Current Review of the Topsy-Turvy National League West

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Although most pre-season predictions had the Padres in last place, the relative success of the other four teams has defied the prognosticators’ judgments. According to the experts, the Los Angeles Dodgers would lead the West yet again (albeit with fewer wins than last year’s 104). In the meantime, the Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, and Arizona Diamondbacks would muddle along in the middle.

Although still very early in the season, the D-Backs have surprised just about everyone with 23 wins against 11 losses, while the Dodgers find themselves in fourth place with a 15-19 record. In fact, Arizona ranks third of all teams in wins behind only the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Last year, an improved pitching staff helped Arizona reach the playoffs, and that staff has continued its winning ways in 2018 despite the loss of Taijuan Walker to Tommy John surgery. Patrick Corbin has led the way with a 4-0 record, 2.15 ERA, and 0.761 WHIP. The two Zack’s (Greinke and Godley) and Matt Koch all have winning records. Sunday, Koch outpitched Justin Verlander in a 3-1 win over the Houston Astros. Before that, he’d helped defeat Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. Currently, Koch has a 2.13 ERA and 0.987 WHIP.

Center fielder A.J. Pollack, the April Player of the Month for the National League, has been on a tear with 10 home runs and 29 RBI. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt may have slumped a bit a bit at the plate, but still provides Gold-Glove caliber defense.
Jarrod Dyson, who signed as a free agent, adds stellar defense and speed on the bases. Also added during the offseason, former Padre Brad Boxberger has taken over as closer and has 11 saves, second in the National League to the Colorado Rockies’ Wade Davis, who has 13.

Speaking of the Rockies, the team currently sits in second place with a 20-15 record, 3.5 games behind Arizona. The Padres have faced Colorado more than any other NLW foe, and the Rockies have prevailed in six of 10 games. Lately, the surprising pitching staff from last year has regrouped from early struggles. Former pitcher and Padres manager Bud Black has somehow helped to conquer the Coors Field curse in the minds of his pitching staff.

Chad Bettis, who dealt with testicular cancer last year, leads the team with a 4-1 record, 2.05 ERA, and 1.045 WHIP. Jon Gray, (3-4, 4.99 ERA, 1.311 WHIP), Kyle Freeland (2-4, 3.95, 1.171), Tyler Anderson (2-0, 3.78, 1.320), and German Marquez (2-3, 4.76, 1.47) round out the rotation.

Third baseman Nolan Arenado (winner of five Gold Gloves) continues to perform on both sides of the ball and has a slash line of .315/.409/.611. DJ LeMahieu won his second Gold Glove last year and is batting .290/.367/.505.

The San Francisco Giants (19-16) just got the bad news that starting pitcher Johnny Cueto will miss six to eight weeks thanks to a strained right elbow. He joins ace Madison Bumgarner, who has been sidelined with a broken hand since spring training. The rotation currently includes Chris Stratton (3-2, 3.99 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), Derek Holland (1-3, 5.70, 1.20), Ty Blach (3-3, 3.60, 1.38), Jeff Samardzija (1-2, 6.62, 1.81), and rookie Andrew Suarez (1-1, 3.06, 0.96).

Also on the DL for the Giants are second baseman Joe Panik, who had surgery on his thumb at the end of April, and left fielder Hunter Pence, who also has a thumb injury. Additions like outfielder Andrew McCutchen and third baseman Evan Longoria, as well as mainstays Brandon Crawford at shortstop and Brandon Belt at first base, have helped the Giants stay afloat.

The Padres have a losing record against every team in the division except the Giants (4-3). In matchups with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Padres have won only two of six games. However, the Dodgers recently had to place ace Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list with biceps tendonitis. Kershaw joins fellow pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (left groin strain), shortstop Corey Seager (season-ending elbow surgery), third baseman Justin Turner (fractured left wrist), second baseman Logan Forsythe (right shoulder inflammation), and right fielder Yasiel Puig (left hip pointer).

In the past two years, Kershaw has been out with back injuries, but an arm injury has to bring team concern to an even higher level. In the meantime, the Dodgers have had to improvise, making moves like playing center fielder Chris Taylor at shortstop.

The Dodgers have to be encouraged by the sterling performance of rookie starting pitcher Walker Buehler (who combined with three relievers to no-hit the Padres in Monterrey, Mexico). He has a 1.13 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 16 innings. However, LA wants to limit Buehler’s starts to protect his surgically reconstructed elbow.

First baseman Cody Bellinger (.283/.340/.465) and former Padres’ catcher Yasmani Grandal (.272/.372/.476) have stayed healthy so far and performed well. Also, starting pitcher Rich Hill will come off the DL and face the first place Diamondbacks.

Manager Dave Roberts has expressed frustration with his team’s lackluster start. Unimpressed by Bellinger’s lack of hustle on a fly ball, Roberts pulled last year’s rookie of the year from a game and sat him on the bench.

Andy Green, the Padres manager, has also shown frustration with his team, especially pitcher Bryan Mitchell, who will be moved to the bullpen. Unlike Roberts, Green cannot be surprised by the Padres’ 13-23 record. San Diego’s front office has called this a “developmental” year, and no one expected the team to contend for much of anything.

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