And we bring this preview to a close:
The D’backs had some big shoes to fill, in two regards, this past winter. While JD Martinez may have been merely a rental, he could have been much more if the chips fell right. Instead he’s shipping up to Boston and hoping he can turn the home-run hitting machine on in two consecutive seasons. If there’s any silver linings, it’s that replication isn’t guaranteed. That replication will be attempted by
Steven Souza….wait, what? Souza got injured pushing himself to catch a long fly ball? Who do we have that can fill in for our JD replacement? Jarrod…Dyson? Really? He helped the Royals win a World Series, for sure, but that’s a definite downgrade on paper. Still, the team is otherwise the same as they were last year when they went toe to toe with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round after knocking out the Rockies in the Wild-Card game. Paul Goldschmidt is still the best superstar you haven’t heard of, AJ Pollock could finally have a full season in the desert, and Alex Avila is a youthful sideways upgrade from Chris Iannetta. The pitching is rounding into form as well, and here’s the most surprising thing: Zach Greinke is no longer the ace! Patrick Corbin has proved himself worthy of the spot, while Robbie Ray has even skipped ahead of Greinke in the depth chart. That actually delivers a one-two-three punch that I don’t think the rest of the West is expecting, plus you have Taijuan Walker and Zack Goldey on the swing shift, both of whom have incredible breakout potential. The upside is there for the Arizona team, let’s see if they can meet up with the big boys.
As a Rockies fan, I have to say this was one of the most thrilling offseasons in recent memory. We started it off by qualifying an offer to Greg Holland and signing two other relievers to back him up: Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw (Cleveland). Things were looking up but something fell through on the deal and nothing else happened with Holland at all (he remains unsigned anywhere the evening before play starts). Instead, we got his old Kansas City teammate Wade Davis. After the pair won the World Series, Holland underwent Tommy John and Davis moved up to replace Aroldis Chapman in Chicago. I think that’s a solid upgrade, and a sideways sort of one is Chris Iannetta, a catcher who knows the park pretty well having been in Denver from 2006-2011, including their last two postseason runs. I think Lucroy would have remained stable, and he should help bring Oakland back into form, but Iannetta is familiarly solid. The pitching staff is the same, though Antonio Senzatela moves to long reliever while German Marquez will start a handful more games. With Chad Bettis fully healthy and Kyle Freeland moving into the fifth slot, Tyler Chatwood swapped with Davis in a spot on the Cubs’ rotation. Will this team be able to capture lightning again and make the postseason? I think they’re a step in the right direction, but with the Dodgers having made the World Series and Arizona improving…and even San Francisco and San Diego getting better, this will be the most difficult division in baseball. All five teams have something to show us.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The only transaction I’m sad about here is that Andre Ethier may have played his last game – it would have been nice to see him play over a decade with the same franchise and cap it off with a World Series win. Same could be said for Carlos Beltran, who played with many more teams and went out the same way. Still, there’s a strange amount of veterans who remain unsigned twenty-four hours before we’re into the full swing of the 2018 season. Speaking of veterans getting a second chance, how about Matt Kemp returning to the same team he started on with Ethier back in 2006? He’ll be a relief bench player for sure, but it could be exciting to see him happily come full circle. Another strange fun fact: if you trace the Matt Kemp deal to the Padres, it eventually brings in reliever Scott Alexander from the Royals. I’d say the Dodgers are continuing to win that trade. The core of the NLCS champions remains intact, and similarly to the Cubs they had restocked with youth – Chris Taylor, Cory Seager, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson are the West Coast versions of Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Ian Happ. The pitching staff is nearly identical, with the best pitcher in the world (Clayton Kershaw) still manning the ace role. Kenley Jansen has finally been recognized as the best current closer in the game, and all they did was shed excess fat from 2017. The team was in place already, they just tweaked a few monetary things. Could that mean they make yet another deep run and find a re-match with Houston? Or will an easier team slip its way into their clutches?
San Diego Padres
This team is readier than one might suppose. I completely forgot that the Phillies traded away Freddy Galvis with the incoming JP Crawford taking his spot on the roster. Chase Headley returned to the team that made him, while Eric Hosmer chose to start the second chapter of his career in sunny southern California. The pitching is messier than ever, with Tyson Ross and Clayton Richard capable third and fourth rotation clingers leading the way. Brad Hand is a special kind of closer, though, and he can lead the bullpen into the rebuild with some poise. Jordan Lyles is a great long reliever, and he’ll have his work cut out for him. Still, the bats are there – Wil Myers is still as potent as he was in Tampa, while Austin Hedges is sneaky good. Manuel Margot is the breakout candidate here, with All-Star written all over him. If any of their division mates falters, the Padres would love to slip above them into the conversation.
San Francisco Giants
I spoke a lot about Andrew McCutchen in the last article, and we know full well Evan Longoria was also brought over to the team to provide some spark to fire the team back up to its even-year peak performance. Let’s talk about what’s still here. Will the once proud dynasty find its way back into the winners’ circle come October? The hope was that the injuries would stay away, but last week a freak bounce-backer hit ace Madison Bumgarner in his throwing pinky and took him out of commission through at least the end of May. That would annoy any true Giants or even pure baseball fan, but the news only gets worse, as Jeff Samardzija went down with a pectoral strain that will sideline him for three to four weeks. But wait, there’s more! As I wrote these words, I hear that Mark Melancon may be headed for the DL as well, due to strange feelings in his surgically-repaired right arm. The ailing closer had the surgery late last year, and it appears to not be healing perfectly. So seriously, what’s still here? Johnny Cueto will be sandwiched between Ty Blach and Derek Holland, not the high flying pitching staff we deserve. The bats will be forced to do the work, and we’ll hope for big campaigns from Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence. Austin Jackson joins those newcomers in their first true test Thursday: Clayton Kershaw.
That’s it, folks! Enjoy opening day, and if you get restless while watching some of the night games, I’ll be posting an article in the evening of who I think will have the best chance at MVP, Cy Young, and what teams will make the playoffs (and of course, my far-reaching choice for World Series).
Thanks for reading!