Do you remember where you were when you heard the Diamondbacks signed Zack Greinke? I do. I got a text from Eric Stephen, who runs True Blue LA. The text consisted of four words, 16 letters total. None of the words are nice words. I was in a grocery store, and I figured those four words meant Greinke signed with the Giants. That is not what those four words meant.
That's the moment the 2016 National League West began to take shape. Greinke to the Diamondbacks was like your boss coming in and saying that your company made edible teddy bears now. You weren't expecting it, but you'd better start figuring out how to adjust. The first thing you do is ask for a sample of the edible teddy bears. Are they sweet? Savory? I'd guess more like a cotton candy, but I could also see a savory, mushroom flavor, too. Then you would have to ...
No, wait, start over. Greinke to the Diamondbacks meant that everything was different. The Giants lost out on the player they were chasing. The Dodgers lost out on the pitcher they were enjoying. The Diamondbacks were suddenly four or five wins better, if not more. The other teams had to adjust.
And adjust they did. Everyone tinkered and smashed and tinkered some more, with the Diamondbacks trading away a farm system, the Dodgers crossing their fingers with some injury-prone gambles, and the Giants signing three of the sketchiest expensive free agents on the market. The Padres acquired, let's see, Jon Jay, and the Rockies traded for a closer or something, so it's not like it was just a Giants/Diamondbacks/Dodgers kind of offseason. It just felt that way.
Now it's your turn to predict how the NL West will turn out. Opening Day is like your birthday, sure, but that doesn't guarantee happiness.
Who will win the West? Will the wild card come out of the west? What about the other wild card? I'll be honest, I forgot about the second wild card until just now. That's probably a bad sign.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
I know, I know. But the Dodgers also won the division in 2014, too. That worked out okay. And even though they had an even worse spring than the Giants, with injuries and disappointments and injuries, they still have enviable depth. It's the difference in impact prospects that seals the prediction for me. The Giants haven't had anyone like Julio Urias since the wee days of Lincecum, and he's just sitting in a glass case, waiting for the Dodgers to need him.
It's worth pointing out that the Giants were closer to the Diamondbacks than the Dodgers last year, and it's not like the Dodgers replaced Greinke with Livan Hernandez after a four-year layoff. They made smart moves. They still have Clayton Kershaw. They're still the favorite until further notice.
2. San Francisco Giants (wild card)
It's not that I don't believe in the magic of the even year. It's just that ... wait, no, I really don't believe in the magic of the even year. The Giants are a fine team. Maybe the best team they've been heading into a season since 2003, if not earlier. The stats have them in a dead heat with the Dodgers. I just can't figure out how they'll make up the eight games from last year.
Here's what I'll need to put them ahead of the Dodgers in my predictions, though: Proof that Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are still good. The projection systems are optimistic and calling me a weenie. That's fine. But I've never seen these guys succeed in a Giants uniform. They were both disappointing for their last teams, to some extent. Until I get used to them doing well as a Giant, I'll be a worried fool.
We might get used to them by May. But right now, I'm too nervous to proclaim them favorites. Those were a pair of really risky pitchers, you know.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
I'm not afraid. I'll say it: I wish Zack Greinke were on the Twins this year. It kind of stinks that he's on the Diamondbacks. Goodness, that's going to be obnoxious.
I just don't see where the run production is going to come from after A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and David Peralta. They outscored the Giants by just 23 runs last year, despite playing in a hitter-friendly park. Not only did they not improve the lineup, but it's hard to imagine Peralta or Welington Castillo hitting as well as they did last year. The only move they made to the lineup was to put Yasmany Tomas in Ender Inciarte's spot, and that looks like a downgrade at the plate, in the field, and on the bases.
If Tomas improves, or if Jake Lamb develops, or if Jean Segura really is the All-Star he was in the spring, they'll be fine, contending deep into the summer. From here, though, it looks like a team that needed a little more.
4. Colorado Rockies
They won't be a contender, but let's just reflect for a moment how annoying it is that they have Jake McGee. Bad teams with good closers are my least favorite thing in baseball. Because for one stupid inning, it's like they're an elite team, and there isn't a danged thing you can do about it.
Also, I hope Nolan Arenado is traded to the Dolphins.
5. San Diego Padres
Last year, the Padres had an awful defense. There's only so much you can do when baseballs are flying over the fence, like they were with James Shields and Ian Kennedy, but there were plenty of extra outs given to the other team. That probably hurt when it came to the sheer number of baseballs flying over the fence, too.
This year, the Padres said, "That was horrible defense! We should probably get Jon Jay to play center field this time." Which sure seems counterintuitive. They traded away Craig Kimbrel, and they would trade away any of their other good players in the right deal, even if they're also quasi-contending at the same time.
The only thing we know for sure is that they will still be annoying.
This is the safe prediction, by the way. Maybe flip the Rockies with the Padres, but this is the safe prediction. Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Padres.
You are welcome to make an unsafe, dangerous prediction.
Sure! That Dodgers prediction is a game worse than the absolute worst-case scenario that PECOTA could spit out. I like those odds.
Realistically, though, I'll go:
- Dodgers: 94-68
- Giants: 91-71
- Diamondbacks: 84-78
- Rockies: 79-83
- Padres: 76-86
Your turn. Be wrong, like the rest of us. There's no shame in it.