For baseball pundits, D-backs and Padres will race for 2nd place
The Arizona Diamondbacks had a hard time keeping up with the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Sunday and Monday.
Sure, they were exhibition games and not indicative of regular season effort and the pitchers weren’t who the Diamondbacks expect to start, and so on. That’s all true. But the baseball analysts have loudly shouted into the digital ether that the Los Angeles Dodgers are not only the favorite in the NL West but are one of the best teams in baseball.
ESPN even debated whether the Yankees or Dodgers are baseball’s better “superteam.”
So where does that leave Arizona?
By most accounts, Arizona is at least one of the favorites to be the runner-up in the division, with some expecting the San Diego Padres to put up a good fight.
The love for the Dodgers is warranted and obvious. A lineup with Mookie Betts, reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Max Muncy among other heavy hitters is good enough, but when combined with a rotation that features Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler at the top, there’s plenty reason for optimism. They also have seven straight postseason appearances going into this year.
The argument for the Diamondbacks is multi-faceted: Ketel Marte returns after finishing fourth in NL MVP voting. Acclaimed starter Madison Bumgarner joins as the team’s new ace. Starling Marte adds a proven bat to a lineup that already has some pop, and the pitching depth across the board is some of the best out there.
The Padres again boast a lineup with some star power, with names like Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, Will Myers, Tommy Pham and Fernando Tatis Jr. Kirby Yates highlights a bullpen that has a chance to be one of the best in the National League. The question is the rotation: After Chris Paddack at the top, will it be enough to compete with the starters that Arizona and Los Angeles have?
Here’s what some of the experts are saying going into Friday’s D-backs opener, which coincidentally is in San Diego.
A panel of 32 ESPN baseball experts unanimously picked the Dodgers to win the division. Writer David Schoenfield sees the Diamondbacks as his runner-up pick.
The Padres are a chic pick, but I’ll go with the Diamondbacks, who have an excellent defensive team anchored by shortstop Nick Ahmed, a star in Ketel Marte and a potentially top rotation with Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen, Luke Weaver and Merrill Kelly.
The Diamondbacks were tied with the Mets as the second-most popular pick to be an NL Wild Card team. The Nationals got the most votes there.
Three out of six panelists chose the Diamondbacks as the second-place finisher in the NL West this year, while the other three chose the Padres.
Two panelists chose the Diamondbacks as a participant in the Wild Card game, with one having them winning that game and one having them losing it.
The Ringer’s Michael Baumann has the Padres at 19th and the Diamondbacks at 21st on his power rankings.
“[The Padres’] bullpen is going to be unbelievably good. Emilio Pagán, who arrived via trade from Tampa Bay, was nearly unhittable last year, and he’ll be the Padres’ third-best reliever. Pomeranz has reinvented himself as a shutdown lefty out of the pen. And last season, closer Kirby Yates held opponents to a .262 slugging percentage, struck out nearly eight batters for every walk, and posted a 1.19 ERA.
I hope Yates gets more notoriety in 2020, but I worry that with Pagán and Pomeranz ahead of him in the bullpen, everyone will just assume the Padres are going to win every game they lead after six innings and turn off the TV.
Of the Diamondbacks, Baumann wrote:
There’s a lot to like about this D-backs team, and in a more winnable division, they’d be a realistic playoff contender. But the NL West is going to be very tough to navigate until the Dodgers fall off.