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 2016. 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.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Past Five Champions
2015 – Los Angeles
2014 – Los Angeles
2013 – Los Angeles
2012 – San Francisco
2011 – Arizona
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 93.2
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt has been a star for three straight seasons now, and took his game to new heights in 2015. If it wasn’t for Bryce Harper, Goldy would have likely romped his way to the NL MVP award after putting up enormous numbers. He finished in the top-3 in the NL in virtually every major offensive category, including WAR, OPS, AVG, OBP, SLG, R, H, and RBI, and added 33 HR, and a career high 21 SB to boot. He is also one of the best defensive 1B in the game, earning his second Gold Glove last season. Often overlooked, he is now the centrepiece of a legitimate division contender, who hopes to show the rest of the world what he can do in the playoffs.
Honourable Mention: Buster Posey, Giants; Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Simply put, Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in all of baseball. The lefty narrowly missed out on a third straight Cy Young award in 2015, but through no fault of his own. He once again dominated major league batters to the tune of a 2.13 ERA and 0.88 WHIP, and led the league in IP (232.2), CG (4), Shutouts (3), and Strikeouts (301). A year after winning the Cy and MVP awards he finished in the top-10 in balloting for each, and took a huge step forward by finally pitching well in the playoffs. He will hope to propel the Dodgers into the World Series in 2016.
Honourable Mention: Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks
Three Storylines For 2016
1. Hey Big Spenders!
It’s a new year, which means a different NL West team must be making big moves. Last year the Padres spent the winter wheeling and dealing and entered 2015 as a buzz team, only to fall flat. Now it’s Arizona’s turn. Big offseason trades saw them acquire stud pitcher Shelby Miller from Atlanta, and leadoff shortstop Jean Segura from the Brewers, and they rocked the baseball world by signing reigning NL ERA leader Zack Greinke to a mammoth deal, stealing him away from the rival Dodgers. The D-Backs now have a great bullpen, an incredible ace, a very solid rotation (with Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray joining Greinke and Miller), and a big offense fronted by Paul Goldschmidt. It cost them a ton to bring in the players they did – both in dollars and prospects – but the future is now in Arizona.
2. What’s Next in LA?
Three straight 90+ win seasons. Three straight division titles. But it’s the three straight non-World Series years that Dodger ownership felt the most. That’s why, despite so much regular season success, Don Mattingly was let go. He is replaced by Dave Roberts, and it will be up to the rookie manager to navigate a very interesting team through a very interesting division. The Dodgers saw a lot of change over the offseason (including hiring Alex Anthopoulos). Gone is co-ace Zack Greinke, replaced by capable lefty Scott Kazmir, to front a rotation that is already decimated before the season begins (Ryu, Anderson, McCarthy, and Wood all find themselves on the injured list). On the offensive side, LA welcomes rookie stud Corey Seager to the fold, but he will be playing alongside an aging core, led by Adrian Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley, and Carl Crawford – not to mention the erratic Yasiel Puig. With the re-tooled D-Backs and even-year Giants ready to rock, it could be a tough year in Dodgerland.
3. Even Year Magic
In 2010, 2012, and 2014, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. They missed the playoffs entirely in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015. So seeing how we are entering the 2016 season, the Giants should naturally be expected to win it all. It’s a tongue-in-cheek statement to be sure, but would anybody be shocked if it actually came true? After all, this is a team that already has one of baseball’s best pitchers in Madison Bumgarner, and added Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to the rotation. They have a lineup fronted by one of baseball’s best catchers in Buster Posey, one that includes slugger Hunter Pence and 2015 breakouts Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Brandon Crawford, and new addition Denard Span. The team is also loaded with proven playoff experience, something that can’t be bought. A fourth straight even year Series is definitely a possibility.
There’s lack of run support, and then there is what Shelby Miller experienced last year. As a member of the Braves, Miller’s lack of support was nearly criminal. Despite posting the 14th best ERA in all of baseball (3.02), Miller led the majors with 17 losses, and it’s not hard to see why. Atlanta averaged 3.54 runs per game, dead last in baseball, but took their anemic offense to new lows during Miller starts: 2.6 runs per game. That explains why Miller didn’t win a single start from May 17 – October 4. During that stretch his teammates scored 2 runs four times, 1 run six times, and were shutout five times. Miller, of course, is now a member of the Diamondbacks, the 8th highest scoring team in baseball. If he can replicate his numbers from a year ago, it’s not out of the question to see him finish with 17 wins instead of 17 losses.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column in early April.