NL West Preview 2022. This division looks to be just a two-team battle between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. Here’s to hoping that Fernando Tatis Jr. has a speedy recovery.
In the 2021 season, the NL West was the only division to have two 100-win teams (and the only others besides the Tampa Bay Rays). Despite that, the division was extremely lopsided, as the third-placed San Diego Padres finished under .500 and 28 games out of first. With the unfortunate injury to Fernando Tatis Jr., it looks as if things might shape out similarly for the 2022 season. Sure, the Colorado Rockies landed prized free agent Kris Bryant, but it’s doubtful they contend for the division. Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks look to be in position to compete with the Baltimore Orioles for the worst record in the majors. The most frustrating part for some NL West fans is that neither the Giants nor the Dodgers cruised through the playoffs to win a World Series. Not to worry, Dave Roberts is a modern-day soothsayer.
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) March 25, 2022
Now that the lockout is over, MLB.TV has already taken your money for a season in question for over 100 days, and Spring Training is underway, let’s take a look at how we think this division will shake out in 2022.
In order of finish from 2021 (record)
San Francisco Giants (107-55)
The biggest move the Giants made in the offseason was signing Carlos Rodon to a two-year, $44 million contract out of free agency. Rodon is coming off an excellent 2021 season. He went 13-5, with a 2.37 ERA (2.65 FIP to back it up!) and 185 strikeouts, amounting to a career-best 5.0 bWAR. Will the spacious Oracle Park boost his home splits? Also, how much can Rodon offset the departure of Kevin Gausman? In a sense, it’s a lateral move on paper.
Another question I have is: how much will the retirement of Buster Posey affect a team that had the third-best Run Differential (RDiff) of +210? They did have ten players with double-digit homers and six of them drove in 50-plus. Mostly, the concern is that it forces rookie Joey Bart into a big role really quickly. Catcher is pretty much the lynchpin for the offense, defense, and pitching, so that could be an issue.
Despite the retirement of Posey, the face of the franchise for at least a decade, it appears the Giants are in pretty good shape. Farhan Zaidi has continued to work his magic, providing the big-league club with an 11th-ranked farm system, according to KileyMcDaniel. Will San Francisco fans get to see much of Marco Luciano this season? As things sit right now, particularly due to the Los Angeles Dodgers being their only divisional competition, the Giants can look forward to a top-two finish of some sort.
Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56)
As a writer, I prefer to avoid overused cliché. That includes the phrase “an embarrassment of riches.” However, when it comes to the Dodgers, it rings pretty damned true. Andrew Friedman was able to keep most of last year’s squad together – minus Corey Seager – with the re-signing of Clayton Kershaw being pretty important. Then they went out and got Freddie Freeman…woof! There’s zero reason for this team not to lead the majors in RDiff again this season. Basically, there are no holes in their lineup; they’re deep at every position and have a number of guys who can play multiple positions.
The biggest question
After an MVP season in 2019, Cody Bellinger has been oft-injured (mostly not his fault, aside from that shoulder) or looking pretty lost at the plate. Maybe some of that is just not getting the reps in; it certainly seems hard for him to regain his rhythm. Over his last 101 regular season games (last two seasons), Bellinger has been worth 0.1 bWAR. In that time, he’s slugged .364 with a 72 OPS+, just a shadow of the player he was before. So far this Spring Training, the early indicators also don’t look good. Hopefully he’s still young enough to have time to turn it around. The following tweet is from a bit ago, but illustrates the struggles Bellinger has been enduring at the plate.
[Codify] Crazy…Cody Bellinger now has 14 strikeouts in 19 spring ABs and 8 strikeouts in a row. via /r/baseball https://t.co/eqMuuUq4B0
— Hot on r/Baseball (@HOTrBaseball) March 27, 2022
Aside from that, this Dodgers squad is so stacked that they look to be a 100-win team once again. Just like last year, they’ll be in a tight race with the Giants to claim the division crown.
San Diego Padres (79-83)
I don’t know about you, but one of the hundreds of reasons to be mad at Rob Manfred and the owners for the lockout concerns the Padres’ superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. Tatis fractured his wrist during the offseason in a motorcycle accident. Sure, he could have been more careful. However, the worst part is that he couldn’t see a team-approved doctor to address the issue due to the lockout. That set his timeline back significantly. So, because the commish and owners suck, we only get half of a season of Tatis, at best. Way to market your game guys.
On to some “analysis”
The Padres’ pitching staff looks strong, particularly with the return of Mike Clevinger from Tommy John. His career trajectory seemed quite promising before the injury. His 10.0 K/9 bodes well coupled with his .662 opponent OPS, which is well below league average (.743). With Clevinger, Yu Darvish, and Blake Snell heading up the rotation, Bob Melvin shouldn’t have to struggle with choosing an effective starter. That’s not even including a returning DInelson Lamet, who should certainly bolster the starting rotation.
On the other side, the offense could suffer some with the absence of Tatis Jr. Could CJ Abrams step in at shortstop? It’s not clear if he’ll even be called up, but he does have a .927 OPS in 76 minor league games. Regardless, the Fathers’ offense is in need of some help until Tatis can come back. Look for another third-place finish in this lopsided NL West.
Colorado Rockies (74-87)
There’s not a ton to hope for if you’re a Rockies fan. Sure, they made a decent splash in free agency by signing Kris Bryant to a seven-year, $182 million contract, but don’t forget, he’s already on the wrong side of 30. Playing at Coors Field could certainly boost his power numbers, but he’s not carrying this team to the playoffs. Trevor Story left in free agency and will be crushing balls over and off the Green Monster. Charlie Blackmon appears to be in clear decline, as he posted an OPS+ (96) under 100 for the first time in 7 seasons. Overall, the Rockies don’t have a lineup that will instill much fear in opposing pitchers. To make things even gloomier, they only have one prospect, Zac Veen (#36), in the top 50. He’ll start the year in Double-A. Essentially, there aren’t a lot of reinforcements on the way and I’d be surprised if many more free agents want to flock to the Mile High City.
Pitch me a solution
Partly due to their home park being rough on pitching, this staff doesn’t look real good. They were in the bottom 5 in ERA and WHIP in the NL last season. Add to that, they were only a better staff in opponent average (.260) in the NL than the Arizona Diamondbacks. Seeing as that they didn’t add any pitching depth in free agency, I wouldn’t hold out hope for complete game shutouts or no-hitters. They don’t even have a pitching prospect in the top 100. At least fans will get to see some big dingers flying out of the park. They won’t take last place away from Arizona, but they also won’t climb out of fourth place in the division.
Arizona Diamondbacks (52-110)
Hey, you can’t say the D-Backs aren’t fielding a competitive roster. They worked really hard to tie the Baltimore Orioles for the worst record in the majors last season. In the Launch Angle Era that produces so many home runs (coupled with the high strikeout rates), the Diamondbacks lack much of any punch in their lineup. Their 144 home runs were the second-least team total last season to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their .375 SLG was fourth worst in the majors and .691 OPS was fifth worst. Basically, that’s just about prime 2009 Brenda Ryan and nobody was looking to him for offense. Here’s to hoping Ketel Marte stays healthy, because he’s a ton of fun to watch and will provide some punch in a Glass Joe offense. If healthy, he should be able to return to his 2019 form, when he blasted 32 homers while riding a .981 OPS. In stark contrast to the Rockies, however, the D-Backs have three prospects in the top 30 of the MLB Pipeline. Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll, and Jordan Lawlar are all in there. Granted, only Thomas is above Single-A ball, but the farm system looks to be in good shape.
Jump in the pool
Returning from last year’s roster are the D-Backs leaders in bWAR (2.3) in pitchers Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Despite that, there’s not a lot to be excited about when the D-Backs are on the hill. There’s not a ton of run prevention coming out of this staff. Their team ERA of 5.11 is second worst to the Orioles. They’re also second only to the O’s in opponent average at .267. At least they only gave up 232 home runs, good for fifth in the majors. I’m not trying to pick on these guys (even if I despise their uniforms), but there’s just barely any meat on them bones to get hungry about. Blake Walston is their only top 100 pitching prospect and he’s still just at High-A ball. Sorry to say it, but it sure looks like another 100-loss season in the desert.