Initially thought to simply be a two-horse race, the NL West has shown us it’s a competitive division head to toe. Nearly a third of the way through the season, only 6.5 games separate the entire division, the second-smallest margin in the MLB (AL Central is five games).
The defending division champs and subsequent world champions San Francisco Giants have once again solidified themselves as the front-runners. However, the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks are closely trailing only one game behind.
So will the Los Angeles Dodgers turn it around and give the Giants a competitive race? Which teams in the division will surprise us and make a run for the playoffs?
It’s no surprise the Giants have pulled out to an early lead. What is surprising is how they keep winning.
Matt Cain hasn’t looked like himself so far this season, and Tim Lincecum still hasn’t turned around his problems stemming from 2012. The Giants' tenacity has been the deciding factor in a multitude of games. It seems nearly every game lately ends in a Giants walkoff. Combined with the Zito resurgence—he looks like he’s back to his Cy Young days—the Giants have won seven of their past 10 games.
However, the Giants still must keep their foot on the pedal if they expect to run away with the division. Their starting rotation hasn’t been pitching to the caliber that it once was during their World Series seasons. Reigning MVP Buster Posey had a relatively slow start and needs to be the main bat in the lineup. Also, after a hot spring, Brandon Belt is batting a measly .212.
The Rockies have always had the talent to win the division. And yes, I’m simply looking at Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Their main problem has been heavy road splits and injuries.
Another problem is subpar pitching. This problem, however, will probably be prevalent throughout the entire season, barring an unexpected trade.
The bread and butter for this team is scoring runs, and it will continue to be so. They currently have the NL West’s best run differential of plus-26. Catcher Wilin Rosario has been a tremendously pleasant surprise. Nearly batting .300, Rosario has seven home runs, the second most for a catcher in the NL (John Buck has 10).
The Rockies also recently called up top prospect Nolan Arenado to bolster their loaded lineup.
If Tulowitzki, Gonzalez, and Rosario can maintain hot bats the Rockies have a legitimate shot at winning the NL West.
The Diamondbacks are a pretty scary team. They’re young, extremely talented and surprising everyone. Many wrote off their offensive power without the presence of Justin Upton. However, the emerging power of Paul Goldschmidt and the surprising bat of Didi Gregorius have kept the D-backs within a game of leading the division.
The pitching has continued to be a strength for the Snakes. Ian Kennedy, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill have performed to expectations. However, young standout Patrick Corbin has surprised everyone with his dominant 4-0 record and 1.80 ERA.
Their bullpen remains a question, but if newly crowned closer Heath Bell can rekindle his glory days, they will be a contender late through the summer.
However, the Padres have shown their potential as of late, winning seven of their past 10 games. Young studs Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso join MVP candidate Chase Headley in bolstering the heart of the lineup. Furthering their surprising lineup will be the addition of Yasmani Grandal later this month following a 50-game suspension.
The Padres' main problem has been the lack of consistent starting pitching, usually a strength of the team. Their default ace, Edinson Volquez, has a 5.50 ERA through seven starts.
If the pitching can turn it around and the batters can maintain steady run support, the Padres can actually pull off the surprise of the season.
The Dodgers are without a doubt the surprise of the NL West this year. With a MLB-leading $220 million team payroll, they’re in last place in the division.
It’s fair to say they’ve been a monumental disappointment after all of the highly publicized signings this offseason. Matt Kemp hasn’t played up to his typical self following shoulder surgery. Hanley Ramirez can’t seem to stay healthy and is probably petitioning for a new hamstring. Adrian Gonzalez openly admits his power isn’t where it used to be.
It hasn’t been all bad, though.
Carl Crawford seems to have rekindled his old Tampa Bay self. South Korean rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu has been a solid starter and continues to impress. And it nearly goes without saying that Clayton Kershaw remains one of the league’s best pitchers.
Once Ramirez and Zack Greinke come back from their DL stints and Kemp remembers he’s nearly a 40/40 player, the team should make a 180 and shoot through the NL West standings. I don’t think many doubt the team’s talent and potential.
What do you think? Who has surprised/disappointed?