With Opening Day rapidly approaching, we're going division by division to give you the nitty gritty on what to expect in 2016. Today's edition is the NL West.
The Dodgers are the kings of the division these days, with titles in each of the last three seasons and Clayton Kershaw heading up their pitching staff. The Giants have been right behind Los Angeles every step of the way and were able to win the World Series in 2014 as a Wild Card, marking their third championship in the last five seasons, all in even-numbered years. They've retooled by adding starters Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, and here we are in an even year again. Sure, the Dodgers and Giants look like the class of the division once again, but the rest of the West might be catching up. The D-backs had a surprising bounce-back in 2015 and acquired erstwhile Dodgers star pitcher Zack Greinke via free agency before trading for former Braves ace Shelby Miller. Meanwhile, the Rockies still pack offensive punch with Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez and the Padres have two burgeoning rotation stalwarts in Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner.
WHAT THE STAT PROJECTIONS SAY
FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA are in lockstep here. Both predict that the Dodgers will make it four NL West crowns in a row, with FanGraphs foreseeing 92 wins and PECOTA predicting 93. Both systems also have the Giants in second place, FanGraphs with 88 San Francisco wins and PECOTA with 85 for Bruce Bochy's club. Arizona places third in both systems. FanGraphs predicts 80 wins for the D-backs, with PECOTA forecasting 78 victories. There's little separating San Diego and Colorado in either system. FanGraphs has the two clubs tied at 74-88 in 2016, and PECOTA has the Rockies outpacing the Padres, 77 wins to 74.
THE SLEEPER TEAM
The Rockies have some thump on the offensive side of things and spent much of their offseason energy on getting better in the bullpen. They also have young players with upside. But everything will hinge on their starting pitching, which remains an unknown, and, at least in the case of last year, an underperforming unit. Colorado needs young pitchers Eddie Butler and Jon Gray to step up in 2016. If they do, Walt Weiss' team could make a big leap in the standings.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
The Dodgers are primed to dominate in this category. Not only do they have Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda, a polished veteran coming off the equivalent of the Cy Young Award in his native country, they have MLBPipeline.com's No. 1 overall prospect, NL Rookie of the Year favorite Corey Seager, at shortstop, and 19-year-old left-hander Julio Urias (ranked No. 4 overall by MLB Pipeline) steadily rising up the Minor League ranks. The Giants are eager to see the power swing of 6-foot-4, 240-pound slugger Mac Williamson, as are the Padres with Rule 5 selection Jabari Blash. D-backs outfielder Socrates Brito might get plenty of time in the outfield for Arizona this season, especially in light of star outfielder A.J. Pollock's fractured right elbow, and Rockies shortstop Trevor Story is primed to make the most of his opportunity in the wake of Jose Reyes' suspension.
THE BREAKOUT BUNCH
The late-blooming Justin Turner ascended to a starting role at third base for the Dodgers last year and ended up with 16 homers, 60 RBIs and an OPS of .861 in 385 at-bats. Now he enters the season with a chance at a career-high total in ABs. Giants first baseman Brandon Belt has been a solid Major Leaguer for years but has never hit more than 18 homers in a season. He's healthy now and could bust out with more power than we've seen from him before. D-backs third baseman Jake Lamb flashed power in the Minors and was not overmatched in the big leagues last year on either side of the ball. He'll get a chance to excel in the desert this season.
IT'S A TEAM SPORT, BUT THE SEASON WILL HINGE ON …
• Dodgers: Yasiel Puig. Which version of this outfield enigma are we going to see? The All-Star with all the tools, or the oft-injured disciplinary liability? The talent is clear for everyone to see. If he can stay healthy and committed to his craft, the Dodgers can keep it going in October.
• Giants: Cueto. Inconsistency once he arrived in Kansas City last year and the loss of a few ticks of velocity made some think he might not be the perennial Cy Young Award contender he was while with Cincinnati, but San Francisco invested a lot of money and years in him to be a terrific No. 2 behind Madison Bumgarner.
• D-backs: Miller. To land the right-hander, Arizona gave Atlanta a huge package of talent, including the No. 1 overall Draft pick from a year ago in shortstop Dansby Swanson and emerging big league outfielder Ender Inciarte. With Miller backing Greinke in a revamped rotation, the D-backs will be expecting contention in 2016. That makes Miller's performance a huge key.
• Rockies: Jorge De La Rosa. The Rockies' starting rotation is a bit of a mishmash mystery, but there is no question that De La Rosa is the staff ace when healthy, and indications this spring are that he is. The veteran left-hander can provide serious security to the staff if he's right all year.
• Padres: Wil Myers. The 2013 American League Rookie of the Year is healthy and primed for a full season at first base. If he lives up to the potential that the baseball world has been expecting, he could have a huge impact on this lineup.
IN 16 WORDS OR LESS
The defending Dodgers and even-year Giants still look tough. Are the Snakes poised to strike?
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.