For years and years, predicting the National League West started to feel redundant. If there was always a constant, it was that the LA Dodgers were a good baseball team and would likely remain that way for every season. They are easily the most well-run team in baseball from top to bottom as they consistently build great winning teams featuring stars all over and constantly replenish a farm system stocked with depth to withstand any 162-game marathon. Last season’s Dodgers might have been the most glowing example of the peak of what the Dodgers look like when they had everything clicking, yet their Achilles heel of not always repeating regular season success in October hinder them from being a true dynasty.
And now as we reach the end of June and team records are starting to become more indicative of true talent on rosters, fans are seeing something they haven’t seen in quite some time: the Dodgers looking vulnerable.
It’s easy to say that their standard of excellence went down this year. They let go of several key contributors from teams past like Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, and Trea Turner to replace them with more safe options like Miguel Rojas, James Outman, and J.D. Martinez. And while the explosive starts from rookie Outman and resurgence in Martinez’s bat have shown to be positive signs, the team as a whole just no longer has that thump to it, and it is reflected in their third-place standing in the NL West. So, then surely the gangbusters that must be taking the division are the Soto and Tatis-led powerhouse San Diego team that triumphed over LA in the postseason last year? The answer is no, as this season has seen new victors take the stage.
This season wasn’t supposed to be the Diamondbacks. Every pundit in the offseason talked nonstop about the weakened state of the Dodgers roster, the wild and reckless spending by the Padres as they looked to get over the hump, and the heightened duel between LA and San Diego in what was quickly becoming the most talked about rivalry in baseball. The lights and cameras were focused all the way on the ratings that another Padres-Dodgers grudge match to win the division would bring but Arizona has had other things to say. It took a while, but general manager Jeremy Hazen and Co. have built what confidently looks like a winning core.
It started with Ketel Marte’s 2019 breakout, continued with Zac Gallen inserting himself as a true staff ace, and has now reached a culmination with the emergence of five-tool rookie sensation Corbin Carroll. This combined with some savvy trading and patience with slow-starting prospects has showcased how far Hazen has come with building this squad from the ground up.
He took chances when it came to trades, such as shipping away Daulton Varsho just a season after his breakout campaign as one of the best fielding outfielders for top prospect Gabe Moreno. It was a gamble, but Arizona now has the services of a top young catcher in baseball for the next seven seasons, a luxury any team would trade to get in a heartbeat. Within that same trade, Arizona also saw value in utility man Lourdes Gurriel Jr. who is a frontrunner for an all-star spot now as he no longer has to play second fiddle in a Blue Jays offense that never truly valued him as an everyday starter. And all this team success comes with top prospects who are struggling. If guys like Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy, Brandon Pfaadt, or Drey Jameson can start figuring out big-league hitting and pitching, then this team can start calling itself a more fearsome contender come October.
It is June, though, and this team is outperforming its run differential, but for Arizona sports fans the amount of progress this year has been like nothing we’ve seen recently with baseball in the desert. None of this change would have been possible without rookie sensation Corbin Carroll, who is changing Arizona sports singlehandedly. His explosive talents give flashbacks of prime Grady Sizemore as he seems to be able to do everything right on the diamond from contact and surprising pop with the bat and speed and fielding skills that are at an elite level. For years to come, we might be calling the next couple of years in Arizona the Corbin Carroll era.
San Francisco Giants
And then there’s San Francisco, who sits in second. If there’s a squad in baseball whose identity and future outlook are more confusing than most, it’s these Giants.
To put it plainly, nobody on the Giants is really great. But that weakness is also their strength, as nobody is also really that bad. Winning baseball games is a bit like plugging numbers into an equation, and that’s how the Giants’ front office sees the game. Instead of developing a core of explosive homegrown talent and making risky trades like Arizona has done, San Francisco tends to play it much safer. Their lineup consists of a lot of guys who know how to do their one job.
LaMonte Wade Jr. knows how to hit the snot out of righty pitching, and his 144 OPS+ this season is evidence of that. JD Davis and Thairo Estrada match up great against lefty pitching, and they too have been key in the Giants’ winning philosophy which is matching up against whoever they face on the mound. And while Logan Webb and Alex Cobb have been vital for the pitching staff, the bullpen has been a huge strength this season. Tyler Rogers and Camilo Doval have been nuts out of the back of the pen, with both of them rocking sub-2 ERAs as the setup man and closer. Once the Giants have a lead, it’s hard to take the game back, and that strength of theirs has propelled them ahead of the rival Dodgers. Gabe Kapler proved in 2021 that he could win a lot of games. His managerial prowess has been called into question since then with struggles in 2022, but he’s once again proving to use the power of analytics and matchups to steal wins and it might just nab them a wild card spot. The Giants are not to be taken lightly and if LA or San Diego want to salvage their seasons they have tough opponents to get through first.
So, as the Diamondbacks and Giants surge in the spotlight, for now, it’s interesting to watch one of the most consistent divisions see some turnover for once. The regular season had always been a cakewalk for LA, as their fans focused less on the 162-game grind and always looked toward October and getting over that hump that is figuring out the postseason.
But with the inevitability of change that’s finally reached this division, it’s going to be a dogfight the rest of the way as Arizona, LA, San Francisco, and San Diego will all be battling until the final game of the year.