2017 NL West Preview: Pitching or Hitting? Choose One
With Spring Training in full swing, it’s getting time to get back into baseball mode. This is part of a season primer series, that’ll take you through what to watch for over the course of the season.
All season, everyone everywhere outside of San Francisco was lamenting that it was an even year, and the Giants were inevitably going to win the World Series.
However, it didn’t really come close to coming true, with the Giants finishing runner up the Dodgers yet again in the division.
The NL West has been for the most part the Giants and Dodgers and everyone else for the last few years.
The Padres have been rebuilding since it seems like forever, the Diamondbacks have made some questionable trades and are recovering, and the Rockies have been plagued by poor pitching and haven’t seen the playoffs in almost a decade.
Last season, the Rockies have made steps in the right direction, but not much else has happened in the way of improvement. It leads to an interesting division to watch in 2017.
Coming into this season: Last winter, the Diamondbacks seemed like they were gearing up for a run at the playoffs. They signed former Dodger Zack Greinke for big money, and traded prospects to reinforce the rotation with Shelby Miller from the Braves.
However, things fell apart dramatically.
Greinke had a sub-par season for his standards, the rest of the rotation pitched more or less poorly, and their bullpen didn’t help things at all, giving up the most runs in baseball.
They lost star AJ Pollock for the season during the spring, and the rest was history. A resurgence by Jean Segura and another MVP caliber season by Paul Goldschmidt couldn’t save the season.
The D-Backs’ big move was acquiring Taijuan Walker from Seattle, but gave up Jean Segura and prospect Mitch Haniger for him. Unless the rotation turns it around, expect a bumpy 2017 in the desert.
Storyline to watch: Can they outhit their pitching staff’s mistakes? The Diamondbacks as is are not built for success.
They have some decent lineup depth, with Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, and Yasmany Tomas, and Brandon Drury broke out last year.
But after giving up the most runs in the MLB last year, they need more firepower on offense to do that.
X-Factor: Taijuan Walker. We know Zack Greinke is an ace, but he didn’t look much like one for a good chunk of last year. He also got no help behind him in the rotation.
The D-Backs gave up a lot for Walker, and he needs to come through for the Snakes to have a chance. Otherwise, this could turn into Shelby Miller 2.0.
Bold prediction: Last place battle, and another season of buyer’s remorse.
Coming into this season: The Rockies have long been all offense, no pitching in their history, and last year was no different. They finished top 3 in both runs scored and runs given up.
Given they play half their games in the hitting paradise of Coors Field, that’s kind of expected.
The Rockies last season had 7 players in double digit home runs, NL and MLB batting champ DJ LeMahieu, and most of their other regulars hit .270 plus, but had a pitching staff that wasn’t good enough to keep up with the other teams hitting bombs too.
Their big addition this winter was Ian Desmond, a strong hitter who will play first for them. The lineup is stacked top to bottom, and if they can pitch, they can win lots of games.
Storyline to watch: Will the Rockies sell on Carlos Gonzalez and/or Charlie Blackmon? Both of these outfield studs have been peddled around on the market recently, but the asking price was (wait for it) a Mile High...ok I’ll see myself out now.
But both guys are coming off big seasons again, and both are in the prime of their career. Value has never been higher, but the Rockies might contend soon. Something to think about for the Rockies’ braintrust.
X-Factor: Trevor Story. The rookie Rockie shortstop came in with a bang, hitting 6 home runs in his first 4 games in the majors.
He played admirably, but lost the last 2 months of the season to injury. He had a high strikeout rate, leading the team even with missing those games.
If he can cut down on those but keep the power, he makes this lineup even scarier.
Bold prediction: League leaders in runs scored and runs given up, and finish just over .500, because Colorado.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Coming into this season: The Dodgers had another fine season in 2016, winning the division again. Corey Seager had a phenomenal first season in the bigs, leading the team in hitting, one homer shy of the pace in home runs, and did that all at age 22.
You also can’t talk about the Dodgers without mentioning Clayton Kershaw, who, while missing time with injury, again was untouchable, with mind boggling numbers to show for it (1.69 ERA, K/BB ratio of 15.64, I could go on). But they met the magical Cubs in the NLCS, and we all know how that ended.
They picked up Logan Forsythe from the Rays, and managed to keep most of the rest of the team intact from last year to this year, which is a good thing.
The biggest departure was Vin Scully, legendary broadcaster, who will be missed by all.
Storyline to watch: When will the Dodgers finally take that next step? It seems as if the Dodgers have been favorites to win the NL for the last few years, but have met this confusing creature called the playoffs, and couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around it.
They have a deep lineup and deeper pitching staff, but they just have issues putting everything together.
X-Factor: Andrew Toles. The young outfielder came in late in the season, but put up a very admirable performance, hitting .314, and made a great case for being a long term solution in the outfield across from Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig.
Having a guy who can hit consistently at the top of the lineup is always important.
Bold prediction: NL Champs again, but more playoff trouble. Kershaw walks less than 20 hitters all season.
San Diego Padres
Coming into this season: The last time the Padres saw playoff baseball was 2006, and have won exactly 1 playoff game since winning the NLCS in 1998. The last time the Padres saw .500 was 2010.
One would think that after this long, something’s gotta give for the Friars. They do have some interesting pieces coming into play during the 2016 season, though.
Wil Myers finally showed the promise he had as a Royals prospect and Rays up-and-comer. Yangervis Solarte put in another fine season, and Hunter Renfroe showed a week of big hitting potential in late September.
But somehow, in a pitcher friendly environment, the staff was not very good. Their new top pitcher is Jered Weaver, who can’t throw much harder than 80, so this might be another cringeworthy season in San Diego.
Storyline to watch: Is Hunter Renfroe’s power for real? He showed up for a couple of weeks in September, and hit 4 homers in a couple of days, one landing on the roof of Western Metal Supply (a building built into Petco Park).
If this is a sign of what’s to come, the Padres might finally have unearthed a gem prospect.
X-Factor: Jered Weaver. He leads a pitching staff built on names few outside of San Diego’s front office have heard of. The soft-tosser comes in with a recent history of giving up many home runs.
If he can keep the ball in the yard, he can be a decent stopper for the Padres. Big if, though.
Bold prediction: Last place battle, and another season of general remorse, but nice weather.
San Francisco Giants
Coming into this season: For the first time since 2008, the Giants didn’t win the World Series in an even year, which was the storyline for many playoff predictions last season.
It’s not like the team wasn’t built for success, though. They had a very solid top 3 in the rotation, in Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, and a slap-happy lineup that seems to get hits at the right times. They ran into choppy waters after the All Star break, and never quite recovered from that.
They since reinforced their bullpen with Mark Melancon, and seem retooled for a bounce back season in 2017.
Storyline to watch: Can the lineup score enough? Seems like a silly question, with names like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Hunter Pence pencilled in every day, but the team lacks big punch in the lineup.
No one hit more than 17 home runs, no one hit .300, and even Madison Bumgarner had an off year at the dish.
The pitching is there, but offense is key for the Giants.
X-Factor: Brandon Crawford. He’s the backbone of the defense at shortstop, and had a very good season at the plate. He’ll probably be leaned on more offensively this season, especially if the big bats can’t stay on the field, or struggle for a bit.
We know the glove is there, but the bat will be especially important this year.
Bold prediction: Wild Card game again, and another year without a 20 home run guy.
San Francisco (WC)