MLB 2023 Season Preview: National League West – By Joshua Hertz
This year, spring training found itself upstaged by the newly reinvigorated World Baseball Classic. For the first time, this international competition featured Major Leaguers, allowing teams like the United States, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic bolster rosters rivaling MLB teams. While playing on the biggest international stage, some players had the chance to show off, including Nicaraguan pitcher Duque Hebbert, who was signed to a minor league deal in the LoanDepot Park parking lot by the Detroit Tigers following an amazing relief appearance against MLB talent. Unfortunately, others find their season’s in jeopardy following injury, including Mets closer Edwin Diaz, who is out for the season following an injury during a celebration, and Astros second baseman José Altuve, who is out indefinitely after a pitch broke his thumb. With the World Baseball Classic ending last night in Japan’s victory over the United States, the focus will shift back to the upcoming MLB season, which is almost a week away. And now the time comes for our final division preview, arguably among the toughest in baseball, the NL West.
In Phoenix, things are looking up for the Dbacks. While they have had 3 consecutive losing seasons, and haven’t played playoff baseball since 2017, their rebuild seems to have turned the corner, improving between 2021 and 2022 by a whopping 22 games. While they likely won’t see as large a jump in wins this season(they won 74 games in 2022), Arizona should have a shot at a winning record, and could potentially push their NL West rivals down the stretch. Arizona’s good fortune will only come if they can continue to see big results from their young talent, which in the MLB is always a bit risky.
This offseason, the Diamondbacks retooled around their young hitting core. To build around Corbin Carroll, the fastest man in baseball, his teammate in the outfield Alek Thomas, and veteran stars Ketel Marte and Christian Walker, the Dbacks opted to primarily rely on trades. To provide competition and an eventual replacement for catcher Carson Kelly and solidify their outfield, Arizona shipped Daulton Varsho to Canada, bringing in highly touted catching prospect Gabriel Moreno and veteran outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. from Toronto. To add to outfield depth, the team brought in former Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis in from Seattle, who is looking to rebound from recent struggles at the plate. For experience, the team brought in veteran third baseman Evan Longoria, who will hopefully mentor their young prospects and burgeoning stars. On the pitching side, the rotation is led by ace Zac Gallen, and features Merrill Kelly, who represented USA at the World Baseball Classic, and Madison Bumgarner, who has struggled to pitch effectively over his past few seasons while getting paid ace-level money. In the bullpen, the team is around league average, featuring veteran closer Mark Melancon and 2022 All Star Joe Mantiply. While the Diamondbacks will likely not make the playoffs, they will most likely stay out of the basement and continue to play their way into the middle of the league standings.
Predicted Finish: 3rd Place(No Playoffs)
In an environment like Denver, it’s a surprise that the Rockies have been unable to put together a strong run. With the thin air, their players have an acclimation advantage, and can train in similar methods to Olympic athletes. Their home field, Coors Field, is infamous for its high offensive environment, leading to lots of extra-base hits and home runs. Yet this season will likely be the fifth straight without playoffs, and the Rockies project to be one of the worst teams in baseball this season.
For Colorado, the losses of Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story and Jon Gray without any true compensation over the last few seasons has left them in a rocky spot. On the hitting side, they are led by a past his prime Charlie “Chuck Nazty” Blackmon, veteran first baseman C. J. Cron, and third baseman Ryan McMahon. The team still features Kris Bryant(remember him?) as an outfielder, who could be a good bounce back candidate after disappearing in his first season in Denver due to injuries and inconsistency. One big loss that will hurt the Rockies is the loss of young second baseman Brendan Rodgers, who will be out long-term with a shoulder injury. As a result, the team just brought in utilityman Jurickson Profar, who will help bolster their depth in both the infield and outfield and provide defensive relief for Randal Grichuk, Bryant or Blackmon. On the pitching side, the team returns their rotation from last season, led by Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela. In the bullpen, closer Daniel Bard returns, although struggled a bit in a recent outing for Team USA in the WBC, where his wild pitching led to multiple walks and hit-by-pitches, including the one that injured Altuve. To support him, the Rockies brought in veteran lefty Brad Hand and former Padres righty Pierce Johnson. Unfortunately for the Rockies, it will likely remain an uphill battle in a tough NL West, and they will likely stay at the bottom in 2023.
Predicted Finish: 5th Place(No Playoffs)
Los Angeles Dodgers
Last season, manager Dave Roberts made it known that the Dodgers were going to win another World Series. While this thankfully did not come to pass, the Dodgers continued their dominance in the regular season, winning their 9th division title in ten years, and making the playoffs for the 10th straight year. For the first time in a while, it seems this year that the Dodgers have not been able to throw their money around to build superteams with the best free agents. The team watched as shortstop Trea Turner left for Philadelphia, struggling former MVP Cody Bellinger headed to the Cubs, Tyler Anderson flipped to their cross-town rivals, and deadline rental Joey Gallo went to the Twins. The team finally parted ways with Trevor Bauer, ending his megadeal and tenure with the team in which he spent more time suspended by the MLB due to his actions off the field than pitching. In addition, the Dodgers were uncharacteristically quiet, trading for shortstop Miguel Rojas and signing righties Noah Syndergaard and Alex Reyes to one-year deals. One smart move was bringing in J.D. Martinez to play designated hitter, who will replace(and swap places with) the older Justin Turner, and provide another power bat to an already strong lineup. Despite mostly attrition, the Dodgers still boast an impressive roster.
The Dodgers have become notorious in recent years for their star-filled lineup. Some of these stars were on display in the WBC, such as catcher Will Smith(USA), outfielder Mookie Betts(USA) and first baseman Freddie Freeman(Canada), while lefty Julio Urías served as the ace for Mexico. The team will miss young middle infielder Gavin Lux this season, who was expected to breakout this season before tearing his ACL in spring training. Without Lux, the team will continue to rely on the likes of Betts, Freeman, Martinez, Smith, utilityman Chris Taylor and infielder Max Muncy to outhit their NL West competition. On the pitching side, Urías is expected to lead a strong rotation featuring future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, the aforementioned Syndergaard, as well as elite arms in Walker Buehler and Tony Gonsolin, although Gonsolin is not expected to be ready by Opening Day and Buehler is out long-term with injury. In the bullpen, the team is mostly the same, and features a plethora of solid pitchers who throw with high velocity. Overall, expect the Dodgers to continue to dominate, but regression and injuries have lessened the gap between them and the rest of the NL West. Don’t be surprised if the Dodgers find themselves in a tight race for the division come September.
Predicted Finish: 2nd Place(Playoffs as a Wild Card)
San Diego Padres
If I didn’t pick the Dodgers to win, then who would dethrone them? Certainly not Colorado or Arizona, and the Giants aren’t inspiring confidence. But in San Diego, the Padres have created a superteam of their own that should at least give the Dodgers a run for their money. Last season, the Padres may have been runner-ups to the NL West, but they made a blockbuster move last trade deadline that has set them up for a shot at World Series glory. They shipped their top prospects out, and in return got the best young star outfielder, Juan Soto, to pair with their elite core. Soto joined superstar third baseman Manny Machado and All Star infielder Jake Cronenworth in Southern California, but that wasn’t enough to hit their way into the World Series. This season, however, the Padres have spent money Dodgers style, and may have a chance to bring San Diego its first World Series trophy.
In an offseason filled with high-end shortstop talent, the Padres made their move for one of the best on the market, Xander Bogaerts. The former Red Sox provides solid pop and good defense for the Padres, adding to an already elite lineup. The team will also see the return of Fernando Tatis Jr., who will shift to the outfield and miss the start of the season as part of his PED suspension he received last season while he was rehabbing from injury. The Padres rounded out their lineup by signing veterans Matt Carpenter and Nelson Cruz to serve as designated hitters for a team looking to make a deep playoff push. On the pitching side, the Padres feature one of the top closers in Josh Hader heading a strong bullpen, while the rotation features newly extended ace Yu Darvish, lefty Black Snell and righty Joe Musgrove. With this roster, the Padres are World Series or bust, and may have a shot at securing their first NL West title since 2006.
Predicted Finish: 1st Place(Playoffs as Division Champs)
San Francisco Giants
For Giants fans, this offseason was an absolute nightmare. The Giants started on a high note, bringing back outfielder Joc Pederson on a qualifying offer. Next, the Giants took a big swing, trying to sign the best free agent on the market, Aaron Judge. Judge, being a Bay Area native, seemed like a done deal, and one reporter tweeted that his cousin Arson Judge was already bound for California. Unfortunately for the Giants, Judge stayed in the Bronx, and Arson does not exist(as far as we know). Next, the Giants entered the Carlos Correa sweepstakes. The team successfully convinced the star shortstop to head out west, they even had a press conference for Correa’s signing. Then, disaster struck! Correa failed his physical, so the Giants pulled their offer.(Was Arson involved?) Correa would repeat this with the Mets before ultimately staying in Minnesota, but this left San Francisco without their superstar acquisition. So who did the Giants bring in this offseason?
The Giants opted to build around a potential star, although the star never materialized. They brought in veteran outfielders Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto to join Pederson and Mike Yastrzemski. On the pitching side, the Giants bolstered their already strong rotation. While they let Carlos Rodón walk, they added to their rotation of ace Logan Webb and veterans Alex Cobb and Anthony DeSclafani by signing lefty Sean Manaea and righty Ross Stripling. In their bullpen, they united Tyler Rogers with his twin Taylor, and will likely have Camilo Doval continue as their closer. The Giants could potentially experience a surge similar to their surprise 2021 season, but most likely finish in the middle of a crowded National League again.
Predicted Finish: 4th Place(No Playoffs)