Which NL West Team Is Closest To Catching the Dodgers?

The Dodgers are shoo-ins to win their 11th division title in 12 years, but which of their NL West rivals could give them the most trouble?

Logan Webb #62 shakes hands with Patrick Bailey #14 of the San Francisco Giants after they beat the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 25: Logan Webb #62 shakes hands with Patrick Bailey #14 of the San Francisco Giants after they beat the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park on September 25, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

With a daunting pitching staff and All-Stars (and a few MVPs) at almost position behind them, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the runaway favorites to claim their 11th NL West division title in the last 12 seasons.

However, in each of the past two years, an unexpected team from the NL West has fought its way into the postseason and knocked off the Dodgers. Last year, it was the Diamondbacks who swept them in the NLDS. In 2022, the Padres took the 111-win Dodgers down in four games.

In 2021, the miracle 107-win Giants beat the Dodgers by one game to win the division. Although Los Angeles came back to beat them in the NLDS, the Giants gave their division rivals an exhausting five-game series, after which the Braves eliminated the Dodgers in the following round.

So, the question emerges, who is the next best team in the NL West today, with the best chance to go toe-to-toe with the juggernaut Dodgers?

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San Diego Padres

Slam Diego

Jurickson Profar #10 of the San Diego Padres hits a home run in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Petco Park.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – MAY 28: Jurickson Profar #10 of the San Diego Padres hits a home run in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Petco Park on May 28, 2024 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

It would be wrong to talk about the San Diego Padres offense and not mention their mighty 31-year-old outfielder, Jurickson Profar, because he has been San Diego’s dynamite.

Ranking in the top three in the NL in average (.324), on-base percentage (.424), and wRC+ (171), Profar has been unbelievable. Not only is he finding his swing, but he is the hardest out in the Padres lineup, staying true to his approach in the box with a 13.7% BB% that nearly surpasses his 14.8 K%.

Another top performer in the Padres lineup has been Luis Arraez.

Barely a month into the season, A.J. Preller continued to play his part as one of the most aggressive general managers in baseball. In a trade with a drowning Marlins team, Preller acquired one of the best bat-to-ball players we’ve seen since Tony Gwynn.

Since joining the Padres, Arraez is hitting an NL best .351. On the season, he ranks in the 100th percentile in whiff rate and strikeout rate. The Padres have a great recipe for scoring runs with Arraez leading off and Profar, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth, and Manny Machado hitting behind him.

Speaking of Machado, his early-season struggles shouldn’t be too alarming. The All-Star third baseman will ultimately finish with a batting average over .250 and 28-plus bombs, because he’s accomplished both feats every season of his MLB career since 2015 (outside of the 2020 COVID season). He may already be starting to heat up, with an .853 OPS in his last 22 games.

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Meanwhile, Xander Bogaerts will eventually return from the IL to play above-average defense at second base and add more star power to an already intimidating lineup. When Bogaerts is back, Cronenworth can slide from second to first base, thus moving Arraez into the DH spot to keep his glove in the dugout and bat in the lineup.

Arraez and Profar have been clear standouts, in addition to Tatis, who is riding a hot streak, hitting .384 with 10 extra-base hits in his last 18 games. Add Machado to that mix when he gets going and Bogaerts when he gets healthy, and this offense could be a problem for the Dodgers in October.

The Pitching Staff

The Padres made it abundantly clear during the offseason that their focus would be improving their pitching. After less than two years with the team, Juan Soto was traded to New York, and three of the five players San Diego got in return (right-handed pitchers Michael King, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vásquez) joined the major league pitching staff.

Although he began the year with a 5.00 ERA over his first six starts, King has brought it down to a 3.58 after finding his stride over his last eight outings. He’s pitched at least five innings in 12 of his 14 starts. In fact, he has pitched past the sixth inning on five occasions before passing the ball off to a strong back half of the bullpen.

Robert Suarez (0.61 ERA) and Jeremiah Estrada (1.23 ERA) have been as close to perfect as relievers can get, while Adrian Morejon and Enyel De Los Santos have added depth to the bullpen.

Finally, the potential of this rotation is what stands out to me most as Yu Darvish and Dylan Cease have maintained the standards of “aces.” Darvish’s 3.20 ERA will be missed after he hit the 15-day IL for the second time this season.

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Cease, acquired back in March as Preller’s attempt to counter the Dodgers and their acquisitions of Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, has looked great. He has a 3.36 ERA and a 3.03 FIP with a whopping 10.95 K/9. His dominance has been key with Darvish and Joe Musgrove both missing time.

The Padres rank fourth in run differential in the National League, and they are 5-3 this season with a +2 run differential in eight contests against the Dodgers. San Diego currently looks like the biggest threat to Los Angeles coming out of the west.

Why Not the Giants and Diamondbacks?

San Francisco Giants

The biggest challenge Bob Melvin is facing in his first season as manager of the San Francisco Giants is finding an identity in San Francisco. The team’s transition away from Gabe Kapler’s complex platoon system hasn’t gone smoothly, despite the front office’s active offseason.

Multiple losing streaks followed by promising winning streaks have thrown Giants fans into a whirlpool of emotions. With players hitting the shelf nearly every week, the Giants roster at times looked similar to that of their Triple-A affiliate up in Sacramento.

Everyday center fielder Jung Hoo Lee needed season-ending shoulder surgery. Nick Ahmed, Tom Murphy, and Marco Luciano are all currently missing time with injuries. Not to mention, Blake Snell is on the 15-day IL for the second time already as Giants fans begin to lose patience with the reigning Cy Young winner and his 9.51 ERA through May.

LaMonte Wade Jr. cannot go unmentioned when talking about the 2024 Giants. He is quietly one of the best hitters in baseball this year, slashing .333/.470/.465 with a 168 wRC+ in a part-time role. He’s virtually walking as much as he’s striking out with a 19.9 BB%. Unfortunately, Wade will miss about four weeks with a hamstring injury.

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A silver lining to all their injury problems is that the Giants introduced Heliot Ramos to the world. The former first-round pick out of high school in Puerto Rico had long been forgotten due to his inconsistencies throughout the minors. Ever since his debut in 2022, any time he spent in the show was brief as he was only filling in for an injured player.

Yet, with the Giants facing a multitude of injuries, Ramos has finally gotten his chance to shine. And oh my, has he taken full advantage. Since getting the call on May 8, Ramos has ranked top six in the NL in wRC+ (155) and WAR (1.6). His bat hasn’t been the only highlight, as the 24-year-old has 3 OAA in the outfield.

Ramos has been the spark plug for a drowning Giants team that is somehow still in possession of the final NL Wild Card spot. His spark, which has reignited this Giants fanbase, has put him into the All-Star conversation, and deservedly so.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Joc Pederson of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrates with Christian Walker after hitting a two-run home run against the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field.
PHOENIX, ARIZONA – MAY 05: Joc Pederson #3 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrates with Christian Walker #53 after hitting a two-run home run against the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on May 05, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

After their successful 2023 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks still had some holes to fill both offensively and defensively. After receiving criticism for not acquiring a starting pitcher at the trade deadline to help Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen last year, they made an extensive effort to do so this offseason. They signed left-handed pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez and Jordan Montgomery.

Despite their efforts, the D-backs continue to struggle. Their rotation ranks 27th with a 4.65 ERA. Montgomery looks rusty after missing spring training; Rodriguez has yet to take the mound this season due to injuries.

To make things worse, Merrill Kelly went on the injured list after four strong outings, and now the team’s true ace, Zac Gallen, will miss time with a hamstring strain. If there was a time for the rest of the D-backs pitching staff to step up, now would be ideal, before the season spirals too far out of control.

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Thankfully, the team’s offseason moves on the offensive side of the ball have shown more promise. After the D-backs finished in the back half of the league in OPS and 22nd in home runs last year, new additions Joc Pederson and Randal Grichuk have made a strong impact. Pederson, in particular, has been phenomenal at the plate slashing, .280/.378/.484 with a 146 wRC+.

The plot twist, however, is that the biggest source of this team’s powers, Corbin Carroll, looks unrecognizable this year despite coming off one of the greatest rookie seasons we’ve ever seen. There is still time for Carroll to turn things around, but his problems go beyond surface-level stats.

Our Aram Leighton does a tremendous job breaking down his swing mechanics, which have a lot to do with his performance.

Right now, you can’t say this Diamondbacks team can compete against the Dodgers. But could they get hot and make things interesting by the All-Star break? Absolutely. We’ve seen them do it before, and with more talent on the roster this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team shoot up the standings throughout the rest of the season.