Welcome to the Wild Wild West, where every year the Rockies sneak up on everyone, the Dianmondbacks fail to live up to expectations, and the Dodgers win the division anyway. The West is always one of the more tumultuous divisions in baseball. Just last year you had the Didgers jump out to an early lead, the Giants start to reel them in with Kung Fu Pablo and Timmy as they became everyone’s sleeper, only to be usurped by the late surge of the Rockies, spearheaded by some exceptional pitching and Troy Tulowitzki. The Dodgers won the division anyway. What should we expect this year? More of the same.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers Projected Record: 90-72
Batting: B+ | Starting Pitching: B | Relief Pitching: A | Defense/Speed/Other: B+
The Dodgers are the favorite to win the NL West for good reason. They have more experience, ability, and pitching than anyone else in the West, and every guy on their roster knows what it takes to get back to the NLCS. They have Matt Kemp coming off a huge year, Andre Eithier and James Loney coming into their own, and Manny Ramirez, Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez all primed for bounce back years. It is worth reminding everyone that the Dodgers were in the NLCS last year with a lackluster Manny, and Furcal and Martin struggling through the worst full year of their respective careers. Even if Kemp cannot live up to his projections, which is likely since they are astronomical, a bounce back from Manny, Furcal and Martin can more than make up for any struggles Kemp might experience. If he does not fall short of his projections, you can imagine the carnage that will ensue. The lineup should look something like:
- Furcal (6)
- Ethier (9)
- Kemp (8)
- Ramirez (7)
- Loney (3)
- Martin (2)
- Blake (5)
- DeWitt (4)
- Starting Pitcher (1)
Obviously this is a very potent lineup. We also have no shortages of places to start when it comes to breakout guys. James Loney is primed for a big year, Furcal and Martin should bounce back at least a little, Manny is still Manny, and Ethier seems ready to become one of the more reliable guys in the NL when it comes to timely offense. With so much upside, it will take injuries in the rotation to keep the Dodgers out of it. They do not really have a big time ace, something that has hurt them in the playoffs lately, but Billingsley, Kershaw, Kuroda, Vincente Padilla and young gun James McDonald make a very strong rotation as a whole. However, this is also their position with the least depth, so if they sustain a long-term injury they could struggle. In case you do not know much about James McDonald, you should get to know him. Electric stuff, throws hard, and has the right make-up to be a good starter. Barring an injury to the rotation, I see no reason why the Dodgers should not take the division again this year.
A few more quick notes. Not having an ace hurt them the last two years against the Phillies, so why didn’t they go after anyone? The McCourts, the owners of the Dodgers, have been going through an ugly public divorce and the lack of funds associated with such divorces certainly restricted them in free agency. They have a couple young arms who are potential future aces who are not too far away so the organization decided to just wait on those guys since they did not have the money to go after a big name.. The Bullpen is also one of the best in the majors. Belisario, Troncoso, Sherrill, Kuo and Cory Wade make up perhaps the best pen in the majors and that is before bringing up Jonathan Broxton. They need that bullpen too with Kershaw’s trend of going 6 innings or less and questions about how many innings McDonald will be able to throw. They will have to use their pen a bit more than expected.
2. Colorado Rockies Projected Record: 86-76
Batting: B | Starting Pitching: B- | Relief Pitching: C+ | Defense/Speed/Other: B
This lineup is not especially frightening, nor is the starting pitching awe-inspiring, but they are solid, run the bases very well, always have timely hitting, and find ways to win every year. They have an up-and-coming stud in center with Dexter Fowler, and just skilled guys everywhere. I think playing in Colorado keeps some of their guys from the spotlight, but Troy Tulowitzki is a top 5 offensive shortstop just about every year, Carlos Gonzalez is very underrated, Todd Helton his .300 again last year, Brrad Hawpe has pop, and Eric Young Jr. could steal 50 bases if he can steal the starting job from Clint Barmes. They have balance most teams could only dream of in the sense of having that many offensive options with so much variety in skill. Their biggest concerns would be 2B and 3B, btu they have decent backup options there with Melvin Mora at 3rd and Eric Young Jr. at 2nd. They also have considerable outfield depth with Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs. There are few teams as prepared to deal with the rigors of a 162 game season like the Rockies. The lineup should look something like:
- Fowler (8)
- Gonzalez (7)
- Helton (3)
- Tulowitzki (6)
- Hawpe (9)
- Stewart (5)
- Barmes (4)
- Iannetta (2)
- Starting Pitcher (1)
That is not as star-studded as the Dodgers, but certainly has the balance and skill that you want in a lineup. The rotation is similar in not being star-studded but not being bad at all. Ubaldo Jimenez seemed to figure it out toward the end of last year and the rest of the rotation is just solid in general. Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, Jeff Francis and Jason Hammel are all solid too. Not at all sexy players for a fantasy team or anything, but extremely solid. The bullpen is more or less like most teams in that their bullpen is a little bit of an unknown. If it really falls flat, it could open up a chance for someone else to take the wild card, but I think the pen will be able to hold it together. Huston Street should have another solid year holding things down at the back.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks Projected Record: 83-79
Batting: A- | Starting Pitching: B | Relief Pitching: C | Defense/Speed/Other: B-
The Arizona Diamondbacks did everything they could this offseason to become contenders. They traded for Edwin Jackson, signed Kelly Johnson to anchor them at 2nd, and picked up the late-surging Adam LaRoche. Will it be enough? In a word, no. They have all it takes on paper, but I will just about guarantee it will not work out. However, let’s start with the good parts and make our way to their painful 3rd place finish. Justin Upton hit .300 with a .899 OPS, hit 26 home runs, and stole 20 bases. He is 21. Take your time, it is a lot to comprehend. Diamondbacks fans should worry a little that he just got paid, but not enough to stop them from flocking to the team store and buying anything with his name on it. He is a future MVP without a doubt. Miguel Montero has also been a find at catcher, killing the ball last year and making fans forget about Chris Snyder’s fluke year. I like Kelly Johnson and despite his underachieving, I like Stephen Drew as well. What is going to kill this team is defense and pitching. Montero is not especially great defensively, Mark Reynolds is not a good defensive third baseman, and the prospect of Conor Jackson in left cannot excite DB fans. The lineup will not be the problem, however with:
- Drew (6)
- Johnson (4)
- Upton (9)
- Reynolds (5)
- LaRoche (3)
- Montero (2)
- Jackson/Parra (7) (platoon)
- Young (8)
- Starting Pitcher (1)
If the MLB season was played in virtual reality, the D-Backs would be great, however Chris Young will never put up numbers like he did two years ago again, Conor Jackson is just not that good, and while Adam LaRoche explodes late in the season, Sun City is going to need to stay patient with him. In addition, Mark Reynolds will probably hit lower than .260 this year, something that will start to get on the nerves of D-Backs management and fans. Everyone loves feast-or-famine when it is all feast, but both terms are involved for a reason. Expect a good deal of famine out of Reynolds this year, including breaking his own record for Ks in a season. Consider him Adam Dunn, only a little worse. There is nothing wrong with that in the right spot, but expect a .250 average and be thrilled about anything higher than that.
The other problem is the rotation. How can a rotation with Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson be a problem? Allow me to explain. First off, Brandon Webb will probably not get healthy and will pitch less than 50 meaningful innings this year. Dan Haren is not the problem, so let’s move to Edwin Jackson. His numbers look pretty good and he is moving from the AL to the NL. However, he was a train wreck the second half of last year and there was even speculation that he had been accidentally tipping his pitches. That is not the kind of thing that goes away when switching from league to league. I expect Jackson to have an ERA around 4.50, something far higher than the D-Backs were hoping for when trading for him. The other two spots in the rotation belong to Ian Kennedy, a Yankees flop who came over with Jackson, and Billy Buckner. If they can keep Buckner away from groundballs around first base he should be ok, but the D-Backs should not expect much production from the 4 and 5 spots.
The bullpen will be alright as well. Qualls is a fairly decent closer, but they do not have a ton in the way of short relief and it could haunt them, I like a lot of their pieces, but this attempted move to the top by the Diamondbacks will end in disappointment. At least they will have good weather to ease their disappointment.
San Francisco Giants Projected Record: 73-89
Batting: C+ | Starting Pitching: B+ | Relief Pitching B- | Defense/Speed/Other: C
Last year’s surprise team is going to struggle a bit this year. If I told you that there was a player who hit .330 last year, but that he swings at pitches that do not make it to the plate sometimes, would you bet his average would go up or down the next year? Pablo Sandoval is an exceptional baseball player, but he is no exception to that. I have him down for a touch under .300, but he was pretty much their entire offense last year to begin with so the Giants can hardly handle to lose any production from Kung Fu Panda. The addition of Mark DeRosa was well-accepted, but I am not a fan. DeRosa still has the Indians stink on him from his short stint with them last year and he only hit .250 last year, something uncharacteristic of him, but something that will not be helped by the big gaps at AT&T Park by the Bay. The lineup leaves a lot to be desired despite its success next season:
- Rowand (8)
- Sanchez (4)
- Sandoval (5)
- Huff (3)
- DeRosa (7)
- Molina (2)
- Renteria (6)
- Schierholtz (9)
- Starting Pitcher (1)
Like last year, there is not a ton of hitting available to the Giants and I am not sure offseason adds Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff are the answers. There is not a lot to talk about offensively for this team until Buster Posey debuts behind the plate. He compares to Joes Mauer, need I say more? The Giants strength, obviously, is their pitching. If you had to choose between a strength in hitting and pitching you would choose pitching, but the problem with the Giants’ pitching is its youth. Tim Lincecum is outstanding clearly and Matt Cain is very good too. The problems more revolve around Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Todd Wellemeyer. Wellemeyer is no longer with Dave Duncan and will probably not stick in the rotation, and Sanchez, despite his no-hitter and nearly perfect game, has had significant command problrms and got beat up a bit last year. He needs to really improve if he wants to be a solid 3 starter. However, Madison Bumgarner is the most concerning for Giants fans because he is the best among them. He has an outstanding arm, a release point that gives hitters problems, and just a generally good outlook as a pitcher. However, he saw his velocity dip late alst year. The organization pointed to his high innings count as the cause, and they had better hope that is the case because a velocity drop out of such a young pitcher is a very bad sign. He go beat up with the lower velocity, and even if it was just due to throwing a lot of innings, that could spell trouble for the Giants down the stretch when they will need him behind Lincecum and Cain. The pitching is their strength, but they are not without problems. The bullpen was really good out of nowhere last year so I guess they will do it again, although I would not be at all surprised to see it fall apart either. That statement could be applied generally to the Giants as well.
5. San Diego Padres Projected Record: 72-90
Batting: C | Starting Pitching: C+ | Relief Pitching: B+ | Defense/Speed/Other: A-
The Padres are a tricky team to project because I really like the make-up of their team, but you just do now know when Adrian Gonzalez is heading out of town. If he stays the entire year, it is not out of the question for the Friars to be battling for .500, but if he is shipped out the Padres will almost certainly be in the basement of the NL West. I really like Evereth Cabrera at SS, and Chase Headley at third but so much of this team depends on Adrian Gonzalez that it is hard to know. I have a feeling he will get traded, which is why I put that Padres at 72-90, but with him they could sneak up on people, With one exception, the pitching is not attractive, but is very effective and just grinds games out. Mat Latos is that one exception. He just has that electric feel about him and as Sporting News put it “he has the kind of talent that makes you wonder if the Padres can afford him”. Perhaps a little depressing for Padres fans, but he is legitimate. Expect some growing pains like any young pitcher, but Padres fans will have no shortage of things to watch for out of him.
The lineup is unimpressive but still effective, something loved by fans and dreaded by people (like me) trying to project them:
- Cabrera (6)
- Eckstein (4)
- Gonzalez (3)
- Blanks (7)
- Headley (5)
- S. Hairston (8)
- Venable (9)
- Torrealba (2)
- Starting Pitcher (1)
As I said, it is not flashy, but it works and rarely does anything to hurt the team. The pitching staff is not so different from the batting order in its lack of flash and difficulty in projecting. Jon Garland will be the ace, something most fans cannot get too excited about, but one Padres fan, notably my colleague here at OuttaTownClowns, is psyched about the prospects of the 30 year old anchoring the top of the rotation. His ERA has been in the 4s or higher nearly every year of his career, and while Petco and a good defense will help out a bit, I would not bet on anything lower than 3.80 (which would be the 3rd best season of his career by ERA). Behind him is Chris Young who is still trying to get back from getting beaned in the noggin at high speed. Maybe my word choice was not very serious, but for the Padres, this maztter is very serious if rebuilding is going to look more like reloading. He needs to be good to set up quirky but effective Kevin Correia and the aforementioned Mat Latos. My colleague is also very high on Clayton Richard, who was acquired in the Jake Peavy deal. I am decidedly less in favor of Mr. Richard. He was highly rated when he was drafted by the White Sox, but the soon-to-be 26 year old has not shown much at the big league level. If he was 23 and still a prospect I would be more optimistic, but he is no spring chicken to to speak. He is going to have to produce immediately if he wants to keep his starting spot with Tim Stauffer in the wings.
There are not many teams who could get anywhere from 3rd to last in their division, but the Padres go in that category. If Adrian stays, Padres fans could be in for a pleasant surprise, but if he goes, Padres fans could be forced back to reality in a hurry. Like the D-Backs, at least they have the weather to fall back on.
Best Statistical Season: J-UP Justin Upton
MVP: Troy Tulowitzki
Cy Young: Dan Haren
Biggest Disappointment: Edwin Jackson/Arizona Diamondbacks
Young Player to Watch: Dexter Fowler, Justin Upton (as scary as it is to put him here), and Mat Latos