NL West Preview: The Rise of San Diego, the reign of L.A.

NL West Preview: The Rise of San Diego, the reign of L.A.

With Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, the Padres have the best left side of the infield in baseball and two MVP candidates to lead their lineup.

With Will Myers, Trent Grisham, Eric Hosmer, Tommy Pham, and Jurickson Profar, San Diego has power bats up and down that lineup, ready to build on last year’s performance of scoring the third-most runs in the majors.

With the additions of Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, and Blake Snell to the top of the rotation, the Padres can withstand being without Mike Clevinger for the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, with Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack rounding out a starting five that give San Diego a chance to win every game.

With Mark Melancon, Emilio Pagán, and Drew Pomeranz, the Padres have three relievers who can close out games, giving Jayce Tingler plenty of options to lock down those wins.

San Diego enters the season looking like one of the very best teams in baseball… and very clearly the second-best team in the National League West.

That’s because the Dodgers have Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger leading their lineup, supported by Corey Seager, Will Smith, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, A.J. Pollock, and Edwin Rios.

And the lineup isn’t even Los Angeles’ strength. With a rotation that already had Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, plus a returning David Price, the Dodgers went out and backed up the truck for Trevor Bauer this winter, meaning that two pitchers out of Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, and Julio Urias — all of whom could be in the top half of most major league rotations — will be in the bullpen.

And that bullpen remains fierce, with Kenley Jansen still the closer, and a mix of Brusdar Graterol, Joe Kelly, Corey Knebel, and Blake Treinen setting him up.

The nicest thing you can say about the rest of the West is that the Giants could conceivably finish with a winning record for the first time since 2016, the Diamondbacks are probably better than you’d expect based on the number of their players you’ve heard of, and the Rockies still have Trevor Story… for now.

It winds up looking a lot like the West of 20 years ago — the American League West, where the A’s won 102 games, the second-best total in the majors — and still finished 14 games out of first place because the Mariners set a record with 116 victories. The rest of that AL West was the Angels finishing 41 games out with 75 wins, and the Rangers winning 73. That could be the San Francisco and Arizona scenario here, with the Rockies sliding in somewhere below that.

The main questions for the defending World Series champion Dodgers are whether they’ll get bored, and how quickly Bauer’s act, which this spring included pitching with one eye closed, wears thin. Los Angeles is just so far ahead of everyone else on talent and depth, as a result of both financial might with actually trying to win above all else, an all-too-rare combination in 21st century baseball.

The Padres don’t have the same kind of financial firepower, but have gone out and shown how much they want to win. With Machado and Tatis at the core, San Diego should be contending for years to come, and at some point, the Padres should be able to get to a third World Series in franchise history, and maybe even get their first title. That could even be this year. The Padres have the lineup and the pitching to do it, and once you get to October and best-of-seven play, it’s certainly not out of the question.

The virtual certainty of the Dodgers winning the division and the Padres being a wild-card takes some of the spice out of the division, but that doesn’t mean the next six months are going to be boring. Nothing with Tatis involved possibly could be, and that’s a big part of the difference between Los Angeles and San Diego — the Dodgers look like a ruthless juggernaut with no discernible weakness, while the Padres look pretty awesome and a ton of fun. And for a team this good to be an underdog? That’s definitely going to be worth watching.

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