It’s that time of year again, time for 500 Level Fan to start embarrassing myself 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 2018. 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
2017 – Los Angeles
2016 – Los Angeles
2015 – Los Angeles
2014 – Los Angeles
2013 – Los Angeles
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.6
Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
There is very little separating Arenado and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt. Both are supreme talents who put up eerily similar numbers in 2017 (check it out: Arenado 37 HR, 130 RBI, .959 OPS, 7.2 WAR; Goldschmidt 36 HR, 120 RBI, .966 OPS, 5.8 WAR). Both led their respective teams to relatively surprising playoff positions. Both won a Gold Glove award for exceptional defensive play. The nod here goes to Arenado because he plays a premium position and he plays it incredibly well. No matter the defensive metric, Arenado is ranked right near the top of the game. He scores a 2.3 in Baseball Reference’s dWAR (6th overall), a 9.0 in Fangraphs’ Def (20th overall), and a 6.7 in UZR (15th overall). Combine that with his bat and you have a perennial MVP candidate.
Honourable Mention: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks,; Justin Turner, Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Another year, another dominant performance by Kershaw. He led the NL with a 2.31 ERA, 18 wins, a 180 ERA+, and a 6.73 K/BB ratio, was second with a 0.95 WHIP, and eclipsed the 200 strikeout plateau for the seventh time in his career. To top it all off, he finally got the monkey off his back by delivering in the playoffs, leading the Dodgers to the World Series for the first time since 1988. It wasn’t all roses for him, however. For the second straight year injuries limited him (he missed all of August), and despite his dominant performance in relief in Game 7, the Dodgers lost to Houston. With redemption on his mind (not to mention the possibility of opting out of his contract) Kershaw could be in line for a historic 2018.
Three Storylines For 2018
1. Can Los Angeles Recover?
Since 1923 the World Series has lasted the full seven games 37 times. Only six times in baseball history has a team rebounded from losing Game 7 to win the World Series the following year, and only once has it happened since 1961 (the 2015 Kansas City Royals). Last year the Dodgers had a 4-0 lead in Game 5, Clayton Kershaw on the mound, and the prospect of going to LA with a 3-2 lead. But it all slipped away. Now they have to figure out a way to get the taste of losing out of their mouths, and try to do what the Royals did a few years ago. With a rotation that might be questionable after Kershaw (no more Darvish), and a bullpen now without Brandon Morrow, the Dodgers might have a tougher time holding off the revamped Giants and still loaded D-Backs and Rockies. Their lineup is one of the deepest and most talented in the game, but how much does 2017 stick in their minds?
2. Back to the Future in San Fran
2017 was a year from Hell for San Francisco. They were decimated by injuries (Bumgarner, Pence, Posey, Panik, Belt, Melancon), and underperformance, all of which led to a 98 loss season, tied for the second highest number of losses in franchise history. But instead of blowing it all up, the Giants revamped in a big way by bringing in Austin Jackson, Tony Watson, and the faces of two other franchises: long-time Pirate Andrew McCutchen and long-time Ray Evan Longoria. On the surface it seems odd for a terrible and old team to bring in four guys in the latter stages of their careers (the average age of the new guys is about 32). But it offers a glimpse into the mindset of SF’s front office that last year was more of a fluke than a trend. A full return to health by their core plus the acquisition of two former studs should make the Giants competitive in the West once again.
3. Who Comes Second?
On paper, the Dodgers remain the class of the division, but there is the potential for a real battle for second place. Last year the NL West produced both Wild Card teams so the runner-up slot could mean a postseason appearance. Arizona claimed that position last year, and will enter 2018 with a great rotation but without slugger J.D. Martinez. Colorado added Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw to their bullpen, but questions exist (as always) about the rotation. The Giants should be better, and though the Padres may be a year or two away, their stocked farm system and the addition of Eric Hosmer make them a potential sleeper candidate. Buckle up!
152 and 159
Coors Field has always been a paradise for hitters with the thin air of Colorado inflating the stats of Rockies players at home. That was more evident than ever last year. Colorado scored 152 more runs at home than on the road (488 to 336) and posted an OPS 159 points higher at home (.862 to .703) the biggest home/road splits in all of baseball. While their pitching staff also experienced huge splits (4.93 home ERA to 4.09 road ERA; .273 home BAA to .255 road BAA) the overall spread does not break even. Essentially at home the Rockies have the best offense in baseball with a bottom-5 pitching staff, while on the road they are middle-of-the-pack in both. Last season the Rockies were forced to play on the road in the Wild Card game and lost. Unless they somehow win the division ahead of LA, a 2018 playoff spot will bring more road games. They will need to narrow those home/road splits in order to stand a chance to progress.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column at the end of March.