Sarah's Take: Dodgers remain West's best

Sarah's Take: Dodgers remain West's best

With Spring Training looming, many baseball pundits try to guess which teams will be Major League Baseball's elite group at the end of the season.

The Chicago Cubs should be an elite team for the next several years since they have many young players entering their prime. However, injuries could decimate their team in 2017 preventing them from reaching the playoffs. Who knows? Baseball is unpredictable.

The National League West Division should again be intriguing. I'm going to rank the teams here, even though I probably will look like a buffoon at the end of the season.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Last year they came within two wins of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1988. Their record-setting number of injuries finally caught up with them during the NLCS.

Although the Dodgers re-signed Rich Hill, their starting rotation appears to be weak. Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy have a long history of injuries. It's doubtful they can pitch for the entire season. Kenta Maeda was the workhorse of the rotation in 2016, but he fell apart during the playoffs. Also when the Dodgers signed him in January 2016, he had irregularities on his MRI indicating he would need to have a Tommy John elbow surgery at some point. Clayton Kershaw, the best starter on the planet, comes off a season when he missed two months with a back injury, and as everyone knows, back problems can linger. Julio Urias is essentially a rookie learning how to pitch on the Major League level.

Their bullpen was a strength in 2016, but it was overused. Re-signing Kenley Jansen was huge, but the Dodgers need a setup man before Spring Training begins.

They kept one of their best hitters in Justin Turner, and they helped their offense when they traded for second baseman Logan Forsythe from the Tampa Bay Rays. However, their bench is weak.

San Francisco Giants: If their bullpen doesn't collapse like it did in 2016, they may unseat the Dodgers at the top of the division. The Giants signed Mark Melancon to be their closer. This missing piece cost the Giants the NL West title. If their offense performs the way it should, the Giants will be tough.

Arizona Diamondbacks: After an extremely disappointing 2016 season, the D-backs fired general manager Dave Stewart and manager Chip Hale. New general manager Mike Hazen faces challenges of improving a bad pitching staff with a depleted Minor League system and almost no payroll flexibility. Paul Goldschmidt again will lead a potent offense, which will be improved with the return of A.J. Pollock. I don't believe they will be a factor in the NL West for several years.

Colorado Rockies: Walt Weiss resigned, citing differences in philosophy with the front office. It meant the Rockies could get a manager with a pitching background. Bud Black will have many frustrations while his team plays half of its games in hitter-friendly Coors Field, but his pitching background might help the situation. Last week the Rockies signed a bona fide closer in Greg Holland, who had Tommy John surgery in late 2015. He might help to stabilize a wobbly bullpen.

In 2016, although the pitching wasn't bad for the Rockies, injuries derailed their efforts. Last year, for the first time since 2012, the Rockies didn't dwell in the cellar of the NL West. If Trevor Story, the rookie shortstop phenom, can remain healthy for the entire season, the Rockies may surprise many knowledgeable people with how well they will do in 2017.

San Diego Padres: Although they have tried to upgrade a struggling starting rotation with three medium-priced, well-known starters, it won't help their outcome. They need a much better offense to be a factor. There are many hitters available, so the Padres may still have time to upgrade their offense. The Padres have a fabulous farm system. In a couple of years, they should be a team to reckon with. Until then, be patient, San Diego.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.