Dodgers State of the NL West: Sizing up LA’s Competition for a 9th-Straight Division Crown

As the MLB season marches on into the dog days of summer and Dodger Stadium joins the ranks of many leaguewide venues welcoming full fan capacities, it’s as good a time as any to take a closer look at the current state of the National League West.

It’s no secret that the Dodgers have owned the division for the better part of a decade, winning eight consecutive division titles and advancing to three World Series, finally winning it all in 2020. While the Dodgers remain a strong favorite to win the division in 2021, they’ve yet to separate themselves with now fewer than 100 games remaining on the schedule.

As it stands, the divisional race has already narrowed to three teams. Colorado and Arizona weren’t expected to contend for the division in 2021, and certainly don’t look any more poised to do so now. For the Diamondbacks, it’s been a season of disarray – by the time the Dodgers first battled Arizona in May, the roster was a shell of what it was once projected to be (in the eyes of some, a .500 ballclub). Arizona’s starting pitching has been especially decimated. At present, they’re without ace Zac Gallen, the expensive Madison Bumgarner, Luke Weaver, and Taylor Widener, none of whom have a targeted date of return yet.

They’ve also lost 20 consecutive road games, last winning one in Atlanta on April 25.

Needless to say, the Dodgers’ trip to Phoenix this weekend is an opportunity to make hay in the divisional race as the Giants host Philadelphia.

For Colorado, one could argue the season has gone better than expected despite their 26-41 record at time of writing. They may have gotten a better pitcher in their return for Nolan Arenado than they anticipated in Austin Gomber, who dominated San Diego through 8 scoreless innings on Monday night at Coors Field to improve to 6-5 with a 3.54 ERA. The Rockies don’t hit right-handed pitching at all, and their offense has been as silent on the road as it has for several years (wRC+ of 59!!!). The tough pill to swallow in Colorado is that the organization hasn’t shown much of an interest in investing to win, something Rockies fans hope will change somewhere down the line.

The Dodgers’ real competition in the National League West is all in-state.

In San Francisco, Farhan Zaidi has somehow managed to build a contender out of cheap castaways and homegrown players seeing a sudden career revival. Each 34 years old, Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey are both posting career-best seasons with respective OPS+’s of 146 and 171. In Posey’s case, his OPS+ through June 15 matches the number he finished with in his 2012 MVP campaign. On the pitching side, bargain investments Alex Wood and Kevin Gausman have headlined a staff outperforming all expectations. Gausman especially has been a revelation for San Francisco, trailing only Jacob deGrom among qualified MLB starters with a microscopic 1.43 ERA. While the Giants’ 41-25 start is a remarkable step forward for the franchise, I do think it’s worth questioning their ability to maintain this pace as the season goes along.

Rarely are preseason predictions *this* wrong, and my best guess is that the regression monster is looming down the road for Frisco.

Related: Dave Roberts Hopeful Cody Bellinger Can Return For the Padres Series

That of course brings us to San Diego, currently trailing the Dodgers by three games and the consensus most likely team to battle Los Angeles for the divisional throne in 2021. The Padres, whose fans famously try their darnedest to discredit the Dodgers 2020 championship after throwing their own Wild Card covid parade in Gaslamp Quarter, continued their fervent push to add as many pieces as possible to dethrone LA this past offseason. Adding Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to a talented staff including Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger makes for a potentially dangerous foursome.

If, of course, they’re ever healthy at the same time.

Clevinger won’t factor at all into San Diego’s 2021 run after Tommy John surgery, and Dinelson Lamet is only now beginning to pitch a starter’s load of innings as he returns from injury as well. Yu Darvish has delivered so far on the investment San Diego made in him, sporting an excellent 2.28 ERA through 13 starts in 2021. Blake Snell, however, hasn’t lived up to the hype or succeeded in his quest to pitch deeper into games as a Padre as he did as a Tampa Bay Ray. He’s recorded three total outs in the 7th inning this season, and his 4.97 ERA and 1.47 WHIP don’t look like the numbers of anything close to an ace.

At 38-30, San Diego remains firmly in contention – unlike the Giants, however, regression to expectation would yield an improving Padres team as they get healthier in the coming weeks. As the Dodgers head to San Diego starting Monday, they’ll look to continue what has been a frustrating June for the Padres (4-9) and construct an even higher mountain for San Diego to climb in the division. After all, a second-place divisional finish could mean a one-game playoff against Jacob deGrom or Brandon Woodruff. In any event, there’s no window for complacency on the field or at the trade deadline for the Dodgers in what appears to be as competitive an NL West as we’ve seen in years.

NEXT: Trevor Bauer Has an Elaborate Solution for MLB’s Sticky Situation

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  1. There’s something up with the Giants. Obviously much improved but they’re a little too good right now I suspect some cheating. They should’ve had a big slump by now but are evading it unnaturally. The Red Sox are another suspicious team with Cora back. These are teams who are too good at coming back

  2. Well it seems Roberts is doing his part to keep the other teams in the race. How many games do you think the team will win with Taylor, Beatty, Pollock, and McKinstry as the heart of the order? You think Roberts might have pushed JT one more game and rested him against Arizona especially when he sits Will Smith for Barnes and rests Pujols? What those guys can’t hit smoke and need to protected? You think Kershaw might occasionally sacrifice Barnes catching him for a little offense? I couldn’t believe the lineup run out there against a tough pitcher knowing it would be a low scoring affair.

  3. The injuries the Dodgers have sustained is without question a huge and ongoing problem for them. The oft vaunted “depth” of the team can only sustain so many players hurt. Not talked about as much is the pitching staff. The loss of May has left a yet to be filled slot as a reliable #5 starter. Will Gonsolin master all of his pitches in time? Can the bull pen run out a string of starts every 5th game and avoid having rubber arms by September? Will the Dodgers trade for a solid #5 guy in the rotation, or keep hoping, juggling and (pun intended) Dodge the issue?

    For mid-June the Dodgers have played well despite all the problems. The questions are piling up and the answers are…

    1. Well let’s see now. What we’re learned is that there are no outfielders on the farm. There are no starters on the farm. There are no relievers on the farm. And darn there are no infielders on the farm. So much for our vaunted farm system. Good thing we haven’t experienced the number of injuries that many other teams have. We’d be in real trouble.

  4. The Dodgers are still the team to beat in the division. They just can’t get/keep everyone healthy. Gnats fall back to earth and Dodgers win the West!

  5. Well let’s see now. What we’re learned is that there are no outfielders on the farm. There are no starters on the farm. There are no relievers on the farm. And darn there are no infielders on the farm. So much for our vaunted farm system. Good thing we haven’t experienced the number of injuries that many other teams have. We’d be in real trouble.

    1. I had a feeling the Dodgers offense would be a no show last night even against the Historically bad D’Backs.
      Thank goodness for Souza’s HR and for Burns who set up the Sac Fly by Betts and the subsequent Balk for a run or else the Dodgers may have been shutout until the 10th inning and who knows how that would have turned out?
      The core Dodgers’ players have to step it up. There is no excuse for so few hits and runs last night and having to depend on 2 players-Souza and Burns who shouldn’t even be on the roster of a WS Champion. For one night, at least, Dodgers are lucky those 2 are on the roster.

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