With two weeks to go in the 2017 season, three of the four National League teams with the best winning percentages have home addresses in the NL West Division.
Los Angeles (94-52), Arizona (84-62), and Colorado (80-66) look like they will join the Nationals and (maybe) the Cubs in the upcoming National League playoffs.
And that signals a tectonic shift in baseball’s division power rankings. Until now, the traditional default answer to the question, “Which MLB division is the strongest?” has always been– the American League East.
Again this season, the Boston Red Sox (82-63) and New York Yankees (79-66) feature strong pitching and extra base power; Tampa Bay’s pitching is perennially strong; and Baltimore’s power bats always seem to find the perfect launch angle.
But in 2017, everything has changed. The National League West is not only the strongest and most talented division in the game, it’s about to get even stronger and scarier. Maybe very soon.
And it’s funny. There was a time five years ago when the National League West looked like it would regress to its own traditional dynamic default: Dodgers versus Giants, and those other three teams.
In 2012, the San Francisco Giants had just won their second World Series in three years, and they seemed poised to play championship baseball for a very long time.
With the simultaneous revitalization of the Los Angeles Dodgers, it also appeared the Giants and LA would spend the next decade renewing one of baseball’s best rivalries as they arm wrestled each season to see which team would win the Division.
Then three things happened.
First, the Giants ownership and management group decided not to build a dynasty, but to simply slap a team together each Spring Training and hope something good would happen.
They kept fan favorite players beyond their time, ignored the analytics revolution sweeping the game, and left the baseball business to go into the marketing business. And made a ton of money.
Second, the Los Angeles Dodgers did more than revitalize—new ownership turned the franchise over to a brilliant dream-team: President & CEO Stan Kasten, President of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman, General Manager Farhan Zaidi, and Manager Dave Roberts.
It’s taken the new group several years to financially clean up after the previous owners, but they have implemented a blueprint of offensive and pitching dominance. Backed up by a minor league system rated #4 by Baseball America, which will feed high impact talent into the Dodger mix for years to come.
And the Dodgers did all this without having half the ownership wealth of the Giants.
The third thing to happen in the NL West was the 2017 resurgence of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. And it’s a foundational renaissance that won’t be going away soon.
Colorado’s unique anti-pitching home field coupled with the challenging adjustment players have to make on the road has plagued this franchise for years.
This season Senior VP and GM Jeff Bridich and Manager Bud Black and the Rockies’ front office have matched up a talented crop of young starters with a strong bullpen, which is rated 10th in the NL with a 4.43 ERA, and has the 5th lowest OPS allowed in the League (.727).
When Coors Field is your home park, bullpen numbers like that are pretty good.
Colorado’s offense continues to dominate, coming in 2nd in the NL with 744 RS so far (the Nationals are 1st with 750 RS).
Speaking of offense, the Arizona Diamondbacks are 4th in the National League with 724 RS. They have two legitimate #1 starters in Zack Greinke (2.99 ERA, 200 SO in 186.1 IP) and Robbie Ray (2.81 ERA, 196 SO in 144 IP).
The D’Backs bullpen is second best in the National League with a 3.88 ERA (the Dodgers pen is #1 with a 3.31 ERA).
But coming soon is the next team that will add another level to the powerhouse known as the National League West: the San Diego Padres.
When a ballclub does a full on, everything over the side team rebuild it can get ugly really quick.
The Pads finished the 2016 season at 68-74 (.420); they are on track to finish 2017 with a 73-89 (.451) record.
Using that 5-win improvement as a rough measure, San Diego should hit at least 78 wins in 2018—a tantalizing three games from the magic .500 mark that is always the first target for a team in rebuild mode.
But wait. Not all rebuilds are equal.
The New York Yankees’ version of a rebuild the past two seasons has been to do it on-the-fly, trying to make big changes yet still appear competitive. As the great Yogi Berra might have described it, “They did it without actually doing it.”
The Yankees were a very respectful 84-78 in 2016, but finished 5 games back of an AL Wild Card slot.
At their current W/L pace, the Yanks project to finish with an 88-74 record—a four game improvement, but one that will get them into the postseason via the AL Wild Card.
San Diego took an entirely different track.
In late 2015, after a failed attempt to assemble a winning team via off-season trades and free agent spending, they started edging to a full rebuild.
By 2016, ownership and management had freely tossed everything into the massive rebuild centrifuge machine. They traded for talented young players, drafted well, and heavily invested in international player signings.
And it’s just starting to pay off.
2017 was the year that San Diego committed to bringing their young hitting talent up to the big leagues and letting them learn to swim:
LH reliever Brad Hand, 27, has been a superstar this season with a .095 WHIP in 66 G and a 2.33 ERA.
And coming up through the Padres #9 ranked farm system (@Baseball America) are a slew of talented young pitchers at the top of their prospects list:
The San Diego Padres likely won’t stage a full-blown break-out in 2018, but they are on track to hit the .500 mark. By 2019 the Padres could be poised to join the three powerhouse teams that have already made the National League West baseball’s most dominant division.