2015 Division Preview – National League West

NL West

It’s that time of year again, time for 500 Level Fan to start embarrassing himself with futile, sad, and mind-blowingly awful predictions.  Before we get to my annual predictions, let’s go division by division to get a glimpse of what is in store for baseball fans in 2015.  These preview posts should be seen as a division primer, so we can get to know the best players and teams, along with some interesting storylines, in each.  These won’t have my actual predicted order of finish – just a quick snapshot.  The predictions come later.

We’ll begin today with the NL West.

Defending Champion

Los Angeles Dodgers

Past Five Champions

2014 – Los Angeles

2013 – Los Angeles

2012 – San Francisco

2011 – Arizona

2010 – San Francisco

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 93.2

Best Player

Buster Posey, Giants

There is no longer any doubt that Buster Posey is not only the best catcher in the division, but is also the best player.  Despite spending game after game crouching behind the plate, Posey remains one of the best all around hitters in the game, and 2014 was no exception.  His .311 batting average was 4th in the National League, and he also added 22 HR and 89 RBI for a Giants team that won the NL Wild Card.  His poise behind the plate was one of the major reasons why San Fran won the World Series for the third time in five seasons.

Honourable Mention: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Best Pitcher

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw is simply unbelievable.  He was truly dominant from 2011 – 2013, and somehow the big lefty took it to another level in 2014.  He topped the NL in wins (21), ERA (1.77), complete games (6), ERA+ (197), FIP (1.81), WHIP (0.857), K / 9 (10.9), and K/BB (7.71!). He unanimously won the National League Cy Young award, and became the first pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968 to win the NL MVP award.  Now he just needs to figure out how to win in the playoffs.

Honourable Mention: Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Zack Greinke, Dodgers

Three Storylines For 2015

1. Odds and Evens

2010 – World Series.  2011 – Missed the Playoffs.  2012 – World Series.  2013 – Missed the Playoffs.  2014 – World Series.  2015 – ?  The San Francisco Giants will be looking to buck the odd numbered year trend this season, as they begin the quest for a fourth title in six years.  But there are a lot of questions marks surrounding this team as the season gets underway.  Gone are Ryan Vogelsong, a dependable fifth starter, and playoff hero and heart of the team Pablo Sandoval.  Can they be replaced?  Does Tim Lincecum have anything left?  Will last season’s immense workload, especially in the playoffs, have any impact on Madison Bumgarner?  Will Matt Cain be the same upon his return from injury?  How will they replace Hunter Pence, who will open the season on the DL?  They will need to find a good answer to all of those questions if they hope to hang around with the Dodgers and end the odd year jinx.

2. Madness in San Diego

The San Diego Padres scored 535 runs last season, the lowest total (by a mile) in the National League.  To rectify that, GM A.J. Preller decided to make an offseason trade . Then he made another one, and another one, and another one, and on and on.  It seemed as if every day San Diego was involved in another deal in what was one of the wildest offseasons in baseball.  At the end of the winter the Padres had acquired former All-Stars Matt Kemp and Justin Upton, solid hitting catcher Derek Norris, and 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers.  They also went out and added ace James Shields for good measure.  Now the challenge is to figure out how to play all of those guys, when players like Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, and Carlos Quentin are already on the roster.  It should be a fun year in SD.

3. Kershaw and the Playoffs

72 – 26 record.  2.11 ERA.  0.946 WHIP.  948 Strikeouts.  3 Cy Young Awards.  1 NL MVP.   Those are the numbers that Clayton Kershaw has posted from 2011 to 2014.  He is the best pitcher we have seen since Pedro Martinez was destroying the American League as a member of the Red Sox.  But there is another side to Kershaw that he would dearly love to improve upon: his playoff resume.  For his career, spanning six playoff series in four separate seasons, he has been surprisingly mortal: 1 – 5 record, 5.12 ERA, 1.235 WHIP, 0 World Series rings.  The Dodgers once again look to have the best team in the division on paper, and all signs point to them once again reaching October.  Will regular season Kershaw join them this year?

Interesting Stat

As mentioned above, the San Diego Padres scored the fewest runs in the league last year, but just how anemic was their offense?  The answer is very, very anemic.  The Padres finished dead last in all of baseball in runs scored (535), hits (1,199, almost 100 behind the 29th ranked Reds), batting average (.226, 12 points behind 29th), and OPS (.634 – way back of 29th place).  To put that OPS in perspective, Toronto fan favourite Munenori Kawasaki, known for his weak bat, had an OPS of .623, meaning the Padres essentially had an entire roster of Kawasaki’s in 2014.  There is a lot of pressure on Kemp, Upton, and co. in 2015.

Who Should Win

Los Angeles

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

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