By Morris Phillips
At 27-40 with all nine remaining games to be played, the Giants’ answer to the question, “How the West was lost?” lies squarely with divisional play.
The first-place Dodgers lit up the Giants, winning 15 of 19, the first time LA has beaten the Giants as many as 15 times in a season. The second-place Padres have won 11 of 16, with a couple of the losses delivered in excruciating fashion. And Arizona leads the season series between the clubs 9-7 with three games remaining.
Only the Rockies have felt the Giants impose their will, dropping 11 of 16 to San Francisco with three games left to play. The .402 winning percentage in divisional play, if it stands, will be one of its worst since divisional play commenced in 1969.
So what does this mean for next season, one in which divisional play will be reduced by 24 games, and interleague play expanded?
Who knows? But we’ll pretend to know anyways with our Way-To-Early 2023 NL West power rankings.
1) Los Angeles Dodgers: Count on it, the Dodgers unprecedented divisional dominance will extend into a second decade as they again finish first in the NL West in 2023. Start with the imposing top of the lineup trio of Trea Turner, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman and go from there. The Dodgers undoubtedly will open the bank account for Turner, the 29-year old free agent to be, who will be their foremost, off-season priority. Max Muncy will also likely return on the team’s option to retain him. That leaves Justin Turner as the guy who status is up in the air.
Add in the youthful crew of Gavin Lux, Trayce Thompson, James Outman along with pitchers Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and Dustin May and just know the Dodgers have an embarrassment of riches.
2) San Diego Padres: San Diego’s biggest nightmare–the PED suspension of Fernando Tatis Jr.–will negatively impact next season as well, with the ban stretching across the first 30 games of 2023.
Along with that, the Padres have played losing baseball since June 23 (34-39) dating well before the trade deadline acquisition of Juan Soto and Tatis’ suspension. The Dodgers have had their way with their Southern California rivals, beating them 12 times, nine of those by five runs or more.
The Padres look set for the 2022 playoffs barring a collapse, but they could face the Braves in the opening round without the benefit of a home game to energize their fans, who have filled Petco Park this season in record numbers.
So what’s next?
The Padres don’t seem likely to unleash another round of spending heading into next season, but they will face tough decisions in regards to how to improve a rotation that has seen Mike Clevinger and Blake Snell regress. Also their bullpen with Josh Hader’s arrival hasn’t been as good as they were in 2021. Still, the Padres should be a second place, playoff contender in 2023.
3) San Francisco Giants: The Giants will undoubtedly make the most personnel decisions among NL West teams in the off-season. Will they also make the biggest decisions?
The Giants are one of the teams that will be involved in the Aaron Judge sweepstakes, a big money game if there ever was one. Can they win it? The odds have to be as little as 20 percent that they can, but if so, they’ll lean heavily on Judge’s ties to Northern California and his opportunity to play in low scoring, competitive games where home runs are essential.
Regardless of Judge’s decision the Giants must first decide on Carlos Rodon’s future and the wisdom of handing the strikeout king a four-year extension that would bring the total of his deal near $100 million. If so, the Giants would be set in their rotation with a 1-2 punch of Rodon and Logan Webb.
Beyond that the team has intriguing decisions regarding Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt (UFA), Mike Yastrzemski and Lamonte Wade Jr. But the biggest choices will be to improve the bullpen that fell dramatically from the top of the 2021 NL rankings.
Whatever transpires, the goal is getting the Giants back into the postseason mix.
4) Arizona Diamondbacks: The D’Backs keep spending money, the D’Backs keep adding pieces, and they have stability in manager Torey Luvullo.
When will it add up?
Arizona’s last playoff appearance was in 2017. The last time they won a playoff game was in 2011. Since winning the World Series in 2001, they’ve won two playoff games while cycling through five, different managers. What they have done in the last 20 years is make a number of splashy free agent signings (Shelby Miller, Madison Bumgarner, Justin Upton) and not seen much in terms of results.
Ok, what’s next?
Stay the course. Christian Walker’s elevated his game, becoming one of the NL’s premiere sluggers in 2022 with 36 homers thus far, Daulton Varsho’s come up with 50 extra-base hits this season, and Ketel Marte (56 extra-base hits) was good, and could easily regain the form of his previous, two seasons. Stone Garrett, a promising prospect that got stuck in the minors, could be ready to become an every day outfielder. They have a core offensively.
Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen–a pair of starting pitchers that the Giants know all too well–are frontline starters and the centerpieces of a plus, starting rotation. Both Kelly and Gallen are signed through the next, couple of seasons.
The Diamondbacks have to get younger, and better in their bullpen and make a tough decision regarding the future of 32-year old Nick Ahmed.
Do they go out and spend a pricey addition again? Maybe not, and if not, that’s the good news.
5) Colorado Rockies: Will the Rox say adieu to manager Bud Black? Will they realize the production they sought by signing free agent slugger Kris Bryant? Can heralded starter German Marquez regain his form, and get his ERA under five?
That’s a lot of questions, and there are more in Denver. Until some or all are answered, the Rockies will carry up the rear in a very, demanding division.