As the MLB season marches on into the dog days of summer and Dodger Stadium joins the ranks of many leaguewide venues welcoming full fan capacities, it’s as good a time as any to take a closer look at the current state of the National League West.
It’s no secret that the Dodgers have owned the division for the better part of a decade, winning eight consecutive division titles and advancing to three World Series, finally winning it all in 2020. While the Dodgers remain a strong favorite to win the division in 2021, they’ve yet to separate themselves with now fewer than 100 games remaining on the schedule.
There are 95 Dodger games left in the regular season. Wild.
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) June 16, 2021
As it stands, the divisional race has already narrowed to three teams. Colorado and Arizona weren’t expected to contend for the division in 2021, and certainly don’t look any more poised to do so now. For the Diamondbacks, it’s been a season of disarray – by the time the Dodgers first battled Arizona in May, the roster was a shell of what it was once projected to be (in the eyes of some, a .500 ballclub). Arizona’s starting pitching has been especially decimated. At present, they’re without ace Zac Gallen, the expensive Madison Bumgarner, Luke Weaver, and Taylor Widener, none of whom have a targeted date of return yet.
They’ve also lost 20 consecutive road games, last winning one in Atlanta on April 25.
The Diamondbacks came into today losers of 20 straight road games. The longest streak in 57 years.
They went up 7-0 on the Giants early.
They just gave up that lead in the 8th thanks to a Grand Slam.
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) June 16, 2021
Needless to say, the Dodgers’ trip to Phoenix this weekend is an opportunity to make hay in the divisional race as the Giants host Philadelphia.
For Colorado, one could argue the season has gone better than expected despite their 26-41 record at time of writing. They may have gotten a better pitcher in their return for Nolan Arenado than they anticipated in Austin Gomber, who dominated San Diego through 8 scoreless innings on Monday night at Coors Field to improve to 6-5 with a 3.54 ERA. The Rockies don’t hit right-handed pitching at all, and their offense has been as silent on the road as it has for several years (wRC+ of 59!!!). The tough pill to swallow in Colorado is that the organization hasn’t shown much of an interest in investing to win, something Rockies fans hope will change somewhere down the line.
The Dodgers’ real competition in the National League West is all in-state.
In San Francisco, Farhan Zaidi has somehow managed to build a contender out of cheap castaways and homegrown players seeing a sudden career revival. Each 34 years old, Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey are both posting career-best seasons with respective OPS+’s of 146 and 171. In Posey’s case, his OPS+ through June 15 matches the number he finished with in his 2012 MVP campaign. On the pitching side, bargain investments Alex Wood and Kevin Gausman have headlined a staff outperforming all expectations. Gausman especially has been a revelation for San Francisco, trailing only Jacob deGrom among qualified MLB starters with a microscopic 1.43 ERA. While the Giants’ 41-25 start is a remarkable step forward for the franchise, I do think it’s worth questioning their ability to maintain this pace as the season goes along.
Rarely are preseason predictions *this* wrong, and my best guess is that the regression monster is looming down the road for Frisco.
That of course brings us to San Diego, currently trailing the Dodgers by three games and the consensus most likely team to battle Los Angeles for the divisional throne in 2021. The Padres, whose fans famously try their darnedest to discredit the Dodgers 2020 championship after throwing their own Wild Card covid parade in Gaslamp Quarter, continued their fervent push to add as many pieces as possible to dethrone LA this past offseason. Adding Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to a talented staff including Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger makes for a potentially dangerous foursome.
If, of course, they’re ever healthy at the same time.
Clevinger won’t factor at all into San Diego’s 2021 run after Tommy John surgery, and Dinelson Lamet is only now beginning to pitch a starter’s load of innings as he returns from injury as well. Yu Darvish has delivered so far on the investment San Diego made in him, sporting an excellent 2.28 ERA through 13 starts in 2021. Blake Snell, however, hasn’t lived up to the hype or succeeded in his quest to pitch deeper into games as a Padre as he did as a Tampa Bay Ray. He’s recorded three total outs in the 7th inning this season, and his 4.97 ERA and 1.47 WHIP don’t look like the numbers of anything close to an ace.
At 38-30, San Diego remains firmly in contention – unlike the Giants, however, regression to expectation would yield an improving Padres team as they get healthier in the coming weeks. As the Dodgers head to San Diego starting Monday, they’ll look to continue what has been a frustrating June for the Padres (4-9) and construct an even higher mountain for San Diego to climb in the division. After all, a second-place divisional finish could mean a one-game playoff against Jacob deGrom or Brandon Woodruff. In any event, there’s no window for complacency on the field or at the trade deadline for the Dodgers in what appears to be as competitive an NL West as we’ve seen in years.