2015 National League West Preview: Can Money Buy Happiness (or a Title)?
One of these days, $268 million is going to be enough money to win a World Series. And based on our preseason rankings, this is the year it's going to happen!
According to our power rankings, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the best team in baseball, projected to have more wins than anyone else (93) and the best chance of winning the World Series (17.2%).
The Washington Nationals are the only other team to have odds in double digits (15.0%).
Of course, the Dodgers play in a division with the San Francisco Giants, the defending champs and World Series winners three times in the last five years. And there are the new-look San Diego Padres, who turned over virtually half their 25-man roster in order to compete with the big boys this season.
Oh, and there are the Rockies and Diamondbacks, who should provide the top three teams with lots of easy victories. Every good team needs a cupcake now and then.
The rankings below are based on each team's nERD score, which is a numberFire-specific stat that calculates how many runs a team would be expected to defeat a league-average team by on any given day on a neutral site. For more details, click it here.
So, let's take a look at how the NL West shapes up according to our math in 2015.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
nERD: 0.78 | Projected Win-Loss: 93-69 | Division Odds: 70.0% | Playoffs Odds: 88.8%
The Dodgers are ranked first in our preseason power rankings for a couple reasons, the main one being a rotation that can challenge the Super Rotation in Washington, if everyone stays healthy. They have the reigning NL MVP and Cy Young Award winner in Clayton Kershaw, a dominant number-two in Zack Greinke, and a solid number-three in Hyun-Jin Ryu. They also signed veteran pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson to free agent contracts. However, McCarthy and Anderson have injury histories that, if they go down, could lead the team thin on starters.
L.A. also turns over the center field job to heralded rookie Joc Pederson, who tore up Triple-A last year, hitting .303/.435/.582 with 33 home runs and 30 steals. He won't replicate those numbers this year, but he has the makings of a future star in the outfield. Most championship teams are solid up the middle, and it's a bit risky turning over the everyday center field job to a rookie. He's joined by Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford in the corners.
In the infield, the team traded Dee Gordon away to Miami in the offseason and signed free agent Howie Kendrick to play second. His double-play mate is long-time Phillie Jimmy Rollins, with the never-aging Juan Uribe at third and the always-steady Adrian Gonzalez at first.
One of the team's biggest areas of concern is in the bullpen, where they will be without their closer, Kenley Jansen, for the first few weeks of the season because of foot surgery. Brandon League and Joel Peralta will try to pick up the slack, but the team has been stocking up on veteran relievers coming off injuries in the hopes of cobbling a relief corps together.
That is a lot of new faces for a team that won 94 games a season ago. But it's World Series or bust in 2015, no matter the price.
2. San Francisco Giants
nERD: 0.35 | Projected Win-Loss: 87-75 | Division Odds: 24.0% | Playoffs Odds: 60.9%
Shhhhhh. Hey, don't tell anyone. But the Giants have the fourth-most expensive roster in all of baseball this season.
San Francisco isn't often talked about as one of the big spenders, but their projected payroll of $168 million for 2015 trails only the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox. So while they have used some of their home grown talent to win a lot of these titles, this isn't the Little Engine That Could, here.
It will be interesting to see how the Giants manage without one of their most important offensive players, the departed Pablo Sandoval. The light-hitting Casey McGehee takes over the hot corner, but isn't expected to produce in the same way Kung Fu Panda did. Two of the team's other stars remain, right fielder Hunter Pence and catcher Buster Posey. Pence and Posey are both terrific postseason performers and combined for 10.4 fWAR in the regular season last year. The Giants will need more of the same from those two veterans if they expect to score enough runs to win.
Madison Bumgarner became a star in the playoffs last year, and he leads a rotation full of familiar names and faces. Matt Cain returns from an injury that knocked him out for most of last season, with Tim Hudson, Jake Peavy, and either Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong rounding out the rotation. Do these greybeards have enough left in the tank to keep San Francisco competitive for one more run?
San Francisco's strength lies in their bullpen, and manager Bruce Bochy is a virtuoso at using his slew of talented relievers. Closer Santiago Casilla usually takes care of the last three outs, with Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez making life very difficult on teams if they don't have a lead after the first six innings. And as we saw in the playoffs last year, having a lockdown bullpen can solve a lot of ills.
The Giants will not, and should not, be favored to win another World Series this year. But, when has that ever stopped them?
3. San Diego Padres
nERD: -0.11 | Projected Win-Loss: 80-82 | Division Odds: 5.2% | Playoffs Odds: 23.6%
Wait. Hang on. I think...yes, general manager A.J. Preller just made another trade.
I'm not sure we've ever seen a team undergo the kind of radical facelift the Padres underwent this winter.
|C||Rene Rivera||Derek Norris|
|1B||Yonder Alonso||Yonder Alonso|
|2B||Jedd Gyorko||Jedd Gyorko|
|SS||Everth Cabrera||Alexi Amarista|
|3B||Chase Headley||Will Middlebrooks|
|LF||Seth Smith||Justin Upton|
|CF||Cameron Maybin||Wil Myers|
|RF||Will Venable||Matt Kemp|
|SP1||Ian Kennedy||James Shields|
|SP2||Tyson Ross||Ian Kennedy|
|SP3||Andrew Cashner||Tyson Ross|
|SP4||Odrisamer Despaigne||Andrew Cashner|
|SP5||Eric Stults||Brandon Morrow|
The table above shows the projected depth chart of the 2015 Padres and the players in 2014 who played the most games at that position. Only Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko remain among the eight position players. The team traded for an entirely new outfield, with Justin Upton in left, Wil Myers in center and Matt Kemp in right. And thanks to all their changes, their payroll is projected to be a little more than $100 million for 2015, up from $91 million on Opening Day last year, and way up from $68.3 million the previous season.
Now, I'm not going to tell you that the Padres have the best outfield in baseball. There are a couple of crews in Miami, Pittsburgh, and maybe even Colorado (as you'll read about in a minute) that are probably battling for bragging rights on that one. But if the San Diego trio can remain healthy, it could turn out to be one of the more productive in the National League.
But it wasn't just the offense that got an upgrade. The rotation landed itself an ace in James Shields last month. He fronts a rotation of outstanding pitchers, featuring Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, as well as veteran Ian Kennedy. While it's not quite up to the standards of the Los Angeles or Washington rotation, it's certainly a playoff-worthy group of starters.
The biggest question will be whether San Diego can score enough runs. Upton, Kemp, and Myers must produce, and the Friars are going to have to get some help from at least a couple of their infielders.
I'm not sure the Padres are a playoff team, but I think they can certainly outperform our ranking of number 18.
4. Colorado Rockies
nERD: -0.58 | Projected Win-Loss: 74-88 | Division Odds: 0.5% | Playoffs Odds: 4.0%
This is where things start to get a little, um, "uggo."
Colorado won just 66 games last year, and our projections foresee an eight-win increase in 2015. Perhaps a few of those extra wins will come from a full season of Troy Tulowitzki, who was on his way to having one of the greatest seasons a shortstop had ever had until he hit the disabled list and missed the last half of 2014. Of course, there's never a guarantee that Tulo will play a full season, as he's played in at least 150 games in only two of his eight full Major League seasons.
But the Rockies are not without some offensive talent. Nolan Arenado is one of the most productive third basemen in baseball, hitting .287/.328/.500 with 18 home runs and 34 doubles last season. Left fielder Corey Dickerson hit .312/.364/.567 with 24 homers and 27 doubles last year, and center fielder Charlie Blackmon hit .288/.335/.440 with 19 dingers and 27 doubles in 2014. With the return of a hopefully healthy Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado could have one of the most explosive outfields in all of baseball.
Unfortunately, there must be men throwing the baseball as well, an area at which the team is not expected to excel. Jorge De La Rosa is the team's "ace," although on most other teams a 4.10 ERA will land you in the middle or back of a rotation. Number-two starter Jhoulys Chacin is making his way back from rotator cuff and labrum issues that ended his season in late June, and the team signed former Phillie Kyle Kendrick as their number-three starter in the offseason. No offense to Kyle, but Kendrick in the thin Colorado air is a bad combination.
Because they play in an offensive park, and because there is some talent in the outfield and on the left side of the infield, the Rockies are going to have days where they put up a bunch of runs. But they're also going to lose a lot of games because their starters are going to get blown out of the water, which is why they are number 28 in our preseason power rankings.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
nERD: -0.76 | Projected Win-Loss: 70-92 | Division Odds: 0.2% | Playoffs Odds: 1.2%
Ladies and gentlemen, your official "worst team in baseball!"
Seriously, you've got to be pretty bad to have a worse projected record than the Phillies, but that's where the D-Backs find themselves as they enter 2015. Out is Kirk Gibson as manager, and in is the team's third base coach Chip Hale, who will have a Hale of a time (see what I did there?) getting his team to 70 wins this season.
Of course, the team is not without some quality players. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is a perennial MVP candidate and one of the most dominant right-handed power hitters in the game. Center fielder A.J. Pollock is an exciting young center fielder who was putting up All-Star numbers last year before he got hit in the hand by a pitch in early May that kept him out until September. Pollock hit .302/.353/.498 with 7 homers, 19 doubles, 6 triples and 14 stolen bases in just 287 plate appearances, worth 3.3 fWAR in barely two months of play.
New Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas will also be intriguing to watch. He's being worked out as the team's third baseman this spring but could wind up in left field if that doesn't take. Tomas showed a lot of power while playing in Cuba, but his body type and work ethic were question marks for teams that showed interest initially. However, he certainly gives Arizona fans something to watch this year.
Just cover your eyes when a Diamondback pitcher takes the mound. On paper, the rotation has the makings of one of the worst in baseball, with soft-tossing right-hander Josh Collmenter the team's ace. The only other rotation spot locked up so far is Jeremy Hellickson in the number-two spot, and he made only 13 starts for the Rays last season and had a 5.17 ERA in 2013. No less than 11 pitchers are vying for the final three rotation spots this spring.
Frankly, 70 wins for the D-Backs appears to be a generous projection, especially when you consider how strong the top three teams in the National League West appear to be.