The MLB Trade Deadline included some shocking, last-minute surprises. The Dodgers made a splash to solidify a star-studded infield, while the Diamondbacks were less aggressive, adding a few minor pieces for the stretch run.
The race is tight in the NL West, with the top three teams within one game of each other. But each team has a key player or two that can make the difference for October.
Arizona Diamondbacks (60-49, T-1st NL West)
Key Player: Paul Goldschmidt
I hate to be obvious here, but I don’t think a lot of people understand just how good Paul Goldschmidt is.
For Luis Gonzalez’ sake, the guy has a wRC+ of 141! That’s good enough for a 16th place tie among all qualified Major League batters. He’s ahead of stars such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rendon, Giancarlo Stanton, and Bryce Harper.
The triple-slash line is good too, sitting at .277/.384/.520. The only knock on him this year has been his inflated K-rate of 26.6%, easily a career high. Fixing that would take him from MVP candidate to MVP front-runner.
Fun fact: Goldy has a career BABIP of .353! The Major League average BABIP for a season is generally around .300.
It would be easy to sit here and talk about X-factor pitchers that could go either way in the second half like Robbie Ray or Zack Godley, but, the truth is, this team should not struggle with pitching down the stretch, in large part due to the humidor killing off much of the slugging at Chase Field.
With Arizona steadily rising in the runs per game ranks at home, from 28th on June 1st, all the way to 11th on August 1st, a home resurgence by Goldy (.229/.365/.385 at home in ’18) would surely help them stave off the Dodgers for longer than people expect.
Los Angeles Dodgers (60-49, 1st NL West)
Key Player: Clayton Kershaw
Los Angeles was on a 39-16 run which enabled them to finally capture first place. But they’ve stumbled out of the break with a 6-6 record, dropping out of first place on July 30th.
The additions of Manny Machado and Brian Dozier gives manager Dave Roberts more bats than he knows what to do with, so offense won’t be an issue. However, the health of the starting pitchers is a major concern.
Out of the core rotation, only Alex Wood has not hit the disabled list this year, which is somewhat surprising, given his injury history, and the fact that his whippy windup makes him a prime candidate for flat-arm syndrome.
Kershaw is the key, simply put. Despite multiple trips to the DL this year, decreasing velocity, and a K-rate that’s his lowest since 2013, he is still going to the mound and grinding out dominant results every fifth day.
He still has two dominant breaking pitches and can locate his fastball like a surgeon. His xFIP and SIERA are both above three, but I don’t buy for a minute that this championship-caliber pitcher won’t gut out every pitch the rest of the way, leading the Dodgers to the NL West crown.
Colorado Rockies (58-49, 2nd NL West)
Key Player: Jon Gray
Colorado sits at 23rd in the Majors with an unsightly 4.59 ERA. So why does everyone want to talk about the Rockies’ pitching?
For one, their xFIP sits at 4.06, good for 11th in the league. Not bad for a team that pitches half their games at Coors Field. They have slightly more home games left the rest of this season, but five of their starters have managed to keep their xFIP south of 4.50 while pitching a mile above sea level.
The shining gem of that group is Jon Gray. He’s underperformed this year, and was even sent to AAA for a spell, but he’s back, and his 2.96 xFIP predicts that his 4.99 ERA will drop.
There are still some questions about the type of contact he gives up, as his SIERA is a still-good 3.29 on the season.
San Francisco Giants (55-54, 4th NL West)
Key Player: Madison Bumgarner
It’s an even-numbered year, and Giants fans know what that means. Unfortunately, this Giants team doesn’t have enough steam to make themselves relevant for much longer in the NL West race.
How many times during their three World Championship seasons did we utter similar phrases this time of year, though?
While the Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria trades made a lot of noise down in the Bay, the truth is, the Giants brought in two players in decline. They are now led by two 31-year-olds (including Buster Posey) and a 32-year-old.
The player to watch, one way or another, is Madison Bumgarner. Will he be able to regain his fastball on a ‘bum’ shoulder and become the dominant ace he once was? If so, he might just pitch the Giants back into this thing. But don’t count on it.
San Diego Padres (42-68, 5th NL West)
Key Player: Eric Hosmer
All but eliminated from the NL West race, the focus has turned to the future for the Padres. After inking an 8-year, 144-million-dollar deal in the offseason, Eric Hosmer is very much a part of their future.
Just the fact that they were able to sign the veteran World Champion to such a long-term deal proves that the Padres believe in their future. And why wouldn’t they?
Slugger Wil Myers is signed thru 2021. They have a dazzling array of arms in their bullpen, and they have some of the most exciting prospects in baseball in shortstops in Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis, Jr., as well as catching super-prospect Francisco Mejia.
All that’s lacking is a great starting pitcher, and the front office feels they may have one in young Dinelson Lamet, who is currently out for the year.
The time is now for Eric Hosmer to assume a clubhouse leadership role and sculpt the future years of this franchise. It’s been a down year for him, but every at-bat and every day he spends in San Diego will help to make him comfortable in the place he will call home for just short of a decade.
Stay tuned for the next installment. Until then, who do you think will come out on top of the NL West? Comment below.