It is January, and we are one month closer to the start of the 2019 baseball season. Let’s take a look at the NL West and see how the season is shaping up for the San Diego Padres as they climb back into relevancy.
On Thursday, March 28, the San Diego Padres will face off against the division rival San Francisco Giants in a four-game series at Petco Park.
Next up, the Arizona Diamondbacks will come to town for three games. Early on, the Padres will have a chance to make some progress against two of their National League West rivals.
Last year, the Padres finished in last place and had a losing record against every team in the division. The Los Angeles Dodgers owned the home team with a 14-5 record. The low point occurred in July when the D-Backs pummeled the Padres in a 20-5 beatdown, scoring 15 runs in the first four innings. Obviously, the Padres must improve against the teams in the division in order to make any progress. This year just might be the year to make headway, especially against Arizona and San Francisco.
Early on, here are the predictions for the Padres’ performance against division rivals from several sources:
RotoChamp (Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, and Davenport combined)
Los Angeles Dodgers 95-67
Arizona Diamondbacks 84-78
Colorado Rockies 81-81
San Francisco Giants 81-81
San Diego Padres 68-94
Los Angeles Dodgers 93-69
Colorado Rockies 82-80
Arizona Diamondbacks 79-83
San Diego Padres 76-86
San Francisco Giants 76-86
If the Padres can improve from 66-96 to 76 wins, fans will not dance in the streets at another year of an under .500 performance, but at least they’d see some improvement. Here’s a quick look at the offseason so far for each team in the division:
Los Angeles Dodgers
After half a season of Manny Machado last year, the Dodgers have shown no interest in retaining his services. However, Bryce Harper‘s name keeps popping up in rumors as a potential signing. However, Andrew Friedman hasn’t tossed money around since taking over. He has cut down payroll and maneuvered to a more comfortable spot below the Competitive Balance Tax. Harper in Dodger blue would definitely not improve the outlook for the Padres.
LA has a gaping hole behind the plate with the departure of former Padre Yasmani Grandal. So far though, the front office has shown little interest in one of the hot names this offseason, J.T. Realmuto, thanks to the Miami Marlins’ demands in return.
The Dodgers will welcome back their Rookie of the Year in 2016, shortstop Corey Seager. Last year, he had both elbow and labrum surgery, but says he’s ready to go in 2019. His return would mean that the very versatile Chris Taylor can return to second and left field. Playing multiple positions, Taylor batted .254/.331/.444/ with 17 home runs in 2018. The last month of the season and in the playoffs, he really upped the ante, hitting .345/.433/.586.
Los Angeles has a surplus of starting pitching with Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, and even Ross Stripling. The team may even consider a six-man rotation. Buehler has the talent to take over as the Dodgers’ ace, but Kershaw should not be underestimated.
The Rockies surprised just about everyone with their 91-72 finish in the West, which included a win over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Wild Card game. Their 25-year-old starter, Kyle Freeland, outpitched seasoned ace Jon Lester in a 2-1 thriller that lasted 13 innings. On just three days’ rest, Freeland went six and two/thirds innings, giving up no runs.
At 5,200 feet above sea level, Coors Field has long been considered a power hitter’s paradise, conducive not only to home runs but to doubles and triples, as well as a pitcher’s nightmare. In an about-face, the 2018 starting staff led by former pitcher and Padres’ manager Bud Black, became the main story rather than the sluggers.
In just his second year, lefty Freeland led the team with 17 wins and an ERA of 2.85, while fellow starter German Marquez piled up 230 strikeouts. Third baseman Nolan Arenado did his part, batting .297 with 38 home runs and 110 runs batted in. Since this could be Arenado’s last year in Colorado, the Rockies have even more incentive to go for it.
According to prognosticators, the Colorado Rockies will fall back to earth, but none of them predicted last year’s trip to the playoffs.
When the Arizona Diamondbacks traded their “face-of-the-franchise”, slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, to the Cardinals in December, the organization indicated it may be ready to throw in the towel and begin a rebuild. A 40.1 WAR player during his eight-year career, Goldschmidt compiled a .297/.398/.532 batting line and earned three Gold Gloves with his only team until now.
The loss of pitcher Patrick Corbin to the Washington Nationals and center fielder A.J. Pollock to free agency may have precipitated the move. However, in the Goldschmidt trade, the D-Backs did acquire two players from a team noted for drafting and developing young talent to help jump start their rebuild.
First drafted as a third baseman, the Cardinals moved Carson Kelly behind the plate. The Card’s iconic catcher, Yadier Molina, blocked Kelly, who excels at defense, but not so much at the plate. Pitcher Luke Weaver, a first-round pick, had a forgettable 2018 season, but at just 25, will have a chance to prove his worth in the starting rotation.
With over $100 million left on his contract, Zack Greinke’s time in the desert may also be coming to an end. At 35, the former Cy Young winner went 15-11 with a 3.21 ERA. He eats innings, at least 200 in the last two years, and has pinpoint control and an ability to miss bats.
San Francisco Giants
Bringing up the rear and possibly joining the Padres in last place, the San Francisco Giants have gotten really old really fast. Last year, the team sent out the oldest lineup in the National League day after day.
However, San Francisco did add a new face, albeit to the front office rather than the roster. Farhan Zaidi has taken over as the president of baseball operations after helping keep the Dodgers in first place since the end of 2014. Before joining Andrew Friedman (formerly with the Tampa Bay Rays), the president of baseball operations for LA, Zaidi had served as the assistant general manager for the Oakland A’s. Both Friedman and Zaidi gained experience with franchises that excel at putting together low-budget, but high-achieving teams.
Now Zaidi brings his analytic skills, combined with respect for old-fashioned scouting, to a team of aging stars like Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford, and the very portly Pablo Sandoval. However, the Giants have World Series titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014, making the inevitable changes of the guard much easier to stomach.
The team will save some money thanks to the contracts for Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen coming off the books. Rumors abound that the Giants may even try to move Madison Bumgarner, who held the Padres to a batting line of .206/.265/.419 last year. Johnny Cueto, who had Tommy John surgery in August, will not return until September at the earliest.
The predicted regression of both the Giants and D-Backs give the Padres a chance to make gains, at least against those division rivals. According to ESPN’s “The way-to-early 2019 Power Rankings: Can Boston repeat,” the Padres will improve by only two games from last year’s 66-96 showing. However, according to this prediction, the Giants replace the Padres at the bottom of the division. Other prognosticators actually have more cheery news for San Diego fans.
On New Year’s Day, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com predicted “The Padres will be this year’s ‘Wait, how are they this good?’ team.” He foresees the regression of the Diamondbacks and Giants, the additions of rookies Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias, as well as a rebound from Eric Hosmer improving the Padres’ fortunes.
In “Five way-too-early bold predictions for the 2019 MLB season,” Joe Rivera of the Sporting News starts with the prophecy that the Red Sox and Dodgers won’t even make it to the playoffs and adds that “The Padres shock the world, are actually…good?” This will amount to demonstrating that they are a “decent baseball team” and finishing in second place at 90-72 behind the 95-win Rockies.
Richard Justice also of MLB.com predicts the vaunted farm system will start delivering with Tatis Jr., but also lauds pitchers Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, Jacob Nix, and Brett Kennedy. Although a closer look at those pitchers does not exactly inspire confidence, a year of experience and the possible arrival of highly-rated pitching prospects like Chris Paddack could change the dynamic.
On March 28, fans will start to see just which of these predictions comes close to being accurate.