTHER DIVISIONS AROUND THE GAME! So, considering we play each divisional opponent 18 times during the season, it’s worth taking a look at who improved.
San Francisco Giants. Before you start screaming sacrilege at me, it’s not like they could have gotten any worse. The 2017 season saw them lose key contributors like Madison Bumgarner, Mark Melancon, Brandon Belt, and Hunter Pence to injury for significant parts of the year. And in terms of off-season moving and shaking, their significant additions (Andrew McCutcheon and Evan Longoria) are certainly better than their significant departures (ummm…Denard Span maybe?).
Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria are not the superstars they once were. But they’re far better than the guys they replaced. The expectation is also that Bumgarner will not be four-wheeling on his off days this year. There is also a presumption that the other guys have better injury luck this year than last. Mostly because it can’t really get much worse. All of that gives you a recipe for a fairly significant improvement. Enough to make the playoffs?
Enough to not be a push-over and possibly play spoiler at the end of the season?
San Diego Padres. Go on. Laugh. Believe it or not, the Padres played close to .500 ball after May last season. The baseball pundit-o-sphere mocked the Eric Hosmer 8-year deal. While the wisdom of such a lengthy contract for a good-but-not-great player can be debated, it’s hard to dispute that having Hosmer at first and Wil Myers in a corner outfield spot is an improvement over 2017. Add in the awful Erick Aybar getting replaced by the capable Freddy Galvis as Fernando Tatis Jr.’s seat warmer, and you have more upward movement.
Trading Yangervis Solarte was a bit of a head scratcher, but the drop off to Carlos Asuaje shouldn’t be a steep one. The only real pitching departure of note is Jhoulys Chacin. Chacin exceeded his usual standard of batting practice tosser in 2017. Either Chris Young, Tyson Ross or the intriguing Matt Strahm could slide into his vacated rotation slot without too much fuss.
As strange as it sounds, they could win 80 games. It won’t get them in the playoffs, but they’re no longer a Marlins-level doormat for everyone else in the division to beat up on.
Colorado Rockies. If you were surprised at the Rockies’ playoff run in 2017, you were in good company. I am equally surprised by the Rockies’ relative inactivity this off-season, considering how close they are to being terrifying. Wade Davis and Brian Shaw are good gets for the bullpen, but productive veterans like Tyler Chatwood and Mark Reynolds departed. Weirdly, I wouldn’t have minded Giancarlo Stanton going to the Mile High City because how great would that fireworks show be? But that didn’t happen.
Though, it is Colorado so someone is going to hit a ton of home runs. Rotation questions remain, and in the unlikely event the Rockies go out and sign Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb, they can move up into the “Improved” category. Until then, the questions will persist and could become their undoing. We’ll see.
The, uh, Got Worse Teams
Los Angeles Dodgers. What!? Look, I ain’t lyin’. Our very own Blake Coble did an excellent job reviewing the Dodger off-season already, so no need for me to spend a lot of time on it here. Read Blake’s well-researched take, but in short, the departed Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson project to be worth more wins than the arrived Scott Alexander, Matt Kemp and Tom Koehler. No offense intended to those guys.
Arizona Diamondbacks. Their place in this category is mainly thanks to the Boston Red Sox doing the Lord’s work. They took the second half home run machine JD Martinez far far away from any place the Dodgers are likely to see him soon. And this is good, because 80 percent of our projected starting rotation is freaking left-handed.
Closer Fernando Rodney, who was way less ruinously awful against the rest of baseball than he was against the Dodgers, also departed for less brown but much colder pastures. New arrivals Steve Souza, Brad Boxberger and Yoshihisa Hirano are all decent gets but empirically, JD dingers > decent.
So, what do you think? Lavish praise can be tweeted @thestainsports. Scalding criticism should go to @knudervalve. Thanks for reading!