Can Dodgers hold off Padres in NL West?



The Post’s Greg Joyce previews the NL West.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

O/U wins: 102.5

Key player: Trevor Bauer. After landing Mookie Betts as their offseason prize last year, the Dodgers pulled off another huge move by signing the reigning NL Cy Young winner to a three-year, $102 million deal. Now all eyes will be on how the marriage unfolds.

Player who’ll need to step up: Kenley Jansen has been the Dodgers’ closer for the last nine seasons, but it was Julio Urias manager Dave Roberts trusted to close out the last game of the World Series in October. While Roberts has already tabbed Jansen as his closer this year, Urias will certainly be in the spotlight once again.

Name you’ll get to know: After playing in a combined 42 big league games over the last two seasons, Gavin Lux appears to be ready to take on an everyday role with the Dodgers. The highly regarded infield prospect has crushed minor league pitching and now will get a chance to do it as part of a stacked lineup in the big leagues.

2021 MLB predictions Dodgers Padres Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer adds another Cy Young arm to a Dodgers pitching staff that helped the club win its first World Series in more than three decades last fall.

Biggest question mark: The last time MLB had back-to-back World Series champs was the Yankees’ three-peat in 1998-2000. Since then, only one defending champion has even made it back to the Series the next year. Can the Dodgers avoid the championship hangover that others have struggled with?

How it’ll go down: On paper, the Dodgers have all the pieces to run it back. After adding Bauer to join Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler as top-line starters, the rotation is so deep that David Price could even end up in the bullpen, at least to start the season. The lineup lost Enrique Hernandez and Joc Pederson, but otherwise reloaded after leading the league in runs per game. Barring injuries or a serious hangover, the Dodgers should be right back in the postseason come October, though they could get a real challenge from the Padres for the division title.

2. San Diego Padres

O/U wins: 94.5

Key player: Fernando Tatis Jr. One of the most entertaining players to watch in MLB locked up his future in the offseason, inking a 14-year, $340 million extension. With that taken care of, the 22-year-old can turn his focus to what he hopes is his first full, 162-game season.

Player who’ll need to step up: Much like Pete Alonso, with whom he battled early for the NL Rookie of the Year in 2019, Chris Paddack endured a sophomore slump last year, posting a 4.73 ERA in 12 starts. The right-hander getting back to his rookie form would bolster an already deep rotation.

2021 MLB predictions Fernando Tatis
Fresh off signing a $340 million contract extension, Fernando Tatis now must set his sights on toppling their division rivals.
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Name you’ll get to know: MacKenzie Gore. The 22-year-old left-hander is a top-10 prospect who should make his MLB debut this year. The Padres’ additions of Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove give Gore time to make sure he’s ready, but it may not be long before he’s up with them.

Biggest question mark: Who’s going to close out games? Former starter Drew Pomeranz emerged as the Padres’ go-to reliever late last season, but he has battled forearm inflammation in camp. Trevor Rosenthal is now in Oakland. Could a mix of Emilio Pagan and Mark Melancon get it done?

How it’ll go down: The Padres didn’t settle after their young core led them to the postseason last October, following that up by being one of the most active teams in the offseason. Their new rotation is one of the best in baseball, and if Dinelson Lamet is able to return to form from the elbow injury that kept him out of the playoffs, it’ll be an even bigger boost. Their infield of Tatis, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Jake Cronenworth all had huge seasons last year, which the Padres will need more of if they are going to give the Dodgers a run for their money. They should make it a fun race either way.

3. San Francisco Giants

O/U wins: 75.5

Key player: Mike Yastrzemski. The grandson of Carl Yastrzemski was the Giants’ most valuable player a year ago and even received NL MVP votes after batting .297 with a 166 OPS-plus. He has become more than just a good story.

Player who’ll need to step up: In his first two seasons with the Giants, Mauricio Dubon has hit .276 in 82 games. But there may be another level for the infielder/outfielder to reach.

Name you’ll get to know: Heliot Ramos. The highly regarded outfield prospect made it to Double-A in 2019 and is still just 21, but could find his way to San Francisco before long this season.

Biggest question mark: Is this Buster Posey’s farewell? The six-time All-Star catcher opted out of last season for COVID-19 reasons and the Giants got a look at the future in Joey Bart. Posey is back and has a club option for 2022, but after getting a taste of retirement last year, might that sway him in that direction?

2021 MLB predictions Mike Yastrzemski
After hitting himself into the MVP conversation last season, Mike Yastrzemski is becoming known for a lot more than being the grandson of a Hall of Famer.
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How it’ll go down: At a time when plenty of teams are getting younger, the Giants have a projected starting infield of ages 32 (Brandon Belt/Tommy La Stella), 33 (Donovan Solano) and 34 (Brandon Crawford), with 35-year-old Evan Longoria in reserve and the 34-year-old Posey behind the plate. Besides Dubon, their outfield isn’t much younger. There may not be growing pains, but aging pains could be real. The rotation behind Kevin Gausman is more boom or bust, and given the heavyweights atop the division, that might not be a good thing.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks

O/U wins: 75.5

Key player: RHP Zac Gallen looked good in a limited sample size in 2019 and then backed it up last season — albeit in the shortened schedule — with a 2.75 ERA. The emerging ace just needs to get healthy after sustaining a hairline stress fracture in his forearm late in camp.

Player who’ll need to step up: The first year of Eduardo Escobar’s three-year, $21 million pact with the D’backs was a success (3.6 WAR). The second was a bust (-0.5 WAR). They’ll need the 2019 version of Escobar to have a shot to stick around.

Name you’ll get to know: Pavin Smith has a chance to play a bigger role in the outfield after a solid debut last season. The 2017 first-round pick hit .270 with a .746 OPS in 12 games in 2020.

Biggest question mark: How much does Madison Bumgarner have left in the tank? After signing a five-year, $85 million contract in December of 2019, the lefty began his Diamondbacks tenure with a fizzle, posting a 6.48 ERA in nine starts last season. If he can at least get closer to what he was with the Giants, it’ll go a long way in solidifying Arizona’s staff.

How it’ll go down: Trading away Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke seems to have caught up with the Diamondbacks, with the returns not yet paying dividends — though it figures to be important years in the development for some of the pieces they got back, like catcher Carson Kelly, pitcher Luke Weaver and perhaps even pitching prospect J.B. Bukauskas.

5. Colorado Rockies

O/U wins: 63.5

Key player: German Marquez. It’s rough pitching with Coors Field as your home park, but the right-hander has quietly been solid in recent seasons (3.75 ERA last year), and perhaps more important for a volatile rotation, has stayed healthy to shoulder heavy innings.

2021 MLB predictions Trevor Story
With Nolan Arenado recently traded to St. Louis, Trevor Story may become the next star the Rockies send packing if their 2021 season gets off to a slow start.

Player who’ll need to step up: Ryan McMahon. The once top-100 prospect could see the bulk of time at third base with Nolan Arenado gone and has some sizable shoes to fill. He was a strong hitter in the minors but has batted just .239 with a .745 OPS over the last three seasons (284 games).

Name you’ll get to know: Fairly or (probably) unfairly, any time Austin Gomber pitches, it likely will be mentioned he headlined the trade return for Arenado. The 27-year-old lefty should get the chance to prove himself in the Rockies’ rotation.

Biggest question mark: How much longer will Trevor Story be a Rockie? After losing the teammate that played to his right for the last five years in Arenado, the pending free-agent shortstop could very well be the next Rockies staple to go.

How it’ll go down: It could be a rough year for the Rockies, especially for their fans if they lose another homegrown star in Story. LHP Kyle Freeland’s spring training injury won’t help a rotation that already had some question marks beforehand. It’s a tough time to be the punching bag in the NL West.


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