Well – here we are. Two weeks into the 2020 MLB season. While a few teams have barely seen the field as a result of dealing with COVID outbreaks, the majority of the league has managed to play roughly a quarter of their games (give or take). This seems like a good time to start reflecting on what has been, and what may be. After all – the playoffs are right around the corner in this most unique of seasons. Every few weeks we’ll be checking in on each team as they navigate this 60 game race to the postseason. While there’s plenty to talk about off the field, this series will focus primarily on the games and how the season is shaking out. So, let’s dive in, shall we?
Today: The NL West
Unlike the NL Central and East, the NL West has been unhampered by Covid-19 outbreaks, meaning all five teams are approaching or have played 20 games.
This division features two teams with the best-run differential in the big leagues (Colorado and Los Angeles Dodgers), and two of the worst run differentials in the Giants and Diamondbacks.
The Rockies started the season 11-3 before coming back to Earth and losing three of their next four, and now find themselves in a dogfight with the Dodgers for the lead in the Division.
Charlie Blackmon has been otherworldly so far this season. The bearded outfielder leads the league in hits, RBI, average, and OBP. Daniel Murphy is hitting .358 to help on offense for the Rockies, who were one of the first four teams to score 100 runs this season. Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado have six homers and 12 RBI apiece.
The issue for the Rockies is that all of their starters (they have primarily a four-man rotation) are punching above their weight right now. The ace of the staff, German Marquez, has opened up the season with a 2.08 ERA in his first four appearances, while his career ERA is 4.21.
The fourth starter, Jon Gray, is the only one not overachieving right now based on career stats. Gray has just been downright bad, 0-2 this year with a 6.41 ERA.
Prior to the start of the season, Fangraphs gave the Rockies a 28.5% chance to make the expanded playoff format. Now they sit at 70% after about a third of the season.
Between August 21st and September 9th, the Rockies will play only games against NL West teams, including six games against the Dodgers and seven against the Padres. If Colorado comes out of that stretch still neck and neck or better, they will almost definitely book at least a Wild Card berth.
The Dodgers are pretty much where everyone expected them to be at the beginning of the season, at the top of the NL West standings and with an absurd +51 run differential. No one has scored more runs this season than the Dodgers, who have also excelled in run prevention.
As a staff, the Dodgers are miles ahead of any other team in the league, with an ERA of just 2.32. The next closest team, the Indians, are more than .3 runs worse. If you look at just the National League, the next closest team (not counting the 2-3 Cardinals) is the Cubs at 3.81. That’s an ERA of 1.5 worse than the Dodgers!
LA allowed three or fewer runs in eight of their first ten games, and that was with Clayton Kershaw missing a few turns through the rotation. They also have the second best bullpen ERA in the majors, (1.20), with Kenley Jansen seeming to be in midseason form with four saves and a 0.75 WHIP.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the Dodgers lineup, including Mookie Betts who is smashing three-home run games while his former mates in Boston are giving up three home runs seemingly every inning.
It’s not all gravy for LA at the plate, though. Slugger Cody Bellinger has been in a serious funk so far this year, batting under .200, as has Max Muncy, who has four home runs but just nine other hits. Joc Pederson has also struggled to get things rolling to this point, and the Dodgers will need all those players performing when Mookie inevitably disappears in the postseason.
The free-swinging, high-flying Padres have been living their best life so far in the season. San Diego has only lost two in a row twice, and haven’t lost three straight yet this year after splitting a four-game set with the Dodgers this past week.
The Padres lead the league in home runs (30), triples (6) and stolen bases (20), and trail only the Yankees with a .796 OPS.
All of this comes under the lead of exciting young shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who could be the next big superstar if the MLB believed in that sort of thing.
After a breakout rookie campaign, Tatis is raking this season, with a .328 average, eight home runs and 18 RBI. He does still strikeout too much (25 K’s in 68 at-bats this year), but right now he’s a top-20 player in the league, and currently the only player Yahoo Fantasy Baseball ranks higher than Blackmon.
The Diamondbacks seem to be constantly lost in the dessert looking for an oasis, and this year looks to be no different.
With just three postseason appearances in the past 18 years, the Diamondbacks are a filling station for talented players but never seem to be able to build their roster consistently enough to really push teams like the Dodgers.
Aside from Escobar, all four of those guys started the season on fire. Each of them hit over .300 through the first few weeks, though they sacrifice average for power, as Arizona is among the league’s worst home run hitters.
Another issue for the Diamondbacks is that their opponents are among the league’s best home run hitters. While the team hit only 15 home runs through 19 games, their opponents have gone bridge 43 times, which is BY FAR the worst in the league. I’m talking double-digits worse than any other team.
With a bloated ERA approaching 6.0, Arizona’s pitching staff trails only the Phillies as the worst in the league. Veterans Robbie Ray, Luke Weaver and Madison Bumgarner have been atrocious, starting the year with a combined 1-8 record and 10.0+ ERA.
Well, it’s an even-numbered year, so recent history would suggest that the Giants will win the World Series in this shortened season. Unfortunately for San Fran, that doesn’t seem likely to happen.
The Giants sit in the cellar of the NL West and have the worst run differential of any team in the National League. It hasn’t helped that they have played a brutal schedule through the early part of the season, starting off the year with four in LA, then seeing San Diego, Colorado, Houston and the Dodgers again.
Another team full of cast-off pitchers, there’s just not much to get excited about when you look at the Giants rotation. Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Wiley Peralta. They’re all guys that you would begrudgingly pick up in fantasy if you were chasing strikeouts or needed to meet your innings limit, but you know they’re not gonna help your ratios. Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto are shadows of their former selves.
Older Red Sox fans will be excited to see Yastrzemski back on a major league uniform, and it looks like Yaz’s grandson is bringing some honor to the family name. Mike Yaz has hit .300+ since making his major league debut with the Giants and co-leads the team with four home runs. If nothing else, he perfectly fits the demographic that MLB loves to reach – 65 and older fans who long for the good ol’ days.
The Weeks Ahead
I am really encouraged by the race that is shaping up in the NL West. The Dodgers have won seven straight division titles, many times by an overwhelming margin. Perhaps being pushed to play meaningful baseball until late in the season, albeit a shortened one, will help the Dodgers keep their focus and complete the task in the playoffs. Or maybe we will see a team like the Rockies or Padres parlay their young superstars into a deep playoff run. We’ll see where things stand in a few weeks as the season rolls on!
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