The National League West was supposed to be the division this season. The biggest free agent pitchers all found their way there. The most notable international free agent landed there. There were big trades and big moves made to strengthen already-formidable teams and push them to the playoffs. It was going to be the best division in the game.
A month and change into the season, and…not so much. The NL West is a wasteland of mediocrity, where the top guns are struggling to stay at .500 and last place is just a game or two away from first. It wasn’t supposed to be like this!
So what’s gone wrong? Here’s a team by team look at the problems that have plagued baseball’s worst division in 2016:
San Francisco Giants (15-15): They spent a ton of money to fix their rotation over the winter, and Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have been as good as advertised; problem is, it’s looking like the Giants needed to sign four pitchers instead of just two. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain have been putrid, with ERAs in the stratosphere, and their starts have resulted in worn out bullpens and almost guaranteed losses. The offense has struggled at times to find consistency, but it’s the black hole at the end of their rotation that’s killing them. They can’t seem to keep any positive momentum for more than three games at a time. Injuries to key relievers Sergio Romo and George Kontos haven’t helped, either.
Los Angeles Dodgers (14-14): Avert your eyes from their bullpen, where they have just two reliable options in Kenley Jansen and, somehow, Joe Blanton. They also have the same number of reliable starters in their rotation, with the continued brilliance of Clayton Kershaw and the impressive Kenta Maeda. Add in an underwhelming offense, and it’s easy to see why the Dodgers haven’t pulled away from the pack.
Colorado Rockies (14-14): No one expected them to contend for the division, yet here they are, tied with two of the big-spending teams and ahead of the other. The Rockies have been a pleasant surprise and if the division continues to spiral downward, their offense gives them as good of a chance as anyone to take it. Chances are they won’t, of course. But at least they score a lot of runs.
San Diego Padres (12-17): They’re right where everyone expected them to be, really. Nothing really has gone wrong, they’re just not as talented as the rest of the division. They’re still just a hot streak away from first place, though.
Arizona Diamondbacks (12-18): Such high hopes, and such minimal returns so far. Their season started with disaster when A.J. Pollock went down and things have only gotten worse. Zack Greinke has already given up more than half of the earned runs he gave up all of last year, and Shelby Miller has looked like a complete bust. Paul Goldschmidt suffered through an extremely slow start as well, which brought the whole offense down with him. Arizona pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table this winter and it looks like they’re holding deuce-seven.
Every NL West team is flawed, and it so happens that all of those flaws seem to be showing themselves early on. No one has been able to pull away, just like no one has fallen completely out of contention. It’s a mess, but a winnable mess.
Chances are the better teams will start to assert themselves if they can correct things. If the Giants figure out a solution for the back end of their rotation, they’d boast the west’s strongest all-around team on paper. If the Dodgers can find reliable bullpen arms, they could easily pull away while the rest of the division tries to sort things out. And if the Rockies find consistent pitching, they could continue to surprise.
The NL West may look ugly right now, but the teams there are simply too talented to continue to falter. Chances are they’ll figure out their issues and there will be one heck of a race for fans to enjoy down the stretch.
Or, maybe no one figures anything out and 82 wins gets someone into the playoffs. Fans like a good train wreck sometimes, too.