With the 2018 MLB season less than a month away, it’s time to take a look and preview the season ahead. We’re going division by division to try and project every teams’ strengths, weaknesses, and questions heading into the season. Continuing on with the NL West:
Los Angeles Dodgers
2017 Record: 104-58, Lost to Astros in World Series.
The Dodgers lineup is loaded with young talent. Corey Seager is already one of the best in the league, and Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson still have room to improve after breakout seasons. They also have several prospects who could be starting on other major league teams. Baseball America has their farm system ranked 8th overall. Walker Buehler has impressed in the minors, but struggled in his major league stint, and is still seen as a potential starter. The bottom line is that the Dodgers appear as if they could be set up for a dynasty run.
Kenley Jansen is the best in the business, but the Dodgers still need to set him up. Pedro Baez was the man in 2017, but he failed to even make the playoff roster. Brandon Morrow is gone after all of his innings in the playoffs, along with Tony Watson. Ross Stripling could be an option, provided injuries don’t force him into the rotation. If this is the Dodgers biggest problem, they should be fine.
Question: Will the Dodgers finally win it all, or does another disappointment await?
2018 Projected Record: 95-67
2017 Record: 93-69, Lost to Dodgers in NLDS
Robbie Ray and Zack Godley had breakout seasons in 2017. Their miss percentages were the two highest in the league (34.4 and 31.5 respectively), and Zack Greinke is still Zack Grienke. Taijuan Walker will look to improve on another decent campaign, as his WAR hovered around 4.0, but his career record is still 31-31. Patrick Corbin will likely be the fifth starter, and he hasn’t done horrible either. He’ll need his slider to be strong, as he used it 37.7 percent of the time in 2017, and he needs to improve on a 1.418 WHIP. Do you think Arizona regrets the Shelby Miller trade?
Weakness: Rotational Depth
When Shelby Miller went to the DL and had Tommy John surgery, Godley stepped in and was a pleasant surprise in his starts. If anyone goes down this year, there’s no guarantee anything like that will happen again. John Duplantier would likely be the one called up, but his durability has been a concern, and he only pitched in Low A and High A. Miller is out until at least June, and if anyone else in the rotation gets hurt, Arizona will likely be in trouble unless they can sign a free agent or pull off a trade.
Question: Who will close for the Diamondbacks after losing Fernando Rodney?
2018 Projected Record: 84-78
2017 Record: 87-75, Lost to Diamondbacks in NL Wild Card
Or at least it should be, as Colorado spent over $100 million on its bullpen over the offseason. Wade Davis received the largest reliever contract in MLB history at $17.3 million per year, and he should be an upgrade over Greg Holland. Bryan Shaw, who is the former set up man for Cody Allen, should also fit in nicely. Re-signing Mike Dunn and Adam Ottavino for $7 million each isn’t too bad either. On paper, the Rockies bullpen should be solid, even at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
Weakness: Outfield Defense
The high altitude and large outfield make Coors Field one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball. Charlie Blackmon arguably has the toughest defensive job in baseball, which is playing in centerfield in the high Denver altitude. Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra are expected to be the corner outfielders, and neither one is a particularly exciting name. None of the outfielders have exceptional arms, so it could be a tough time for their defense.
Question: Will the Rockies young rotation fare well enough to make it back to the playoffs?
2018 Projected Record: 80-82
San Francisco Giants
2017 Record: 64-98, Did not make playoffs
Strength: Offseason moves
The Giants covered their two biggest weaknesses with their offseason trades. Their third basemen were horrible at the plate in 2017, and the trade for Evan Longoria should help immensely, while he can also provide solid defense. Speaking of defense, the Giants defense had a combined -1.6 WAR, while also being last in the league in batting average. Enter Andrew McCutchen, who should immediately improve numbers on both sides.
Longoria, McCutchen and Austin Jackson are all newcomers over 30. Bumgarner is still only 28, but their other top pitchers, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, will be 33 and 32 respectively. The Giants also have over 30’s Buster Posey, Cueto, and five others under contract until 2020. Spending a combined $120 million for players who will all be over 35, the Giants may need to swing some trades. A lack of prospects in a farm system that is ranked 26th is also a concern.
Question: Can the Giants put a disastrous 2017 behind them and make a playoff run?
2018 Projected Record: 79-83
San Diego Padres
2017 Record: 71-91, Did not make playoffs
A third-ranked farm system is a reason for hope for Padres fans. They have seven prospects in Baseball Prospectus’ top 50, and six of their own top ten prospects are projected to debut in 2019 or earlier. Former Padre Chase Headley is back, and Wil Myers is in his prime at age 27. Let’s not forget Eric Hosmer either, who signed on an eight-year deal through his age 36 season, and can produce and mentor in the clubhouse. The Padres might not contend for much this year, but the future looks bright in San Diego.
Any staff led by Clayton Richard is bound to have questions. Four of their 2017 starters had an ERA between 4.50 and 5.00, and all of them are back in the rotation. Brad Hand will be a bright spot in the bullpen, but there’s not much outside of him. It’s possible Hand could be traded during the season to add to the impressive youth movement in San Diego, although Hand himself is only 27. If that does happen, San Diego will be left without any proven options.
Question: The Padres won’t content this season, but with the pieces they have in place, how long will it take?
2018 Projected Record: 72-90