by Aaron Rife
The NL West is almost always a two-team race; it’s not always the same two teams but it had been seven seasons since a team won the division by more than 5 games. Last season, Arizona managed to win the division by 8 games. This season looks like its set up to be the same at the top with a surprise coming to the cellar of the NL West.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks: 98-64; Arizona looks primed for a return to the top of the NL West. One of the more potent offenses in the NL already, the DBacks went out and got Jason Kubel to add some thump to their lineup. They’ll also benefit from a full year of Paul Goldschmidt who came on last year to hit 8 home runs in about a quarter of a season. He’s an Adam Dunn (pre-falling off the face of the earth) type player: he’ll strike out a ton but he’ll get on base and hit about 30 HR a year to make up for it.
Arizona also added to their pitching rotation. They had the advantage of breakout seasons from Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and Josh Collmenter came out of nowhere to have a solid season. Kennedy and Hudson should see similar seasons but Collmenter is likely to fall off. His funky delivery seemed to keep hitters off-balance. Trevor Bauer will be waiting in the wings should any pitcher land on the DL or struggle out of the gate. There has been talk of Bauer possibly breaking camp with the team but he’ll likely start in the minors with a call-up coming in-season depending on situations that arise.
Add it all up and they’re the most complete team in the NL West, quite possibly the NL as a whole. A solid lineup with power and speed, three starters that would be #1’s on many teams, and a bench full of super-utility type players. Their only weakness is a possibly suspect bullpen, if J.J. Putz can put together another healthy year that won’t be a problem either. Look for Arizona to be atop the NL West once again, and in the World Series.
2. San Francisco Giants: 91-73 (Wild Card): The Giants seem to be fading fast. Their pitching has been phenomenal (and should be again) but their offense has been abysmal. It seems like they’ve been looking for a solid middle infield and center fielder for the last 4-5 years.
They tried to make their offense better by trading Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals for Melky Cabrera. Is he the answer? Why not give the reigns to Brandon Belt? Jonathan Sanchez is no Cy Young but now they’re left with starting Barry Zito every 5th game; they just can’t quit on Zito (Brokeback Giants??). They also traded for Angel Pagan in a classic “change of scenery” trade sending Andres Torres to the Mets.
The Giants also get back their young, stud catcher Buster Posey. Getting a full season out of Posey will be worth a few wins. As bad as their offense can be, their pitching is that much better. They have the best starting pitching and the best bullpen in the NL so a solid record is a given. I see Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey having All-Star type seasons to help give the offense a little more oomph than usual and their pitching will be just as good. A wild card birth and an early exit seems like where we’re headed.
3. Colorado Rockies: 81-81: If Colorado could play the first half as well as they play the second, they’d make the playoffs every year. Sadly that’s not the case. They’re the Adam LaRoche of NL teams. They’ve made some solid additions to their offense but seem to be stuck in between rebuilding and contending.
They brought over Michael Cuddyer, Ramon Hernandez, and Marco Scutaro which should help at the plate. You know Tulo is going to show up but they need a bounce back season from CarGo and Todd Helton needs to keep drinking from the fountain of youth to have any chance at all. There is also a chance that Dexter Fowler starts to show the potential everyone thought he had. If this team is going to win its going to be because of the offense.
Why will they be relying so heavily on the offense? Two words: Jamie Moyer. The 49-year-old lefty is expected to be the 5th starter out of spring training. Granted, 5th starters change more than Lady Gaga at the Grammys but the fact that he’s an option is scary. I like Chacin and I like Pomeranz (they stole him from the Indians) but I’ve never been sold on Jeremy Guthrie and I don’t believe in Juan Nicasio. Their bullpen is also suspect. Right now Rafael Betancourt is penciled in as the closer right now but that won’t last. Maybe Rex Brothers will get the callup and a chance to show what he can do.
I see this team as a .500 team and that’s it. I think their offense will be special enough to keep them in a lot of games but their pitching will be bad enough to lose a lot too. I see a lot of blown leads and losses in close games. This will be the year the last season surge won’t help them much.
4. San Diego Padres: 75-87: The Padres weren’t very good last year but they still seemed like a surprise team. Even though they lost Heath Bell and Mat Latos I still see the Padres improving somewhat. Their pitching is still good and their offense is no worse.
I really like the Yonder Alonso addition; he could be Adrian Gonzalez in a couple of years. They also added Carlos Quentin who, if he could ever stay healthy (and he’s already injured), could help the Padres a ton with his offense. Cameron Maybin finally broke out last season to be the player everyone thought he’d be. He’ll be the catalyst at the top of the lineup that will set the table. This team won’t mash homers, Petco Park won’t allow it, but what they will do is hit doubles, triples, and steal a lot of bases.
Their pitching should still be what holds this team together. Mat Latos is gone but Cory Luebke is ready to take his place as the staff ace. Andrew Cashner was another nice addition. He’s finally going to get the chance to start on a regular basis and I look for him to have a nice season. Tim Stauffer and Edinson Volquez will help solidify the staff. The bullpen shouldn’t lose much with Huston Street stepping in for Heath Bell. They still have Luke Gregerson as backup and Ernesto Frieri and Joe Thatcher are quality relievers. Petco Park can make any pitcher a decent pitcher.
This is an interesting team. To be honest, I could see their record with 10 more wins or 10 more losses. If the hitting can keep up with the pitching there’s no reason why the Padres can’t be .500 this year.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers: 70-92: This is an odd place to see the Dodgers. You have to go back all the way to 1991 to find the last season the Dodgers finished last in their division (the last year there were two divisions). They missed out on this offseason thanks to the McCourt fiasco. Had Magic’s group bought the team before last year could they have gotten Pujols or Fielder? Either would have made a huge difference for this team.
Aside from Matt Kemp, the offense is severely lacking. You can’t count on Andre Ethier anymore and Juan Rivera is always injured. James Loney had always been poised to breakout but never has and the rest of the infield is very blah. Dee Gordon will steal some bases but he won’t hit for power. Juan Uribe could have a bounce back year and provide some support but it won’t be much.
Clayton Kershaw was the NL Cy Young amid much debate. If he wants to win it again he’ll hear the same thing this year. They replaced Hiroki Kuroda with Aaron Harang, an obvious downgrade, and Chad Billingsley seems to be getting worse every year. They have Nate Eovaldi as a possible rotation piece and he could turn out to be very good. However, as a group, they are lacking. The bullpen has unproven Javy Guerra as its closer and Kenley Jansen as the setup guy. Those roles could change but Jansen is unlikely to be healthy all season.
It’s probably a reach to predict the Dodgers to finish last but take a look at their team. They have very sketchy offense aside from Matt Kemp and very sketchy pitching aside from Clayton Kershaw. This will be a down year for the Dodgers without a doubt, at least they have the new ownership group to keep hope alive for next year.