- As the new season approaches, every club has something to offer its fans that will keep them turning in throughout the six-month season. Here's what to keep an eye out for with the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Padres and Rockies.
As Opening Day approaches, the one thing every team can count on for the long season ahead is hope, whether to make the postseason this year or to build toward a brighter future in days ahead. Yet no matter how competitive they are, all 30 teams will have at least one reason for their fans to stay interested for the next six months. Before the season kicks off, SI.com will explore the best reason to watch each team in 2017, starting with the AL East clubs on Thursday, March 23 and continuing with the AL Central (March 24), AL West (March 27), NL West (March 28), NL Central (March 29) and NL East (March 30).
After three straight losing seasons, including a 69–93 campaign in 2016, the Diamondbacks have moved past the retrograde regime of chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and general manager Dave Stewart, dismissing the latter and re-assigning the former. While new general manager Mike Hazen will have to flesh out his own blueprint, he's inherited a roster that's primed for rebounds on several fronts. Ace righthander Zack Greinke scuffled his way to an uncharacteristic 4.37 ERA in the first year of his six-year, $206.5 million contract; fellow righty Shelby Miller completely unraveled in his first season after a trade from Atlanta, posting a 6.27 ERA and even earning a demotion to Triple A; and well-regarded youngsters Archie Bradley, Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray were knocked around for ERAs in the vicinity of 5.00 as well. It's hard to imagine all of them being worse, and if they're better, Arizona could have the makings of a strong rotation. On the offensive side, franchise cornerstone Paul Goldschmidt fell short of his own high standards but is still a potent slugger, and perhaps the biggest improvement could come from having outfielder A.J. Pollock back. After ranking fourth in the NL with 7.4 WAR in 2015, he was limited to 12 games last year by a fractured right elbow, but he's now healthy.
Baseball is currently awash in outstanding two-way third basemen—the Rangers' Adrian Beltre, the Cubs' Kris Bryant, the Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson, the Orioles' Manny Machado and the Mariners' Kyle Seager rank among the majors’ most valuable and most watchable players in recent years—and the Rockies have one who most definitely belongs in that class. One month away from his 26th birthday, Arenado is coming off two consecutive seasons in which he's led the NL in home runs, total bases and RBIs, and he’s won a Gold Glove in each of his four major league seasons while leading the NL in Defensive Runs Saved each time.
Though the Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since 1988—the majors' sixth-longest active pennant drought—they have hardly been strangers to the postseason, having won the NL West in each of the past four seasons. That's already the longest streak of playoff appearances in the franchise's decorated history, and with another NL West title in 2017, Los Angeles will become just the sixth team to win a division five straight times, joining the A's (1971–75), Braves ('95–2005), Indians ('95–99), Yankees ('98–2006) and Phillies ('07–11). For better or worse, both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs project L.A. to finish with at least a share of the NL's best record, and the SI staff has picked the Dodgers to win it all. There's good reason for such optimism, as reigning NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw figure to again be among the game's best, and third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen were re-signed in the off-season to reprise their important roles from recent years.
While San Diego's lineup features All-Star Wil Myers at first base and touted prospects Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe in the outfield, one needn't look further than the rotation—which includes reclamation projects Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin, Clayton Richard and Jered Waver—to know that this rebuilding team is in for a lean season. That at least gives the Padres room to experiment, and no project is more unique than their attempt to turn backup catcher/outfielder Christian Bethancourt, a .223/.253/.368 career hitter better known for his cannon-like throws, into a part-time relief pitcher. After turning heads with 95-mph heat in a pair of mop-up appearances last year, San Diego had the 25-year-old righty log innings in the Panama Winter League. Until a few days ago, his number of innings pitched this spring (7 1/3) exceeded his number of plate appearances (he’s now up to 12). Manager Andy Green sees Bethancourt as a reliever who can serve as a third catcher and pinch-hitter when he's not available to pitch.
Staff ace Madison Bumgarner, who already delivered a championship, is coming off his best regular season showing to date, and while his pitching—and hitting—offer considerable entertainment value, that of rotation-mate Johnny Cueto may surpass it. Not only did Cueto put up strong numbers (2.79 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 8.1 strikeouts per nine and 5.6 WAR) in the first season of his six-year, $130 million deal with San Francisco, but the 31-year-old righty also continued to show off an amazing and amusing variety of ways to befuddle hitters: six different pitches and four deliveries designed to upset their timing. In 2015, Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan provided a taxonomy that included the Traditional, the Quick Pitch, the Rocking Chair and the Tiant, the last named for Cuban hurler Luis Tiant, who literally put a twist on pitching thanks to a variety of unconventional deliveries during his storied 19-year career (1964–82) with six different teams.