The Dodgers, D-backs, and Rockies own three of the five best records in baseball, but will all three make it to October?
Entering the break, three of baseball’s winningest teams can be found in one division. The Dodgers (61-29), Diamondbacks (53-36), and Rockies (52-39) have turned the NL West into far-and-away the most entertaining division in the MLB. It is no surprise to see the Boys in Blue, who have won the division four years in a row, return to their winning ways, but the other two teams have turned a lot of heads in 2017. Can all three of these squads earn playoff spots come October?
Los Angeles Dodgers
As previously stated, the Dodgers have owned this division for a half decade, and seem poised to run away again. After falling short year after year in the playoffs, the pieces appear to be in place for a real championship run.
Bellinger’s break-out isn’t the only news in LA. Everything seems to be going right for the Dodgers, who boasted an NL-leading six All-Stars in this week’s festivities. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager continues to rake with mind-boggling consistency, sporting .298/.395/.502 with 13 homers and a 140 wRC+. Final Vote winner Justin Turner is batting an unbelievable .377 and capped off a stellar first-half with a two-homer performance on Sunday.
Clayton Kershaw continues to throw a baseball with more mastery than anyone in the universe and Alex Wood has reconfigured the form he found with Atlanta in 2014 to manage a microscopic 1.67 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. The Dodgers could become even more deadly by adding a few pieces at the deadline.
While Los Angeles has a strong 7.5 game lead, the Diamondbacks are still owners of the second-best record in the National League. The D-backs won just 69 games last year, so what changed? Some strong rebounds, prominent break-outs, and an improved team health has brought Arizona into the limelight.
Though he doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the Harpers, Bryants, and Stantons of the league, Paul Goldschmidt has been arguably the greatest position player not named Trout over the last five years. In the NL since 2012 (min. 500 AB), he ranks first in runs, first in RBIs, third in HRs, seventh in SB, second in BB%, third in AVG, second in OBP, third in SLG, second in wOBA, and third in WAR.
Goldy is a bonafide stud and, so far, 2017 has been his best season ever. Twenty HRs, 67 RBIs, and a stellar .313/.430/.581 slash line has helped boost Goldschmidt’s WAR to a sparkling 4.0. But, his MVP-caliber season is just one piece of the puzzle in Phoenix.
After getting snubbed in last year’s Final Vote, 3B Jake Lamb earned a roster spot in Miami at one of the game’s deepest position, beating the likes of Anthony Rendon and last year’s MVP, Kris Bryant. He struggles mightily against lefties, batting an unsightly .153 with a .608 OPS, but he is one of the most dangerous hitters in the league against right-handed pitching, posting a .317/.413/.601 line in the first-half.
As I mentioned in my piece last week, 25-year-old Chris Owings is on pace for a 20-20 season and has been a surprising source of production. Put all of this in behind one of the league’s best lead-off hitters, AJ Pollock, and the D-backs’ lineup looks highly formidable.
Meanwhile, former Cy Young award winner, Zack Greinke, looks more like the ace the D-backs thought they were getting when they signed him to a massive free agent contract last offseason. Greinke disappointed last year, with a 4.37 ERA that was fueled largely by a .262 BAA, the highest he had allowed since 2008 in Kansas City. This year he has dropped that number to .216, the second-lowest mark of his career.
Greinke was joined in Miami by Robbie Ray, whose high K/9 has steadily improved every year, leading to a tidy 2.97 ERA. His walk rate is high (4.42 per 9) and his BABIP is low (.275), but Ray owns an elite fastball (fourth-highest wFA via Fangraphs) and two other plus pitches that can help him get out of jams.
Finally, there is Colorado. Who could have predicted that the Rockies would be one of the league’s best teams…
Okay, perhaps I’m counting my chickens a little early, but the Rockies look like the real deal. They have one of the best offensive lineups in baseball. The crazy thing is, they have likely yet to realize their potential. Between power-hitting leadoff hitter/mens grooming expert Charlie Blackmon, human highlight-reel Nolan Arenado, and the shocking renaissance of Mark Reynolds, the Rockies pose some massive threats.
But consider the fact that the highly-productive Ian Desmond has spent much of the year on the DL, while promising youngster David Dahl has yet to have a chance to build on his excellent 2016. Not to mention the fact that two of the Rockies’ best hitters of 2016, Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez, have struggled to make significant contributions. If all of these offensive pieces could get rolling at once in the second half, this is a team that could make pitchers miserable in Coors Field. Last year’s batting champion, DJ LeMahieu, is only the fourth- or fifth-best hitter in the lineup. That’s scary.
While the team ERA remains high (4.50), when you look at ERA-, which adjusts for ballpark factors, you find that the Rockies’ pitching has actually posted the third-best total in the National League. The only two teams that have been better are, non-coincidentally, the two teams mentioned above.
We expected reasonable productivity from former No. 3 overall pick, Jon Gray, and the ultimate Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Tyler Chatwood, but it has actually been the rest of the rotation that has helped to keep opposing hitters in check. Gray has struggled with injuries, making a mere five starts to date, and while Chatwood continues to pitch well on the road (3.19), it doesn’t compare to the 1.69 road ERA he posted last year and he remains dreadful in Coors Field (6.14).
There are not many teams that look like trade deadline buyers in the National League. Given the fact that LA, Arizona, and Colorado all have a strong lead on the Cubs and, for that matter, the NL Central-leading Brewers, it seems perfectly plausible that the NL West could have three teams in the playoffs. The Cubs have yet to resemble the juggernaut they were in 2016 and, as SQ’s Bobby Murray pointed out last week, the Brewers have some holes that cast doubt over their legitimacy. Barring an unprecedented meltdown, the pathway to October seems clear for all three powerhouses.
The Verdict: The Dodgers Win the Division with the Best Record in Baseball. The D-backs and Rockies Play in the NL Wild Card Game.