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Vaughn: Previewing the National League West

| Friday, February 3, 2023

As odd as it may sound, considering the frigid temperatures and giant masses of snow around the Notre Dame campus, the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is quickly approaching, with opening day set to occur in less than two months. With pitchers and catchers slated to report as early as Feb. 13, it’s time to look ahead to the upcoming season and the expectations for each club. Over the next few weeks, I’ll dive into previews for all 30 teams, division by division, helping get fans ready for the 154th season of professional baseball. Up this week, the National League West.

Division Overview: Over the past decade, the NL West has been dominated by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have won nine of the past 10 division titles, with the San Francisco Giants being the only other team to capture a division crown in 2021. Last season followed a similar path, with the Dodgers winning the division, followed by the San Diego Padres, the Giants, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies, respectively. However, it was the Padres who received the last laugh after securing a wild card birth and eliminating the Dodgers three games to one in the NL Division series before being vanquished by the Philadelphia Phillies.

Arizona Diamondbacks (2022: 74-88, .457)

The Arizona Diamondbacks look to bounce back after their third-consecutive losing season. Manager Torey Lovullo returns for his seventh season, hoping to guide the D-backs to their first postseason birth since 2017. Though finishing near the bottom of the NL, the team looks to be much-improved, thanks in large part due to great outfield depth, particularly with young players like Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll (the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball) entering the season age 25 or younger. On the infield, Arizona returns with gold-glove first baseman Christian Walker, as well as switch-hitting infielder Ketel Marte.

The pitching staff looks to be anchored by young aces in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, both of whom showed great improvement under the tutelage of pitching coach Brent Strom, who came over from the Huston Astros following the 2021 campaign. In terms of transactions, the Diamondbacks didn’t make many moves. However, they did complete a blockbuster trade, dealing a rising star in utilityman Daulton Varsho for catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. In Moreno, a highly-touted prospect, Arizona should have their everyday backstop while Gurriel provides the lineup with a high on-base percentage. Though it will be difficult for the Diamondbacks to reach October this season, expect much improvement and many strides towards a bright future.

Colorado Rockies (2022: 68-94, .420)

The Colorado Rockies carry their rebuilt into 2023, hoping to move past their 94-loss season in 2022. Though Colorado stayed pat in the offseason with minimal trades and free agent signings, they hope to receive a major boost with the addition of four time All Star and 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant. Inked to a seven year, $182 million deal prior to the 2022 season, Bryant appeared in just 42 games last a season, by far his lowest over a full, non-Covid season.

Aside from Bryant, the club does have some bright spots in the lineup, with 2022 All Star C.J. Cron and Gold Glove winner Brendan Rodgers patrolling the right side of the infield. In fact, that infield looks to improve even more with top prospects Ezequiel Tovar (SS, No. 25 prospect in all of baseball) and Michael Toglia (1B/OF, #6 1B prospect in baseball) slated to be key contributors. For the team to be competitive, though, they will also need bounce-back seasons from former top prospect Ryan McMahon, as well as aging outfielder Charlie Blackmon. On the pitching side (which never has been a strong suit for a team playing half its games a mile above sea level), the Rockies will need to lean on their workhorses in Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela, all of whom are entering their late-20’s primes. Out of the pen, closer Daniel Bard looks to shut down opposing offenses as he did in 2022, anchoring down a bullpen full of unknown and unproven arms. It will be a large climb for the Rockies, with 2023 appearing to be another season out of contention. 

Los Angeles Dodgers (2022: 111-51, .685)

The Los Angeles Dodgers were once again a very successful team in the regular season in 2022, winning 111 games en route to their ninth division title in the past ten years. However, despite entering October with the best record in baseball, the Dodgers title aspirations were short-lived, ending with a three games to one loss to the Padres in the NL Division Series.

This offseason, the Dodgers have experienced more than their fair share of transactions, witnessing the departure of NL Silver Slugger Trea Turner, longtime third baseman Justin Turner, outfielder Cody Bellinger and closer Craig Kimbrel, the latter three of which were coming off down seasons, particularly by their own standards. The Dodgers refused to stand idle, though, signing flamethrower Noah Syndergaard and slugger J.D. Martinez, both of whom look to return to their all-star form.

Despite these changes, the current lineup remains loaded with talent, led by 2022 all-stars Mookie Betts (who took home both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger) and Freddie Freeman and complimented with young position players Gavin Lux and Will Smith. On the other side of the ball, the Dodgers boast many quality arms from lefties Clayton Kershaw and Julio Urias to righties Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May, though losing Walker Buehler to Tommy John surgery for the season is a major blow, even for a roster this deep. Oh, and by the way, the Dodgers have one of the top farm systems in baseball with seven prospects in the top 80, all of which are slated to reach the majors some time this season. So yes, despite the disappointment last October, the Dodgers remain a force to be reckoned with.

San Diego Padres (2022: 89-73, .549)

After making a run to the NL Championship Series in 2022, the Padres look to take the next step forward in 2023. The offseason saw many roster changes via free agency with former Silver Sluggers Josh Bell and Brandon Drury and starting pitchers Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger among the notable exits.

However, general manage A.J. Preller backed his reputation as an aggressive executive, signing all-star shortstop Xander Bogaerts away from the Boston Red Sox while bringing in veteran sluggers Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter as well. They will join one of the most star-studded lineups in baseball, joining up with 2022 all stars Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth, not to mention potential MVP candidate Fernando Tatis Jr., who returns from his PED suspension the second half of April.

This roster is solid defensively as well, featuring five gold-glove finalists, including center fielder Trent Grisham, who won the award for his position. On the pitching side, San Diego’s staff is headed by ace Joe Musgrove, with many quality starters like Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, alongside former Top 100 prospect Brent Honeywell Jr. The bullpen is anchored by flamethrowers Robert Suarez and Josh Hader, with young arms Ray Kerr and Michel Baez slated for increased roles. After coming within three wins of the World Series, the Padres look to play deep into October once again.

San Francisco Giants (2022: 81-81, .500)

Despite vastly outperforming expectations with a 107-win division title in 2021, the San Francisco Giants came back down to earth in 2022, finishing at .500, good for third in the division. After an offseason characterized most by what could have been in the failed signings of Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, as well as the loss of their all-star lefty Carlos Rodon, the Giants look to stay competitive as they continue their transition from their dynasty of the early 2010’s to making their next October run.

The outfield, bolstered by the signings of Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger to go along with Joc Pederson and Mike Yastrzemski, looks to be the strength of the lineup, with the infield featuring a combination of aging veterans and unproven young players. The ceiling of this team will be determined by the ability to pitch, with San Francisco hurlers combining for a 3.85 era in 2022. With the return of ace Logan Webb and the addition of Sean Manaea (as well as No. 18 prospect in LHP Kyle Harrison expected to reach the bigs this season), the rotation looks to be one of the stronger ones in the league. The Rodgers brothers should bring stability to the bullpen, allowing the team to win some close games. Although not full of the star power typically seen for the Giants, this team has the potential to be competitive this season, with a chance to sneak into October with a wild card birth. 

Closing Thoughts and Other News

The NL West looks to be a compelling division featuring two World Series contenders in the Dodgers and Padres. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks feature many young players and look to take the next step in their rebuild, while the Giants hope to remain competitive. As for the Rockies, 2023 looks to be a season of potential development, and not much more. Look out for next week’s edition, as I continue these previews with the NL Central.

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