2018 NL West Preview

Top to bottom, this may be the best division in baseball. Last season, three of these teams played in the postseason, and there’s a good chance that the same three teams will be fighting for a chance to win the World Series again this year.

1st Place: Los Angeles Dodgers 2017 record: 104-58, first in NL West, lost in World Series to Houston My 2018 prediction: 100-62 Key acquisitions: Matt Kemp (OF), Key departures: Yu Darvish (RHP), Brandon Morrow (RHP), Tony Watson (LHP), Curtis Granderson (OF), Brandon McCarthy (RHP), Adrian Gonzalez (1B)

The team that won the most games in the MLB last season. The team that was one win away from being crowned World Series Champions. These Dodgers are an interesting team. They lost a lot of talent in the off-season, and yet, they are still arguably the best team in the NL. The catcher situation in Los Angeles is pretty good, as Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes are one of the best duos in the league. Last season, if you add their numbers together, they combined for 30 home runs, 96 RBI and a .261 batting average. To get that sort of production from behind the plate is incredible. At first base is the 2017 unanimous NL Rookie of the Year, Cody Bellinger. It truly was a remarkable rookie season for Bellinger. He wasn’t called up until the end of April, he played his first game on April 25th, and still ended up hitting 39 home runs. As talented as Bellinger is, there’s a good chance that he sees some regression in his sophomore campaign. I still think he has 30 or more home runs, but I don’t he’s going to be as much of an offensive force as he was last season. I do hope that he proves me wrong though, I’m a big fan of his, and his swing is already one of my favourites in the league. This team has the reigning Rookie of the Year at first, so who do they have at short stop? None other than the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager. This will be Seager’s age 24 season, and he already has 329 major league games under his belt. Over those games, he has a slash line of .305/.374/.502. In the past two seasons, since becoming a full-time MLB player, he’s averaged 176 hits, 24 home runs and 74 RBI a season. With two of the most promising young players in all of baseball on the same team, the Dodgers have a lot to look forward to for the next decade. Since becoming a Dodger, Justin Turner has had one of the biggest career turnarounds I’ve seen. From 2009 to 2013, playing with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets, Turner played 318 games, hit a total of 8 home runs, 89 RBI and slashed .260/.323/.361. Since joining the Dodgers in 2014, Turner has played 516 games, with 71 home runs, 264 RBI and slashed .303/.378/.502. His averages over the past two seasons have been great; 24 home runs, 80 RBI and a .296/.375/.209 slash line. Unfortunately for Turner and the Dodgers, he suffered a fractured wrist last week after being hit by a pitch in a Spring Training game. He’s expected to miss a month or two of action, which isn’t too bad in the grand scheme of things, since he’ll still have a chance of playing close to 100 games, along with the postseason. In left field will be a familiar face for Dodgers fans. After being traded following the 2014 season, Matt Kemp is making his return to Los Angeles. Kemp was acquired in a trade from Atlanta earlier this off-season and has been on an absolute tear in Spring Training. 2017 was a bad year for Kemp, but it followed two solid seasons. Kemp is accustomed to hitting around 25 home runs and 90 or so RBI, and if he can come close to that in his Dodger return, he has a chance to completely change how opponents approach this lineup. Chris Taylor had a big time breakout season in 2017. From 2014 to 2017, with the Seattle Mariners and 34 games with the Dodgers, Taylor had a total of 68 hits, 1 home run, 17 RBI, 9 stolen bases and a .234/.289/.309 slash line in 120 games. In 2017 alone, in 140 games, Taylor had 148 hits, 21 home runs, 72 RBI, 17 stolen bases and a .288/.354/.496 slash line. Taylor also played very well in the postseason, as he was named the co-MVP, along with Justin Turner, of the NLCS. Much like Kemp, but in a completely different way, Taylor has a chance to completely change this lineup if he can replicate his 2017 performance. In right field is one of most polarizing figures in baseball today, Yasiel Puig. There aren’t many players in the league who are as fun to watch as Puig is. I think it’s fair to say that Puig hasn’t lived up to expectations, especially when you consider how great he was in his first two seasons. But, last year, it seemed that Puig may have figured things out, and it will be interesting to see if he can become the player that he was expected to be.

Clayton Kershaw is only 29 years old, and he is already one of the best pitchers of all time. Since 2011, Kershaw has won three Cy Young awards, and has finished 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 2nd in the seasons that he didn’t win. Kershaw puts up video game numbers on a yearly basis. Since that 2011 season, he has averaged a 17-6 record, with a 2.10, I repeat, a 2.10 ERA, with 232 strikeouts a season. To put that in context, none of Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber or Chris Sale have ever had a season with a 2.10 ERA. Think about that for a second; Kershaw’s seven year average is better than any single season that three of the four best pitchers on the planet have accomplished. In that time, his worst ERA- has been 67, which is better than most pitchers’ best season. He truly is one of the best of all time, but he needs to translate his regular season success to the postseason. It’s fascinating how somebody who is so good in the regular season can have as little postseason success as he’s had. On top of that, he’s had to deal with a few injuries over the past couple of seasons that should be a cause for concern going into this year. But as long as he can stay healthy, he’ll be a front runner for his fourth Cy Young, which would break his tie with Max Scherzer for the most among active players. In his first 16 games of 2017, Alex Wood was 11-0 with an ERA of 1.56. In the last 11 games of the year, he went 5-3 with an ERA of 4.25. Up until last year, Wood had never been anything special at the big league level, until this past season when something clearly clicked. Despite the poor performance at the end of the season, he proved to be a great compliment for Kershaw in this rotation, and seems to be in a good position to have close to as good of a season as he did last year. Rich Hill is one of my favourite stories in the league at the moment. Since 2010, here’s a list of all the transactions that Hill has gone through:

January 26, 2010: Signed minor league deal with St. Louis June 30, 2010: Elected free agency, signed minor league deal with Boston December 16, 2010: Signed minor league deal with Boston December 12, 2011: Elected free agency December 13, 2011: Signed minor league deal with Boston November 30, 2012: Elected free agency February 7, 2013: Signed minor league deal with Cleveland January 29, 2014: Signed with Boston July 1: 2014: Traded to the Los Angeles Angels July 9, 2014: Released by Los Angeles July 16, 2014: Signed minor league deal with the New York Yankees October 30, 2014: Elected free agency February 28, 2015: Signed minor league deal with Washington June 24, 2015: Released by Syracuse (Triple-A affiliate of Washington) August 14, 2015: Signed minor league deal with Boston November 2, 2015: Elected free agency November 20, 2015: Signed with Oakland August 1, 2016: Traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers November 3, 2016: Elected free agency December 5, 2016: Signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers

As you can see, an unfathomable amount of signings, trades and releases. The craziest part is that I only went back to 2010 for this article, even though he made his major league debut in 2005. However, if you asked him, I’m sure he would say it’s all worth it. All of those transactions built up to December 5th, 2016, when the Dodgers signed Hill, who was 36 years old at the time, to a 3 year, $48 million contract. Hill is now 38 years old, and is still proving to be a very good major league pitcher. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged a 12-6 record with an ERA of 2.78. Teams would love that sort of production out of guys in their mid-20s, let alone a guy who’s itching towards 40. Like I said, Hill is a great story, and will look to have a third consecutive successful season. Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu are expected to finish off this rotation, and while neither of them are anything special, they should prove to once again be decent back of the rotation guys. In the bullpen, the team suffered a big loss when Brandon Morrow went to the Cubs. Morrow was their go-to pitcher in the postseason, pitching in 14 of 15 games, including all seven World Series games. However, as long as this team has Kenley Jansen, their bullpen is going to be just fine. Jansen has been about as dominant as a reliever can be over the past few years. Since becoming the full-time closer in 2012, Jansen has averaged 37 saves, an ERA of 2.07 and 101 strikeouts per season. Over those six seasons, he has only blown 25 out of a possible 246 save opportunities. On a team that has Clayton Kershaw, Jansen may be the most reliable and dominant pitcher, and that’s saying a lot.

I’m projecting this team to win four less games than last season, due to the players they lost in the off-season, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that they’ll still be one of the best teams in the league, and will compete for yet another appearance in the World Series.

Player to watch: Matt Kemp As I’ve alluded to, Kemp has the chance to be an integral part of this lineup. I’m not expecting him to produce like he did in 2011, when he finished second in MVP voting. But if he can prove to be a consistent bat in the middle of this lineup, he’ll help alleviate the pressure of losing Justin Turner for over a month, and create a destructive 3-4-5 of Turner-Bellinger-Kemp, when Turner does eventually return.

2nd Place: Colorado Rockies 2017 record: 87-75, third in NL West, lost in Wild Card to Arizona My 2018 prediction: 86-76 Key acquisitions: Wade Davis (RHP), Bryan Shaw (RHP) Key departures: Greg Holland (RHP)*, Mark Reynolds (1B)*, Jonathan Lucroy (C), Tyler Chatwood (RHP), Pat Neshek (RHP)

On an annual basis, this offence has the chance to do something special. The only thing that holds this team back is their starting rotation. Unfortunately for them, it’s not completely their fault due to the fact that Coors Field is the most hitter friendly park in the league. Regardless, if this pitching staff can get it together, the rest of the league needs to watch out.

Mark Reynolds is currently a free agent, after hitting 30 home runs and 97 RBI for the Rockies last season. That’s a big power bat that they lost, but the Rockies have the talent to offset it. One of those options is Ian Desmond. Over his career, Desmond had been a very productive hitter, and is a 20-20 threat every season. In 2017, his first year with the Rockies, his season was riddled with injuries, which affected his ability to get in a rhythm and be the player he can be. Now that he’s healthy to start the season, there’s no reason to think that he can’t return to being a 20-20 player, especially with the benefit of Coors Field being his home park. The other option is the team’s number two prospect, Ryan McMahon. Last season, between Double-A and Triple-A, McMahon hit a combined 20 home runs, with 88 RBI and an incredible .355/.403/.583 slash line. Although it looked like McMahon would be starting the year in the minors, it seems that he’s going to be sticking with the big league club to start the season. If he is the everyday first baseman, which he will be since there’s no point of him being in the MLB if he’s not getting everyday at-bats, then that would push Desmond to the outfield, which actually makes this team even deeper. DJ LeMahieu is an incredible talent over at second base. Over the past three seasons his slash line has been .319/.383/.430, which includes an MLB best .348 batting average in 2016. LeMahieu has proven to be the perfect top of the order hitter for a lineup that possesses as much power as the Rockies do. Speaking of power, Trevor Story is entering his third season as the team’s short stop. It seems like just yesterday that Story was lighting the league on fire with seven home runs in his first six major league games. For a short stop, Story possesses a special amount of power, but he needs to learn how to be a better overall hitter. This past season, he experienced quite the sophomore slump. He still hit 24 home runs and 82 RBI, but he had 191 strikeouts and a batting average of .239. He seems like he’ll be the type of player that consistently hits 30 home runs, but strikeouts 175-200 times. He has the chance to be so good, but there’s still lots of work to be done. Now onto the player who may be the best in the league, aside from Mike Trout. In Nolan Arenado’s last three seasons, he’s averaged 40 home runs, 131 RBI and slashed .297/.353/.577. You think that he’s just a power bat? Oh no. He’s played five seasons in the MLB, and has won five Gold Gloves. His Defensive Runs Saved over those five seasons have been 30, 16, 18, 20, 20. I’m going to say it right now, Arenado is the best defensive infielder in the game today. Pair that with his bat, and you have one of the best overall players in the league. Also, if you think that his numbers are simply a product of playing 81 games in Coors Field each season, you’re wrong. His numbers are better at home, which is to be expected, but his numbers in away games are still top notch. In 78 home games, Arenado hit 19 home runs, 76 RBI and slashed .336/.392/.644. In 81 away games, he hit 18 home runs, 54 RBI and slashed .283/.355/.531. As you can see, his home numbers are clearly superior, but as I mentioned, that’s to be expected. The craziest Arenado stat may be the fact that he had never finished better than fourth in MVP voting, although I suspect that that may change this season. It’s not very often that a team has two players that are considered to be among the best in the league, but the Rockies have that in Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. Last year, while Arenado finished fourth in MVP voting, Blackmon was right behind him, finishing fifth. Blackmon’s numbers in 2017 were unbelievable. He had 137 runs, 213 hits, 14 triples, 37 home runs, 104 RBI, 14 stolen bases and slashed .331/.399/.601. With numbers like that, why did he finish fifth? Well, it seems like for him, home-away splits were a factor in the voting. In 78 games at home, Blackmon had 24 home runs, 60 RBI and slashed an unimaginable .391/.466/.773, along with an OPS of 1.239. In away games, he hit 13 home runs, 44 RBI and slashed .276/.337/.447, with an OPS of .784. Just look at those splits. Blackmon’s home OPS was almost FIVE HUNDRED points better than his away OPS. To be fair, his away numbers were still good, but they were just nowhere near his astronomical home numbers. I think as a whole, Blackmon is legitimately one of the best hitters in the league. But, to be honest, it’s hard to look at the vast difference in home-away numbers and not think that Coors Field may boost him to a higher level than he should be. Carlos Gonzalez had an embarrassing 2017. After hitting 25 home runs and 100 RBI in 2016, he regressed to a meager 14 home runs and 57 RBI this past season. 2017 was the first year that Gonzalez struggled to that level, so hopefully for him he can return to being the quality left-handed bat that they’ve become accustomed to. If he can, this team should have no problem finishing top 5 in runs scored for the fifth straight season.

This starting rotation really has their work cut out for them. Jon Gray had a career best year in 2017, but in reality, it wasn’t that great of a season. Gray is expected to be the Ace of this staff, but hasn’t lived up to that role thus far in his career. Tyler Anderson, much like Gray, is believed to be a top of the rotation starter, but has struggled to this point of his career. Considering the fact that both Gray and Anderson were better at home than they were away this past season, it makes me wonder what this year will hold for them. In theory, their lack of production should be attributed to them pitching in Coors Field. But if they’re more successful in Coors Field than they are away from it, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s wrong with them. Rounding out the rotation will be some combination of German Marguez, Chad Bettis, Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman and Antonio Senzatela. None of them have had much success in the majors, but they’re a talented group of hurlers, that might actually be able to find some success at the major league level. The lack of consistency in the starting rotation is why the Rockies sought out to build one of the most expensive bullpens of all-time. The team lost their closer, Greg Holland, in the off-season, who had 41 saves for the team last season. But upon losing him, they decided to try to build a super-pen. They started things off by re-signing Jake McGee to a 3 year, $27 million contract. In 2017, McGee pitched 57 1/3 innings, posting an ERA of 3.61 with 58 strikeouts and an ERA- of 72. They followed that move up by signing Bryan Shaw away from the Indians for an identical 3 year, $27 million contract. Shaw pitched in 79 games, which was the most in the MLB, and the second straight season that he led the American League in games pitched. He threw 76 2/3 innings, with a 3.52 ERA and 73 strikeouts. To close games out, the Rockies gave Wade Davis a 3 year, $52 million contract. Davis is coming off of a season where he saved 32 games for the Chicago Cubs while putting up a 2.30 ERA and 79 strikeouts. This bullpen has the chance to contend for the league’s best, and for the amount of money that the Rockies invested in it, they better be. 

The only thing holding this team back from being a serious World Series contender is their starting pitching. Their offence is near the top of the league on a yearly basis, they’ve spent over $100 million on the bullpen this off-season, so all they need is their starters to produce.

Player to watch: The entire starting rotation This is clearly cheating on my part, but I didn’t have an option. This team will live and die by the success of this rotation. I have no worries about the lineup. The bullpen seems like it can be one of the league’s best. But if this rotation continues to be below average, this team will be stuck in mediocrity for yet another season.

3rd Place: Arizona Diamondbacks 2017 record: 93-69, second in NL West, lost in NLDS to Los Angeles My 2018 prediction: 85-77 Key acquisitions: Steven Souza Jr. (OF), Alex Avila (C), Jarrod Dyson (OF) Key departures: J.D. Martinez (OF), Fernando Rodney (RHP), Brandon Drury (2B/3B)

The Diamondbacks made the postseason for the first time since 2011 this past season. They lost their second best hitter and their closer in free agency, but they also made a few moves to improve some weak areas. This team has little to no chance of competing with the Dodgers for the division title, but may be able to beat out the Rockies for second place and a possible postseason berth. In terms of the offence, I have a couple of things to say: 1. They just had to add a humidor, didn’t they? 2. Why oh why did they have to add a humidor? In case you weren’t aware, this off-season the Diamondbacks became the second team in the MLB, along with Colorado, to install a humidor in their stadium. If you don’t know what a humidor is, here’s a quick explanation, in layman’s terms. See what I did there? Basically, the role of a humidor is to regulate the humidity levels in a location, in this case, Chase Field. Because the air is so dry in Arizona, a baseball cuts through it like it’s nothing, thus creating a hitter friendly ballpark. In each of the past two seasons, Chase Field has been one of the top 3 most hitter friendly parks. With Chase Field now being at a consistent humidity level of around 70 percent, as opposed to the 20-40 percent that’s it’s usually at during the season in Arizona, we can now expect offensive numbers to drop in 2018. Now, onto the lineup.

To start things off, I want to address this team losing J.D. Martinez to the Boston Red Sox in free agency. Martinez was acquired in the middle of the last season, and did nothing but destroy baseballs after arriving in Arizona. In just 62 regular season games with the Diamondbacks, Martinez hit 29 home runs, 65 RBI and slashed .302/.366/.741. The team did their best to try to replace his bat in the lineup, but he was just too good of a hitter, and his departure is going to be evident. Alex Avila was a good signing for the Diamondbacks. In only 376 plate appearances, between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs last season, Avila hit 14 home runs, 49 RBI and 62 walks, while slashing .264/.387/.447. Avila is going to give the Diamondbacks a good amount of power from behind the plate, while getting on-base quite a bit. At first base is one of the best pure hitters in the game time. This past season, Paul Goldschmidt finished third in MVP voting, which was the third top-3 finish of his career, after being the runner-up in 2013 and 2015. Since that 2013 season, Goldschmidt has averaged 101 runs, 165 hits, 30 home runs, 104 RBI, 19 stolen bases while slashing .304/.410/.543. That’s including the 2014 season where he only played 109 games, as opposed to the other four years where his lowest amount of games played is 155. Luckily for Goldschmidt, his home-away splits are pretty good. His home numbers are better than his away numbers, but the discrepancy isn’t enough to make me think that he will be affected by the humidor. He should once again find himself in the MVP conversation at season’s end. Earlier this week Ketel Marte signed a 5 year, $24 million extension with the Diamondbacks. Marte will be a starter for this team and may hit near the top of the order. As a whole, he’s still unproven as a major leaguer, but with this extension it’s clear that the Diamondbacks view him as an important part of this team moving forward. At third base is Jake Lamb, who is coming off of a career best season. Lamb hit 30 home runs and 105 RBI, both career highs, this past year. With the loss of J.D. Martinez, Lamb is going to be looked upon to replace some of that production. Lamb’s home-away numbers were virtually identical last season, in fact, he had a higher OPS away from Chase Field, which would suggest that he may not be affected by the humidor as much as some people seem to think. Hey, A.J. Pollock, if you could stay healthy, that’d be great. Over the past two seasons, Pollock has missed 200 of a possible 324 regular season games. In 2015, his only All-Star season, Pollock had 111 runs, 192 hits, 20 home runs, 76 RBI, 39 stolen bases and a .315/.367/.498 slash line. He has a shot at being a 25 home run, 40-50 stolen base player if healthy, but as he’s shown the past two seasons, that’s a big “if”. If Pollock fails to stay healthy, the Diamondbacks signed a good backup plan in Jarrod Dyson. First things first, Dyson is nowhere near as good of a player as Pollock is, but he can steals bases. Since 2012, Dyson has averaged 31 stolen bases a season, and he’s done that while averaging 103 games a season. If he could become a full-time, 140 game player, he could easily snag 50 bags. To try to counterbalance some of the offence lost with the departure of J.D. Martinez, the Diamondbacks acquired Steven Souza Jr. in a three-team trade with the Rays and Yankees. Souza had a career high 30 home runs and 78 RBI last season with the Rays. He has no chance of matching Martinez’s production, since he’s an inferior hitter, but he should be able to make a dent in the missing production. To wrap up the offence, I only have one thing to say, I still can’t believe they added a humidor.

In terms of the pitching, I have a couple of things to say: 1. They added a humidor! 2. They did it! They did it! They actually added a humidor!

As much as the humidor will hurt the offence, it well help the pitching in an even bigger way. This team already has a phenomenal rotation, and that was with a home park that was very hitter friendly. Zack Greinke proved last season that he can still be a top pitching talent. Greinke went 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA, and 215 strikeouts in 202 1/3 innings to go along with a 70 ERA-. It was a much needed bounce back season after Greinke posted a 13-7 record with a 4.37 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 158 2/3 innings in his first season as a Diamondback, after signing a 6 year, $206.5 million contract in December of 2015. Greinke isn’t going to be the team’s Opening Day starter due to the fact that he’s been dealing with an injury for the past few weeks. Luckily for him and the Diamondbacks, it looks like he’s just about past the injury, and may be able to pitch in either the third or fourth game of the season. Right after Greinke in the rotation is Robbie Ray who finished seventh in Cy Young voting last season. Ray posted a 15-5 record, a cool 2.89 ERA with a phenomenal 218 strikeouts in 162 innings and an ERA- of 63. Ray had the type of season that you would expect from your Ace, and yet, he’s currently slated as the team’s number two pitcher. Greinke and Ray make quite the 1-2 combo, and with the addition of the humidor, they may both find themselves in contention for the Cy Young this year. Patrick Corbin is going to be the team’s Opening Day starter, which seems fitting since he’s the longest tenured Diamondback among the starting rotation. 2017 was quite the bounce back year for Corbin. In 2016, he had an abysmal 5-13 record, 5.15 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 155 2/3 innings. This past season, he had a 14-13 record, a 4.03 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 189 2/3 innings. To go along with those numbers, he had an 88 ERA- this past year, as opposed to a 117 ERA- in 2016. Hopefully being the Opening Day starter will give Corbin the confidence to have a very good season as the team’s third starter. Taijuan Walker’s first season in Arizona couldn’t have gone better. His record was only 9-9, but he put up a 3.49 ERA and an ERA- of 76. This will be Walker’s age 26 season, so he should be entering the prime of his career, which is great news for this Diamondbacks team. The last member of this rotation is Zack Godley, who also had a career year. Godley went 8-9 with an ERA of 3.37, 165 strikeouts in 155 innings and an ERA- of 74. If you’re getting that level of production from your 4th/5th starter, that is something that any team would dream of. From top to bottom, this rotation has a chance to be the league’s best. Now that they have the humidor, making Chase Field less friendly for hitters, there’s no reason to think that this team can’t finish near the top of most pitching categories this seasons. The only name I care about in the bullpen is Archie Bradley. In 73 innings pitched last season, Bradley had an ERA of 1.73 with 79 strikeouts. It was announced that Brad Boxberger will be the team’s closer to begin the year, which makes sense because of how valuable Bradley is in the 7th and 8th innings. Bradley is the best talent in this bullpen, and he’s going to put up monster numbers once again.

The addition of the humidor may affect this team’s offence in a negative way, but more than anything, it should allow this starting rotation to be even better in their home games, which will allow them to compete for a postseason spot for the second year in a row.

Player to watch: A.J. Pollock

If he can stay healthy, he will prove to be an important member of this offence once again. This team has plenty of power in Goldschmidt, Lamb and Souza Jr. But they need players to get on base ahead of them, while stealing a few bags in the process. As great of a player as Goldschmidt is, Pollock has the potential to be the most valuable player on this team.

4th Place: San Francisco Giants 2017 record: 64-98, fifth in NL West My 2018 prediction: 79-83 Key acquisitions: Andrew McCutchen (OF), Evan Longoria (3B), Tony Watson (LHP), Austin Jackson (OF) Key departures: Matt Moore (LHP)

The Giants made some big moves in the off-season, but two injuries to their starting rotation will make it difficult for them to compete for a postseason spot. Buster Posey is still one of, if not the, best catchers in the league. It’s been six years since he won the NL MVP, but he still produces great numbers on an annual basis. In the five seasons after winning MVP, Posey has averaged 163 hits, 16 home runs, 81 RBI while slashing .306/.375/.461. He just turned 31 years old and has yet to show any signs of slowing down. He is the heart and soul of this team, and if they do manage to be a contender this year, he’ll be a large part of it. Brandon Belt is still a good first baseman, but is coming off of a lacklustre season. He only played in 104 games, yet he tied his career high in home runs. However, his batting average was down by more than thirty points. If he can stay on the field, he might be able to reach 20 home runs for the first time in his career, but his biggest worry is improving his slash line. 2017 was a down year for Brandon Crawford, compared to his 2016 output. The biggest drop-off was in the amount of triples he hit. In 2016, he had an astounding eleven triples, yet he only hit one this past year. His slash line also dropped by quite a bit. Much like Belt, he’s going to have to have himself a bounce back year, which he is definitely capable of. Evan Longoria is the starting third baseman for the San Francisco Giants. It’s still weird to say that. After spending the first ten seasons of his career in Tampa Bay, Longoria was finally traded to the Giants this off-season. After having a great 2016, Longoria wasn’t able to match that production in 2017. However, in his defence, Longoria was on a terrible Tampa Bay team, and should be able to improve offensively now that there’s actually some talent around him. Hunter Pence was yet another Giant who had a down year. Pence played 28 more games in 2017 than he did in 2016, and yet he scored less runs, hit the same amount of home runs, walked less, and had a much worse slash line. Pence is starting to get up there in age, he turns 35 years old in early April, so it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back, despite his age. Much like Longoria, it’s weird to say that Andrew McCutchen is a Giant. McCutchen played his first nine years in Pittsburgh, and won an MVP in that time, along with three other top-5 finishes. McCutchen had an up-and-down season in 2017. In April and May, McCutchen hit 8 home runs, 24 RBI and slashed .223/.301/.404. In June and July, he hit 14 home runs, 42 RBI and slashed an amazing .367/.470/.678. To end the season, in August and September, he hit 6 home runs, 22 RBI and slashed .255/.320/.395. It’s hard to know which version of McCutchen will show up for the Giants, the team obviously hopes for the June-July version, but that’s a pipedream. Similar to Longoria, McCutchen hasn’t had much talent around him over the past few seasons, but now that he does, he may be able to do some damage.

This past week of Spring Training has been disastrous for the Giants’ rotation. To start things off, the team’s Ace, Madison Bumgarner, was hit in his pitching hand by a comebacker, and suffered a fractured pinky finger. The initial timetable has him missing 6-8 weeks. It’s a huge loss for a team that was hoping to challenge for a postseason berth, since Bumgarner has been one of the best pitchers in the league since becoming a full-time major leaguer. From 2011 to 2017, Bumgarner has averaged a 14-10 record, a 3.02 ERA and 198 strikeouts a season. As good as he has been in the regular season, it’s nothing compared to his postseason success. Bumgarner has pitched in 16 postseason games, and has an 8-3 record with a 2.11 ERA, including a 4-0 record in World Series games, with an unfathomable 0.25 ERA in 36 innings pitched. The greatest performance of his career was in game seven of the 2014 World Series, when he entered the game with a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, and registered a five inning save, allowing no runs and clinching the World Series for the Giants. In terms of hardware, he has never won a Cy Young award, but he has 3 World Series rings, to go along with the 2014 NLCS and World Series MVP. This is the second straight year that he’ll miss the start of the season, but if he can return in June, he should have enough time to make a large enough impact on this team as they try to reach the postseason. If losing Bumgarner wasn’t bad enough, the Giants also lost Jeff Samardzija to injury. Samardzija suffered a strained pectoral and is expected to miss around four weeks. There is a chance that he returns at the end of April, but early May seems more realistic. Amazingly enough, Samardzija has pitched 1402 2/3 inning since 2008, including five straight 200 inning seasons, and this is the first time in his career that he will be on the disabled list. Samardzija is a valuable commodity because of the fact that he is an innings eater. In the past five years, he’s averaged a 9-13 record, with a 4.10 ERA, 190 strikeouts and 212 innings a season. Luckily, he’s not missing that much time, so he’ll still be a big part of this rotation. 2017 was Johnny Cueto’s worst season as a major leaguer, since his rookie year back in 2008, and now he’ll be looked at as the Ace of the team until Samardzija and Bumgarner return. In 2016, Cueto went 18-5, posted a 2.79 ERA, with 198 strikeouts in 219 2/3 innings and an ERA- of 70, which was good enough to get him a sixth place finish in Cy Young voting. He followed up that season with an 8-8 record, 4.52 ERA, 136 strikeouts in 147 1/3 innings and a 109 ERA- in 2017. He’s definitely going to need to turn things around, especially with the absences of Bumgarner and Samardzija. In Chris Stratton’s final eight starts of last season, he went 5-3, with a sparkling 2.27 ERA and struck out 39 batters in 39 2/3 innings. He has solidified himself a rotation spot, even before the two injuries, and will be an interesting arm to watch in his first full season in the majors. In the bullpen, the Giants made a big time signing when they added left-handed Tony Watson. Last year, between the Pirates and Dodgers, Watson appeared in 71 games, pitching to a 3.38 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. He’s going to be brought into games in critical situations, and will be expected to get the ball to Mark Melancon with a lead. Speaking of Melancon, he’s coming off of an injury riddled year, and needs to return to the form he was in from 2013-2016. Over those four years he had an ERA of 1.80 and averaged 37 saves a year, including 51 in 2015 and 47 in 2016. As long as he’s pitching with a lead in the ninth inning, this team has a chance at winning a good amount of games.

The injuries to Bumgarner and Samardzija are devastating to this team. After trading for Longoria and McCutchen, this team had some serious expectations going into the year. Now they’ll be lucky to be in a fight for a Wild Card spot at the end of the year. Player to watch: Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen These two were both considering exceptional talents just a few seasons ago. Now that they both have a much needed change of scenery, and will be hitting in a lineup that actually has some talent, they will need have some serious production, as they should both be hitting near the middle of the order. If neither of them can live up to expectations, this team is in some serious trouble.

5th Place: San Diego Padres 2017 record: 71-91, fourth in NL West My 2018 prediction: 73-89 Key acquisitions: Eric Hosmer (1B), Chase Headley (3B), Freddy Galvis (SS), Bryan Mitchell (RHP) Key departures: Jhoulys Chacin (RHP), Yangervis Solarte (2B/3B)

This team made one of the biggest signings in the off-season when they added Eric Hosmer. Unfortunately for them, it’s not going to do much for this team, as there’s a good chance that they’ll finish last in the division.

Austin Hedges showed some serious power from behind the plate last year, hitting 18 home runs in only 417 plate appearances. The problem? 122 strikeouts, which is a 29% strikeout rate, and a .214/.262/.398 slash line. This will be his age 26 season, and even if he hits 20 home runs, he’ll be a liability to this team if he doesn’t improve his slash line. Now onto the $144 million man, Eric Hosmer. Last season was a very good one for Hosmer. He played all 162 games, had a career high 192 hits, tied his career high with 25 home runs, 94 RBI and had a career best .318/.385/.498 slash line. The only problem with his 2017 campaign, was the fact that it happened in a walk year. The only reason I have a problem with that is because sometimes you’ll see a player who is a soon-to-be free agent have the best year of their career, which gets them a big deal, and then they fall back to their average production and aren’t worth the contract that they signed. I think that Hosmer’s 2017 will probably end up being the best season of his career, but I don’t think the drop-off will be too severe. I think he’s good for 25 home runs and around 90 RBI a season, but his slash line will probably be more like .280/.350/.450 for the next few seasons. Don’t get me wrong, that still makes for a very productive player, I’m just saying that you shouldn’t expect his 2017 level of production going forward. The team also traded for Freddy Galvis to be their everyday short stop, which may turn out to be a good move. Over the past two seasons with the Phillies, Galvis has averaged 160 games played, 16 home runs, 64 RBI, 16 stolen bases and a .248/.292/.390 slash line. His home runs, RBI and stolen bases are all solid, but his slash line needs some serious work. The Padres acquired Chase Headley from the Yankees in what was essentially just a salary dump for the Yankees. The Yankees were trying to save cap space to stay under the luxury tax, so they called Headley’s old home, and worked out a deal. The reason the Padres made the deal was because the Yankees included pitcher Bryan Mitchell, basically as a thank you to the Padres for taking on Headley’s contract. As I mentioned, this is Headley’s second stint as a Padres, as he was with the team from 2007 until 2014, when he was traded to the Yankees mid-season. His time with the Padres wasn’t very good, aside from 2012, when he hit 31 home runs, 115 RBI and finished fifth in MVP voting. Headley is still a decent hitter, but he’s becoming more of a platoon player than an everyday starter. He’ll play everyday for this team, for no other reason than that they don’t have anything better. The most exciting player on this team is Manuel Margot, who is entering his second full season in the majors. Last year, in his rookie season, he had 13 home runs, 39 RBI, 17 stolen bases and slashed .263/.313/.409. Those numbers don’t seem great, but he should have no problem blowing past them this year. Margot, who was acquired from the Red Sox in 2015 as a part of the Craig Kimbrel trade, has the potential to be a 25 home run, 30 stolen base player. He doesn’t turn 24 years old until September, so he’s definitely a player to watch this season. The reason I’m interested about the Padres signing Hosmer isn’t because of Hosmer himself, it’s because since Hosmer plays first base, it pushes Wil Myers back to the outfield. From 2013 to 2015, Myers was a full time outfielder, while being a part timer in 2016, and to put it kindly, he wasn’t very good. In those four seasons, he had a total Defensive Runs Saved of -16. But the ugly part is in his UZR/150. In 2015 he played 328 2/3 innings in the outfield and had a UZR/150 of -31.2. In 2016, he played 55 innings in the outfield and had a UZR/150 of -19. Wil Myers is a good hitter, but his defensive adventures in the outfield are going to be tough to watch. At the plate, over the past two seasons, Myers has averaged 29 home runs, 84 RBI, 24 stolen bases, while slashing .251/.332/.462. Myers’ slash line isn’t ideal, but the fact that he’s good for at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases per season makes him a valuable piece of this lineup.

This rotation is quite bad, if I’m being honest. Clayton Richard is the number one pitcher, and he was dreadful in 2017. Dinelson Lamet and Luis Perdomo are both young arms, but neither of them were very good last season. The only pitcher that interests me on this team is closer Brad Hand. The past two years have shown how dominant of a pitcher Hand is, as he has averaged 77 games pitched, a 2.56 ERA and 108 strikeouts over that span of time. This past year, he was named the full-time closer during the season, and went on to convert 21-of-26 save chances. Now that he’s going to be the closer for the entire year, he has a chance at 35-40 saves, and will prove to be one of the elite bullpen arms in the game today. There’s also a possibility that he gets traded during the year, as he was the centre of trade rumours at the deadline last season. A team may acquire him to be a 7th-8th inning guy, or to be their closer. Either way, he’s one of the most intriguing relievers in the league this year.

Player to watch: Manuel Margot I’m expecting a big season from Margot. He should be batting at the top of the lineup, and as long as he can get on base for Myers or Hosmer, the three of them should combine to put up some serious stats. Like I said above, Margot has some power and base stealing ability that will make him an exciting player to watch.

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