Wacky Start to Season Illustrates N.L. West Dominance

Heading into the 2017 MLB seasons, the usual National League suspects (St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, New York Mets) were supposed to contend for — if not win their respective divisions.

The Cubs in particular were coming off of the high of winning their first World Series title since 1908. Buoyed by a young roster and an ardent fan base, Chicago looked prime to perhaps repeat.

A fixture for the last decade, the Giants have both the pedigree and pitching to make a long playoff run. Speaking of pitching, the Mets possess perhaps the deepest and most talented five-man rotation in the game (when healthy). The Cardinals have unquestionably been one of the most consistent franchises in the sport for years.

As is the case with life, things don’t always happen the way you think they will. As of May 30th, the Cubs and Cardinals both sit at .500 — 1.5 games behind division leader Milwaukee. The Mets have been decimated by injury in the early portion of the season. Though they’re in second place, the team is already in a huge hole (8.5 games behind Washington).

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Giants. A bizarre dirt biking accident involving star pitcher Madison Bumgarner has zapped the proverbial air out of the Giants’ balloon. The Giants are nine games under .500, and are 11 games back of division-leading Colorado (and 10.5 back of Los Angeles). A run differential of -65 is the second-worst in all of baseball (only ahead of San Diego).

The National League has in many ways been thrown on its head. With that said, there are a few things we can accurately come to a conclusion on. We know that the Nationals are a bona fide World Series contender. We know that the aforementioned four teams are underachieving. We also know that the N.L. West is absolutely loaded. Three of the top four records in the National League (Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks) hail from this division.

The Rockies have jumped out to a fantastic start. As May comes to a close, Bud Black’s team has the best record in the National League. This comes as a bit of a surprise — considering ace pitcher Jon Gray, starter Chad Betts, outfielder David Dahl, infielder Ian Desmond, and stud shortstop Trevor Story have been beset by injury throughout the first two months.

The heart of the order (Nolan Arenado, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Gonzalez, Story) is phenomenal — as is the early portion of the order with DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon. Pitcher Antonio Senzatela has been a revelation — accruing a 7-1 record thus far in the early going. New addition Greg Holland has also been fantastic in a closing role. Not only does he have a sterling 1.37 ERA, but he’s also picked up 19 saves in only 21 appearances.

The addition of Black has helped to calm what’s been a troubled pitching staff. A reputed “pitching whisperer”, the longtime coach has helped lower the Rockies’ overall ERA to a respectable 4.07. A season ago, it sat at 4.91.

Arizona has also rose from the cellar — establishing itself as a real threat within the West.

After a rough initial year, high-priced hurler Zack Greinke has rebounded with a 6-3 overall record. Youngsters Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray have shown promise, and reliever Archie Bradley has been extremely productive.

The Diamondbacks’ collective 3.69 ERA has them fourth in the MLB. The team is also hitting for average — as Arizona ranks No. 5 overall in hitting. Led by Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and Chris Owings, the offense is both potent and dynamic.

And then there’s the Dodgers. Dave Roberts has become an expert in piecing together a team often plagued by nicks, bruises, and freak injury. Credit the front office for putting together a versatile and extremely deep team. Despite losing leading hitter Justin Turner to a hamstring injury, the Dodgers are sitting only 0.5 games back of league-leader Colorado.

The duo of Chris Taylor and Chase Utley have filled in tremendously in Turner’s absence. Corey Seager continues to build upon his outstanding 2016 season, and the emergence of rookie Cody Bellinger has given the Dodgers a legitimate power hitter in the heart of their order.

Alex Wood has been superb in the early going — as he currently sits with a 6-0 record and a 1.69 ERA. The Dodgers as a team are No. 4 in hitting, and No. 1 in pitching (3.21 ERA). In 19 innings, closer Kenley Jansen has allowed 13 hits, struck out 34 batters, has a 1.42 ERA, and has walked zero batters.

Oh yeah…and there’s that Clayton Kershaw guy. He’s already won 7 games, and has a 2.37 ERA.

The depth and talent within the N.L. West is truly striking. Assuming San Francisco picks up its play and makes a run (which it likely will), the competition will get even tougher. As we get deeper into the summer months, these teams will be beating up on each other in what will essentially be playoff-style baseball.

Image Source: Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports