NL West Preview
March 21, 2016
By Matt Zylbert
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Editor's Note: Matt Zylbert is coming off another fantastic year with MLB Win Totals, as he was 18-11-1 in last year's baseball preview. In 2014, he was even better, going 21-9 with MLB Win Totals, while astoundingly predicting the exact records within three games or less for literally half the league (15 of 30 major league teams), which led the entire country for that season. In two of his three seasons on VegasInsider.com, he has finished in first-place in the company in baseball over/unders. Furthermore, he was the only analyst in the country to successfully tab the Mets, Cubs and Blue Jays to make the playoffs. Don't miss out on his winners this season. Click here!
Arizona Diamondbacks - Predicted Record: 90-72 (Best Bet: Over 82 Wins)
By making a number of noteworthy moves over the offseason, the Diamondbacks have launched themselves into the conversation pertaining to this year's potential breakout teams. The most impactful of those transactions were geared towards the pitching staff, which had been mediocre at best in recent years, but could be the difference in a possible monumental 2016 campaign.
Of course, the Diamondbacks instantly made a huge splash when they were able to sign former division rival Zack Greinke, giving the club a much-needed true ace. Arizona also acquired Shelby Miller from the Braves through a bit of a head-scratching deal in which they surrendered two very promising young players, but it shows the organization is confident in being able to win right now, as Miller adds a solid presence in the upper half of the rotation. Patrick Corbin is in there, too, ready for his first full big league season since Tommy John surgery after showcasing promising work in his return a year ago. The bullpen doesn't quite have the same ceiling to match that of its starters, but it could be a formidable group with veteran Brad Zeigler closing games, and Daniel Hudson teaming with newcomer Tyler Clippard to share set-up duties.
Offense has long been the main strength in Arizona, and it should be explosive once again in the new season. It all starts with perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, of course, coming off yet another fabulous year. The x-factor, however, just might be the emerging A.J. Pollock, who enjoyed a sensational breakout campaign in '15, en route to his first career All-Star berth. With Yasmany Tomas and David Peralta also in the outfield, this is definitely an effective group despite flying under the radar collectively. The team also added Jean Segura, who certainly should be an upgrade at shortstop with the bat. Behind the plate, Wellington Castillo can be one of the league's better offensive backstops. Taking everything into account, the D-backs have the makeup of a team on the rise, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them continuing on into October.
San Francisco Giants - Predicted Record: 88-74
It's an 'even' year, and in today's day and age, that tends to result in an eventful season for the Giants. In fact, they've won the World Series in each of the past three 'even' years dating back to 2010, and with a fortified pitching staff for the new campaign, San Francisco may have the goods to make it four in a row.
At the top of the rotation, there is ol' reliable Madison Bumgarner, who matches up well with any other ace in the game. Behind him are a couple of key acquisitions that could ultimately make or break the club's season, starting with the arrival of Johnny Cueto to fill the No. 2 slot. Considering his previous dominance in the National League while with the Reds, the presence of Johnny Beisbol gives the Giants an elite 1-2 punch. Jeff Samardzija was also signed over the winter, and despite a disappointing season as a member of the White Sox, he definitely has notable potential to rebound in his return to the NL. Don't forget about Chris Heston, too, as he'll be returning after a surprisingly effective rookie showing. As long as their starting pitching can meet expectations, the always trusty bullpen should take care of the rest, with Santiago Casilla closing games and the likes of Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez setting him up.
Within their lineup, the Giants feature some players to get excited about as well, starting with arguably the best catcher in all of baseball, Buster Posey, who had another standout year in '15. Overall, the entire infield actually could be exceptional, as Brandon Belt has developed into a solid middle-of-the-order bat, while Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford are in the process of joining the upper echelon of their respective positions. Matt Duffy, entering his sophomore season, was very impressive as a rookie at third base. The outfield already has the dynamic Hunter Pence, and should ideally receive a boost with the addition of leadoff specialist Denard Span. It won't be easy, given how competitive the NL West might be, but San Francisco appears to have a roster that can get them back to the postseason. Oh, and don't forget that 'even' year magic.
Los Angeles Dodgers - Predicted Record: 83-79
A new era of Dodger baseball is on the horizon, not just because this will be the final year for legendary play-by-play announcer Vin Scully, but also because the club has a new skipper at the helm. Despite capturing their third straight NL West crown in 2015, Los Angeles dismissed Don Mattingly, leading to the arrival of manager Dave Roberts, who will seek to guide the Dodgers to postseason success after disappointing shortcomings in recent years.
Although Zack Greinke is no longer in town, there is still a potentially lethal pitching rotation in place that can help preserve LA's presence at the top of the standings. For one, they boast arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball today, Clayton Kershaw, who is coming off yet another marvelous campaign. Hyun-Jin Ryu missed all of last year thanks to shoulder problems, but will be back this season, hoping to help fill the void left by Greinke. The biggest wild card on this staff, though, just might be new import Kenta Maeda, who comes to the team following a very successful career in Japan. The Dodgers didn't stop there, also adding proven innings-eater Scott Kazmir. Meanwhile, the bullpen should be a considerable strength as always behind the dominant Kenley Jansen, one of the top closers in the league.
While the pitching figures to be consistent, Los Angeles could end up experiencing a wide variety of results as it concerns their lineup. Adrian Gonzalez is as reliable as they get at first base, but after him, who can be counted on? The polarizing Yasiel Puig has enjoyed notable success already in his big league career, but was a major disappointment last season. Joc Pederson and Corey Seager are two youngsters that will be depended on for integral roles in 2016, though each could experience more growing pains like a year ago. Justin Turner was a bright surprise at the hot corner, but many would say he peaked, plus he's coming off knee surgery. The club would also like a bounce-back effort from Yasmani Grandal, who was abysmal in the second half following an unlikely berth on the All-Star team. While the Dodgers certainly have a fine chance of repeating their division success, they'll be facing significant pressure from the Diamondbacks and Giants, and it could be their undoing.
Colorado Rockies - Predicted Record: 77-85
Since reaching the franchise's first World Series in 2007, the Rockies have descended back into obscurity, and enter the new campaign having finished in the NL West cellar in three of the past four seasons. It's all connected to the same reasoning: Colorado is annually all offense and no pitching, so is this the year they finally get consistent quality work from their starting rotation?
First off, that regularly potent lineup should still be productive with all those talented hitters they have assembled. Carlos Gonzalez, when healthy, is one of the best all-around outfielders in the game, and is capable of an MVP-caliber season -- but that could be a big "if" regarding his health. Nolan Arenado, meanwhile, has arguably developed into the most important piece of the team, as he's been outstanding both at the plate and in the field over at the hot corner. Colorado got nice breakout seasons a year ago from Charlie Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu, and if both can provide a similar output, that would help to ensure the offense remains in top shape. The only question comes at shortstop, which has a void right now with Jose Reyes facing a lengthy suspension. The club also added Gerardo Parra, who could be a sleeper.
Looking at Colorado's rotation on paper, it may not look pretty, but there are some guys here with potential to break out. Jorge De La Rosa is the most proven of the bunch, having contributed solid work over the past few seasons. Chad Bettis is coming off a fine debut campaign with the club, and the Rox will be leaning on him to build off of that. There is also the intriguing Tyler Chatwood, set to return from Tommy John surgery and could end up being a valuable arm. The starter with the highest ceiling, however, looks to be former No. 3 overall draft pick Jon Gray, who will be entering his second big league season. And what about Jordan Lyles and David Hale? The bullpen received an upgrade, now having Jake McGee close out ballgames, but in a tough division, it's hard to envision this group placing higher than third at best.
San Diego Padres - Predicted Record: 73-89
Expected to be one of the emerging contenders a year ago after an eventful offseason, the Padres instead fell completely flat, clocking in as one of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball in 2015. Instead of competing for the division crown, San Diego dug itself a hole they could never quite escape. So, how does this long-struggling franchise get back on track?
Well, the big free-agent signing of James Shields to lead the rotation ended up being a colossal bust, as the durable 10-year veteran ended up tied for the most home runs allowed in all of baseball - and that's while pitching within the friendly confines of Petco Park! Andrew Cashner was a huge disappointment as well, and he'll have to trend back in the other direction if this club has any chance at competing this season. Tyson Ross, at least, contributed his usual underrated work, and can be counted on for stability. Their pitching staff will have potential if Brandon Morrow and/or former reliever Brandon Maurer pan out successfully. Meanwhile, the bullpen can be pretty good, with free agent Fernando Rodney replacing the departed Craig Kimbrel to take over closing duties. Kevin Quackenbush stands out as a set-up man still on the rise.
The main reason the Padres were supposed to ascend last year was because of a much-improved offense, but that projection never really took shape. Justin Upton was the big acquisition going into last season, but he's no longer in San Diego. Wil Myers was an important added piece, too, and he ended up getting hurt early on and missing more than 100 games. If he can return to form, that'd be huge. Matt Hemp is still in town, looking to build off his terrific second half, and San Diego hopes it can a nice season out of the intriguing Cory Spangenberg, but other than that, this offense really doesn't have much depth compared to its division rivals. New manager Andy Green could be in for some growing pains in his first year at the helm.
Evaluating NL West Division Bets
With +400 odds to take the division title, the Diamondbacks look like the best value bet of the five NL West division residents. They made a lot of slick moves over the offseason that will work towards improving their chances for 2016, and the final product should be a very competitive team that at least hovers around the top of the division for the duration of the campaign. It's also why they're my best win total bet this year at Over 82 Wins. If you like betting on teams to continue their dominance over a division, the Dodgers at +110 probably sticks out, but it should once again be noted that I feel their reign will be coming to an end this year. The Giants are the favorite here at -110, partly because of the "even" year aura, but don't let that coincidental trend be your main deciding factor. Are they a good team that improved over the offseason? Yes, which is why they’re one of the main contenders, but -110 juice to win a tough division is not exactly desirable. The Rockies at +4000 is interesting because their offense can still go toe-to-toe with the best, so if you think their starting pitching can finally make the leap, a small bet wouldn't hurt at all. The Padres contain +2000 odds, which show how far they've fallen from last year's preseason projections.
8-4 +536 L12, 12-5 +911 Run
23-7 L30, 57-22 Run, 39-17 G-Plays
5-1, +417 Record Last 6 Picks
14-5, +956 MLB Playoffs TY
6-2 L8 G-Plays, 8-4 L12 Totals
11-6 L17 Picks, +2,088 G-Plays
9-4 L13 Totals, +2,972 Overall TY
5-1 L6, 9-4 L13 Guarantees
5-1, +442 L6 Picks, 4-0 L4 Totals