NL West Round Up: 5/17-5/24

With just one week left in May, the MLB season is nearing its 1/3 mark. Misleading Aprils have given way to more concrete ideas of who will contend and who won’t, and the NL West is shaping up to be the most competitive division in the senior circuit in 2017. Let’s take a look at where the Giants’ division rivals stand in this week’s round up:

1. Colorado Rockies: 31-17

The Rockies became the first National League team to reach 30 wins this week, and are tied with the Houston Astros for the major league lead in victories. We expect Colorado to bring offensive thunder every year, but this year’s young pitching staff is exceeding expectations, and have done it largely without projected ace Jon Gray. Rookies Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland have a combined 11-3 record, and 22 year-old second year man German Marquez has filled in admirably for the injured Gray.

While the rotation has relied on youngsters, the Rockies bullpen is stocked with veterans off to strong starts. Jake McGee has regained the form that made him a top reliever with Tampa Bay, and Adam Ottavino appears to be bouncing back after injury plagued 2015-2016 seasons. Most impressive of all has been Greg Holland, who missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Holland leads the MLB with 19 saves in 19 chances, and has a 0.96 ERA and 0.84 WHIP.

On offense, the Rockies have arguably the best 1-7 in all of baseball, with Charlie Blackmon leading the way at the top of the order. Blackmon has emerged as a perennial All-Star candidate, and leads the majors in hits, RBI, and triples. Nolan Arenado has been as steady as ever, with a .293/.349/.574 line to go along with 12 homers and 33 RBI heading into Thursday’s contest. Mark Reynolds was so outstanding filling in for the injured Ian Desmond that he’s implanted himself as the team’s first baseman. He’s slashed .311/.387/.561, with 12 home runs and 39 RBI. D.J. LeMahieu, the reigning NL batting champion, has not quite matched last year’s output thus far but still ranks 7th in the NL in hits.

Charlie-Blackmon-Swing

After career highs across the board in 2016, Charlie Blackmon has ascended to one of the top center fielders in baseball.

Colorado has not had a winning June since 2011, so the upcoming month will be crucial in determining whether or not this team is a legitimate NL powerhouse.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks: 29-19

The Dbacks had high hopes heading into the 2016 season, thanks to the additions of top end starters Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. It turned out to be a disaster in the desert however, with a down year from Greinke and a combined 40 losses from Miller, Patrick Corbin, and Robbie Ray. Arizona finished with 93 losses, and both manager Chip Hale and GM Dave Stewart were shown the door. Still, the Dbacks had a young and talented core in place, and it appears they are back with a vengeance in 2017.

Greinke has regained the form that made him baseball’s highest paid player, and currently sits at 6-2 with a 2.82 ERA. While Arizona got the unfortunate news that Miller would undergo TJ and miss the rest of the year, Ray and Corbin have pitched much better, and offseason acquisition Taijuan Walker (recently placed on the DL with a blister issue) has been a key pick up thus far. Closer Fernando Rodney has had a few rough outings of late, but has still managed to notch 12 saves. Former starter Archie Bradley and left hander Andrew Chafin have stepped up big for the Dbacks pen, allowing just six earned runs in 36 innings of work combined.

Like division leading Colorado, offense is not in short supply in the desert. Arizona ranks in the top three in the NL in hits, home runs, batting average, slugging, runs scored, and stolen bases. Jake Lamb has emerged as a franchise third baseman to couple with resident MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, and the pair have combined for 24 homers and 77 RBI on the young season. Chris Owings has been a surprise bright spot on offense, coming into Thursday with a .321 average while serving as a utility man extraordinaire on defense.

Lamb-Goldie

Lamb and Goldie look to have the corner infield locked down for the foreseeable future in Arizona.

Arizona did take another injury hit this week however, as star center fielder A.J. Pollock was place on the 10-day DL with a strained groin, and will likely miss all of Arizona’s upcoming 11-game road trip. The Diamondbacks will play a four game series against NL Central contender Milwaukee before traveling to Pittsburgh for a three game series. The club will wrap up the trip with a four game series against Miami before returning home to the friendly confines of Chase Field on June 6.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: 27-20

Slated as a World Series contender by many heading into the 2017 season, the Dodgers went just 14-12 in April, but have bounced back for a 13-8 mark thus far in May and currently sit 3.5 games behind Colorado. Clayton Kershaw has been his typically dominant self, but its been up and down for the rest of the Los Angeles starting rotation. Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda have both spent time on the disabled list, and Hyun-Jin Ryu has struggled with his command as well as allowing the long ball. Depth is a hallmark of this club however, and the Dodgers have seen solid work from Brandon McCarthy and a stellar start from Alex Wood. Wood enters Thursday with a 5-0 record and 1.88 ERA, and his 213 ERA+ actually outpaces Kershaw’s 203.

Where the Dodgers have truly excelled is in the bullpen, which ranks tops in the National League with a 3.01 ERA. Kenley Jansen has been as dominant as ever, with an absurd 16.5 K/9. He’s struck out 33 and has yet to walk a batter in 18 IP. Journeyman Josh Fields is having the best season of his career (0.92 ERA, 0.91 WHIP) and Pedro Baez has picked up where he left off last year as one of the top work horses in the NL.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Pittsburgh Pirates

Already an All-Star, if Kenley Jansen can maintain his current dominance, he could become the first reliever to win the Cy Young award since Eric Gagne in 2003.

On offense, Cody Bellinger is looking every bit like the star the organization anticipated, leading the club in both homers (9) and RBI (25) with an OPS+ of 151. Corey Seager has shown no signs of a sophomore slump, slashing .284/.384/.485 to pair with 7 homers and 23 RBI. In Seager and Bellinger, the Dodgers appear to have a tandem that will be a thorn in the side of their NL West rivals for years to come. Justin Turner, coming off a career year in 2016, currently leads all of baseball with a .379 average, but just landed on the DL with a Grade 1 hamstring strain. The team does not believe the injury will keep Turner out far beyond the minimum 10 days.

Of some concern for the Dodgers may be veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who currently has a .325 SLG and has yet to homer this season. This appears to be a continuation of a growing trend for the 34 year-old, who posted the lowest OPS+ (112) of any full season in his career last year. Center fielder Joc Pederson has also struggled, with a .200/.305/.408 line and a meager 68 OPS+. As previously stated however, depth is a major strength for Los Angeles, and one has to believe the cream will rise, and the Dodgers will be at or near the top of the division by midseason.

4. San Francisco Giants: 20-28

We cover this team with just a bit more depth in other sections of this website.

5. San Diego Padres: 17-31

The Padres were a near unanimous choice to finish at the bottom of the NL West, and they’ve been kind enough to oblige. It’s going to be a long season for San Diego, as the team appears poised to lose 95+ games. The Friars have a -90 run differential, and have actually outperformed their 15-33 Pythagorean W-L record. Not surprisingly, Wil Myers leads the club in nearly every offensive category, but is also third in the NL with a whopping 55 strikeouts. Ryan Schimpf however, is taking baseball’s all or nothing trend to new heights, with a full 50% of his 22 hits leaving the ballpark. Prized rookie Manuel Margot has shown flashes of what has the Padres excited for his future, but went just 2-17 in the last week.

Wil Myers

For the Padres it’s Wil Myers and a whole bunch of, yikes.

San Diego has struggled on the mound as well, allowing the most runs in the National League. They have the second highest team ERA in the league, and only the Phillies and Marlins (9) have gotten fewer wins from their starters. Clayton Richard has been a relative bright spot, ranking 6th in the NL in innings pitched, and Brad Hand has a 1.73 ERA in relief.

It won’t get any easier for the Padres next week, as they travel to Washington for a three game set with the NL East leading Nats, then return home to play the defending champion Cubs for three.

 

-AC