NL West Roundup: Bellinger Showing Signs of Life

Giants are kings of the road, while Rockies having early success.

If the early returns are any indication — reminder, small sample size — then the National League West is going to be very fun to watch this season. Four of the five teams have already reached double-digit win totals (sorry, Arizona).

While that trend is unlikely to continue, the teams in the West know that every win is crucial no matter what time of year it is. Remember the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers battling down to the last day of the regular season in 2021?

With that being said, there are a lot of games left to be played (Thursday marks three full weeks of baseball being back) and teams are still figuring out their personalities and where they need to plug holes.

Here is Pitcher List’s first installment of the 2022 NL West Roundup:

 

NL West standings

 

Diamondbacks

 

The good news is that Arizona has survived the first couple weeks without being terrible. Even more surprising has been the pitching staff is leading the way.

Entering the season with questions at the back end of the rotation, D’backs starters are among baseball’s bigger surprises with a 2.53 ERA that ranks third in MLB, while a bullpen that figures to be decent if it isn’t overworked is on the other end of the spectrum with a 4.33 (27th in MLB). Left-hander Madison Bumgarner isn’t chewing up innings (18 in four starts), but has posted a 1.00 ERA. Right-hander Merrill Kelly took a 0.59 ERA into Monday’s start, when he allowed three runs in six innings vs. the Dodgers boosting that number to 1.69.

The young offense has had a rough start, slashing .185/.279/.314 through Monday, with the batting average last in baseball. Second baseman Ketel Marte, who signed a five-year, $76 million contract extension this spring, is slashing just .156/.225/.234. Shortstop Nick Ahmed just came off the injured list and shores up the defense.

Injuries: Outfielder Jordan Luplow (oblique) was activated Monday, slightly ahead of schedule. Reliever Sean Poppen was just placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. Right-hander Luke Weaver (mild flexor pronator strain, 10-day IL), a starter who was set to open the season in the bullpen, is in the early stages of resuming throwing. The same is true for reliever J.B. Bukauskas (right-shoulder strain, 60-day IL). Third baseman Josh Rojas (oblique) has been hitting and will likely need a rehab assignment before returning.

 

Dodgers

 

As expected, Los Angeles is rolling to start the season, including a seven-game winning streak. The Dodgers are among MLB’s best at scoring runs, while the pitching has been holding opponents down. Yet there is a miniscule separation between the top four teams in the West.

Center fielder Cody Bellinger, who drew concern with a slow spring, has shown flashes of regaining at least some of his MVP form. The lefty slugger is slashing .254/.313/.542 with four homers and eight RBIs. He hit a pair of homers Sunday vs. the Padres. Newcomer Freddie Freeman is fitting in just fine, with a slash line of .328/.397/.531, including three homers and nine RBIs. The Dodgers are tied for the MLB lead with 86 runs scored.

The bread-and-butter of the Dodgers’ success formula is their pitching. After Walker Buehler’s shutout Monday, starters are the best in MLB with a 2.09 ERA, while the bullpen is second in baseball with a 2.07 ERA. New closer Craig Kimbrel has notched three saves. Offseason pickup Andrew Heaney hasn’t allowed a run in either of his two starts, but went on the 10-day IL with left shoulder discomfort. Reliever Brusdar Graterol continues to establish himself as a late-inning weapon with six scoreless appearances.

Injuries: Reliever Blake Treinen is on the 10-day IL with right shoulder discomfort. Reliever Tommy Kahnle is on a rehab assignment and could be close to returning from Tommy John surgery. On the 60-day IL are lefty Danny Duffy (flexor tendon strain, midseason return), righty Jimmy Nelson (Tommy John surgery, out for season) and righty Dustin May (Tommy John surgery, after All-Star break).

 

Giants

 

Showing that their surprise run to 107 wins last season wasn’t a fluke, San Francisco is using a combination of standout pitching and a homer-powered offense for a strong start to 2022. That was highlighted by an 8-3 road trip that finished Monday with a one-game stop in Milwaukee, where the Giants went toe-to-toe with Corbin Burnes before rally for a late win.

After finishing 2021 with the second-most homers in MLB (241, behind Toronto’s 262), the Giants have slugged 19 in 17 games this season. Former Dodgers outfielder and Bay Area native Joc Pederson has gone deep six times — three the last two days — and is hitting .362, while first baseman Brandon Belt has added four. But rookie catcher Joey Bart, who has two homers, is off to a rough start offensively with a .171/.326/.371 slash line.

Free-agent signee Carlos Rodón has a 1.06 ERA in three starts as the rotation has posted a 3.10 ERA, sixth in MLB. The bullpen is the best in baseball with an ERA of 1.65. Manager Gabe Kapler has rotated closing duties, with Camilo Doval notching three saves and Jake McGee two.

Injuries: Starter Anthony DeSclafani is expected to be out a few weeks after having a platelet-rich plasma injection. Starter Alex Cobb threw at 70 percent Monday and will have a bullpen session before coming off the 10-day IL. Lefty Matthew Boyd (elbow surgery, 60-day IL) is continuing a throwing program and is on track to be ready in June. Second baseman Tommy La Stella (Achilles, 10-day IL) has increased his running intensity and will need a rehab assignment before being ready. Third baseman Evan Longoria (finger, 10-day IL) has been in a hitting program, but there is no timetable for his return. Outfielder LaMonte Wade Jr. (left knee inflammation) began a rehab assignment over the weekend and his return could be imminent as the team returns home. Outfielder Steven Duggar just recently went on the 60-day IL with a strained oblique.

 

Padres

 

It has been a mixed bag for San Diego as it looks to create a new identity under first-year manager Bob Melvin. Against the bad teams, the Padres have been good (6-1 record). Against the good teams, a bit of a different story (4-6). Again, it is early.

Pitching has led the way in the first three weeks. Joe Musgrove leads the way with a 1.89 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in three starts, while rookie left-hander MacKenzie Gore has a 1.74 ERA and and 1.06 WHIP in his first two major-league starts as the rotation has a 3.18 ERA (eighth in MLB). The bullpen has struggled a bit, with a 4.03 ERA (20th in MLB).

Perhaps not so surprising has been the offense’s struggles. With star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. out until at least mid-June after left wrist surgery, there is a bit of a spark missing. The .221 team batting average is 21st in MLB, with the rest of the key numbers being about middle of the pack. That is despite a terrific beginning of the season for star third baseman Manny Machado, who is slashing .339/.423/.565 with three homers and 10 RBIs. Aside from Eric Hosmer at .375, none of the other 11 Padres with more than 10 at-bats are hitting better than .229.

Injuries: Starter Mike Clevinger (right knee) is scheduled to make a rehab start Tuesday for Triple-A El Paso. If that goes well, his next appearance will be in the majors. Left-handed starter Blake Snell (groin tightness) threw a sim game over the weekend and could return shortly. Designated hitter Luke Voit is on the 10-day IL with a biceps tendon injury. Reliever Austin Adams (right forearm strain, 10-day IL) won’t throw for at least another five weeks. Reliever Pierce Johnson is hoping to return next week after going on the 10-day IL with elbow tendinitis. Pitchers Michael Baez (Tommy John surgery), Adrian Morejon (Tommy John surgery) and Drew Pomeranz (flexor tendon surgery) are all on the 60-day IL.

 

Rockies

 

Colorado’s early success has been one of the unexpected positives of 2022. After jettisoning or not bringing back Nolan Arenado (before the 2021 season), Trevor Story and Jon Gray, the star power has certainly dwindled — even with the Kris Bryant signing.

But the Rockies took two out of three in the season-opening series against the Dodgers, establishing some good vibes. As usual, the offense is setting the pace, with the team batting average of .263 ranking second in MLB. Designated hitter Connor Joe is slashing .322/.412/.627 with four homers and six RBIs, while first baseman C.J. Cron has crushed six homers and driven in 17.

Chad Kuhl has been a bright spot for the rotation, posting a 1.10 ERA in three starts. Starting pitchers have compiled a 4.22 ERA 19th in baseball, while the bullpen has an MLB-worst 4.50 ERA. Two key relievers, Alex Colomé (6.35) and Jhoulys Chacín (6.75), each have ERAs above 6.00, with each having six appearances. Ty Blach has a 6.48 ERA in five games.

Injuries: Outfielder-utilityman Garrett Hampson (bruised right hand) could be back soon. Starter Peter Lambert (right forearm, elbow) began a throwing program last week as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery. There is no timetable on his return. Lefty Ryan Rolison (left shoulder strain) and reliever Scott Oberg (blood clots) are on the 60-day IL. It is not known whether Oberg will pitch again in his career.

 

Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

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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