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The day was April 7, 2021 — exactly one year ago. The MLB season was one week old (the 2022 season would be too, were it not for the lockout). The Dodgers paced the NL West with a 5-2 record, with the Padres close behind at 4-3. The Giants were 3-3, and the Rockies and Diamondbacks shared the basement at 2-4. “Sounds about right,” we said.
A quick visit to Five Thirty-Eight’s MLB standings projections pegged the Dodgers for a 105-win season. It also projected the Padres for 94 wins and the Giants for 74. That Dodgers projection was spot on. Those Padres and Giants numbers? Not so much.
The Padres ended the year with 79 wins — 15 below their projected total. The Giants led the league with 107 wins, outpacing their projection by 33 games. What?
Yeah, that’s the type of nonsense that goes down in the NL West, and the Diamondbacks have been stuck in the middle of it — or lately, at the bottom of it — since their inception.
As Opening Day’s first pitch approaches, let’s discuss several key questions about how this monster of a division will pan out in 2022.
Who has the best shot at second place?
Friedman: San Diego, and I don’t think it’s close. The Giants were fun in 2022, but getting simultaneous career years from three players in their mid-30s was a 99th-percentile type of outcome. One of them has since retired, and both Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford are likely to fall back to earth.
Meanwhile, nearly everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Padres last year — particularly on the pitching side — went wrong. A rotation of Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Mike Clevinger, Blake Snell and the newly-acquired Sean Manaea figures to be one of the best in the National League. Also, picking up Bob Melvin as manager feels like a boost of several wins by itself.
Before the Giants signed Carlos Rodón last month, I had them finishing below .500. Maybe he pushes the Giants’ record back into the green. I could also see PECOTA‘s projection — 78 wins — coming to fruition.
Granted, the Fernando Tatis Jr. injury complicates matters for the Padres, but I’d still take Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham over Crawford, Belt and whomever San Francisco’s third-best hitter will be.
Lyons: Are we awarding the division to Los Angeles already? Yeah, actually, that makes sense.
Last year, there was some plausibility to think that the Padres could upend the Dodgers in the right scenario. In what was an even less likely turn of events, the Giants and their franchise-record 107 wins did the honors to take the top spot.
This year, the gap between L.A. and everyone else seems a bit larger.
San Francisco could very well be good again this year, but not as good, with 87 wins. That’s a dropoff of 20 wins from last season. Even after the Giants signed virtually an entire pitching staff this offseason to line up behind postseason star RHP Logan Webb, there are questions about whether everyone can replicate 2021, especially without Buster Posey.
San Diego seems a bit suspect, in my opinion, even with manager Bob Melvin as possibly the best offseason addition to their club. Acquiring Manaea should help stabilize that rotation. But until Tatis Jr. returns from his wrist injury, the Padres may be without a catalyst that gets them to their first appearance in the playoffs in a 162-game season since 2006.
Is this the year the Padres finally put it together?
Friedman: Obviously, I’m a believer based on my earlier remarks. It also doesn’t hurt that A.J. Preller is one of the most aggressive GMs in sport — heck, he almost plucked Jose Ramirez from the Guardians earlier this week. Whatever the Padres need at the deadline, they’re going to get it.
Darvish and Snell are big X-factors, and both were better in 2021 than their low-4.00 ERAs indicate. San Diego’s offense might hover around league average without Tatis, but the rotation should more than compensate.
I’m not saying that they’ll win 100 games, but I think they should comfortably make the playoffs.
Lyons: It’s not hard to see this team as being successful, but that was the case last year when they finished 79-83. A slew of early injuries makes this feel like it could be another repeat.
Melvin would do well to get this roster to look more like the one that had the second-most wins in the National League during the shortened 2020 season.
When reviewing the roster, something suggests that they’ll be less than the sum of their parts. They have a lot of pieces that would be great on a better team, but collectively they’re missing the “It” factor. Without Tatis Jr., they could become scarier than Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
As far as getting what they need at the Aug. 2 trade deadline, their farm system has fallen off recently with graduations and, mostly trades. There may be another decent-sized deal remaining with their current crop of prospects, but I think it will take more creativity than anything, which creates further doubt about it all coming to fruition.
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking that the Padres continue to struggle and the Rockies possibly sneak into third place. And if it’s the Giants in fourth-place, that works too.
Are the Rockies more likely to finish in third place or fifth place?
Friedman: Both PECOTA and ZiPS have the Diamondbacks finishing ahead of the Rockies. Neither team is great, but I’ve got the Rockies finishing in the basement.
Gallen is the best pitcher on either team, and I think the D-backs have a bit more upside across the board. I like Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber, but I’m not convinced that there’s another above-replacement level pitcher on Colorado’s pitching staff.
Lyons: No offense, Jesse, but there’s no way Colorado finishes with a worse record than Arizona. Seems an impossibility.
Besides, didn’t we do this same dance with the projections last year?
Less crazy would be the Giants dropping down to fourth place and the Rockies moving up into third. There’s even a multiverse out there where it’s the Padres that fall into fourth. (Oddly enough, all multiverses do have the Dodgers winning the division.)
If the four major awards stayed in the NL West, who are the winners?
Friedman: “Literally heartbreaking.” Those were the words of a diehard Oakland A’s fan friend of mine when Melvin left for the Padres.
He’s been one of the best for a long time, and righting a long-lost ship in San Diego gives him a clear path to the MLB Manager of the Year award.
If Gallen had ever eclipsed 150 innings in his professional career, I’d be seriously tempted to take him for NL Cy Young. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’ll be able to rack up the necessary innings based on his limitations the past few years. Julio Urías of the Dodgers was awesome last year in 185.2 innings, so I’ll take him narrowly beating out teammate Walker Buehler.
Mookie Betts was good-but-not-great in 2021, and I don’t think he’s going to let that happen in back-to-back years. I think he’s the best MVP candidate in the division.
I’m not sure if any NL West rookies will make a serious push for rookie of the year, but the best candidate in my mind is Joey Bart of San Francisco. He hasn’t put it together at the big-league level yet, but he’s also never gotten consistent playing time. D-backs outfielder Alek Thomas could be very good some day, but I expect it to take time for him to adjust to the majors. C.J. Abrams in San Diego is another name to watch.
Lyons: Dave Roberts got his contract extension and now he’ll get his first manager of the year award since winning the division in his first campaign as skipper. The Yankees have had a cast of superstars in their clubhouse for years and yet they’ve barely sniffed a World Series. Give Doc some credit.
Walker Buehler was my pick for NL Cy Young Award last year and I’m going to run it back in 2022 despite a hunch that Márquez or Freeland possibly has an outstanding season.
Everything seems to be lining up for Freddie Freeman to be crowned king of the NL after going home to SoCal despite being given the cold shoulder by Atlanta. Mookie Betts is more valuable to the Dodgers, but it’ll be too hard to pass up this narrative with Freeman if given the chance.
Alek Thomas is a dude. Arizona needs something more than just confirmation that Ketel Marte really won’t be traded. Thomas’ tools aren’t as explosive as other five-tool players, but it’s good enough to put him near that class. He’ll be a pest in the NL West for years to come.
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