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Unseating the Dodgers from atop the NL West would take strength opponents lack

Dustin May is doused during a locker room celebration after the Dodgers clinched their seventh consecutive NL West title.
Dodgers pitcher Dustin May is doused during a locker room celebration after the Dodgers clinched their seventh consecutive NL West title in 2019.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Strap in for the National League West Division’s crazy race for second place. In baseball’s most lopsided division, it might be the most compelling story line during this pandemic-shortened season.

The Dodgers, of course, are the heavy favorites to repeat as division champions for the eighth year in a row. Fangraphs projections have them winning the division by five games (the equivalent of almost 15 in a normal season). In Las Vegas sportsbooks, no other MLB club comes close to the Dodgers’ division-winning odds.

Most pundits make it sound as if the NL West’s other four teams will be driving go-karts while Dave Roberts’ squad speeds away in a Maserati. Entering the season, no obvious challenger is visible in the rearview mirror.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, last year’s runners-up, are somewhere between a rebuild and a restock, fielding a balanced lineup that has managed winning records in three consecutive seasons, but lacking the firepower that might be necessary to keep pace with L.A.

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The San Diego Padres enter the season reenergized, adding outfielder Tommy Pham to a Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado-led lineup that has turned the perennial bottom-dwellers into a dark-horse contender.

Under L.A. County rules, anyone exposed to COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days. Dave Roberts is concerned about what it means for the Dodgers.

The Colorado Rockies are in need of a reset after last season’s unforeseen flameout, as the team followed up a promising 2018 campaign (one that included taking the Dodgers to a 163rd game) with a 91-loss dud and discord between star third baseman Nolan Arenado and the front office.

Then there are the San Francisco Giants, who are embarking upon a total renovation without their three-time World Series-winning manager Bruce Bochy (who retired after last season), staff ace Madison Bumgarner (who signed with the Diamondbacks in free agency) and fan favorite catcher Buster Posey (who is sitting out this season for safety concerns after he and his wife adopted twins).

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While those absences are all but certain to sink the Giants to the bottom of the standings, the division’s middle three teams are hoping to take advantage of the unpredictability presented by a 60-game schedule.

The Rockies likely would need the most help to be competitive. Arenado and all-star teammates Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon create a dangerous spine in the lineup, but there is little proven secondary muscle. That became a point of contention this offseason between Arenado, who is entering the second-year of an eight-year, $260-million contract, and general manager Jeff Bridich, with the five-time all-star reportedly frustrated at the team’s failure to add more depth.

The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have plenty of veteran contributors, including the offseason signing of former Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun. Infielder Ketel Marte emerged as an all-star last season and the team added Bumgarner to its rotation after trading Zack Greinke at last year’s trade deadline. But they’ve yet to recapture the highs of 2017, when Paul Goldschmidt (now with the St. Louis Cardinals) led the club to a win in the wild-card game before being swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS.

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The Padres, meanwhile, haven’t been to the postseason since 2006, the division’s longest drought by a decade (the Giants’ last appearance was in 2016). But they might have the pieces to push for a playoff spot and make a run at unseating the Dodgers. Tatis Jr. is a tantalizing 21-year-old shortstop who hit .317 with 22 home runs as a rookie last season. Machado, the former Dodger entering season No. 2 of a 10-year deal, has five consecutive 30-home run seasons. Pham, acquired in an offseason trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, hits with power and runs well. The rotation is anchored by fast-rising 24-year-old Chris Paddack and the experienced Garrett Richards, and the bullpen led by closer Kirby Yates is considered one of the strongest in baseball.

Then again, only the Dodgers have won the division since 2013. Few believe this season will be any different.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST DIVISION

Teams listed in predicted order of finish

Dodgers


2019 | 106-56, 1st in West
Last year in playoffs | 2019

The offseason acquisition of former American League MVP Mookie Betts only further cements the Dodgers’ status as NL favorites. The former Boston Red Sox outfielder will team up with reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger and a top-heavy rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. The bullpen remains the team’s biggest question after closer Kenley Jansen’s 2019 struggles.

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LINEUP
RF: Mookie Betts
1B: Max Muncy
3B: Justin Turner
CF: Cody Bellinger
SS: Corey Seager
LF: AJ Pollock
DH: Joc Pederson
C: Will Smith
2B: Gavin Lux

ROTATION
LH: Clayton Kershaw
RH: Walker Buehler
LH: Julio Urias
LH: Alex Wood
RH: Ross Stripling

SETUP
RH: Pedro Báez
RH: Joe Kelly

CLOSER
RH: Kenley Jansen

San Diego Padres


2019 | 70-92, 5th in West
Last year in playoffs | 2006

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Outfielder Tommy Pham joins a star-studded lineup headlined by Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer. Young players will be relied upon, including outfielder Trent Grisham, 23, catcher Francisco Mejia, 24, and starting pitcher Chris Paddack, 24, who emerged as one of baseball’s most promising young arms last season. All-Star closer Kirby Yates returns after recording an MLB-best 41 saves.

LINEUP
SS: Fernando Tatis Jr.
LF: Tommy Pham
3B: Manny Machado
1B: Eric Hosmer
RF: Wil Myers
DH: Josh Naylor
CF: Trent Grisham
2B: Jurickson Profar
C: Francisco Mejia

ROTATION
RH: Chris Paddack
RH: Garrett Richards
RH: Zach Davies
LH: Joey Lucchesi
RH: Dinelson Lamet

SETUP
RH: Emilio Pagan
LH: Drew Pomeranz

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CLOSER
RH: Kirby Yates

Arizona Diamondbacks


2019 | 85-77, 2nd in West
Last year in playoffs | 2017

Madison Bumgarner joins the division’s only team other than the Dodgers to post a winning record in 2019. He and Robbie Ray will anchor the rotation. Starling Marte, acquired in a trade, and Kole Calhoun, signed as a free agent, bolster the outfield. Ketel Marte will try to build off his breakout performance from a season ago.

LINEUP
CF: Starling Marte
2B: Ketel Marte
3B: Eduardo Escobar
1B: Christian Walker
LF: David Peralta
RF: Kole Calhoun
DH: Jake Lamb
SS: Nick Ahmed
C: Carson Kelly

ROTATION
LH: Madison Bumgarner
LH: Robbie Ray
RH: Luke Weaver
RH: Zac Gallen
RH: Merrill Kelly

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SETUP
RH: Junior Guerra
LH: Andrew Chafin

CLOSER
RH: Archie Bradley

Colorado Rockies


2019 | 71-91, 4th in West
Last year in playoffs | 2017

Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story provide a dangerous one-two punch after hitting 41 and 35 home runs in 2019, respectively, while Charlie Blackmon will be going for his fourth All-Star appearance in a row and David Dahl his second in a row. The lineup thins out from there, hindered by Ian Desmond’s decision to opt out of the season.

LINEUP
CF: David Dahl
SS: Trevor Story
RF: Charlie Blackmon
3B: Nolan Arenado
DH: Daniel Murphy
1B: Ryan McMahon
2B: Garrett Hampson
LF: Sam Hilliard
C: Tony Wolters

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ROTATION
RH: German Marquez
RH: Jon Gray
LH: Kyle Freelan
RH: Antonio Senzatela
RH: Jeff Hoffman

SETUP
RH: Jairo Diaz
RH: Scott Oberg

CLOSER
RH: Wade Davis

San Francisco Giants


2019 | 77-85, 3rd in West
Last year in playoffs | 2016

New manager Gabe Kapler takes over a team at the nadir of its rebuild. Madison Bumgarner is gone. Buster Posey opted out of the season. Brandon Belt and Mike Yastrzemski lead a lineup that could include much platooning. Hunter Pence is back with the club after reinventing himself in 2019 with the Texas Rangers. Johnny Cueto will start opening day against the Dodgers.

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LINEUP
RF: Mike Yastrzemski
1B: Brandon Belt
3B: Evan Longoria
LF: Hunter Pence
DH: Darin Ruf
SS: Brandon Crawford
CF: Mauricio Dubon
C: Rob Brantly
2B: Donovan Solano

ROTATION
RH: Johnny Cueto
RH: Jeff Samardzija
RH: Kevin Gausman
LH: Drew Smyly
RH: Logan Webb

SETUP
RH: Tyler Rogers
RH: Trevor Gott

CLOSER
LH: Tony Watson


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