Breaking Down the National League West (Yes, Already)

Listen, I know it’s early.

I know it’s only April 15, and we’re only 13 games into the 2014 campaign. I know it’s too soon to panic/rejoice/talk trades/declare an MVP. But April, it turns out, is pretty important for the San Francisco Giants.

Of the 25 games the black and orange will play this month, 22 of them come against the National League West. They don’t face their division more than nine times any other month until September, in which they also go 22-for-25. So, if there was ever a good time for the Giants to jump out to a lead, it’d be now.

Because this division is just going to get more and more competitive.

For the first time in several years, the National League West is one of the tougher divisions in baseball. Suddenly, there is no easy-to-beat team. Sure, there are teams that will be a long shot to win the division (I’m looking at you, San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies), but even those teams are bringing some impressive stats to the table so far this year.

San Diego’s pitching has been pretty lights out. They’re fifth in the majors with a 3.03 ERA as a whole staff, and their starters have an impressive 3.20. As a team, they’ve allowed just five home runs all season. And while they rank third in the division in WHIP, they’re only 0.03 points behind the first-place Dodgers (1.19, Giants at 1.21, Padres at 1.22). Despite ranking last in the NL West in almost every offensive category, the Padres’ pitching will win some games and keep them in the mix, at least for the first few months of the season.

Colorado is essentially the opposite of San Diego due, in large part, to their hitter-friendly ballpark of Coors Field. They rank second in baseball in hits (141), second in runs (74), first in average (.296), second in slugging (.461), and second in RBIs (78). The Rockies are also batting .290 with runners in scoring position. On their recent visit to AT&T Park, they scored ten runs, despite losing two-of-three games. On the other side of the coin, however, the Rockies pitching has cost them ballgames already. They’re 27th with an unimpressive 4.98 ERA and have allowed 14 home runs – including a grand slam to Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner in a game in which they lost by one run. Again, this isn’t a team that will win the West, but they’ll give you a fight.

The biggest surprise so far (at least for me) has been the Arizona Diamondbacks. And by “surprise” I mean “trainkwreck.” They’re off to an atrocious 4-13 start, are 1-10 at home, and lost their fifth game in a row on Tuesday night 9-0. To the Mets. Like the Rockies, Arizona is a team that has a lot of potential for power. They actually lead all of baseball in hits with 147. They’re tied with the Dodgers for the most doubles (32) and are ninth in average (.260).

However, they’re batting just .203 with runners in scoring position, and they’re pitching is not keeping them in it. Entering Tuesday’s game, they have the most walks (63), highest ERA (5.96 before giving up nine runs to the Mets), and have allowed 20 home runs – second most in baseball. I honestly thought that Arizona would be in the mix for the division before the season started. Their pitching will settle in at some point (probably), but so far the Diamondbacks seem like the Houston Astros of the National League.

Which brings me to the two teams most likely to battle it out for the division title: the Dodgers and the Giants. Despite the fact that most, if not every, major media outlet picked the Dodgers to run away with the West, these two rivals are more closely linked than it originally seemed. LA leads in ERA (3.28 to the Giants 3.69), strikeouts (130 to Giants 108), and, as previously mentioned, have a slight edge on WHIP (1.19 to 1.21). Entering Tuesday’s game, both teams had allowed 14 home runs.

But, surprisingly, San Francisco has the lead in most offensive categories: home runs (SF 17, LA 15), RBIS (66/58), slugging (.433/.427), RISP (.306/.238), and the biggest gap is with runners in scoring position with two outs, with the Giants batting .404 to the Dodgers .217.
Again, I realize that we’re only in the first month of the season, but this division race is already heating up. There will be streaks and tough losses and dramatics wins, and these two teams will probably go down to the wire. The Dodgers and Giants battle each other six times during the month of September.

And who’s not already excited for that?