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2022 Division Preview: NL West

Dodgers are loaded again, but will Giants be able to recapture magic?

Arizona Diamondbacks

2021 Record: 52-110 (.321 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

 

Additions: RP Mark Melancon, SP Zach Davies, RP Ian Kennedy

 

Subtractions: OF Kole Calhoun, RP Tyler Clippard

 

Projected Lineup

 

 

 

Projected Bench

 

 

For a team that put up a slash line of .236/.309/.382, including an OPS that ranked 26th in MLB, there was no effort by the front office to improve the offense that scored a measly 4.19 runs per game.

But maybe that was the right decision for a team that knew it had little chance to compete in 2022. Four in the projected Opening Day lineup have less than two years of service time, so the hope is another year of seasoning for Daulton Varsho, Josh Rojas, and Pavin Smith plus the DH allowing Seth Beer to see consistent at-bats will allow the bats to produce a bit more.

Of course, there is one star in Ketel Marte. The switch-hitting second baseman bounced back from a subpar 2020 and slashed .318/.377/.532, two seasons after a .329/.389/.592 line. He was rewarded with a five-year, $76 million extension. Getting Varsho, Christian Walker, or Beer to be consistent producers would provide a foundation for the future. Next in the pipeline is top outfield prospect, Alek Thomas.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

 

Some early-season creativity might be needed due to Zac Gallen being a bit behind following shoulder bursitis and the late addition of Zach Davies. The veteran-laden rotation is led by Madison Bumgarner, who is in year 3 of a five-year, $85 million deal. MadBum is only 32, but there are a lot of miles on his left arm, and he is better suited for a mid-rotation slot.

Gallen showed glimpses of why he will be the future leader of the rotation but needs to be more consistent. The 26-year-old had a .289 BABIP and a 4.25 FIP in 20 starts, covering 121⅓ innings. Merrill Kelly and Caleb Smith will have to help steady the ship early on, with Tyler Gilbert likely filling whatever void is left by Gallen and Davies. Luke Weaver would be next in line when injuries hit.

The future of the rotation should be bright, but also two or three years away with prospects Blake Walston, Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson, and Bryce Jarvis.

 

Projected Bullpen

 

 

One of the most surprising signings of the offseason was closer Mark Melancon, who spent 2021 with the San Diego Padres. The 37-year-old provides stability at the end of games and would be an ideal trade chip at the deadline.

Ian Kennedy, also 37, was another free agent who chose the desert and bolsters the back of the bullpen on a team that will need it. Gilbert shifts to a relief role once Gallen and Davies are at full strength and, along with Tyler Widener, can chew up innings.

 

Story Lines to Follow

 

The good news is the Diamondbacks are unlikely to finish 55 games out of first place as they did in 2021. Their 52 wins were the second-fewest in club history, just above the 51 in 2004. Avoiding another atrocious start to the season will be key. The D-Backs lost an MLB-record 24 games in a row from May 4 to June 25. It will be another challenging year in Phoenix, not only on the field but for the future of Chase Field. Whatever happens with the stadium, 2022 will depend on how the young hitters produce and whether the starters can log enough innings to not overburden the bullpen. There are prospects who will help. Some this season — including shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, who could start Opening Day due to injuries to Rojas and Nick Ahmed — but don’t expect them to improve much until the young pitchers are ready.

 

Colorado Rockies

2021 Record: 74-87 (.460 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

 

Additions: OF Kris Bryant, SS José Iglesias, OF Randal Grichuk, SP Chad Kuhl

 

Subtractions: SS Trevor Story, SP Jon Gray

 

Projected Lineup

 

 

Projected Bench

 

 

For the first time since 2013, neither Nolan Arenado nor Trevor Story will be a lineup regular for the Rockies. After trading Arenado following the 2020 season to the St. Louis Cardinals, Story left via free agency after 2021 to sign with the Boston Red Sox.

A new big bat hits the thin air of Coors Field in Kris Bryant, who signed a seven-year, $128 million free-agent deal. While Bryant came up as a third baseman with the Chicago Cubs, he is penciled in as the Opening Day left fielder and has experience at all three outfield spots. José Iglesias takes over for Story at shortstop and will provide slightly better defense, but far less pop. Center fielder Randal Grichuk was acquired during spring training from the Toronto Blue Jays and will help make up for Story’s offense.

In his first season in the bigs, Brendan Rodgers showed his dynamic potential in 2021, slashing .284/.328/.470 with 15 homers in 387 at-bats. Sam Hilliard has shown his power potential, with 27 homers in 396 ABs over three seasons. Seeing more time with the DH slot available should allow Hilliard to launch 30 homers.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

 

With Gray signing with the Texas Rangers, Germán Márquez and homegrown products Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela form the top of a rotation that has some potential to be pretty solid.

Freeland, the Rockies’ first-round pick in 2014 who will start Opening Day, has developed consistency in the last two seasons, posting identical 4.33 ERAs and striking out a career-best 7.83 per nine innings. Márquez had trouble with walks in 2021, allowing a career-worst 3.2 per nine innings to go along with his 3.86 FIP. Senzatela took a slight step back in 2022, posting a 4.42 ERA after a 3.44 in 2020. However, other numbers showed encouragement with a career-best 1.04 walks per nine innings and just 0.64 homers per nine, a fantastic stat in homer-happy Coors Field. Austin Gomber, a left-hander acquired in the Arenado trade, brings plenty of strikeouts (8.82 per nine in 2021) and needs to take a step forward. Will former Pittsburgh Pirates righty Chad Kuhl, who also piles up the K’s (more than eight per nine innings each of the last four seasons), be able to cut down the walks?

 

Projected Bullpen

 

 

Alex Colomé, who had 84 saves in 2016-17 for the Tampa Bay Rays, signed a one-year deal and will provide experience in the closer’s role. The Rockies are the first NL team for the 33-year-old after nine seasons in the AL. Carlos Estévez, Daniel Bard, and Robert Stephenson are also established veterans who will be called on often. Bard and Stephenson, in their debut seasons with the Rockies, had good bounce-back years in 2021. After Jhoulys Chacín, the bullpen depth will be tested.

 

Story Lines to Follow

 

Bryant brings a World Series ring with him and a big contract, but will that translate into leadership on a new team? Blackmon is entering his age-36 season and can bring Bryant along. The offense could be very fun to watch, especially if Rodgers can improve on his rookie numbers and Hilliard can thump. Anything the Rockies get offensively out of Iglesias will be a bonus. Ryan McMahon is also part of the young nucleus. Coming off a 24-homer season, McMahon signed a six-year, $70 million extension this spring. While there is no true ace at the moment, Freeland could become that guy. A few prospects could make an impact: corner infielder Elehuris Montero and lefty starter Ryan Rolison.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

2021 Record: 106-56 (.654 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

 

Additions: 1B Freddie Freeman, RP Craig Kimbrel, SP Andrew Heaney, RP Daniel Hudson, RP Tyler Anderson

 

Subtractions: RP Kenley Jansen, 1B Albert Pujols, OF A.J. Pollock, RP Joe Kelly

 

Projected Lineup

 

 

Projected Bench

 

 

All the Dodgers basically did was make one move, but it supercharged an already terrific offense. Signing free-agent first baseman Freddie Freeman to a six-year, $162 million contract adds another MVP to the middle of the lineup. Freeman hit 31 homers and slashed .300/.393/.503 last year while leading the Atlanta Braves to a World Series title.

Manager Dave Roberts might tinker with the lineup to figure out what combos in which spots work best, with Freeman possibly hitting second behind Mookie Betts and ahead of speedster Trea Turner. The Dodgers didn’t hit for a very good average in 2021, just .244 (11th in the majors), but had a .759 OPS, fifth-best in MLB.

The DH also provides more options to get the Dodgers’ depth, with Max Muncy likely getting a bulk of the action. A late-spring trade of left fielder A.J. Pollock opens the door for Gavin Lux to get more playing time. Lux and the very versatile Chris Taylor should split time at second base and left field, with both also able to slide over to shortstop to spell Turner. Muncy will also get time at second.

Being able to give Will Smith days off from catching by putting him at DH should boost his productivity. The same can be said of Justin Turner, who can DH to keep his health up. Needless to say, Roberts has plenty of tools in his toolbox.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

 

With Trevor Bauer’s status still in limbo — he is on administrative leave as MLB decides on a possible suspension over an alleged assault for which no charges were filed — the depth here isn’t quite what it was entering 2021.

But what remains is enough to get the Dodgers back to the top of the NL West. At 27 years old, Walker Buehler is the unquestioned ace. The right-hander went 16-4 with a career-best 2.47 ERA. While his strikeouts dropped from 10.31 per nine innings in 2020 to 9.19 in 2021, his walks per nine also decreased from 2.70 to 2.25.

Clayton Kershaw, who mulled retirement before re-signing at the start of camp, has looked sharp in spring after a forearm injury shelved him in the postseason. When healthy, Kershaw is very good, but health issues have kept him from logging 30 starts since 2015.

Another lefty, Julio Urías, logged a career-high 185⅔ innings last year and is now firmly entrenched in the rotation after going 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA. Newcomer Andrew Heaney, a third lefty in the rotation, is a bit of a wild card, but the Dodgers are banking on a change of scenery to bring out his best. Heaney spent the last eight years with the Los Angeles Angels before being traded to the New York Yankees during the 2021 season. Dustin May isn’t expected to return from Tommy John surgery until after the All-Star break and even then, it would likely be in a relief role.

 

Projected Bullpen

 

 

With the big-spending Dodgers deciding to pinch pennies when it came to re-signing longtime closer Kenley Jansen — ironically going to Freeman’s Braves shortly after he signed with L.A. — it looked like the Dodgers might go with a committee approach to finishing games. But they went out and got Craig Kimbrel from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Pollock. Kimbrel will make $16 million this year, while Jansen signed for one year and $16 million (Pollock is slated to earn $13 million in 2022).

Adding Kimbrel gives the Dodgers a proven closer and allows Blake Treinen, who was expected to get a majority of the save opportunities, to move back to a setup role. Kimbrel had 23 saves with the Chicago Cubs before being dealt to the White Sox. He finished with a 2.24 ERA.

Daniel Hudson, who split time between the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres in 2021, and Tyler Anderson (Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners in 2021) are the only other new faces in a bullpen that had the second-best ERA in MLB at 3.16 and lowest opponent batting average at .205. Anderson and David Price will provide length and be options to start if injuries hit the rotation, while Alex Vesia, Victor González, and Evan Phillips showed they belonged down the stretch and in the postseason.

 

Story Lines to Follow

 

Is this the last ride for Kershaw? Even though he just turned 34, the miles on the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner’s left arm have taken their toll. Kershaw has basically thrown another season in the playoffs, compiling 189 innings.

Considering the Dodgers have been to the World Series three of the past five years, winning in 2020, and the remarkable battle they had with the rival San Francisco Giants for the West Division title, there is only one goal for this franchise: another World Series title, especially after falling short of reaching the Fall Classic last year. The offense is in excellent condition and would be bolstered if Cody Bellinger can regain even part of his MVP form from 2019 after two seasons of struggles.

Having the back end of the rotation come through will be crucial or it will force Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, to hit the trade market as there are not really any prospects ready to step in. Otherwise, the team that won 106 games in the regular season is poised to challenge that number again. The only question will be whether their rival in Northern California can keep pace or if the team to the south of L.A. can hit the reset button after a disastrous finish.

 

San Diego Padres

2021 Record: 79-83 (.488 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

 

Additions: SP Sean Manaea, RP Robert Suarez, SP Nick Martinez, RP Luis Garcia, 1B Luke Voit, 1B Matt Beaty

 

Subtractions: RP Mark Melancon, OF Tommy Pham, RP Daniel Hudson, SP Vince Velasquez, RP Ross Detwiler, OF Jake Marisnick, 2B Adam Frazier

 

Projected Lineup

 

 

Projected Bench

 

 

The biggest hole in the lineup should have been known about in December when star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. reportedly had a motorcycle accident. His injuries apparently didn’t become a problem until he reported to the lockout-delayed spring training in early March. He had surgery and is expected to miss a minimum of three months, a huge blow to the offense.

His absence is two-fold. Not only is he an offensive catalyst, but a dynamic defender. There is no making up what Tatis, an MVP candidate, does daily, so Ha-Seong Kim will get most of the time at short. Acquiring slugger Luke Voit, a likely candidate for DH will make up for some of Tatis’ production.

Eric Hosmer was almost traded at least once this spring due to his big contract and subpar offense. More out of star third baseman Manny Machado will be needed early, as well as a repeat from Jake Cronenworth.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

 

While there is plenty of depth, there are question marks to begin the season, primarily due to the quick ramp-up of the season due to the lockout. At the top, there is no question: Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove are 1-2. They are workhorses who perform. Adding left-hander Sean Manaea in a late-spring trade with the Oakland A’s adds another proven performer.

But after that, the rest of the rotation should be penciled in. Do not use a pen. Blake Snell is behind the other starters, Mike Clevinger is without limitations after Tommy John surgery but hasn’t pitched in 17 months and now has knee inflammation. Nick Martínez is back in the U.S. after pitching four years in Japan.

There has been talks of piggybacking early in the season, where two starters who haven’t been fully stretched out follow one another in the same game. That could pave the way for youngsters Chris Paddack, Ryan Weathers, or even MacKenzie Gore to see action in April. Unless, of course, the Padres trade Paddack or Weathers, two targets sought by other teams.

Martinez could be a value pick after signing a four-year, $25.5 million contract. The 31-year-old pitched for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan, compiling a 10-4 record and 1.62 ERA in 2021.

 

Projected Bullpen

 

 

The good news is that the bulk of last year’s bullpen core returns. After all, the unit put up a 3.62 ERA, the fifth-best in the majors. The bad news? For a team that expects to contend, the back end is unsettled.

Last year’s closer, Mark Melancon, declined his player option and instead signed with the Diamondbacks. With no trades or signings to directly address that void, the Padres at this point are looking at converted starter Dinelson Lamet or Robert Suarez, who has pitched in Japan but doesn’t have MLB experience. Suarez has been in Japan since 2016 and led the Central League with 42 saves in 2021 with the Hanshin Tigers. He didn’t post strikeout numbers typical of a closer (58 K’s in 62⅓ innings last year), so the jury will be out until he proves himself in MLB.

Another option could be Emilio Pagán, but he has been erratic, or Craig Stammen. Weathers and Paddack will open the season in relief roles but are the top candidates to join the rotation when needed.

 

Story Lines to Follow

 

The Padres were 18 games above .500 at 67-49 on Aug. 10, just one game behind the second-place Dodgers and 6½ behind the San Francisco Giants in the West. The fact they finished below .500 is a free fall that is hard to explain, but one reason why Bob Melvin was hired away from the Oakland A’s to manage in San Diego.

Jayce Tingler seemed over his head, especially with bullpen management, in his first managerial job. Melvin knows how to work his locker room and was loved by his A’s players. The key will be getting off to a good start, which is tougher with the questions at the back end of the rotation and with Tatis’ extended absence.

Now in his fourth season with the Padres, this could be Machado’s time to show his leadership skills, especially with his bat. But even if the starting pitching holds and the offense can put enough runs on the board to stay competitive, will whoever finishes the games be an issue? The front office seems to be rolling the dice in that area.

 

San Francisco Giants

2021 Record: 107-55 (.660 W%)

 

Notable Roster Changes

 

Additions: OF Joc Pederson, SP Carlos Rodón, SP Alex Cobb

 

Subtractions: C Buster Posey, 3B-OF Kris Bryant, SP Kevin Gausman, 2B-3B Donovan Solano

 

Projected Lineup

 

 

Projected Bench

 

 

Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt were among the veterans who found the Fountain of Youth and powered an opportunistic offense in 2021. The Giants hit homers at a pace even the Barry Bonds teams of the early 2000s would be jealous of, cranking out 241, second-most in MLB.

The veterans are a year older or, in the case of Buster Posey, have retired. Top prospect Joey Bart, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, takes over behind the plate. In 197 minor-league games, Bart slashed .287/.342/.512, with 39 homers and 174 RBIs. He made his debut in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season that Posey opted out of, then had a brief appearance last year. Finding his way early will be key.

Health has already sidelined a couple of key contributors. Third baseman Evan Longoria (right index finger surgery) and outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. (left knee inflammation, bone bruise) will begin the season on the injured list, but shouldn’t be out long. Back from injury is Tommy La Stella, who missed the end of last season after injuring his Achilles but is still rounding into form.

Darin Ruf, stuck behind Belt at first base, will benefit from being able to DH and provide pop. Ex-Dodger Joc Pederson, who had a key role in the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series, returns to his native Bay Area and continues the revolving door in left field, but like Ruf will add power.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

 

Logan Webb came out of nowhere to become the Giants’ ace last season. In his first 21 major-league games, the right-hander posted a 5.36 ERA. But the switch was flipped in 2021 as Webb posted a 3.03 ERA and went 11-3 in 27 games covering 148⅓ innings. He issued 36 walks last year after issuing 38 in his first 94 innings. His FIP of 2.72 would indicate his breakout wasn’t a fluke.

Carlos Rodón was the big offseason addition, essentially replacing Kevin Gausman. Rodón finally showed the promise that made him the third overall pick in the 2014 draft. The left-hander went 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA in 24 starts, striking out 185 in 132⅔ innings. One of the reasons Rodón was attracted to the Giants was their track record with pitchers in the last two years. Notably, what happened with Anthony DeSclafani (13-7, 3.17 ERA) and Alex Wood (10-4, 3.83 ERA).

Rounding out the rotation is Alex Cobb, who is looking to build on his 8-3, 3.76 ERA showing with the Los Angeles Angels last year after three up-and-down seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. Depth comes in the form of Tyler Beede, Sean Hjelle, and, eventually, Matthew Boyd, who is recovering from flexor tendon surgery and should be available in June.

 

Projected Bullpen

 

 

After posting the best bullpen ERA in MLB at 2.99 last year, the Giants are hoping for anything close to a repeat of that lockdown performance. Perhaps the biggest surprise to the average fan is that Camilo Doval, who was a premier performer as a rookie down the stretch and in the playoffs, was not just slotted into the closer’s role this year.

Left-hander Jake McGee will open in that role after being sidelined in mid-September with an oblique strain. McGee converted 31 of 36 saves with a 2.72 ERA in his first season with the Giants. All that means is that Doval and submariner Tyler Rogers, both of whom have closing experience, will be the setup guys and get the occasional chance to finish games.

After those three, the Giants can throw an assortment of arms that come from different angles and speeds, which is one reason the bullpen was so effective last year.

 

Story Lines to Follow

 

Does manager Gabe Kapler still have any of that magical elixir that made 2021 such an amazing ride for the Giants? Picked to be a .500 team, the Giants led the majors with 107 wins, edging the Dodgers on the final day of the regular season for the NL West title. And while the Giants checked out of the postseason at the hands of the rival Dodgers in the NL Division Series, there were plenty of good things to build on for the future.

Posey’s retirement doesn’t necessarily create a leadership void on the team, but his handling of the pitching staff was masterful. Now it is Bart’s turn to be Posey 2.0. The return of Belt will keep him and Crawford as the deans of the locker room.

But also remember that this was a team in transition going into 2021, with younger players such as Wade and Mauricio Dubón getting at-bats and journey pitchers chewing up innings. It went better than scripted, but were the Giants a one-hit-wonder in this rebuild? Or was it a sign that Kapler has matured as a manager and Farhan Zaidi knows how to construct a roster without spending a ton?

Steve Drumwright

Steve Drumwright is a lifelong baseball fan who retired as a player before he had the chance to be cut from the freshman team in high school. He recovered to become a sportswriter and have a successful journalism career at newspapers in Wisconsin and California. Follow him on Twitter @DrummerWrites.

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