Lefty Clayton Kershaw just got a gigantic extension from the Dodgers and now he seems ready to lead them on a deep playoff run.
Before the Los Angeles Dodgers went on their summer tear, the National League West was looking like a very mediocre division. With Los Angeles adding to its already talented team and other teams in the division improving significantly over the offseason, the race for the West could be a little more interesting this season.
It's hard to say exactly how a season will go, but based on how each team has set itself up for the 2014 season, here are predictions for how the season will play out in the NL West.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 95-67
The Dodgers ownership group has made it clear that it wants the Dodgers to win and it wants them to win now. The fact that their 2014 payroll will be upwards of $224 million is clear evidence of that.
Aside from that, the Dodgers have a great starting rotation and a pretty good lineup to go with it.
The depth that the Dodgers possess in their pitching rotation is almost unfair. Anytime Paul Maholm and Josh Beckett are near the bottom of your rotation, you know that you're dangerous.
Perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw is as good as he's ever been, and Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu combine with him to create a deadly 1-2-3 punch. As long as Ryu can duplicate what he did a year ago, expect the Dodgers to have a top-five rotation in the majors.
Who will win the NL West in 2014?
As for the lineup, it's very top-heavy, but extremely talented. Question marks remain near the bottom of the lineup, but having run producers like Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp in the middle of the lineup can help alleviate the lack of depth.
With that being said, the Dodgers may need another player to step up so that the lineup can get sustained production as a whole.
From the perspective of talent alone, the Dodgers are one of the best teams in baseball. That should bring them into October again with a chance at winning a World Series title.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks: 90-72
The additions that the Diamondbacks made this offseason make them front-runners for a Wild Card spot in the National League, and they should also be competing for the division. After acquiring slugger Mark Trumbo from the Angels this offseason, MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt finally has protection in the lineup. That could make him even better in 2014 than he was in 2013.
Yes, Trumbo will strike out on a consistent basis, but he is also a threat to hit 30 home runs every season. Any time a team can group two sluggers like that in a lineup together, it has a chance to be dangerous. And in the outfield, the D'Backs have one of the best arms in baseball in Gerardo Parra.
Adding Bronson Arroyo to an already formidable rotation was a major plus for the Diamondbacks, who were in need of some depth. It will be interesting to see how young Randall Delgado performs this season; his performance may determine how the rotation performs as a whole. He's obviously a promising talent, as he came over for star outfielder Justin Upton.
In addition to shoring up their lineup and rotation, the acquisition of former White Sox closer Addison Reed will make their bullpen solid as well. With Brad Ziegler, J.J. Putz and Addison Reed in the back end of the bullpen, most leads should be safe for this squad.
As long as their rotation stays healthy, the Diamondbacks could surprise in 2014.
3. San Francisco Giants: 86-76
Everyone knows that the Giants have a potent pitching staff, but it is the lineup that may keep them from the playoffs for the second year in a row. San Francisco does have a lot of talented players, but aside from catcher Buster Posey, the Giants don't have any superstars.
First baseman Brandon Belt needs to take a big step in his career progression in 2014 for the Giants to take that next step. Though he was an elite prospect, he has fallen short of expectations. They will also need consistency out of guys like Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval.
In the rotation, the Giants seem to be just fine. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong make as deep a rotation as you'll find in baseball. On any given day, they are going to give their team a chance to win. That's why the Giants should be in the thick of the playoff race this season.
Another key for this team is the performance of closer Sergio Romo. He was excellent last year, saving 38 games with an ERA of 2.54, and the Giants will need more of the same to be in it down the stretch.
As long as role players can contribute consistently, this club is certainly capable of competing for a Wild Card spot at the very least. Whether or not they get those consistent contributions in 2014 remains to be seen.
4. San Diego Padres: 76-86
While the Padres certainly don't have the flashiest lineup in baseball, their emerging pitching rotation will do enough to salvage San Diego from a miserable season. Ian Kennedy is a consistent performer, and young Andrew Cashner broke out last season and played extremely well down the stretch.
That one-two punch is solid in itself, and then they added project player Josh Johnson to the fold this offseason as well.
San Diego's lineup isn't terrible, but it certainly isn't very good. Veterans like Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin are grouped with youngsters such as Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso. The veterans strike out quite a bit, and the two youngsters are still trying to figure things out. If Gyorko and Alonso take the next steps in their development, then the Padres could be a pretty good team in 2014.
Putting newly acquired reliever Joaquin Benoit with Huston Street should make the back end of the Padre bullpen tough to get through. As always, the Padres are going to win a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games this season. If the offense can get anywhere near the defense's level, San Diego could hover around the .500 mark in 2014.
5. Colorado Rockies: 72-90
This Rockies lineup isn't half bad, but anytime Jhoulys Chacin is the ace of your pitching staff, it's probably not going to be a very productive season. Opposite of the Padres, the Rockies are likely to win several 9-8 and 12-10 shootouts this season as a result of their above-average lineup and below-average rotation.
Colorado did add Brett Anderson to the rotation, but his injury issues are well-documented and there's no telling how much production they will get out of him in 2014. Obviously if he can stay healthy, the Rockies' ceiling is raised a little bit.
As far as the lineup is concerned, Colorado should have no problem putting runs on the board, especially playing at Coors Field. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki in the middle of the order are perennial All-Stars, and role players such as Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau and wildly underrated catcher Wilin Rosario will certainly contribute.
It's just going to be difficult for the Rockies to consistently score more runs than they give up.
To make matters worse, the bullpen doesn't look much better than the rotation. LaTroy Hawkins appears slated to become the team's closer, a role he is ill-fit for; he hasn't consistently closed games since 2005. Other bullpen arms such as Matt Belisle and Rex Brothers provide some upside, but as a unit the bullpen looks like it's going to get beaten up quite a bit.
Certainly some pitchers in the rotation could figure it out, and all of a sudden the Rockies could become a .500 team. However, it doesn't seem likely that the strengths of the lineup will outweigh the weaknesses in the starting rotation and the bullpen for Colorado in 2014.