Links to the other divisions: AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East, NL Central
The final division. The Dodgers were far and away the best team in the division last year, and I see no reason to expect something different in 2014. Even if Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig regress, they’ll be playing for more of the season (since both only played for part of 2013). Juan Uribe will probably play a little worse, but the rest of the lineup is solid. If Matt Kemp is healthy, that’s a huge help. On the pitching side, Clayton Kershaw’s injury is a little scary, but I’d be more scared if it was a shoulder injury. As is, I still think he’s the best starter in the league. Adding in the new Dan Haren, maybe a healthy and solid Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, and Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu makes for a good rotation. Overall, I think that there’s no reason not to expect the Dodgers to match what they did last year.
The Diamondbacks lost last year’s ace Patrick Corbin, and added Mark Trumbo. They lost Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, and Matt Davidson, and while I hated both trades (neither brought a great return despite giving up actual prospects; also, Skaggs and Eaton were the same deal), none played for the team last year much, so they aren’t automatic downgrades from last season. Adding Bronson Arroyo isn’t a huge improvement. They also lost Ian Kennedy, which isn’t a huge deal given his struggles last year. I really don’t know about the Diamondbacks; they have good parts (Paul Goldschmidt is great; Gerardo Parra, A.J. Pollock, Aaron Hill, Miguel Montero, and Martin Prado all rate as various degrees of not bad in my mind), but they weren’t great last year, and if anything, this year looks like it’ll only be rougher.
I forgot that the Padres finished tied for third last year. I think the lineup is good with room for growth-I almost wrote an article on this last year, but never quite got around for it. The lineup could very well have eight above-average players; Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable, and Chris Denorfia aren’t bad. Everth Cabrera broke out last year, and Headley could always bounce back to his 2012 peak. Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Jedd Gyorko all come with good prospect pedigrees, and have shown flashes of brilliance. That rotation is just so bad, though. Andrew Cashner will hopefully pitch a little more and improve a little. Josh Johnson and Ian Kennedy might be good if they aren’t injured, I guess. They have some people in the minors. If nothing else, three pitchers who have shown ace-level potential but are major injury risks beats last year, when they had part of a year of Cashner and nothing else. Maybe one of Kennedy or Johnson returns to form in Petco; that’d be an improvement, and might get them to the level of the Diamondbacks.
The Giants are right in this middle ground area with the Padres and Dbacks. Buster Posey is a good keystone player to build around. Hunter Pence was their best hitter last year (by Fangraphs’ WAR), but given the fact that he’s 31 and has had an up-and-down past, I’m not sure if he can repeat that. I expect a loss of one or two WAR there. Pablo Sandoval has been similarly up and down, but I think he, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt will be above-average/2-3-WAR players…which is about what they all were last year. Marco Scutaro is hurt and there isn’t a great replacement. The rest of the outfield, which is some combination of Michael Morse, Angel Pagan, and Gregor Blanco, is uninspiring at best.
On the pitching side, they improved somewhat with the addition of Tim Hudson. And I think Matt Cain will be better than last year, and Madison Bumgarner is a player that I have great expectations for. But I have no idea what’s wrong with Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong, and I just can’t shake the feeling that that rotation is shallow. Again, I think they’ll be better, but overall, this still looks like it’ll only be a few wins better than last year, somewhere around .500.
And then, there’s the Rockies. I think they’re the clear fifth-best team in the West. I love Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Nolan Arenado as a starting three. But I don’t understand trading away Dexter Fowler, who was above-average. They seem to be betting strongly on Wilin Rosario, Charlie Blackmon, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer (who I think should have gone to capitalize on what I suspect was a fluke late-career rebound, rather than Fowler); I think maybe one of those will be a 2-win player. I like the rotation, surprisingly; I think all of Brett Anderson, Juan Nicasio, Jorge de la Rosa, Tyler Chatwood, and Jhoulys Chacin are 2-3 win pitchers. But I’m not sure there’s a front line guy in there to make up for the surplus of “serviceable”, let alone the lineup’s deficiencies.
I’m pretty sure about the Dodgers at the top. The rest of the division, though? I could be talked into changing my opinions fairly easily. I think the Rockies are distinctly fifth-best. When you have Tulowitzki-Gonzalez-Arenado to build off of, good things might happen, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough to build off of that start. I think the Padres and Diamondbacks are a step above the Giants; it’s just a matter of distinguishing those two. I have them at about a toss-up; I decided to side with the Padres as a way of betting on one of Ian Kennedy or Josh Johnson returning to almost-ace form. Like I said, though, it’s mostly a toss-up; I still think the Dodgers are the cream of the crop here.