Column: The wild National League West

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Kenta Maeda throws to the plate against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of a baseball game in Los Angeles, Tuesday, April 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Despite the success of the Dodgers and Giants in recent years, the NL West is not usually a division that garners a lot of attention throughout the MLB. It’s never easy to tell which divisions will be competitive early in the season, but one thing has become very clear in the NL West: all five teams can really hit the baseball.

The NL West consists of the Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres. The Dodgers and the Giants have competed for divisional supremacy over the past four years, but some young stars and free agent additions have shaped the other three into dangerous teams. Whether they are good enough to unseat the Dodgers or the Giants remains to be seen.

Here’s what to watch for in what might be the most fun division in baseball this year.

One way or another, the NL West always starts with the Dodgers. They currently have the second most wins in the MLB and are off to a nice 10-6 start, asserting themselves as the favorites early on. Although they lost Zack Greinke in free agency, the Dodgers look like they landed a star free agent themselves in Kenta Maeda.

The 28-year-old Japanese right-hander is off to a phenomenal start in L.A. He has gone at least six innings in his first three MLB starts and has given up only one earned run all season. It looks like the Dodgers found their Greinke replacement at a tremendous discount.

Maeda’s deal is for eight years and $25 million, although it can reach up to $90 million with incentives. This contract is peanuts compared to $34 million per year for Greinke.

The Giants weren’t tasked with replacing a star pitcher like the Dodgers, but they clearly set out to improve their rotation in the offseason. San Francisco went out and signed two veteran pitchers in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.

Both have been solid early in the season and should give the talented Giants’ offense plenty of chances to win games. The Giants aren’t off to the best start at 7-9, but expect them to be right in the playoff hunt come August and September.

The Diamondbacks are the most intriguing team in the NL West. After a severely disappointing 2015, the Diamondbacks made a huge splash by signing Greinke away from the Dodgers and trading their No. 1 overall draft pick, Dansby Swanson to the Braves for right-hander, Shelby Miller. 

Arizona lost their all-star centerfielder A.J. Pollock to an elbow injury already, but their offense shows potential regardless. Paul Goldschmidt is a legit MVP-caliber talent and they’ve surrounded him with a young and athletic lineup. Yasmany Tomas, Jake Lamb, Jean Segura and David Peralta have all hit the ball well in the early going.

Left-handed starters Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray could be the X-factors that transform a middle-of-the-road team into a contender in their division. Corbin won 14 games with a 3.41 ERA in 2013, but had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and should finally be back to full strength this season.

The Padres and the Rockies are both in a similar situation, although they took different routes to get there. Both teams have offenses with lots of potential. While the Rockies are mostly a homegrown team, the Padres have overhauled their roster over the past two years with trades and free agents.

The issue with both teams is a lack of rotation depth. If they can find ways to pitch, they can both win a lot of games in the NL West. The Rockies are actually third in the MLB in run production early on, just ahead of the Giants and Dodgers.

Rookie shortstop Trevor Story took the league by storm and is leading in home runs. Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado provide the type of middle-of-the-order power that vaults teams into contention.

The Rockies are going to give their opponents trouble with sporadic offensive explosions. If the Rockies could finally get a pitching prospect or two to pan out, they might become a real threat to win the division. At worst, the Rockies should be a fun team to watch at the plate this season.

The Padres offense is less potent than the Rockies, but Tyson Ross and James Shields are two legit starters. Unfortunately, Ross suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and it is unclear when he’ll return. Lefty Drew Pomeranz has impressed early in the season and is worth keeping an eye on as the Padres look for a solid third starter.

At the end of the season I expect it to be primarily a three horse race between the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks, but the Padres and Rockies have enough to make a big impact on that race. All five teams have offensive firepower, but the pitching rotations will ultimately set them apart. Whenever a division has five teams that can hit, it’s a division worth watching.


Aaron Esposito is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at aaron.esposito@uconn.edu.