NL West Preview: Ohtani-led Dodgers team to beat in division with reigning league champion D-backs

Mon, Mar 18, 2024
MLB News (AP)

NL West Preview: Ohtani-led Dodgers team to beat in division with reigning league champion D-backs

Dave Roberts is quickly learning all about the constant fanfare surrounding Shohei Ohtani and the increased attention he brings each day to the Los Angeles Dodgers from across the world in Japan.

The veteran manager let loose recently at spring training and breakdanced on the field during a practice, his moves caught on camera.

"Not my finest moment," he said with a laughing emoji in a text message to The Associated Press.

Many far brighter moments to come, he certainly hopes, with two-way star Ohanti in the batting order and, eventually, back on the mound.

Ohtani's arrival to Los Angeles is bringing all kinds of eyes to the storied franchise and perennial NL West power, which now has landed its latest megastar.

Roberts began the spring emphasizing all the things this club must do "to be great" and it will take some time to come together and build strong relationships.

"The focus, the message, was the Dodgers, the foundation of this organization, has always been pitching and defense," Roberts said. "We've got a lot of guys who have been here, a handful of guys that are new to the organization, a lot of guys who understand what we're about, excited to be a Dodger and some guys that are curious."

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The 29-year-old Ohtani sporting Dodger Blue brings even more spotlight on a Los Angeles team that won the last two NL West crowns and 10 division titles in the last 11 years. The Dodgers only lost during that span in 2021, edged by the San Francisco Giants with a franchise-record 107 victories while the Dodgers won 106. They then beat their Bay Area rival in a thrilling five-game NL Division Series.

Now, the high-rolling, star-studded Dodgers just won the biggest offseason sweepstakes in recent memory by signing the Japanese two-way star to a record $700 million, 10-year contract in December.

HOW THEY PROJECT

1. Los Angeles Dodgers. Along with Ohtani not yet being ready to pitch, the Dodgers won't have left-hander Clayton Kershaw or right-hander Walker Buehler in the rotation to start the season. Kershaw is recovering from left shoulder surgery and Buehler is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. But they added righties Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow, both of whom have had strong spring showings.

Also expected back later in the season is right-hander Tony Gonsolin. The Dodgers added Ohtani after he batted .304 with 44 home runs and 95 RBIs in 2023, but he won't pitch until 2025 after undergoing a second elbow procedure. His first came in 2018 with Tommy John surgery.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks barely squeezed into the playoffs last season, but then proceeded to have an incredible postseason run, making the World Series for just the second time in franchise history before losing to the Texas Rangers in five games.

Most of the roster returns, including NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll, slugger Christian Walker and ace righty Zac Gallen. Arizona was also aggressive during the offseason, landing lefty Eduardo Rodriguez on an $80 million, four-year deal, trading for third baseman Eugenio Suarez and picking up power hitters Joc Pederson and Randal Grichuk. The D-backs face an uphill battle in a big-spending division, but their mix of speed, power and pitching should give them a solid chance to get back to the postseason.

3. San Francisco Giants. San Francisco again chased the prized free agents, but landing manager Bob Melvin wound up their biggest offseason move as he was hired away from the division rival San Diego Padres to replace Gabe Kapler following two seasons out of the playoffs.

Melvin returns home to the Bay Area ready to take over a club determined to get back to contending in the talented NL West the Giants won with a franchise-record 107 victories in 2021.

Giants' president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi called San Francisco's offer to Ohtani "very comparable if not identical."

The Giants added some key faces even after spring training began, most notably third baseman Matt Chapman on a $54 million, three-year contract March 1. They also signed Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee to a $113 million, six-year deal in the offseason.

Beloved 2012 World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval is back for a third stint with the franchise, too, although it's no lock that he'll make the opening day roster.

4. San Diego Padres. Following last year's flop with a high-priced lineup and the death of owner Peter Seidler, the Padres have shifted their focus from openly talking about World Series aspirations to quietly saving money and resetting their luxury tax.

They still have stars Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts, but traded Juan Soto to the New York Yankees for a haul of pitchers and lost NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to free agency. Their rotation will be thin behind Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Michael King, although their bullpen appears loaded. SS/LF Jackson Merrill could break camp with the big league team and is among a handful of prospects expected to make their debuts this season. Manager Mike Shildt replaces Melvin, who sparred with GM A.J. Preller and left for his hometown Giants.

5. Colorado Rockies. Manager Bud Black and the Rockies could be staring at another 100-loss season given their young nucleus and a pitching staff missing some big names due to injuries. Their projected total is 59 1/2 wins, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Colorado hasn't been to the postseason - or even turned in a winning record - since 2018.

Two of the Rockies' top starting pitchers, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela, are still working their way back from Tommy John surgery. Reliever Daniel Bard also is sidelined after recently undergoing knee surgery. That puts more pressure on the lefty Kyle Freeland to anchor the rotation. A Denver native, Freeland won 17 games in 2018 but has gone 27-47 since that breakout season. Colorado's youthful nucleus includes outfielder Nolan Jones, who hit .297 with 20 homers as he finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. The team also has Gold Glove outfielder Brenton Doyle. To break out of their funk, the Rockies desperately need more production out of first baseman Kris Bryant, the slugger who has 15 homers over two seasons with the club after signing a $182 million, seven-year contract in 2022.

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AP Baseball Writer David Brandt and AP Sports Writers Pat Graham, Beth Harris and Bernie Wilson contributed to this report.

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