The NL West might just be the most hard-to-predict and polarizing division in baseball this year. The AL East comes close, and has gotten a lot more attention, but that’s more because of the media markets of New York and Boston and the baseball’s co-darling (with the Athletics) status of the Rays than anything. In fact, although the Los Angeles Dodgers are currently heavily favored to win the division (even after Clayton Kershaw was placed on the DL with a back injury), the rest of the division is a total question mark in a way that it is not in other divisions that have a clear hierarchy.
Take the NL East. Washington and Atlanta are so much better than the other three teams in the division that the race and intrigue is already pretty much over. The narratives for New York (gearing for a playoff run next year and getting Matt Harvey healthy), Miami (youth development), and Philadelphia (the continued hard fall from grace for the team that was so good just a few years ago) are also pretty clear. We see something similar in the AL Central. The Detroit Tigers, with the two-time reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera and the reigning Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, are the best team in the division, much like the Dodgers in the NL West. But the rest of the division is much more clear than it is in the Rockies’ division. The Royals are the team on the rise. The Indians are due for a setback. The White Sox are like the Mets in that they are progressing but not there yet. And the Twins will be in last place for at least another year. I could go on, but you get the point.
Unlike in other divisions, there are a lot of plausible final NL West standings. That uncertainty is what makes this year’s NL West so fun. I’ve seen a prediction that has the Rockies finishing second, and I’ve seen one that has them finishing in last for the third consecutive year. I read each without raising an eyebrow. I’m going to try to make a case that they’ll finish second in the NL West, and then I’ll make one that they’ll finish last.
The Rockies Will Finish Second in NL West:
This is simple. The offense will simply outhit the other offenses in the division. Neither the Giants or the Padres have the offensive firepower that the Rockies have. The Diamondbacks don’t either. Some people wanted the Rockies to trade Troy Tulowitzki, but the ownership smartly didn’t lower their asking price, and as a result return the most productive shortstop in the league to the starting lineup. As you probably know by now, I also fully expect Nolan Arenado to take a huge step this year towards becoming the third franchise cornerstone. And the tandem of Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler might not be far behind.
They have the talent to make a huge impact in the division race and perhaps the race for a wild card as soon as this season. The bullpen has also gotten a lot deeper, and the Rockies have an extremely deep outfield that is more than good enough to sustain production after the loss of Dexter Fowler.
This could be the best Rockies’ rotation of all time, and they will capitalize by finishing second and in the race for a playoff spot. Besides, Arizona has lost ace Patrick Corbin, reliever David Hernandez, starter Daniel Hudson, and reliever Matt Reynolds. The Giants are down Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt. The Padres are perhaps the most banged up. Cory Luebke, Josh Johnson, and Cameron Maybin are all out for long periods of time, and Yasmani Grandal, Chris Denorfia, Carlos Quentin, and Chase Headley are all also injured. Could the Rockies just be the last team standing?
The Rockies Will Finish Fifth in NL West:
Well, just look at the other teams in the NL West. It’s an even year, so the San Francisco Giants are going to be good. They won the World Series in the last two even years, and they have the talent to do it again. Buster Posey is the best catcher in baseball, Matt Cain is due for a major bounce back, and the lineup is deeper than Colorado’s. Besides, the 1-2 punch of Cain and Madison Bumgarner is one the Rockies could only dream of. The Giants are just a better overall and more balanced team than the Rockies are.
Then there are the Diamondbacks, who finished second in the division last year. Their strength is their depth. Even without four pitchers, they still are holding one of the two or three best pitching prospects in baseball, Archie Bradley, in AAA. Didi Gregorius, a shortstop who can hit and is young, would start for most other teams but is also in AAA because Micah Owings is another terrific youngster. The Diamondbacks have the depth to sustain injuries, and also have a player in Paul Goldschmidt who might just be better than Tulo and Carlos Gonzalez and also is without the injury history.
Then there are the Padres. San Diego, who finished two games ahead of the Rockies last season, and can simply out pitch Colorado. Not much has changed since last year, so the Padres will finish ahead of the Rockies again.
Which argument do you prefer? That’s up for you to decide. Personally, I think the Rockies will most likely finish fourth in the NL West. But they could also finish second, third, or fifth. And that’s what makes the NL West so great and so intriguing.
Tags: Colorado Rockies