MLB

Is the NL West now on a level playing field?

Is the NL West now on a level playing field

While the buzz and talk about baseball tends to settle on the Diamondbacks and their notable off-season additions, their position in the National League West Division remain unsettled and tenuous. Sure, pundits are anointing the Diamondbacks immediate competitors of the division title. At the same time, others clubs in the division are quietly flying under the radar. At best, the NL West shapes up to be perhaps the most competitive division in baseball.

With the signing of right-hander Zack Greinke and the acquisition of Shelby Miller, these additions, clearly on paper, make the Diamondbacks a better club. Plus, their presence should act as a catalyst for pitchers Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley, Rubby De La Rosa and others to elevate their production. Given the dynamics of the offense and the stability of the defense, Arizona could be, at the start of the season, the most complete team in the division.

Yet, don’t tell that to Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager. With three World Championships in each of the past even years, the Giants could be poised to make a serious run in the even year about to begin. The addition of free agent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, along with lefty Madison Bumgarner, should put the Giants in a position to hang with any club in the division. Yet, beyond these three starters, and assuming all stay healthy throughout the season, Bochy remains in search for two more starters to complete his rotation.

Injured Matt Cain and veteran Jake Peavy are penciled in as the other two, but both have been marginally productive over the past few seasons. Granted, Bochy has assembled an excellent bullpen and despite the retirement of Jeremy Alffeldt, the Giants will not lose a beat in the latter innings.

At the recent winter meetings in Nashville, Bochy was the first to recognize the competitive nature of the division. Like most managers, he’ll have one eye on his team and the other out canvasing the competition.

“There will be little margin for error,” he said in Nashville. “I say that with some of our pitchers in mind. In the past. Samardzija has given up fly balls, so we need to watch that aspect of his game.”

With the White Sox last season, Samardzija allowed 29 home runs and tied with four others for the American League lead in that category. Though he will now pitch in what his considered pitcher’s park along the San Francisco Embarcadero, the emphasis now is for Samardzija to become an instant ground-ball pitcher.

If the Giants and Diamondbacks made improvement to their rotation, the Dodgers, the defending division champions, seen to have their car in neutral. Losing Greinke to Arizona was a major hit and now, a pair of lefties, Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson are considered L. A. top-of-the-rotation starters. Lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who underwent surgery last May to repair a labrum issue in his left shoulder and missed all of last season, is considered healthy again.

As well, the Padres and Rockies have not improved in their rotation. For San Diego, general manager A. J. Preiller is trying to find a replacement former Diamondback Ian Kennedy, who was granted free agency on Nov. 2, as well as right-hander James Shields, who is being shopped around in a possible trade. With their departures, that would mean new field manager Andy Green will have to search for two starters, and likely fall behind the Diamondbacks, Giants and Dodgers in overall competitive value.

Still, there is nearly two months before catchers and pitchers reports to their respective training camps. In the past, several key transactions were made in January, and the Diamondbacks can point to that just a few years ago. That’s when they traded Justin Upton to the Braves on Jan. 24, 2013 in exchange for Martin Prado, and currently 40-man roster players Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury.

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