NL West preview: Can anyone stop the Dodgers from winning the division?
The question, tinged with incredulity, surfaced in every corner of the Major League Baseball universe last month once the Dodgers reinforced a stacked lineup with Freddie Freeman: How many games will those plucky Dodgers win in 2022?
The consensus is somewhere in the triple digits. A National League West title is viewed as a formality. The other four teams, going by the prognostications, are playing for second place behind the club with the highest payroll in the majors.
2022 MLB season preview
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts began spring training with measured public thoughts on his team’s chances. He noted they still have to play the games. Then, on March 24, he dumped the modesty and guaranteed the Dodgers will win the World Series on a national radio show. Hours later, he doubled down on his bluster to reporters.
On Thursday, Roberts emphasized the difficulty to overcome each day, each opponent’s best punch. The Dodgers aren’t the defending World Series champions, but they’re the Dodgers and the Dodgers in 2022 are a villain.
“Just embracing it is what it is,” Roberts said. “People love to beat the Dodgers. And our goal is to win the World Series. It is every single year. So to not shy away from it, run from it. And if guys think that that’s too much pressure, then we have the wrong players. And I don’t believe we do.”
Roberts knows surprises surface over a 162-game season. A year ago, the San Diego Padres were fast-approaching budding rivals, ready to challenge the Dodgers for divisional supremacy. Then the Dodgers won 106 games, tied for most in franchise history, while the Padres crumbled down Interstate 5.
The problem for Los Angeles was the San Francisco Giants smashed expectations. They totaled 107 wins with a flair for the dramatic. The stunning revelation reinvigorated a historic rivalry. Eventually, the Giants shoved the Dodgers off the NL West summit on the last day of the regular season to snap their streak of eight straight division titles.
Two weeks later, the Dodgers retaliated, knocking the Giants out in a grueling five-game National League Division Series. But not winning the division was costly. They needed a walk-off win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card game just to face the Giants before meeting the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. The stretch is motivation to finish atop the division again.
The Angels made it a point to fortify their pitching staff in an attempt to win the AL West for the first time since 2014. The Astros remain the favorites.
“We were gassed,” Roberts said. “And no excuse. We lost to a better team, playing better. But that’s incentive to kind of play at home and get off days and set your rotation, all that stuff.”
The odds are stacked against the four teams trying to keep the Dodgers from the top of the standings again.
The Giants are projected to regress. Having catcher Buster Posey, their best player and a future Hall of Famer, retire over the winter didn’t help.
The Padres, the other legitimate contender in the division, will be without star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. for at least the season’s first two months because of a wrist injury. The Colorado Rockies remain a rudderless organization in disarray. The Arizona Diamondbacks compiled 110 losses last season. They can’t get any worse, but they’re years away from relevance.
Freeman signed a six-year, $162-million deal, but he wasn’t the largest expenditure in the division over the offseason. That distinction belongs to Kris Bryant. The Rockies, a year after practically giving away Nolan Arenado, committed $182 million over seven years to Bryant to play left field.
Bryant’s decision was another blow to the Giants; they acquired the slugger from the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline last summer for the stretch run. The Giants instead allocated most of their money on four starting pitchers. Carlos Rodón, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Alex Cobb signed for a combined $125 million to fill out the rotation behind ace Logan Webb.
San Francisco completed its offseason work by adding former Dodger Joc Pederson on a one-year deal. Pederson will assume a familiar role starting against right-handed pitchers — both in the outfield and as the designated hitter — after helping the Braves win the World Series in October.
He joins a group headlined by shortstop Brandon Crawford, a top-five NL MVP candidate last season, and longtime first baseman Brandon Belt. The Giants will work around those two veterans. The decision-makers will strive to put the others in favorable matchups to succeed. The strategy worked, for example, for LaMonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores in 2021.
In San Diego, last season’s disaster cost manager Jayce Tingler his job. The Padres replaced him with Bob Melvin, who made the move from the Oakland Athletics. Melvin will field a dangerous lineup even without Tatis, an electric 23-year-old talent marred by injuries, for most of the season’s first half.
The Padres still employ perennial All-Star Manny Machado. Utilityman Jake Cronenworth broke out as an All-Star in 2021. Wil Myers and Trent Grisham have pop. They acquired Luke Voit, a power supplier, from the New York Yankees in March. Voit hit 22 home runs in 56 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Yu Darvish and Blake Snell top a capable rotation. Mike Clevinger, an elite starter from 2017 through 2020, will rejoin the group after missing 2021 because of Tommy John surgery. Nick Martinez was signed from Japan to add depth. The inclusions will push Dinelson Lamet, a Cy Young Award candidate in 2020, to the bullpen.
With the changes the Dodgers have made in the offseason, manager Dave Roberts believes his team will win the World Series in 2022.
The team is talented. To dethrone the Giants and supplant the Dodgers, staying healthy and avoiding clubhouse drama that engulfed the team last summer will be paramount.
Clayton Kershaw is the only holdover from the last time the Dodgers entered a season not as the reigning division champions. The 2013 Dodgers won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series. That result would be considered a failure in 2022.
The lineup is loaded with a threat at every spot, and them some. The surplus prompted the front office to flip outfielder AJ Pollock to the Chicago White Sox for closer Craig Kimbrel to replace Kenley Jansen. Pollock was projected to bat near the bottom of the order after posting an .892 on-base-plus-slugging percentage last season. Freeman, universally regarded as one of the sport’s best hitters, compiled an .896 OPS.
Corey Seager was lost in free agency, but the Dodgers effectively replaced him with Freeman and another All-Star.
Trea Turner, acquired at the trade deadline last summer, is a better defender at shortstop than Seager and finished fifth in the NL MVP race in 2021. Freeman, a more consistent everyday presence than Seager who hasn’t sat out more than four games in a season since 2017, will replace Seager’s thump from the left side. It’s a collective upgrade.
The Dodgers aren’t without uncertainties.
They watched Max Scherzer sign with the New York Mets before the lockout. Walker Buehler and Julio Urías are coming off the most strenuous workloads of their careers. Kershaw ended last season with an elbow injury. Andrew Heaney and Tony Gonsolin, coming off disappointing seasons, are slated to occupy the final two rotation spots.
Tyler Anderson and David Price have been relegated to insurance for a combined price of $40 million. Trevor Bauer is on paid administrative leave at least through April 16 and isn’t expected to pitch for the Dodgers again.
Andrew Friedman’s accomplishments as the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations are significant. He says his passion for the job remains high.
Other reinforcement from within could help by the end of the season. Dustin May is slated to return after the All-Star break after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May. Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Landon Knack are three promising prospects. But the lack of depth at the major league level has been enough of a concern for the Dodgers to scour the trade market for starting pitching.
The Dodgers believe they will grind teams to a pulp, tax bullpens, and score plenty of runs. Roberts said the explosive offense should give the pitching staff, particularly the starters, more margin for error. They envision simply outslugging teams some nights — and winning another division title before playing deep into October.
“But, again, that’s in theory,” Roberts said. “You’ve still got to go out there and do it.”
1 | Dodgers
2021 — 106-56, 2nd in West
Last year in playoffs — 2021
The lineup replaced Corey Seager with Freddie Freeman — arguably an upgrade that gives the Dodgers the deepest offense in the majors — and the bench is deeper than a year ago. Kenley Jansen signed with the Atlanta Braves, leaving a hole in the back of the bullpen until Craig Kimbrel was acquired on the penultimate day of spring training. The biggest question mark might be the rotation, with top starters (Walker Buehler, Julio Urías) coming off unprecedented workloads and a third (Clayton Kershaw) coming off a major elbow injury.
2 | Giants
2021 — 107-55, 1st in West
Last year in playoffs — 2021
Winning back-to-back division titles became more e difficult when Buster Posey, the club’s leader and best player, retired during the offseason. Logan Webb sits atop a rotation again featuring pitchers on short-term contracts. Closer Camilo Doval, a rookie sensation down the stretch last season, headlines a strong bullpen.
3 | Padres
2021 — 79-83, 3rd in West
Last year in playoffs — 2020
The most disappointing team in the majors last season is already facing an uphill battle with star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. sidelined for at least the season’s first two months. The roster is talented enough to absorb the blow and compete for a spot in the expanded postseason, but depth remains a potential issue.
4 | Rockies
2021 — 74-87, 4th in West
Last year in playoffs — 2018
A year after handing the Cardinals $50 million and All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado in exchange for five middling prospects, the Rockies gave Kris Bryant a seven-year, $182 million deal during spring training. To play left field. Confused? So are we.
5 | Diamondbacks
2021 — 52-110, 5th in West
Last year in playoffs — 2017
At least the Rockies spent some money. The team in the desert did next to nothing this offseason after losing a franchise-worst 110 games in 2021, tied with the penny-pinching Orioles for most in the majors.
At least Arizona has the Suns.
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