As the season enters its sixth week, the National League West is beginning to look a lot more like the Wild West.

Just three-and-a-half games separate the first-place Dodgers and last-place Padres, the smallest gap of any first- and last-place team in the majors. It’s unlikely the division will remain this close for the remainder of the season, but there is a good chance there could be a three-way race for the division title come October.

Here’s an in-depth look at the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks who sit first, second and fourth, respectively, in the standings as of May 8.

Los Angeles Dodgers

16 wins, 15 losses

5-8 at home, 11-7 on the road

Do the Dodgers have what it takes to fend off the Giants and Diamondbacks in September and October? That’s the question facing the team that has won the division title for the past three seasons.

Clayton Kershaw & Joc Pederson - Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire
Clayton Kershaw & Joc Pederson – Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

Young stars like Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig have provided a boost for an offense that is prone to cold streaks. Veterans like Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick have asserted themselves as versatile players who are willing to be flexible in times of great need.

But beyond some offensive glimmers of hope and great performances turned in by Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda, the 2016 pitching staff has struggled.

Starter Alex Wood, acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Braves last season, has posted a 1-3 record with an ERA of 5.18 in his first six starts, per Baseball Reference. Veteran Scott Kazmir, picked up during the offseason, is 2-2 with an ERA of 5.68. Chris Hatcher, who was booed by fans in his home stadium, in 3-3 with an ERA of 6.92 while walking and striking out ten, per Baseball Reference.

Left-handed reliever J.P. Howell? He’s got an ERA of 9.39 with a terrible 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

Scott Kazmir - Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire
Scott Kazmir – Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

There’s no denying that the Dodgers’ pitching staff is rough around the edges. And it’s true the team is not the only one in this division struggling with pitching inconsistencies. But early lackluster performances from Alex Wood and Scott Kazmir have me wondering when Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, both sidelined since last year with injuries, will return. What will the team’s September rotation look like, barring future injuries or setbacks?

As evidenced in the past three postseason appearances, the Dodgers’ greatest weaknesses are its shallow starting-pitching depth and unreliable bullpen. It’s great that the team is tied for first-place with the Giants, but it’s worrisome that their two weaknesses are already cropping up in the second month of the season.

Off-season bullpen acquisitions like Joe Blanton and Louis Coleman have performed well, combining for 19 strikeouts over 24 and 2/3 innings. There’s no reason to panic, but the team needs to identify who can hold a lead before turning the ball over to Kenley Jansen, who has allowed one run over 12 innings this season.

Even though patience has been a virtue for Andrew Friedman, look for this team to be involved in trade-talk mix come July.

San Francisco Giants

17 wins, 16 losses

10-8 at home, 7-8 on the road

Like the Dodgers, the Giants are struggling despite having some of the league’s most-talented stars.

Johnny Cueto - Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire
Johnny Cueto – Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire

The Giants’ front-end rotation includes Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Despite a lack of run support, all three have performed well and have formed what is arguably the strongest three-pitcher rotation in baseball.

But it’s the Giants back-end rotation that is turning heads. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, middle-aged veterans who earned a spot in the rotation based on success in the past, have looked terrible. The two are 1-7 combined and have surrendered 56 earned runs over 60 innings.

As former Giant Tim Lincecum woos teams in Arizona, hoping to get re-signed and start a most improbable comeback, it’s important the Giants lock up another starter in the near future. Putting Cain or Peavy on the hill almost guarantees the team a loss.

However, the bullpen, led by 35-year-old veteran Santiago Casilla, has performed well and looks to be among the best in the division.

Giants Celebrating win - Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire
Giants Celebrating win – Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire

The offense, which is prone to cold streaks like the Dodgers, will heat up as the season progresses. With Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Matt Duffy, the Giants infield has a combined 17 homers and 70 RBIs.

Once the Giants purge their unproductive starters, look for them to be a foe that has the potential to steal a division title from the Dodgers.

Arizona Diamondbacks

15 wins, 18 losses

5-12 at home, 10-6 on the road

 

Zack Greinke talking to Mike Butcher - Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire
Zack Greinke talking to Mike Butcher – Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire

Like the other teams in the division, the Diamondbacks can become a contender if their starting rotation improves.

Zack Greinke, acquired as a free agent in the offseason, has an unimpressive 3-2 record attached to an ERA of 5.15. Shelby Miller, the former Braves pitcher, is 1-3 with an ERA of 7.36.

The rest of the rotation, comprised of Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray and Rubby De La Rosa, is 5-9.

Paul Goldschmidt - Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire
Paul Goldschmidt – Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire

Otherwise, the team is an offensive juggernaut that has seen a big contribution from its five-man infield, which has hit a total of 23 homers and 72 RBIs. Led by Paul Goldschmidt, an MVP-like candidate who has an on-base percentage of .420, Arizona’s offense could rough up opposing pitchers on the Giants and Dodgers.

But their chances of winning the division are small compared to the other NL West contenders. All of the team’s position players are under 30, and it seems they are maturing at the right time. A surge past the most experienced Dodgers and Giants may be improbable, but anything is possible in the Wild

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Shane Newell
Shane Newell is pursuing his M.A. degree in data journalism at Stanford University. A lifelong Dodgers fan, Shane grew up in Southern California and graduated from Long Beach State with a B.A. in journalism in 2015. As an undergraduate, Shane worked at The Daily 49er and interned for two summers at the Orange County Register, where he specialized in local news and features. He wants to be a data journalist who tell stories through numbers and graphics. He hopes to use his data and multimedia skills to work on investigative projects across the world.

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