This past Thursday marked exactly three weeks since Major League Baseball's 2023 season kicked off with a full slate of opening-day games. It's been quite the fun start for myriad reasons, of course, even if we're biased here.
Obviously, with only three weeks under our belt, any broad declarations would be foolish, but -- as I love to say in the weekly power rankings -- we can react to what we've seen without overreacting.
In the here and now, let's zero in on the National League West. It's been an intriguing division since before the season started. The Dodgers have owned this division for a decade, having won nine of the last 10 crowns. The one time they didn't win the division, they won 106 games. Last year they won 111.
The Giants have also been a titan, despite .500 last year after a 107-win season in 2021. The Padres went to the NLCS last season and have a huge payroll along with a core of MVP-caliber position players.
Even just on the surface, it was a fun division to discuss this spring. Now that we've seen three weeks, let's dive a bit deeper and break it down.
The odds to win the NL West as of Friday, April 21, on Caesars:
For the gambling crowd, you should be watching the Rockies on a daily basis in order to, often, pick against them. They also have several offensive players that are worthwhile in fantasy baseball.
If you don't gamble or participate in fantasy baseball, the only thing the Rockies mean to you is last place in the NL West. I guess maybe they could finish fourth, but it's a long shot and it's not because I have any faith in the Rockies ...
Giants (nope; awful value)
No, the only way the Rockies don't finish last would be due to the Giants being as awful all season as they've looked to this point.
The Giants are 6-12 and surely they won't lose 108 games (that's the current pace). They've had some injury issues, but it's an injury-prone roster. Some players have under-performed, but it's not a team full of Machados and Sotos where we know they are going to break out at some point.
I'm just finding it difficult to latch onto many positives here. SportsLine currently has the Giants with a 9.1% chance to win the NL West and that computer is reading about nine percent higher than I'd place it.
before the season for this group and I'm even firmer in my conviction now. They will not win the division.
Diamondbacks (11-9; +1500)
I said heading into the season that I believed the Diamondbacks were going to be a pest to contenders all season. Have they actually leveled up and become contenders themselves already? It's hard to make that leap after just 20 games, at least not in the division. The negative run differential will draw some eyeballs from detractors who believe the start is a smoke-and-mirrors. SportsLine only has them at at 1.7% chance to win the division. Even if I think their chances should be significantly higher than the Giants, the division crown does seem like a long shot.
However, there are things to like here.
Youngster Corbin Carroll has MVP upside and hasn't yet fully acclimated to the Show. Jake McCarthy's not as talented, but he's better than he's played. Ditto for Alek Thomas. We've seen Ketel Marte finish fourth in MVP voting before and he's still only 29. How about the start we've seen from Geraldo Perdomo?
The rotation features an ace (Zac Gallen), a veteran mid-rotation arm (Merrill Kelly) and some promising younger arms (Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson). that was Madison Bumgarner is a plus, too, and proves Arizona is in it to win it, regardless of owed money.
More than anything, the Diamondbacks are a team that could take big advantage of the new rules this season. They are 19 for 21 in stolen bases and some of the speedsters will start getting on base more often. The team batting average is 30 points higher than last season, thanks to, thus far, a 38-point rise in batting average on balls in play (hello, shift limits!). Defensively, shortstop Nick Ahmed is their best player and the shift rules give a nice boost to teams with a shortstop of this caliber.
These are all, however, reasons that the Diamondbacks can bother the top teams in the division rather than win it. A wild-card run seems possible, but I'd need a lot juicier odds to think about taking them to win the NL West.
Padres (10-11, +115)
They are below .500 with a negative-eight run differential. The offense is dead last in the NL in batting average, 12th of 15 teams in OPS and runs and 13th in on-base percentage. Juan Soto and Manny Machado are in the midst of stretches that are among the worst in their respective careers.
And yet, they are right there. They could be in first place by the end of the weekend.
There's little reason to worry about Machado and Soto on a long-term basis just yet. Elite players get off to slow starts sometimes. It happens. Just to grab an example of an elite-tier player from the NL West, let's look at Paul Goldschmidt in 2018 when he was with Arizona. He was hitting .198/.320/.355 on May 22, which was through 48 games. The rest of the year, he hit .328/.418/.606. This isn't to claim I'm proving that Machado and Soto will go nuts the rest of the way. It's just an illustration of why we shouldn't be overly worried about superstars going through ruts in small samples.
Also, Fernando Tatis Jr. returned Thursday night. He was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, but there's bound to be some rust for a quick second at the major-league level, given that he hasn't played at this level since 2021.
Someone who has been good is Xander Bogaerts, who has adjusted beautifully to the move across the country and into a tougher hitter's park.
The offensive core will start clicking soon enough, and when it does, the Padres will be a wrecking crew.
In the rotation, Joe Musgrove will make his 2023 debut Saturday and they'll be close to full strength, at least with their big guns, for the first time this season.
My pick before the season started to win the NL West was the Padres and I'm not changing that now. If anything, I'm even more firmly committed. They've played at less than full strength and have underperformed and they are still right in the middle of it. I wish the odds were juicier, but at least we've got a plus sign there.
Dodgers (10-10, -115)
Most projection systems heavily favor the Dodgers right now and that's why they have the negative odds.
That said, this team is far less deep than in previous seasons. The organizational depth for years was the toast of baseball. The top-shelf talent was there, too. It's why they have been so good for so long. Hell, they won at least 100 games four of six years and one of the years in between was 2020. After several high-profile departures have reshaped the roster -- not to mention Walker Buehler's Tommy John surgery -- this team just isn't that imposing.
The quibble is: Just because the team is much worse than 111 wins doesn't mean it's average or even slightly above average. Am I underrating them mentally when maybe I should just look at them without any pre-conceived biases? Perhaps!
They've been inconsistent and a bit uninspiring so far, but, again, maybe the latter statement is based on judging them against 111 wins instead of the rest of the league. Max Muncy's power surge and James Outman's breakout have been cause for optimism. We knew Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts are awesome and will continue to be. The rotation is thin, but Tony Gonsolin's impending return will help.
There's a trade deadline and we know the Dodgers' front office is savvy, but I also can't help but wonder if they'll add much money to the books. They drastically lowered payroll for this season to stay under the luxury tax threshold and reset it (most assume it's to gear up for a run at Shohei Ohtani), but it's hard to imagine them going wild with the bottom line this summer.
In all, the Dodgers are still a very talented team and I'm fairly certain they'll make the playoffs with something around 90 wins.
I'm going with the Padres here. I liked them in the spring and they're only 1 1/2 games out despite a start that was nearly as bad as it could get. I said the Dodgers will make the playoffs with around 90 wins and maybe it'll be a bit more than that. I still have the Padres higher. They're going to go on a hot streak soon. Get in before the odds go negative if you agree with me.