After finishing third in the National League West in 2013, the San Francisco Giants will look to return to their winning ways once again in 2014. Though they'll return with a largely similar roster from last season, a season free of injury and underperformance from key players could again lead to October baseball in San Francisco.
But what about the rest of the division? The Dodgers once again possess a stacked all-around lineup thanks to their Yankee-esque spending, and the Diamondbacks and Padres both look to be capable of surprising some people.
Let's take a look at how the Giants stack up against the rest of the division.
Arizona Diamondbacks (2013 Record: 81-81)
The Diamondbacks have quietly compiled one of the better lineups in the National League. They'll have Gerardo Parra, a consistent offensive producer and statistically one of the best defensive outfielders in the majors, and Aaron Hill, a .300 hitter (with an .862 OPS) in his three years with Arizona, at the top of the lineup.
Paul Goldschmidt, an MVP candidate in 2013, and Miguel Montero, one year removed from a .391 OBP, will follow them up, and Mark Trumbo and his .469 career slugging percentage round out the top five.
The pitching rotation is where the Diamondbacks have question marks. Patrick Corbin figures to begin the season as the de facto staff ace, though he posted a 5.19 ERA in the second half of 2013, according to FanGraphs. Trevor Cahill will follow, with an unspectacular 3.98 ERA over the last three seasons, then Wade Miley (solid 3.55 ERA in 2013), Brandon McCarthy (4.53 ERA) and Bronson Arroyo (3.79 ERA) round out the rotation.
Colorado Rockies (74-88)
I firmly believe each team in the NL West has a chance to at least contend for a playoff spot...except for the Rockies. Yes, they have one of the best lineups in the league, especially if Nolan Arenado fulfills his potential and Wilin Rosario continues his solid production.
But the pitching leaves quite a bit to be desired. Jorge De La Rosa had a breakout season in 2013, but it's a stretch to expect him to match those numbers again. Tyler Chatwood also had a nice 2013 season, but he'll have to prove that wasn't a one-time deal. Jordan Lyles has yet to post an ERA under five, and Brett Anderson is coming off a six-plus ERA season.
The Rockies might have some solid seasons in them in the future, but for now, their prospects aren't exciting.
Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)
On paper, the Dodgers have arguably the best roster in the game. Their one through five hitters, when hitting as they're capable, won't be any fun for opposing pitchers. 6-7-8 gets a bit murky (Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis, Alex Guerrero), but the top of the lineup should keep the offense afloat.
The pitching, however, is where it really gets scary. Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke form perhaps the best one-two punch in the majors, Hyun-Jin Ryu will look to build on a solid rookie season, and Dan Haren, despite a few hard years, is a tough veteran who has proven to be a reliable, if not dominant starting pitcher in the past.
Even the Los Angeles bullpen is tough. The deadly trio of J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen will make life difficult for opposing hitters late in the game, and Paco Rodriguez dominated with a 2.32 ERA and minuscule 0.90 WHIP in 2013.
San Diego Padres (76-86)
The Padres certainly have the making of a sleeper team. Everth Cabrera is still speedy and capable of reaching base atop the lineup, PEDs or not, and third baseman Chase Headley has the potential to provide a quality bat in the middle of the lineup.
Jedd Gyorko showed off his power in a fine rookie campaign in 2013. Though he hit just .249 to complement his 23 homers, there's a good chance the average will come now that the Padres second baseman has a full season under his belt. (He also hit .321 with a .386 OPS across all minor league levels.)
Pitching is certainly the team's main strength, though the rotation still has plenty of question marks. After struggling in the hitter-friendly AL East, Josh Johnson will return to the National League with the added benefit of playing in the pitcher's heaven that is Petco Park. He'll likely fit into the rotation as the No. 3 starter, behind Ian Kennedy, also looking to rebound after a tough season, and Andrew Cashner, who posted a 3.09 ERA in 26 starts (31 games) in 2013. Eric Stults and Tyson Ross will round out the rotation.
Where will the Giants finish in 2014?
Contrary to popular belief, the NL West has shaped up to be one of the tougher divisions in the majors. On top of the Giants, who have a reasonable chance to return to elite status, the Dodgers again form one of the best rosters in the majors and will likely run away with the division.
After Los Angeles, however, the Diamondbacks and Padres have too many question marks to be taken as serious playoff contenders. That's not to say they're out of the race already, but the aforementioned weak spots on their respective rosters means they'll have trouble contending with the likes of the Dodgers and Giants.
In short, the Giants have an excellent shot at claiming second place in the West and even contending for a second wild-card spot. Navigating the West won't be easy by any means, but as spring training kicks off, the Giants have to like where they stand.