Two Horse Race in the West (NL West Preview)

The NL West saw a dominant performance and some on-field and off-field issues that made the division a bit of a circus in 2011. The West is a strange division as there has been many different winners and last year it boasted the defending World Series Champions in the San Francisco Giants. Although they were the defending Champions they could not repeat thanks to a number of injuries that saw them finish outside of the playoffs. Meanwhile the off-the-field issues of the Dodgers created a massive distraction that only got worse as the year went on. With the distraction in full focus the Dodgers had more difficulty on the field and were unable to make the playoffs. Along with these two teams the Rockies and Padres could not get anything going on the field as they were not much of a factor last year. With all of the issues for these teams one team emerged as the true winner as the Diamondbacks were able to run away with the division. This year the wild west is at it again as they look for the fourth division champion in the last 4 years. This year the battle may not be too close though as it seems there are two clear favorites in the division with the other three teams looking like they may have struggles through a rebuilding phases.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

 

 

 

 

Last year the Arizona Diamondbacks were the class of the division as they were able to dominate the rest of the division. One of the few teams with some stability to in the NL West the D-Backs were able to unseat the defending champions, although the Giants did themselves no favours. With the emergence of Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton last year the D-Backs were able to take a run at the playoffs that surprised many. They could not do much in the playoffs but making the postseason alone was a big step in the right direction. This year Arizona looks to continue pushing forward as GM Kevin Towers made some big moves to shore up the few weaknesses that the Diamondbacks had. Overall this year the D-Backs do not look overpowering but they also do not seem to be a pushover. With key additions to the pitching rotation and some young talent looking to make a bigger impact the Diamondbacks could be looking at a real battle at the top of the division. If everything goes right for the Diamondbacks they could be back in the playoffs but if some of their young talent doesn’t perform they could be taking a step back. The D-Backs can compete for the top spot but everything will need to align for that to happen making them a dangerous team to bet on.

 

Strength:

Do Nothing Terrible

– There is no true hole in the Diamondbacks game as they have power in the middle of the lineup with Upton, a solid ace pitcher in Ian Kennedy, a great #2 in Trevor Cahill, and a good defence with Aaron Hill and John MacDonald in the infield.

 

Weakness:

Do Nothing Great

– The D-Backs do not have a glaring hole but they also do not have a big strength with an offence dependant on one player, a pitching rotation dependant on unproven talent, and a defence that could be good but could also falter

 

Biggest Addition:

Trevor Cahill, RHP

– The former Oakland A came to the D-Backs in an offseason trade that gave the Diamondbacks a second piece to their rotation as Cahill will hope to return to his 2010 performance, where he went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA, instead of his 2011 performance, where he went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA

 

Biggest Loss:

Xavier Nady, 1B/LF

– He did not have a great season in his one year with the D-Backs but Nady did provide a good bench bat and a good veteran presence that could be useful this year with a young team that could use a couple more veterans as teachers

 

One to Watch:

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

– The young first baseman is the future of the D-Backs with great power that saw him dominate in the minors and provide a solid bat alongside Justin Upton but he will need to get over his tendency to strike out if he wants to make an impact in Arizona.

 

Colorado Rockies

 

 

 

 

The Rockies began last season in a good spot with their pitchers finally playing up to the standard of their offence. Then after a 17-8 month the Rockies reversed their fortunes as they went 21-8 in May that put them so far back that they would never come back. After mediocre months, thanks to the decline of their pitching, the Rockies made a number of changes midseason to turn around their fortunes. They couldn’t turn it around enough though as the Rockies finished in 3rd place and out of a playoff spot with a 73-89 record. This year the Rockies will try to improve their pitching performance in order to make a run at the NL West title. The Rockies made a few moves in the offseason but they did not make the moves that many thought they needed. The Rockies picked up more offence in the free agent market but they did not pick up any pitching, which was their biggest hole. The Rockies did make some improvements to their pitching staff with some small signings. The rotation will be up for a big competition with close to 10 pitchers looking to get in to the top 5. The Rockies will have some questions this year and most will circulate around their pitching as they will try to match their offensive output with a solid starting rotation. This does not look like it will happen though as the Rockies will probably not be in the hunt for the NL West with a questionable rotation.

 

Strength:

Offence

– The Rockies will again have a great offence with Michael Cuddyer added to a batting lineup that includes Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez as they will have an offence that can produce the runs they need to win games

 

Weakness:

Pitching

– The starting rotation is a mismatch of a number of different pitchers without any true ace although Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge del la Rosa will battle for the top spot while others battle it out to fill the shaky rotation

 

Biggest Addition:

Michael Cuddyer, OF/INF

– With little movement in the rotation the Rockies made their biggest move by adding more depth to an already stellar batting line up as Cuddyer will provide a balanced batter for the bottom of the batting order

 

Biggest Loss:

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP

– This move was not in the offseason but it was the biggest loss for the Rockies even though he was struggling in the 2011 season he may have been able to return to his great performance and provide some stability in the rotation

 

One to Watch:

Jhoulys Chacin, RHP

– Chacin could be the key to the Rockie’s rotation this year as he will need to step up as one of the top pitchers for the Rockies if they hope to win any games this season and with one full year under his belt he looks to continue to improve and give the great offence some support.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

 

 

 

 

 

Last year the L.A. Dodgers were one of the most talked about teams in the MLB but it was rarely for a good reason. Due to a messy divorce between the owners of the Dodgers, the McCourts that saw the legendary baseball team put in the middle. With the team put up for sale, they recently sold for $2.51 billion, after a battle that saw the MLB take control midseason the Dodgers were unable to get out of the shadow of the off the field problems. It had an obvious affect on them as the Dodgers were not longer a team of baseball but a team of divorce. Of course some good came out of last season with the emergence of Matt Kemp who came close to the MVP award and the Triple crown. There was also the small fact that Clayton Kershaw took home the pitching triple crown and the Cy Young Award for the first time. With these building blocks the Dodgers hope to get out of the shadow of the divorce and start playing baseball again. They will do so with a strong pitching rotation and a hope that their offence can step up. The pitching will be great again but the running may just be a pipe dream as Kemp looks to be the only run producer on a team that is simply looking to pick up the pieces and will not be competing for the NL West title.

 

Strength:

Starting Rotation

– Although the rotation may not be the strongest overall having an NL Cy Young award winner coming out to pitch every 5 days makes this their strength as Clayton Kershaw will lead a rotation that will be the heart of the team

 

Weakness:

Run Production

– The power base is in the hands of MVP candidate Matt Kemp but after that there is not much to be said for the batting order as the well aged trio of Juan Uribe, Juan Rivera, and Andre Ethier try to provide the support for the young Kemp

 

Biggest Addition:

Chris Capuano, LHP

– The money the Dodgers saved by letting Hiroki Kuroda walk gave them the ability to fill out their rotation with Capuano who is not overpowering but good enough that he can eat up innings to give the building bullpen a rest

 

Biggest Loss:

Rod Barajas, C

– Losing a veteran catcher is the last thing the Dodgers needed with a number of new pitchers and with Kershaw coming into his own as Barajas’ knowledge only helped the young rotation and will be hard to replicate

 

One to Watch:

Kenley Jansen, RHP/RP

– The Dodgers are beginning their rebuild in the bullpen and the key piece will be Kenley Jansen as the Dodgers continue to groom him to be their future closer and this season could see him make that move if he can improve on last season

 

San Diego Padres

 

 

 

 

 

San Diego has been on a downward slide over the past few years as they have struggled to be a factor in the West. Last year was no different as they continued to falter finishing in last place with a 71-91 record. There were some bright spots for the Padres though as they were able to boast one of the best bullpens in MLB. This bullpen was anchored by their closer Heath Bell who was able to dominate batters with his own brand of intensity. Last year Bell was put in to 48 save situations and only blew 5 giving him a 90% save percentage on the year helping the Padres stay ahead in close games. Bell could not do it alone though and had a number of partners in the bullpen but none more important than spot closer Trevor Hoffman. Along with the bullpen the breakout season of Cameron Maybin provided some hope for the future for the Padres but then the offseason came and it fell apart. When free agency hit the Padres saw the heart of their team fall apart as Heath Bell left for the Miami Marlins, formerly Florida. With Bell gone the closing duties will fall to offseason signee Huston Street and Hoffman but neither will be able to match the ability of Bell. Along with Bell a number of other good players left and were failed to be replaced with the same level of talent and that does not bode well for this season. The Padres lost more talent than they added and that is always a bad formula for winning meaning the Padres will likely not be in the hunt for the division title as they continue to try to rebuild.

 

Strength:

Not a terrible rotation

– Their rotation took some blows losing Matt Latos and Aaron Harang but the remaining 5 are not the worst rotation assembled with Clayton Richard leading the way and Edson Volquez looking to show he is not done yet they may be able to steal some games

 

Weakness:

Run Production

– Cameron Maybin provides the speed in the lineup but they will be depending on the hot and cold Carlos Quentin for their power which may not be a safe bet and could put more pressure than necessary on the rotation

 

Biggest Addition:

Huston Street, RHP/CL

– To replace Heath Bell comes Huston Street and he will need to have his best season yet if he hopes to have as big as an impact as Bell his 88% save percentage will need to improve as he will have plenty of opportunities to win games

 

Biggest Loss:

Heath Bell, RHP/CL

– Bell won countless games for the Padres last season who have a tendancy to play a lot of close games and his free agency saw him take his 90% save percentage and 43 saves to south beach leaving a gaping hole in the Padres bullpen

 

One to Watch:

Cory Luebke, LHP

– The rotation will be a focus of the Padres and Luebke is considered one of the future pieces to the starting five but he will need to prove he can do it after going 6-10 with a 3.39 ERA last season

 

San Francisco Giants

 

 

 

Last year at this time the talk was all about the resurgence of the Giants who were just coming off of their first World Series win in 55 years. The Giants were enjoying their return to the top of the mountain in the MLB and were looking to repeat. 2011 was not as good to the Giants as they continued to dominate on the mound but also continued to fail at offence. Breakout star Buster Posey broke his leg and no matter what they did they could not replace his bat in the lineup. The Giants could not produce runs which put even more pressure on their rotation to shut down the opposition. Luckily for the Giants offence the rotation remained one of the best in the game and the bullpen was able to back them up. They made a run at the division but couldn’t get past the D-Backs. This year the Giants will get Posey back and have added a good number 1 batter in Melky Cabrera. The development of some of their younger batters will also help bolster the batting and run production added to a lights out rotation will make the Giants a team to fear this year. That is of course if everyone can stay healthy as they will still not be able to replace anyone easily and if they suffer an injury like Posey last year they may struggle again. As it stands the Giants are looking like a strong team again and will definitely be in the hunt against the D-Backs for the NL West Title.

 

Strength:

Starting Rotation

– The Giants could have the best rotation in baseball with Tim Lincecum continuing to dominate batters and being backed up by four pitchers that could be easy #2 pitchers on other teams making every game against the Giants a tough one for any offence

 

Weakness:

Speed

– Better batting will get more people on base but when they are on base they may struggle to get around as there is almost no speed in the batting order which will allow the opposing pitcher to focus on the batter and not the steal which could hurt offensive production

 

Biggest Addition:

Melky Cabrera, OF

– With the lack of offence last year the Giants went out and got a solid lead-off hitter in Cabrera who has the ability to hit for power but will use the whole field to get on base and provide the middle of the lineup opportunities for RBIs

 

Biggest Loss:

Cody Ross, OF

– A hero in the Giants’ World Series run in 2010 Ross was a great bat in the lineup for the Giants and they need as many good bats as they can get meaning the loss of Cody Ross could hurt the Giants especially if someone goes out with an injury

 

One to Watch:

Brandon Belt, 1B

– The young first baseman is the Giants hope for more power in the middle of the lineup as Belt has the potential to be a very good power hitter and the Giants are hoping this power comes into full effect this year

Prediction:

1. San Francisco Giants

2. Arizona Diamondbacks

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Colorado Rockies

5. San Diego Padres

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