On the surface, the NL West would seem to be a two-team race between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. I suspect most fans would instinctively see it that way, and anticipate a year-long battle between the old rivals. The smart money in Las Vegas sees it differently though—based on early betting odds, the wagering marketplace sees the NL West as being a coronation parade for the Dodgers. And that doesn’t make sense.
Los Angeles is a decisive 1-2 betting favorite to win the West, with San Francisco getting comparatively healthy 12-5 odds. I’m not a betting man, but I find these numbers interesting, because they do reflect what reasonably informed opinion thinks and I just wonder what I’m missing.
Proponents of a Dodger landslide can say that they won the division a year ago, even with Clayton Kershaw making only 21 starts. Fair enough. But they also got 20 starts from Rich Hill and a dazzling 2.12 ERA—Hill’s most work since 2007. At age 37, what are the odds he repeats that? They also still have the shell that was once Scott Kazmir in the rotation.
Adrian Gonzalez is still 34-years-old and coming off a notable decline in power. And unless you want to overreact to Yasiel Puig’s three home runs in the first week of the season, there’s still the reality that he’s slipped each year since his rookie season in 2013.
None of this is to say the Dodgers won’t be good or that they can’t win the NL West. But the top-heavy favorite and considered the only legitimate National League challenger to the Cubs, as current Vegas odds suggest? I’m not seeing that.
Consider the case for San Francisco—they did reach the playoffs and win the wild-card game last year, so it’s not as though we’re looking for a drastic turnaround. They still have Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto at the top of the rotation. And if Rich Hill could have a comeback year in LA, why couldn’t Matt Cain do the same in San Francisco?
The Giants spent much of last season looking in control of the NL West before offensive woes and an uncharacteristically skittish bullpen did them in down the stretch. Buster Posey had the worst year of his career—a recovery has to be seen as highly likely. Joe Panik’s offense dropped sharply. A bounceback isn’t as certain here, but it’s certainly in the realm of reasonable.
The bullpen has been significantly upgraded with the addition of Mark Melancon to close. When it comes to the middle of the rotation, I’ll take my chances with Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore to at least be competent and the have a higher upside than anyone Los Angeles trots out in the 3-4 spots.
San Francisco isn’t getting completely dissed by the oddsmakers. They’re still seen as highly likely to be back in the wild-card game. But compared to Los Angeles, the Giants are still being underrated as the 2017 season begins.