The NL West is far from baseball’s most competitive division entering the 2019 season, but there is still significant intrigue surrounding all five teams.
The hierarchy in the division starts with the six-time reigning division champion Dodgers and extends down from there. Based on this past offseason, it’s clear some teams seem to be going up (Padres) while others appear to be headed for a slide (Diamondbacks).
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With that said, here are the biggest strengths and weaknesses for the NL West teams heading into the season, along with one question surrounding each.
Weakness: Bullpen Depth
Recent history suggests that the NL West is the Dodgers and then everybody else. That’s not far-fetched, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Los Angeles has the division’s best roster on paper, but if that’s how it’s decided then why even play the season? We saw in 2018 that a pair of favorites — the National and Cubs — failed to lock up their divisions, so who’s to say no other NL West foe can reach the Dodgers’ level?
The biggest factor standing in LA’s way is its bullpen — whether it blows up or sees its health — which has been an issue in the past — impeded to a severe degree. Counting on the Dodgers to be among the league’s healthier teams is like counting on Netflix to improve its movie selection.
Some reinforcements have been made, but most of the Dodgers’ nucleus from their back-to-back World Series runs is still in place. Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Manny Machado are all gone from the 2018 lineup, but A.J. Pollock and a healthy Corey Seager will help fill that void. 2018 World Series champion Joe Kelly has also been added to the bullpen.
The Diamondbacks have gotten weaker, the Padres’ peak likely won’t come immediately, so it looks like the Rockies are the Dodgers’ biggest threat, but more on that later. As it stands now, the Dodgers are the clear team to beat for their seventh straight NL West triumph, but don’t act like no other possibility exists.
Strength: Top of the rotation
If the Diamondbacks’ movements this offseason tell us anything, it’s that the rebuild is on in Phoenix.
Pollock is gone. As is MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and All-Star Patrick Corbin. It’s not looking great for the Diamondbacks, who experienced a resurgence over the past two seasons, and they could struggle with their new-look roster.
Rebuilds take time, of course, but the results this season may not be what Diamondbacks fans have come to expect. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray are encouraging presences at the top of the rotation, and David Peralta and Eduardo Escobar are solid hitters with All-Star potential, but the bright spots don’t extend much further.
It’s tough to see the Diamondbacks finishing with a winning record unless a lot of things go right, and where they are at near midseason could determine whether other veterans get shopped as well.
Strength: Coors Field-aided lineup
Weakness: Bullpen, excluding the back end
Question: Can the Rockies surpass the Dodgers?
Two straight trips to the NL wild card game is encouraging for the Rockies, but they surely want to achieve more than that.
Colorado won’t have to deal with any contract-year distractions for Nolan Arenado after locking him up for eight more years. Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon have broken onto the scene the past two years, and offseason acquisition Daniel Murphy should only help matters.
The offense is rock solid — no pun intended — so any leap forward for the Rockies will likely come down to their pitching staff. German Marquez and Kyle Freeland established themselves as reliable arms, but if they carry their success into 2019 that could go a long way. Former No. 3 overall pick Jon Gray finally living up to his potential would also be a welcome scenario for Colorado.
Big-money bullpen acquisitions Wade Davis, Seung-Hwan Oh and Scott Oberg can be an effective 7-8-9 in the bullpen, and if Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee can turn it around after disappointing seasons, it would help the Rockies make that sought-after next step.
RIVERA: 19 questions for 2019 season
Strength: Manny Machado
Question: Can Machado plus top prospects put it together in 2019?
We pretty much know Manny Machado will produce.
Outside of him, it’s valid to ponder whether San Diego will have enough to pose any sort of postseason threat — at least for 2019. San Diego has baseball’s best farm system and has 10 players in MLBPipeline’s Top 100 prospects, but not all of them will make an immediate impact. Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias and Franciscio Arcia may all contribute offensively this year, but the pitching is thin.
Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer are among those likely to be slotted into the Padres’ Opening Day rotation, and even if top prospect Chris Paddack gets a spot, his presence alone isn’t enough to mask the lack of pitching depth. Like with the offense, prospects are lurking, but 2019 may be too early for everything to come together.
Regardless of how the Padres perform in 2019, their outlook is much sunnier than the past few years, and it’s tough to dispute how bright their future is. Don’t freak out if success doesn’t come right away.
Question: What’s the ceiling of a healthy Giants team?
It would have been a stretch to say a postseason run could have happened for the Giants last year, but an assortment of injuries to almost all of their regulars prevented us from knowing what they could have been.
They enter the 2019 season nearly at full health, save for Johnny Cueto’s recovery from Tommy John surgery, which will sideline him for the entire year, and second-year players Dereck Rodriguez and Steven Duggar flashed their potential in 2018.
An offense with Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford can at least hold its own, another reason for Giants fans to believe they can be competitive with better health.
The talent may not be there for the Giants to compete with the Dodgers or the Rockies, but at the very least there is hope they could improve on the 93.5 loss total they’ve averaged the past two seasons.
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