Breaking down the high stakes, pending rebuilds and key figures in a competitively diverse division
It’s not often a division has what many consider to be the two best teams in all of baseball, but that’s what the NL West is in 2021. The reigning World Series champion Dodgers headline a group of five that includes two clear championship contenders, two teams sort of stuck in the limbo of “rebuilding but also kind of trying to compete” and the Rockies. In the interest of keeping this logical and streamlined, I’ll be going over each team in the order I think they’ll finish in. I’ll go over each team’s pitching staff, lineup, all that good stuff, and I’ll give my predicted win-loss record for each team.
Let’s get to it!
2020 record: 43-17 (Won World Series, 4-2 vs. Tampa Bay)
The big bad wolf is alive and well. After finally winning a World Series in 2020, the Dodgers clearly decided that resting on your laurels is a bad thing to do. Nothing signifies this thinking like the whopping three-year, $120M contract they gave to baseball’s resident YouTuber Trevor Bauer, adding the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner to a starting rotation that can only be described as an embarrassment of riches. A top three of Kershaw/Buehler/Bauer would already have most teams shaking in their boots, and that’s before you add in Julio Urías and Dustin May as their fourth and fifth starters. This rotation is so talented that Tony Gonsolin and David Price are going to have to come out of the bullpen early on. Scary stuff.
The bullpen, as almost always, will be quality. Kenley Jansen isn’t 2017 Kenley Jansen anymore but he’s still hard to square up. They revived Blake Treinen and are looking to do the same with Corey Knebel, while the aforementioned Price and Gonsolin will serve as swingmen. And while they have some injuries in the ‘pen, it’s the Dodgers. They’ll be good. The lineup returns basically every single name from last season (Betts, Seager, Bellinger, Turner, Rockies Killer Max Muncy, etc) and also adds former top prospect Gavin Lux to play every day at second base.
The Dodgers have won the division every year since 2013 and this roster is yet another juggernaut. It’s World Series or bust, even with a new up-and-comer looking to challenge them.
2021 prediction: 103-59
2020 record: 37-23 (lost in NLDS)
The undisputed champions of the offseason. I’ve got to give the Padres credit for making an all-in push the likes of which we haven’t seen in baseball in a while. They traded for Blake Snell. They traded for Yu Darvish. They brought in Korean sensation Ha-Seong Kim. They traded for Joe Musgrove. And then they topped it all off by giving franchise player Fernando Tatís Jr. a massive contract extension. It’s hard to envision a team ever making more crowd-pleasing moves in one offseason than the Padres did this past offseason. They’re seeing their contention window open wide and they’re going for it, which is commendable and excellent for baseball, because San Diego is now a full-blown baseball city.
The rotation will be headlined by Darvish, Snell, and Musgrove, with Chris Paddack and Adrián Morejón forming the back end. The Padres will have no Mike Clevinger this season (Tommy John surgery) and they’re bringing Dinelson Lamet along with caution after his bout with elbow soreness last season. Top prospect Mackenzie Gore (70 FV) figures to see the Majors at some point this year as well, forming a rotation that looks scary and has tons of upside, which is a good thing, because their bullpen is a bit of an unknown, with quite a few injuries and some inconsistency mixed in with more upside. They’re also going to start the season with two key regulars out of the lineup, as catcher Austin Nola and centerfielder Trent Grisham will probably have to wait a bit to make their debuts after minor injuries. The backbone of the lineup, however, remains intact, with Tatís and Manny Machado forming a devastating 1-2 punch and a bunch of veteran hitters ranging from Tommy Pham to the less exciting Eric Hosmer. Still, they got the nickname “Slam Diego” for a reason.
As much as the Padres are the darlings of the baseball world, they’re still battling the champ, so I can’t project them to win the division, but I can say I expect them to take a Wild Card spot and be serious contenders by October.
2021 prediction: 95-67
2020 record: 29-31
What a weird spot the Giants are in. After refusing to hit the reset button for years after their World Series window had clearly closed, they’ve somehow stumbled into a couple of useful regulars, with the only problem being that all of them are around 30-years-old or even older: Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano, Kevin Gausman, and so on. The farm system is solid, but a lot of the exciting prospects are still a few years away.
This lack of youth is particularly present in the lineup, with an overwhelming majority of the projected regulars being 30 or older; Mauricio Dubón is the only projected starter below 30. They added to it in the offseason with veterans Tommy LaStella and Curt Casali and while most will be solid, there’s just very little upside here. The rotation has Kevin Gausman as its only real steady figure, with the rest being placeholders and the ghost of Johnny Cueto. The bullpen is similarly average, although it does include old friend Jake McGee and some solid pieces.
Really, the key word here is upside and the utter lack of it. They won’t be awful, but there’s no ceiling past a .500 record here.
2021 prediction: 77-85
2020 record: 25-35
The D-Backs thought they could compete last season, got off to an awful start, then said “right, that’s all for that idea!” and began selling off pieces to kick off a sort of traditional rebuild. With a quality farm system behind it, Arizona is now firmly in wait-and-see-who-sticks territory.
Ketel Marte and Josh Rojas are probably the two most exciting players in the lineup, with the ever-mysterious Carson Kelly probably being the next best thing in terms of upside. Tim Locastro and his HBP skills are also here, for those who watch Foolish Baseball, but this feels like a pretty mediocre lineup that’s going to struggle to score runs at times. The pitching staff isn’t much more inspiring, particularly after losing ace Zac Gallen to a hairline stress fracture he got while batting (let the DH debate begin!). Madison Bumgarner is looking to bounce back from his disastrous 2020 and help his Hall of Fame case into his 30’s, and the rest are mostly placeholders and innings eaters. The bullpen doesn’t project very well even if a couple of the guys in there may be keepers long term.
The reality is, the D-Backs are basically punting this season. They’re beginning a full-scale rebuild, so don’t expect any October challenges from them in the near future.
2021 prediction: 71-91
2020 record: 26-34
What to say about the Rockies heading into 2021 that hasn’t been said already? We all know what happened in the offseason, so I’ll be brief: the Rockies were already projected to be bad before losing a certain third baseman and that trade only makes the projections even darker. It’s not good, folks.
Lost in the shuffle is the very solid rotation the Rockies have put together, although it’s already taken a hit with Kyle Freeland’s injury and will be tested early and often. The bullpen was shaky before losing Scott Oberg and even shakier without him. The lineup has a Trevor Story that’s a year away from free agency, an aging Charlie Blackmon and a bunch of talented-but-unproven young players. Oh, and the most talented of the bunch, Brendan Rodgers, was raking in spring training before getting hurt as well. This team was extremely thin on depth before these injuries, so they are a potential blow to any surprise season they could have.
I will say, the Rockies are not as bad as many people think they are, but being just barely average relied entirely on perfect pitcher and Trevor Story health, plus a bunch of breakthroughs at the same time. It’s simply not realistic. I expect this team to struggle quite a bit to score and lose a lot of 5-3 games where good starting pitching performances get wasted. We all love the Rox, but they just don’t have the talent to compete. And that’s before people get traded at the deadline.
2021 prediction: 66-96