Starting today, we begin our annual predictions roundup for each division in baseball. While predictions are inherently hard, and even more so for baseball, it is always fun to try to foresee the future and make some money off it.
In this series, each division will be dissected going from team to team as we see them finishing within their respective divisions, with all odds courtesy of Bovada Online.
On this first installment, we take a look at the NL West, a division that has produced a different champion in each of the last five years, with the last team to repeat being the LA Dodgers in 2008 and 2009. The same Dodgers are being anointed the prohibitive favorite to retain their 2013 crown and be World Series contenders, but in a division that promises to have more talent than in previous years, will the ride be that smooth for Los Angeles?
#5 – Colorado Rockies – Wins O/U: 76.5 – To Win Division: +1600
Still seeking the first division championship in team history, the Rockies are about to face their first season without team icon Todd Helton. After going from 64 wins in 2012 to 74 the following season, Colorado will try to again improve their win total and also avoid a potential third straight finish in last place. Unfortunately for them, their offseason moves have again left the Rockies as the weakest link in the NL West, though 2014 could serve as a springboard for many of their young players.
Having Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez batting in the middle of the lineup will certainly make Colorado competitive on most nights, but their rotation is again bound to suffer in the thin air of Coors Field. Even as starting pitchers like Jorge de la Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, and Brett Anderson are more than capable to hold their own, the real interest for Colorado should be to see what prospects like Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler have to offer, as they are both projected to get a call-up during the season.
In the end, Colorado's lineup has too many holes and its pitching is far from its division peers, and that is why the under and a last-place finish forecast is the smart bet.
#4 – Arizona Diamondbacks – Wins O/U: 80.5 – To Win Division: +800
The DBacks are coming off consecutive 81-81 seasons in which they were semi-contenders, and now instead of making the necessary moves to break that threshold and challenge the Dodgers, the team appears to have taken a step back. After letting go of players like Adam Eaton and Trevor Bauer in the past year, Arizona is counting on solid-but-unspectacular players like Bronson Arroyo, Brandon McCarthy, Mark Trumbo, et al to carry the load.
Having a potential MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt, who led the league in homeruns, RBI, OPS and slugging in 2013, should be the cornerstone for the Diamondbacks, but instead of surrounding him with enough talent to contend, Arizona's lack of depth will probably be what fells this team.
Arizona could surprise the world if many of the previously mentioned players have a breakout season, and it's also important to remember that Goldschmidt is only 26, but there's just too many ifs to consider them contenders. Instead, they will probably hover around 75-80 wins after falling out of the race quickly –so don't hesitate to take the under.
#3 – San Diego Padres – Wins O/U: 78.5 – To Win Division: +1000
Similar to Arizona, the Padres are also coming off consecutive seasons with identical records, only that the Friars only managed to win 76 games each time. Their Pythagorean record pegged them as a 72-win team in 2013, and while this might suggest that San Diego is due for a bout of negative regression, it would overlook the many factors that could help the Padres earn their first winning season since 2010.
The additions of free agents Josh Johnson to the rotation and Joaquin Benoit to the bullpen give a new dimension to a team that needs pitching to lead the way, and a second season of young phenom Jedd Gyorko along with a potentially healthy Chase Headley are the factors San Diego is counting on to be a surprise contender in 2014. While they may not be in the same atmosphere as the Dodgers, the Padres appear to be building a Giants-like model that focuses on developing young pitching and a competent offense to maximize their home ballpark.
The Friars have been called among 2014's potential sleepers, and with all the upside in them, fewer than 78 wins seem just too low. Even as the division is out of reach, challenging for the Wild Card should be within San Diego's grasp, and thus the over is the play here.
#2 – San Francisco Giants – Wins O/U: 86.5 – To Win Division: +325
The Giants won 76 games last year, beating their expected record by 2 wins and looking nothing like the defending World Series champions they were. So why are they pegged to win 10 games above last year's performance? Well, San Francisco is still a quality roster that suffered through a slew of injuries and poor performance from good players, and that is why management is trusting that 2013 was just a fluke.
By doing that, the Giants will present almost an identical copy of last year's roster, albeit with a couple of upgrades that are about to make things interesting. First of all, starting pitcher Tim Hudson should provide a boost to the rotation, though bounce-back seasons from Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong will be the real key for the Giants. On the offensive side, the addition of Michael Morse may not appear to be much, but his homerun power is essential for a team that ranked next-to-last in homers last year.
If the Giants continue their alternating years of brilliance and mediocrity, 2014 is bound to be a good season, but even then the team is full of question marks. Despite all the upside offered by Cy Young contenders and a solid bullpen, the offense is middle-of-the-pack at best, and probably no match for LA. The 86.5 mark is among the hardest on the board this season, and begrudgingly I'll take the under, though San Francisco should contend at least for a Wild Card and finish around the 83-85 range in the wins column.
#1 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Wins O/U: 92.5 – To Win Division: -200
The Dodgers are not only the prohibitive favorites to win the NL West, at 13/2 they are also the odds-on big boy to win it all during 2014. Even as the roster has some glaring holes in middle relief and at second base to begin the season, the rest of the positions are filled out so well that they are bound to cover those weaknesses and then some.
Headlined by the best pitcher on Earth, Clayton Kershaw, and an outfield so good that Andre Ethier is projected to come off the bench, the Dodgers will have the league's highest payroll and the biggest expectations, but in the end they have all it takes to win their sixth division title in 11 seasons.
Last year's squad won 92 games, but it's important to remember that they were as far as 9.5 games back and was also last in the division on June 30. They needed a historic 42-8 run to get back in the race, and they were undoubtedly the best team in the league from July to September and were only a few lucky bounces away from reaching the World Series. This time around, the Dodgers are built to storm through the gate and grab control of the division since day 1, and yet if something goes wrong they have the financial muscle to trade for a big contract during the year.
The over is just too tempting, as Los Angeles has all the tools to dominate for long stretches of the season.
Check out the other divisional previews: