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Why the Dodgers will win the NL West — again

2016 NL West Spring Training Preview

Have you seen Clayton Kershaw’s numbers over the last five years? Mercy. (AP/Mark J. Terrill)

We noted in the National League Central spring training preview that it’s the only division to send three teams to the postseason in a given year – and has three teams with playoff aspirations in the upcoming season.

Well, the National League West boasts three teams that intend to compete into October this year. The Dodgers have won the division three straight years. Much will be made of 2016 being an even year, because the Giants have won the World Series in all even years dating back to 2010. And the Diamondbacks were, arguably, the most intriguing team of the offseason.

Each, though, has interesting questions heading into spring training.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2015 record and finish: 92-70, first

2016 FanGraphs projection: 91-71, first

Significant additions: SP Scott Kazmir, SP Kenta Maeda, Manager Dave Roberts, RP Joe Blanton

Significant losses: SP Zack Greinke, Manager Don Mattingly, SS Jimmy Rollins, RP Jim Johnson, RP Juan Nicasio, RP Joel Peralta

Zach Greinke’s deal with Arizona transforms the offseason

Why they’ll win the division: Five words: Financial muscle and Clayton Kershaw.

For all the consternation over the offseason – they unexpectedly lost Greinke to the in-division rival Diamondbacks, a trade for closer Aroldis Chapman fell through, the signing of free-agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma wasn’t completed because of medical concerns – they still trump baseball with the sport’s deepest resources and its best pitcher. Since 2011, the first of his three Cy Young seasons, Kershaw’s best-in-the-majors ERA is 2.11; no one who has made 100 starts is within half a run of him. He has a major-league-leading 1,249 strikeouts – 76 more than the runner-up. He allows 0.933 walks and hits per inning pitched; no one else is less than one. Opposing hitters have managed a .198 average against him; of those with 100 starts, the closest competitor allows a .217 mark. He essentially has no peer.

Most significant question: Do they have enough starting pitching to replace Greinke?

Kershaw will front a rotation of the 31-year-old comeback kid Scott Kazmir, the returning Brett Anderson, Japanese free agent Kenta Maeda, and 25-year-old lefty Alex Wood, acquired from the Braves last summer. That group could get quality depth, at some point, from veterans Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, each returning from injury. But in winning three straight division titles – the first time the Dodgers franchise has ever appeared in the postseason three straight years — they relied heavily on Kershaw and Greinke. Their record in games started by that pair since 2013: 126-59, a .681 winning percentage. Their record in games started by anyone else: 152-149, a .505 winning percentage. The Dodgers’ clout, both at the bank and in their farm system, means they could get a starter at the trade deadline – though it’s important to note there are no David Prices or Cole Hamels or Johnny Cuetos likely to be available this summer. Greinke’s loss may have to be filled by quality depth rather than another star.

Spring training battle to watch: Corey Seager vs. expectations

The 21-year-old shortstop has topped prospect lists, replaced veteran Jimmy Rollins down the stretch and even hit third in a playoff game. Now is his time.’s Marcels projection system – admittedly rudimentary – projects an astonishing .843 on-base-plus-slugging percentage for Seager. FanGraphs projects a more modest .738 OPS, but that mark would have ranked second among National League shortstops last year. However he plays, Seager represents the next wave of Dodgers talent.

Did you realize?: Exactly how bad Joc Pederson’s second half was?

As a 23-year-old rookie, Pederson made the all-star team because he unloaded 20 first-half homers and cruised into the break with an .851 OPS, a mark that trailed only Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen among NL outfielders. In the second half, that number plunged to .617, better than only three NL outfielders with at least 200 plate appearances. Getting Pederson right this spring would go a long way toward making the Dodgers’ lineup fit together in the best possible way.

San Francisco Giants

2015 record and finish: 84-78, second

2016 FanGraphs projection: 85-77, second

Significant additions: SP Johnny Cueto, SP Jeff Samardzija, OF Denard Span, OF/1B Kyle Blanks

Johnny Cueto, $130 million, an opt-out and the modern baseball contract

Significant losses: SP Tim Lincecum, SP Ryan Vogelsong, SP Mike Leake, SP Tim Hudson, RP Jeremy Affeldt, RP Yusmeiro Petit, OF Nori Aoki, OF Marlon Byrd, OF Alejandro de Aza

Most significant question: Will Joe Panik’s back problems be gone?

The 25-year-old former first-round pick looks like a player. Of second basemen with at least 400 plate appearances last year, no one posted a better OPS than Panik’s .833. But he was limited to 100 games and his season was truncated in early September by persistent back problems. The Giants signed shortstop Brandon Crawford to a six-year, $75-million extension that will keep him in San Francisco through the 2021 season. Panik is under club control through that season as well. If he’s healthy, the Giants have their double-play combination locked up for the foreseeable future. Giants doctors have discovered no structural damage, and Panik hasn’t had surgery. But the team will be monitoring his performance in spring to see if there’s further reason for concern.

Spring training battle to watch: Matt Cain vs. Chris Heston

It says something that these two are battling for what’s likely the fifth spot in the San Francisco rotation. Ahead of them, though, are Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and likely Jake Peavy (who is somehow still just 34). Cain was the hero of the 2012 World Series winners. He’s due $21 million in each of the next two seasons. But he has made only 28 appearances in the last two seasons with a 4.83 ERA and 1.351 WHIP in the process. Heston threw a no-hitter against the Mets last year, the centerpiece of a rookie year (at age 27) in which he posted a 3.95 ERA over 177-2/3 innings. If it’s an even race, Cain figures to get the nod, because the Giants are fiercely loyal to the players who have helped them to three World Series titles this decade. But if Heston comes out ahead, and Cain is healthy, what will they do with Cain – who’s still just 31?

Did you realize?: The Giants led the National League in on-base percentage (.326) and offensive wins above replacement (32.7, according to FanGraphs), but they somehow ranked fifth in runs scored.

Jeff Samardzija proves athletes would be foolish to choose football over baseball

Arizona Diamondbacks

2015 record and finish: 79-83, third

2016 FanGraphs projection: 79-83, third

Significant additions: SP Zack Greinke, SP Shelby Miller, SS Jean Segura, RP Tyler Clippard

Significant losses: OF Ender Inciarte, SP Jeremy Hellickson, IF Aaron Hill, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Most significant question: At what cost competitiveness?

The signing of Greinke to a six-year, $206.5-million deal – a record for average annual value for a pitcher – was easily the shocker of the offseason, and it has the double-edged whammy that it not only improves Arizona’s club but steals a key free agent from both his old team, the Dodgers, and the other competitor for his services, the Giants. (You may note that those teams are listed above them here, in the same division.) But the Diamondbacks could be seen as mortgaging their future for an improved, yet uncertain, present. Their last three first-round draft picks are gone. Outfield prospect Touki Toussaint to the Braves in a trade last summer that was designed more to unload the contract of rehabbing pitcher Bronson Arroyo. Last year’s top pick, first-in-the-entire-draft Dansby Swanson, also went to Atlanta in the offseason trade for the 25-year-old Miller. And the 2016 pick is lost as compensation to the Dodgers for the signing of Greinke. Add in the trade of shortstop prospect Isan Diaz for Segura, who has been a poor offensive player for more than two years, and it’s fair to wonder whether Arizona will 1) be able to contend with the Dodgers and Giants this year, and 2) have much in the pipeline when the older players move on.

Spring training battle to watch: Yasmany Tomas vs. fielding

Sneakily, the Diamondbacks were outscored only by the Coors Field-fueled Rockies in the National League last year, and with breakout center fielder A.J. Pollock joining perennial MVP threat Paul Goldschmidt as lineup staples, the offense could be productive again (though a .316 batting average on balls in play, second-highest in baseball, could come back to earth). But maxing out that group likely involves a significant contribution from Tomas, whose uneven rookie season after being signed from Cuba produced a .707 OPS in 426 plate appearances. Scouts who saw Tomas last spring insisted: He’s not a third baseman. Yet he started there 31 times through early June. Arizona then moved him primarily to right, with some appearances in left. Now, for the Diamondbacks to realize their offensive potential as well as maintain their status as one of the league’s best defensive teams, Tomas must learn to play one of those corner spots well.

Did you realize?: How good Paul Goldschmidt actually is?

Since 2013, no National League hitter has a higher OPS (.968) or slugging percentage (.556), and the only players in all of baseball to beat him in either category are Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Only Joey Votto and Cabrera have higher OBPs in that time. Plus, he has two Gold Gloves. Would you recognize him on the street?

San Diego Padres

2015 record and finish: 74-88, fourth

2016 FanGraphs projection: 74-88, tied for fourth

Significant additions: OF Jon Jay, C Christian Bethancourt, SS Alexei Ramirez, RP Fernando Rodney, Manager Andy Green

Significant losses: OF Justin Upton, RP Craig Kimbrel, SP Ian Kennedy, RP Joaquin Benoit, IF Jedd Gyorko, 1B Yonder Alonso, P Odrisamer Despaigne, RP Shawn Kelley, managers Bud Black and Pat Kennedy

Most significant question: What will Wil Myers be?

The 2013 American League rookie of the year with Tampa was once the primary reason to mock the Royals, who dealt him away to land right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis, the former a front-of-the-rotation innings eater, the latter a largely failed starter. Shields helped Kansas City to the AL pennant in 2014, and Davis has since become one of the most dominant relievers in the game, recording the final out of the 2015 World Series. The Rays then willingly shipped Myers, who didn’t play as many as 90 games in either of his seasons with them, to San Diego in a three-way deal that yielded them only Steven Souza, who was exposed by leading all players with 400 plate appearances with a 33.8 percent strikeout rate. But a year later, Myers has appeared in just 60 largely unremarkable games for the Padres, succumbing to a left wrist injury that ended his season in early August and interrupted it prior to that. San Diego’s putrid offense (28th in OPS, last in OBP) needs Myers to develop at the rate all of baseball expected him to back in the offseason of 2012-13, when it was the Royals who were deemed to make the big mistake by trading him away.

Spring training battle to watch: Andrew Cashner vs. left-handed batters

Scouts believe the 6-foot-5 Cashner should be better than his results (6-16, 4.34 ERA in 2015), and a big reason he’s not is because he struggles against left-handed hitters. That problem was particularly acute in 2015, when lefties touched him for a .379 on-base percentage and a .517 slugging percentage – both among the 10 worst marks among National League starters. Cashner has just this season before he hits free agency at age 30, and if he could find a way to get lefties out, he would be a much more attractive candidate for another team – either after the season or at the trade deadline.

Did you realize?: How bad the Padres’ shortstops have been?

Last year, they ran Alexi Amarista out to the position more times than anyone else, and he produced a revolting slash line of .204/.257/.287 that makes it hard to believe he got even the 357 plate appearances they afforded him. San Diego shortstops, as a whole, produced a .215/.266/.313 slash line, with their .579 OPS last in the National League. In that world, signing Alexei Ramirez — .642 OPS for the White Sox last year – is an upgrade. But it’s still curious that the Padres didn’t more aggressively pursue former Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond.

Colorado Rockies

2015 record and finish: 68-94, fifth

2016 FanGraphs projection: 74-88, tied for fourth

Significant additions: OF Gerardo Parra, 1B Mark Reynolds, RP Jason Motte, RP Chad Qualls,

Significant losses: OF Corey Dickerson, 1B Justin Morneau, RP Jake McGee, RP John Axford

Most significant question: Wither Jose Reyes?

The franchise-altering decision last July to send away cornerstone shortstop Troy Tulowitzki came with a veteran shortstop in return. But Reyes managed just a .259/.291/.368 output in his 47 games with the Rockies and complained publicly about being on a team that doesn’t have a chance to win. Worse, he now faces serious domestic violence charges stemming from an incident with his wife in October in Hawaii; a trial is set for early April. Even if he reaches a plea deal or is found not guilty – which he has pled – Reyes could find some discipline under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy, which gives Commissioner Rob Manfred broad authority to discipline players even if they’re absolved through the legal process. Reyes is due $22 million in each of the next two seasons and a $4 million buyout after that. This issue is central not only to their spring, but to their future.

Spring training battle to watch: Jon Gray vs. the dark history of Colorado starting pitchers

In their 24-year history, the Rockies have selected 21 pitchers in the first round of the draft. The two who enjoyed the most success with Colorado were likely Jason Jennings and Jeff Francis. The former went 58-56 with a 4.74 ERA in 156 starts for the Rockies. The latter went 64-62 with a 4.93 ERA in 185 starts with Colorado. Point being: It’s hard to successfully raise aces at Coors Field. Gray, the third overall pick out of Oklahoma in 2013, is the latest attempt. He made his nine-start debut last summer and struggled – a 5.53 ERA and a 1.623 WHIP. But if the Rockies are ever truly to rebuild, someone will have to be able to figure out how to establish himself as an ace unafraid to pitch at high altitude.

Did you realize?: How much Carlos Gonzalez struggles against left-handed pitching?

The sweet-swinging outfielder, the topic of much trade discussion over the winter, has been one of the National League’s most productive outfielders since 2010, ranking behind only Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Ryan Braun with an .895 OPS in that time. But he can’t hit southpaws effectively anymore. Last year, he managed a .195/.222/.308 slash line against them, and his OPS against lefties was the second-worst among all National League hitters. This was a drop-off from his career .745 OPS against them. But is it enough of a trend that it could scare off potential trade suitors?

The Post’s Preseason Picks Series

Monday: National League East

Tuesday: National League Central

Wednesday: National League West

Feb. 15: American League East

Feb. 16: American League Central

Feb. 17: American League West