Well, this division certainly made a lot of noise in the offseason, didn’t it? San Diego acquired seemingly every available slugging outfielder not named Cespedes. The Dodgers retooled the front office and subsequently, a large chunk of the roster. The overachieving Giants and their best-in-the-game manager Bruce Bochy are coming off yet another surprising World Series championship.
But let’s start with the bottom. The Diamondbacks and Rockies were terrible last year, and that doesn’t figure to change. For the 20 something year in a row the Rockies still don’t have any pitching, and even if Jon Gray and Eddie Butler break out, it’s not enough. The D Backs are now led by Chip Hale, and have added Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas, and while some of their young guys (see: Enciarte, Ender; Peralta, David; Owings, Chris) look like future studs, they’re still a couple of years away. Neither of these teams will factor.
With only a hint of sarcasm, the poor Giants. They lose the Panda to free agency, Hunter Pence to a broken arm for a while, Angel Pagan’s back is reportedly a concern, and their rotation is counting heavily on Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy, combined age over 70. Bochy can work magic, but look for a big step back this year. The Padres were serious about improving their putrid offense. Enter Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, and Derek Norris, and to a lesser degree, Will Middlebrooks. Their starting pitching remains a strength, if on potential alone. They might very well miss Huston Street, however, at the back end of ballgames. Very quietly, he has been baseball’s most effective closer for the last three years.
Projected Winner: The Dodgers. They just have a spectacularly good starting rotation, even if the criminally underrated Hyun Jin Ryu’s barking shoulder keeps him out the first month. There are very few lineup questions, if any, (the Pads still don’t know if Yonder Alonso, Tommy Medica, Carlos Quentin, or a Partridge in a Pear Tree will be starting at first base, or whether its Middlebrooks or Yangervis Solarte at third) and the departures of Brian Wilson and Chris Perez give Don Mattingly fewer catastrophic options to insist on using in high leverage situations out of the pen – even if closer Kenley Jansen misses the first 4-6 weeks after foot surgery. The Padres will keep it interesting, but probably finish four or five games back at the end of the season.
Is there a Wild Card, perhaps?: It’s not outside the realm of imagination, that’s for sure. The Padres have a good shot. Here’s why: The NL Central has the Cardinals, Pirates, and an improved Cubbies team that figure to contend. The Reds are still potent enough to play some spoiler, and the Brewers, while probably ticketed for a last place finish, shouldn’t be walkovers. That division could beat up on itself and struggle record-wise. Meanwhile, teams like the Padres and, perhaps, the Marlins in the NL East can fatten up against legitimate bottom dwellers in their divisions and lock down one of the two wild cards. Will they? The magic eight ball says check back with us in July for a clearer picture.