What a wild year in the National League West.
The Dodgers are going to take the division in a walk, but it wasn't always so easy. Not many people would have predicted this kind of year.
MOST IMPORTANT DAY OF THE SEASON: June 3.
The Dodgers were 23-31 and sitting in last place. Team president Stan Kasten had warned manager Don Mattingly the previous week that if the team doesn't turn things around, he'd be fired. And star player Matt Kemp was once again on the disabled list. All seemed lost, when a 22-year-old Cuban rookie walked into the clubhouse.
Like him or not, Puig lit a fire under a dispassionate baseball club. His reckless, all-out play even brought out the best in noted sloth Hanley Ramirez. And while other NL cities bemoaned and attacked L.A.'s thoughtless rookie, the Dodgers were reeling off win after win after win. They've gone 53-23 since Puig got the call to the majors.
BIGGEST SHOCK: The Giants can't pitch?
Baseball's defending world champs are going to finish well below .500 this season. Why? They couldn't pitch this year. They are 20th in MLB in team ERA, 22nd in quality starts, Tim Lincecum is in his second straight season with an ERA well over four, and plowhorse Matt Cain has his first 4-plus ernie since his rookie season in 2007.
MOST EVENTFUL SEASON: Zack Greinke, LA
The 180-pound L.A. right-hander touched off not one but two bench-clearing brawls. The first resulted in San Diego's Carlos Quentin, breaking the hurler's collarbone. The second resulted in a WWE-esque Royal Rumble where most of the physical action was exchanged between former All-Star players turned coaches. Greinke's one-month absence from the team may have had more to do with L.A.'s early season struggles than anything. Since his full recovery from the collarbone injury, he's gone 8-1 with 1.75 ERA.
BEST PLAYER IN THE DIVISION: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
He's 25 years old and hands-down the best pitcher in the game. He'll win the Cy Young Award over Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel, and he could end up winning the NL MVP. This offseason, you may want to brace yourself, sports fans. Kershaw may land a $300 million deal to keep him a Dodger for life.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
The business-like Diamondbacks first baseman has put up numbers worthy of the NL MVP Award. As of September 17, he leads the league in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS. At age 26, he may just be getting started.
NEXT YEAR'S BREAKOUT PLAYER: Andrew Cashner, San Diego
The San Diego right-hander throws an easy 95-to-100 miles per hour. The Padres were making the classic mistake of trying to decide if he's a starter or closer, but once they committed to Cashner as a starter, he's settled into his own. Cashner has allowed just four earned runs in his last five starts, and yielded just 22 hits in his last 37.2 innings. If Cashner hits the ground running in April 2014, he could be one of the game's best next season.
THE DIVISION'S WORST PLAYER: Barry Zito, San Francisco
The former Cy Young winner is 4-11 and has a 5.91 ERA at a cost of $20 million. San Francisco should throw a parade the day his contract expires.
WORST OFFSEASON MOVE: Diamondbacks trade for Heath Bell
Eating $13 million of a contract the Miami Marlins were desperate to unload was asinine. Inflating the team's financial commitment to its bullpen to 25 percent of the payroll was worse. The fact that the Diamondbacks led the NL in blown saves? Intolerable.
BEST IN-SEASON MOVE: Dodgers trade for Ricky Nolasco
I say it every year, why do teams that know they're in the race and know they have a weakness wait until the day of the deadline to make a trade? The Dodgers picked up Nolasco 24 days before the clock struck midnight. He's gone 8-2 with a 2.63 ERA since.
WORST IN-SEASON MOVE: Diamondbacks trade Ian Kennedy to San Diego
Let me get this straight, in four months' time, the Diamondbacks went from naming Ian Kennedy the staff ace to trading him for bullpen scraps? And they traded him within the division? And they happened to be in the middle of the Wild Card hunt at the time? No one saw that coming in April.
BEST TRADE A TEAM DIDN'T MAKE: Giants keep Hunter Pence
The quirky right fielder was a hot trade commodity at the deadline. The Giants were wise to hold onto him. Pence is perfect for that organization and one of the most underrated players in the game (25 HR, 92 RBI, .295 BA, and 21 steals this season). The free agent-to-be should get a healthy bump in pay this offseason, especially when you consider the Giants can clear $35 million in payroll by dumping Zito and Tim Lincecum.
THE PLAYER THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN TRADED: San Diego's Chase Headley
I can't figure out what keeps Padre fans supporting this organization, nor can I figure out what kind of player Chase Headley is. Here's what I know, if Chase Headley reverts to his 2012 form when he led the NL in RBI, the Padres won't pay him market value. And if Chase Headley plays like he did this season, or like he did in 2011, then he's not worth keeping. San Diego should have sold high on Headley last trading deadline. They would have raked in three or four good prospects and let Headley become some other team's every-other-year-producer.
THE PLAYER THAT WILL BE TRADED THIS OFFSEASON: Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez
Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are two of the game's finest players... when healthy. Problem is, they can't stay healthy. Gonzalez has missed a month or more every season of his five-year Colorado career but one. Tulo has been twice that injury-prone. Both players' salaries jump significantly starting in 2014. The Rockies simply can't afford to keep both players at their salaries and their rate of injury. Since Tulowitzki is the face of the franchise, expect CarGo to go this winter, and big market clubs will be lining up to get him.
THIS YEAR'S IMPACT ROOKIE: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
NEXT YEAR'S IMPACT ROOKIE: Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks
THIS YEAR'S IMPACT FREE AGENT: Zack Greinke to L.A.
NEXT YEAR'S IMPACT FREE AGENT: Robinson Cano to L.A.
BEST BEARD: Brian Wilson, L.A. - He's still the king.
WORST BEARD: Wade Miley, Arizona - He looks like Happy Gilmore's caddy.
THIS YEAR'S HEARTFELT GOOD-BYE: To Todd Helton of the Rockies. Who said no player will ever again wear only one jersey for the entirety of his career?
THIS YEAR'S WORTHLESS TOPIC OF DISCUSSION: Is Todd Helton a Hall-of-Famer?
Answer: No chance. He was linked to steroids. The writers have proven that's all it takes to be dismissed from consideration. So, who cares if his numbers were better at Coors Field than they were on the road? All people care about is whether his numbers were better pre-juice rumors or after. And Helton's? Far better pre-rumor.