Flashback to June 20, 2013. The Los Angeles Dodgers were 30-42 and last in the National League West. Yasiel Puig was not even three weeks into his major-league career after a call-up from the minors. However, thanks in large part to the spark Puig brought, L.A. became a juggernaut from June 21 to the end of the season and the Dodgers will enter spring training probably as the biggest division favorites on the baseball odds board, certainly in the NL.
Because of that slow start, which almost cost Manager Don Mattingly his job, the Dodgers had the fewest wins of any 2013 division champion with 92, but they still lapped the West field with second-place Arizona 11 games back. Despite being flush with local TV cash, Los Angeles was pretty quiet this offseason other than giving Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw the biggest contract in baseball history in terms of average annual value. Really there wasn't much needed to do. L.A. likely will have only one new every-day starter: Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero. He's a natural shortstop so not a lock to be the Opening Day guy there. The main question is how to divide playing time between the four outfielders: Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Puig and Matt Kemp if all are healthy. Crawford and Kemp haven't proven able to stay off the DL in recent years to things may sort themselves out. L.A. also took a flier on signing Dan Haren to be the team's No. 4 starter behind Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. The Dodgers are +250 at BetOnline's baseball odds to win the pennant.
The Diamondbacks had two objectives this offseason: add a power bat and a potential No. 1 starter to pair with ace Patrick Corbin. Arizona accomplished the first in acquiring the Angels' Mark Trumbo in a three-team deal that also included the White Sox. Trumbo should provide protection for MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and assure the Snakes finish higher than 12th in the NL again in home runs. The search for a No. 1 starter failed as the team tried to pry Chris Sale from the White Sox and Jeff Samardzjia from the Cubs -- the latter remains a possibility. Arizona also was in on Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The bullpen should be upgraded with the addition of closer Addison Reed in another deal with the White Sox. The Diamondbacks are +1600 for sports bettors to win the pennant.
San Francisco was one of the disappointments of last season coming off its World Series title of 2012. The problems were numerous. The lineup lacked power and protection for 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey. The rotation was supposed to be one of the best in the NL, but Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum struggled in a big way. The Giants hoped they solved both issues by adding free agent outfielder Mike Morse and starting pitcher Tim Hudson. Neither is sure thing. Morse hasn't been the same hitter since 2011, and Hudson will be 39 in July. Still, this largely the same group that won it all in 2012. The Giants are +1200 at sportsbooks to win the pennant.
Some experts -- ESPN's Buster Olney for one -- think the Padres can be the surprise team of the National League this season. San Diego winning its first division title since 2006 seems unlikely with the Dodgers around, but a wild-card spot is doable. The Padres struggled to score runs last season, ranking 12th in the NL, but four of their best players, Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal, were either injury-prone or suspended. The team also made a nice under-the-radar pickup at the 2013 trade deadline in landing starting pitcher Ian Kennedy from Arizona. If offseason addition Josh Johnson can somehow find his Marlins stuff, the rotation could be pretty good. San Diego is +3500 on baseball odds to win the pennant.
Colorado is one of those teams that could win its division or finish last and neither would be shocking. If Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can stay healthy -- a huge if for Tulo -- this team should score plenty of runs even after questionably trading underrated outfielder Dexter Fowler to Houston. New first baseman Justin Morneau could be revitalized in the thin air. As usual, the pitching is iffy. The Rockies made what could be a brilliant trade in acquiring lefty Brett Anderson from Oakland. He was one of the AL's best pitchers when healthy. The Rockies are +3000 for sports bettors to win the pennant.
MLB Free Picks Projected Finish: Los Angeles, Arizona, San Francisco, Colorado, San Diego.