It’s about like we thought it would be. The San Francisco Giants are running away with it, the San Diego Padres are terrible, and the other three teams are hovering around .500. Wait, no it’s not! Many “experts” had the Arizona Diamondbacks winning the division, and the Los Angeles Dodgers finishing ahead of the Giants.
If you want to know about the NL West, take a look at the ERA’s of “The Big Three” in Arizona; that will tell you all. The Dodgers aren’t getting anybody healthy anytime soon to replace Zack Greinke, and Greinke is now pitching like Tim Lincecum in Arizona. The Giants aren’t even healthy and they are already putting serious ground between themselves and everyone else in the West. Even still, they still have their flaws. So it’s time to take a look at each team in the NL West, and pick out look at the good, the bad, and what they need to do to fix the bad.
NL West Report: First Quarter
San Diego Padres: Fifth Place, 23-34, 11.5 GB
Good: Nothing. Literally, nothing. Jon Jay is clearly their best player statistically, and he’s still about average compared to every other centerfielder in the league. That’s really all that can be said right now. Oh! Their pitching staff is top-ten in every category for NL teams, so that’s a pretty good plus. That’s actually it. They don’t allow a lot of runs, which is good.
Bad: Their current team slashline? .226/.284/.362/.646. That’s absolutely atrocious. They have the worst team batting average in the NL, and the second worst on base percentage. They’ve struck out 475 times in fifty-one games, good for a little over nine strike outs a game. So they don’t hit the ball, they don’t get on base, and they don’t draw walks. All of that adds up to a team that doesn’t score runs. Yet the team continues to move the fences in, allowing for opponents to blast home runs out, something they can’t do themselves.
When you look at the roster they’ve assembled, it makes sense. Most of their guys are career bench players, outside of Matt Kemp. A team with a pitching staff as solid as the Padres doesn’t deserve the lineup behind them. They will squeak out games thanks to their pitcher’s ability to hold teams to low run totals, and end up with a team that would be good enough for fourth or third in plenty other divisions. But for now, this team will continually be a losing team until they get good hitting to back up their pitching.
How To Fix The Bad: It’s not going to be overnight. It’s not going to even happen in two or three years. This is going to be a Houston Astros-type rebuild. They don’t have enough pieces to give away and get what they need in return, especially “win now”-type pieces. Guys in their primes on failing teams generally want to go to teams that have a shot at winning it all, or at least getting into the postseason.
What the Padres have failed to do is draft and scout well. With a depleted farm system, their best shot at accelerating a rebuild is trading their top three pitching studs for young prospects. James Shields is now gone to the Chicago White Sox, but there are no guarantees on moving Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross. It would be different if it was just a bunch of junky old players and their farm system was loaded with talent. Then their best move would be to bring a lot of it up and get them experience. Since it’s not, don’t expect to see the Padres in the postseason for five to six more years.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Fourth Place, 25-34, 10.5 GB
Good: They score a lot of runs (4.5 per game). They are in the top ten in almost every major batting category, except for strike outs (third most in the NL). So they get on base and score a lot. That’s about it. Their offense, which everyone was worried about at the beginning of the season, is actually performing pretty well, in the midst of an extremely slow start to the season by Paul Goldschmidt. They’re getting guys on base, as their team OBP is .329. They steal bases pretty well (third in the NL), and their team batting average is in the top five. Despite plenty of strikeouts, and a below average amount of walks, the team is still eight games under .500.
Bad: Remember when everyone was gushing about how great their pitching staff was going to be? Their best starter ERA belongs to Rubby De La Rosa, sitting at 4.17. Greinke’s ERA is a whopping 4.17. Their staff ranks in the bottom six in the NL for every major pitching statistic. They have given up the most hits in baseball, and their combined pitching war sits at 0.2. Yikes. Not only do they give up the most hits, their fielding, while not atrocious, is far from necessarily elite. So their biggest issue is they score runs, but not enough to help the pitching staff.
How To Fix The Bad: There is not much you can do about the futility of Greinke, but they’re stuck paying him a lot, and for a very long time. They need to do something about their pitching staff, because it’s extremely bad. It’s funny how the question marks at the start surrounded their hitting, while their pitching seemed to be concrete. Now, it’s the opposite. When you’re giving up four or five runs a game, you’re asking the offense to score six runs a game to get a win. Unfortunately their offense isn’t that good, and no offense actually is.
If they can fix they pitching, they may be able to right the ship. Nine wins under .500 isn’t awful, but the injuries to Shelby Miller and the underperformance of Greinke may prove too hard to overcome. Maybe if the middle-pack of the division continues to never separate itself, they have a chance. But this season may be a loss for the extremely ambitious Diamondbacks.
Colorado Rockies: Third Place, 24-31, 9.5 GB
Good: The Rockies are the biggest surprise in my opinion. Before the season started, many pundits were discussing the plausible trade destinations for Carlos Gonzalez. Now the question is who they could acquire to launch themselves into the wild card conversation. Trevor Story has been the shock of the season. Corey Seager was the popular NL Rookie of the Year pick before the season started, but man, Trevor Story has stolen the show as far as rookies go in 2016.
Out of players who have appeared in thirty-plus games for the Rockies this season, the lowest batting average is .220. That belongs to their backup catcher. Everyone else who has appeared in thirty-plus games has an average at least twenty points above the mendoza line. They hit well, they get on base, and they score a lot of runs; so, what’s going wrong?
Bad: The pitching, as always, has been really bad. A team 5.17 ERA is atrocious, and a team WHIP of 1.43 is just as dismal. With only one pitcher in the starting rotation above thirty, this staff is still learning. They will, of course, have to learn the really hard way, thanks to Coors Field, the friendliest of all hitter’s parks. Jon Gray, Tyler Chatwood, and Eddie Butler have been talked about for years within the Rockies organization as their future. Well, their future is here, and they are learning through a baptism of fire. The NL West contains some of baseball’s smartest and best players. In time, this rotation could be a “Cerebrus” of starters, but it’s not now. The Rockies are going to be ready a lot sooner than some think, however. They’re not far away from being a legitimate threat to the Giants and Dodgers.
How to Fix the Bad: What their staff is dealing with is bad on paper, but good for their future. If they fail to make strides, however, then they should be concerned. As long as they don’t fall too far off, and can hold on to Carlos Gonzalez, their future is extremely bright. Losing Gonzalez in a trade would be devastating, depending on what they get for him. If his asking price ends up as low as Tulowitzki’s was, then the Rockies would be setting themselves back another 2-3 years. Top outfield prospect David Dahl won’t be ready for a while, and they don’t have many more after him. So basically: don’t give up too much for a “ready-now” piece, and don’t lose Carlos Gonzalez. If they can manage to do that, they’ll be a contender next season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Second Place, 31-27, 4.0 GB
Good: Clayton Kershaw has been absolutely incredible this season. Over 100 strikeouts and only five walks, in 86.2 innings, is much more impressive than what Jake Arrieta is doing. Arrieta is impressive, but Kershaw has been borderline unhittable. Kenley Jansen has been really good, too. Yes, he has a few blown saves, but his WHIP and K:BB ratio are actually better than Kershaw’s. The rest of the staff hasn’t been stellar, but they’ve been above average.
Bad: As a team, they’re batting .240, and run production has been pretty hard to come by. They are continuing their downward trend on offense from last season. They don’t hit very well, they don’t get runners on base, and they don’t have much power up and down the lineup. It’s just an average team on offense. That is concerning. Some of their issues come from age and a few other factors, but for a team in Los Angeles, this team is quite the opposite of entertaining.
How to Fix the Bad: Ask Marlon Byrd? Oh wait, too soon. How about Dee Gordon? Whoops, that one too. It’s hard to say what this team needs to do to get going offensively, but if things continue as-is, they’ll be on the outside looking in come October. If that happens, expect their hitting coach to be gone quickly. They do everything right, except hit. A team must be able to hit to score runs, and the rest of the staff, outside of Kershaw, doesn’t keep enough runs off the board to win with 2-3 runs every night.
San Francisco Giants: First Place, 35-23.
Good: Johnny Cueto has been elite and Jeff Samardzija has been revitalized by his move out west to “The City by the Bay.” Bobby Evans should actually be thankful that Greinke went to Arizona instead of San Francisco. The Giants have one of the deepest rotations in baseball, with three starters boasting ERAs under three and WHIPs under 1.2. They have a top-five batting average, a top-five on base percentage, and have the fewest strikeouts in baseball. While their pitching has been elite at the top, the defense has been elite all around: second in errors committed and second in fielding percentage.
Bad: Jake Peavy and Matt Cain have been pretty atrocious so far. The final two in the rotation have combined for a 3-10 record. On top of that, Santiago Casilla hasn’t had the best of starts to the year, but that’s typical of Casilla.
How To Fix The Bad: They definitely need one more bullpen piece, and the Giants have a history of good moves at the deadline. Also, Cain and Peavy have looked really good the last few starts, so there is a chance that they end up not needing a starter. If they stay consistent though, they should win the division.