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Oct. 31, 2017 - Source: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America

TJ Knapp

Keeping an Eye on the Exciting NL West in 2018

Don’t sleep on the West. Thanks to several interesting offseason moves, the NL West may very well be the most exciting race in baseball in 2018.

The tides are changing in Major League Baseball and we may be looking at something really interesting on the West Coast. The NL West has a chance to be the most competitive division in baseball this year. Not the AL East or the NL Central, you read that right, the NL Wild Wild West. Let’s go through the division and look at why I’m expecting big things from the West Coast.

Los Angeles Dodgers

They’re the defending NL champs, they have the reigning Rookie of the Year on their side, and their staff is led by a surefire Hall of Famer. The biggest question mark for the Dodgers is the rest of their pitching staff. Alex Wood and Rich Hill have both shown flashes of dominance but their track records suggest that they’ve probably peaked. Kenta Maeda has been good but not great since joining the Dodgers, and Hyun-Jin Ryu has had some health issues. Walker Buehler is a budding ace but he might still be a few years away. The bullpen still has Kenley Jansen locking down the ninth but the loss of Brandon Morrow may come back to hurt them.

The bottom line is that I still expect the Dodgers to be a really good team. Their lineup is deep and full of impact bats. I predicted earlier that Corey Seager is going to be an MVP candidate this year and I believe he has the kind of bat that can carry a team. Look for the Dodgers to have a strong season but don’t be surprised if they hit a few bumps in the road along the way.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Coming off of a trip to the postseason, the D-Backs will look to repeat that success in 2018. Unfortunately for them, I think they’re going to come up short this season. There is a lot to like about this team, like Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray or Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb, but I really think J.D. Martinez was the X-factor that really brought them to the next level last season. Sure Steven Souza is a solid player, but is he J.D. Martinez? He’ll bring a defensive upgrade no doubt but the impact Martinez made in the second half last year was historic and I just don’t see anyone on this team matching that kind of production.

The D-Backs will be competitive in 2018. I really like AJ Pollack and David Peralta, Goldy and Lamb are obviously impact bats, and I am a fan of their rotation. I’m just not sure they will be able to keep up with the rest of the West that seemed to improve this offseason while the D-Backs downgraded in right field and signed Alex Avila.

Colorado Rockies

This team is really interesting. Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon could both win MVPs one day and the rest of their lineup is rather potent. I’ve said before that I think Ian Desmond is due for a bounce-back year and I also think a guy like Trevor Story could break out and have a really special season. DJ LeMahieu is in the final year of his contract so a shiny stat line may be on the horizon and they have a really talented kid in Brendan Rodgers waiting in the wings.

The biggest question for the Rockies remains to be their young pitching staff. Jon Gray took a big step forward and I believe he has more room to grow. The rest of the staff showed that they are capable of winning games in Coors Field but no one really stood out as a true impact arm. However, the Rockies did shore up their bullpen by bringing in Bryan Shaw and Wade Davis to lock up the back end. This should take some pressure off of the rotation and enable the Rockies to shorten some games. Don’t sleep on these guys.

San Francisco Giants

I wrote earlier this offseason that I think the Giants will reach October in 2018 and I stick by my word. I really do think their pitching staff will rebound in a big way with Madison Bumgarner leading them and Johnny Cueto bouncing back. Jeff Samardzija is also someone to keep an eye on as I feel like he is on the cusp of busting out. They also have a sneaky good bullpen out there in the Bay Area. Mark Melancon should bounce back, Hunter Strickland is nasty, and I really like the addition of Tony Watson.

The Giants lineup is filled with hard-nosed veterans from top to bottom. The additions of Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, and Austin Jackson should provide them with offensive consistency and above average defense. They still have Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik up the middle plus a guy named Buster Posey behind the dish. It’s an even-numbered year and while their window isn’t huge, the Giants definitely have a shot to make a push for October in 2018.

San Diego Padres

The Padres will probably end up at the bottom of the division in 2018, but not without making it interesting. The addition of Eric Hosmer gives them a proven winner in the middle of their lineup to put alongside Wil Myers. I think guys like Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and Austin Hedges can all take steps forward offensively in 2018 and all three of them are already above average on defense. Outside of Hosmer, the rest of the infield leaves much to be desired but there is some real talent on the way and they might arrive sooner rather than later. Fernando Tatis Jr. is an absolute stud who could end up in the bigs as soon as this summer while Luis Urias looks like the second basemen of the future in San Diego who is also not that far away.

The Padres currently have a lot of question marks up and down their pitching staff but much like their lineup, help is on the way. Mackenzie Gore is the #25 prospect in baseball and some scouts liken him to Clayton Kershaw. Cal Quantrill and Anderson Espinoza are also expected to be plus major league arms, along with others such as Adrian Morejon and Michael Baez. The future is looking as nice as the weather in San Diego, and if baseball has shown us anything over the last few years, this young talent may blossom a lot sooner than many expected. Keep an eye on the Padres.

Main Photo: Oct. 31, 2017 – Source: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America

Product of Ohio University. Also writes for Pinstripe Alley and Pinstriped Prospects

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