2013 MLB Preview: NL West

NL_West

The National League West does not really compare to its cousin from the American League but it does contain some major contenders. They would like to be the same division as the American League but the reality is they are far off. The division is essentially a two-horse race as there are only two teams that can win this division and after those two the talent drops off. The teams in the division are separated into two very distinct groups as there are the teams with the talent and the teams without. It does not make the division easier to predict though as only one team can win the division and only one team can finish in last place. There are two teams looking to fight for the top spot as the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants continue to fight it out. The Giants are the defending champions and are looking to remain the top team in the MLB. The Los Angeles Dodgers went on a spending spree throughout the offseason in an attempt to unseat the champions. Meanwhile the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, and San Diego Padres fight to stay out of the basement. The D-Backs are a team struggling to find an identity as they are not as good as the top two teams but are not a bad team either. The Rockies are attempting anything to find a way to get back to the days when they constantly made postseason appearances. The Padres are in a very similar situation as they look for something to get them going and get them into the fight. The National League West may not have the talent of the AL West but the race is still a good one. It will be dynasty against dynasty while the rest of the teams sort themselves out. Then again there could always be letdowns and surprises that can change the entire complexion of the division. Despite the lack of competition for the top spot the battle for the west will still be a good one as the team that loses the fight may not see the postseason.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

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The Arizona Diamondbacks are a strange team that seems to be caught in the middle of the division. They are not at the level of the top teams and yet are not at a complete loss when it comes to their team. Last year the D-Backs finished with a .500 record and in third place in the division. This year they are looking to take a step forward and begin to compete with the top teams in the division. They would do this by adding a number of pieces to the team in hopes that they can bring a balanced attack to the postseason. The Diamondbacks strategy this offseason was to add pieces to each side of the ball in hopes that they can gain balance. They added a number of pitchers in hopes that the new lefthanders can keep teams off-balance more than in the past. They would also add a number of good hitters to provide offence along with their defence. The D-Backs would not go out for the biggest names in the league instead adding smaller names. These names like Brandon McCarthy, Cliff Pennington, and Matt Reynolds are good additions but may not provide that extra power they need to get past the top two teams. The D-Backs made some changes this offseason but it does not look like it will be enough for the Diamondbacks to make a postseason run especially with the teams they need to go through to get there.

 

Strength:
New Depth
– The Diamondbacks are happy to see the new members on their teams as it provides a stronger bench and much more room for someone to falter or for injuries to occur without losing too much of their team

Weakness:
Defence
– The D-Backs have some decent fielders but some is not the same as a 9 player defence that will not allow any small runs that should be stopped and that help the pitching staff which could lead to less wins than they want this year

Biggest Loss:
Justin Upton, OF (Trade)
– Upton was one of the most promising players on the D-backs as he had developed into a good power hitter and could have become a very good defensive outfielder but now the Braves will reap the benefits of the development after the D-Backs traded the unhappy left fielder

Biggest Addition:
Brandon McCarthy, RHP (Free Agency)
– The D-Backs in the offseason were all about adding depth and they did just that in adding Brandon McCarthy to the rotation giving the pitching staff another solid starter who will provide yet another pitchers for opponents to get past

Player to Watch:
J.J. Putz, RHP
– Putz has been a very good closer over the past few years but closers are notorious for having short-lived careers and the D-Backs are hoping that this does not happen to Putz who went down in the amount of saves last year from 2011

 

Colorado Rockies

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The Rockies are not too far removed from their last postseason appearance in 2009 when they earned the wild card spot and lost in the first round. The team is quite far off from that time though as they are not the same team that fought their way to the postseason. The Rockies would finish with 98 losses last year and would sit in last place in the division leaving them to pick up the pieces. They will go into the 2013 season at the start of a rebuild as they look to do it from the bench out. The Rockies would hire former Colorado shortstop Walt Weiss as their new manager in an attempt to start the comeback. He will be looking to bring back the winning ways of the Rockies but may suffer some setbacks as a rookie manager. His biggest challenge will be trying to bring balance back to a team that has to deal with a very hitter friendly park. The pitching will try to get on par with the offence this season which is easier said than done in Coors Field. The hitters will continue to reap the benefits of the thin air and good dimensions while the pitchers will try to keep the ball on the ground. Injuries last year did not help the pitching staff either as they are hoping for a healthier year in 2013. The new manager may help but they will still find it hard to get out of the basement of the division this year.

 

Strength:
Offence
– The batters on Colorado love to play at home in the Mile High city as the thin air and good dimensions help them boost their averages and that should continue this year with little changing in the park

Weakness:
Injury Questions
– The Rockies could be a better team than last year but they would need players like Todd Helton, Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, and a few more return from injuries suffered in 2012 which is always a big question mark

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– Finishing last in the division usually means the team does not have the most talent and when people leave it does not make a massive dent in the team as they lost a few players but nobody that will make them worse

Biggest Addition:
Wilton Lopez, RHP (Free Agency)
– The Rockies have a good starting pitching staff but Coors Field hurts most of them which is where Lopez will come in as he is used to a hitter friendly park and should provide stability in the bullpen

Player to Watch:
Todd Helton, 1B
– Helton has been with Colorado since 1997 and would like to finish off his career with the team as a key contributor but might find it hard as he continues to fight injury problems and will try to make it back from hip surgery

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

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The Dodgers were a team in some serious problems last year with Frank McCourt and Jamie McCourt in the midst of a bitter divorce. The Dodgers were caught in the middle and their future was uncertain as they continued to fight over ownership. Then before the 2012 season began the Dodgers would add to their long and storied history as Frank McCourt would sell the team to the Guggenheim Group for just over $2 billion. It was the most expensive sale of a team in sports history and would change the future of the franchise immediately. Under the Guggenheim Group the Dodgers would surpass the New York Yankees with the biggest payroll in the MLB. The Dodgers would go on a spending spree as they would try to buy a World Series title. It would start with a trade with the Boston Red Sox that would bring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to LA. Adding more pieces throughout the year and through the offseason the Dodgers will break a record this year spending $213 million. With the spending comes pressure though as the new ownership has done everything they can to take a winning team and they expect to win. The Dodgers have the talent on the roster to win the division and to make a run at the World Series if everything comes together. Money cannot always by a championship although they will be fighting for the top spot in the division and may at least get the division crown.

 

Strength:
New Ownership
– It is clear that the Guggenheim Group is bringing a new mentality to the Dodgers as they are not afraid of spending money and are taking the approach of the Yankees to win a championship providing the team with everything they need to win

Weakness:
Injury Bug
– The Dodgers have spent more money than anyone else in MLB history but that will all be for not if they cannot stay healthy as Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier will all be looking to stay healthy and on the field this year

Biggest Loss:
Shane Victorino, OF (Free Agency)
– With so many big stars on the team sometimes it is good to have those hard-nosed players and as big a name as Victorino is he still brings that attitude to a team that may be missed among the superstars in LA

Biggest Addition:
Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP (Free Agency)
– A star in the Korean Baseball League the Dodgers would pay for the negotiating rights and a big contract for the pitcher who hopes to bring his 98 wins and career ERA of under 3.00 to the MLB to be the first player to make the transition from the KBO to the MLB

Player to Watch:
Matt Kemp, OF
– Kemp was clearly on his way to becoming one of the best players in the MLB but injuries have put a delay in his plans and he will be looking to get back to the top of the league after shoulder surgery in the offseason

 

San Diego Padres

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The Padres are another West team that has struggled in the last few years as they continue to try to find their way. Last year the Padres finished in second last place as they continued to struggled through the season. The Padres did have a similar season to their division rivals as they would get new owners for the team. The owners were not the same as the Dodgers new owners though as they would continue the path of the former owners. Instead of feeding money into the team the Padres would stay the course and continue to watch their spending. The one thing the ownership did do was changing the dimensions of Petco Park in an attempt to give their offence a boost. Changing the dimensions of the ballpark is not a terrible idea but it will have repercussions as the pitching will suffer with a smaller field to work with. The Padres are trying to continue their path as they look to a number of good players to try to challenge for the division. The biggest problem is that good players are not enough to win this division as they lack any true gamebreakers that can compete with the top teams in the division. San Diego is still a team that is somewhat lost and looking to find an identity but that will not come this year. The dimension change might help but they lack the talent to compete with the top teams and will sit out of the postseason once again this year.

 

Strength:
Starting Rotation
– If there is a strength on this team it would have to be the pitching as they hope that a number of pitchers can return from injury and give them some key innings as they hope that the new dimensions of Petco Park don’t hurt them

Weakness:
Offence
– The offence of the Padres has struggled in recent years and the cavernous park did not help them much but the biggest problem is that there are few great batters on the team even with young stars like Cameron Maybin and Yonder Alonso

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Padres made very few impact moves in the offseason as they would only lose a handful of players with none playing a major role in the team that along with the fact that few stars are on the team means a quite offseason for San Diego

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– Just like the additions the Padres stayed quite in the offseason as they stayed relatively quite especially when their neighbours went all out in the free agent market as the Dodgers spent the house and the Padres continued along their path

Player to Watch:
Andrew Cashner, RHP
– A year ago Cashner was being groomed for a starting role on the Padres but the plan hit a snag when he strained his back in the third inning of his second start and now he looks to make a return and reclaim that starting role

 

San Francisco Giants

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The end of the season for the Giants was not very expected especially when they started the season like they did. The Giants would stumble out of the gate as many thought the World Series hangover would last for another season. Then the Giants would come roaring back and win the division and would have one of the most interesting postseason runs in the MLB. Never giving up no matter how far down they were the Giants would continue to win series and eventually would sweep the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. It would be the second World Series title in three years as the Giants made a very strong case for being the dynasty of the 2010s. This year the Giants are looking to make it back-to-back World Series Championships with a team that could do it again. As with every championship team it comes down to either talent or the hangover as to whether they repeat. The Giants are fine in the talent department as they lost few key players and so that leaves the hangover. They have fallen into this pattern before as they would suffer a World Series hangover in 2011 after their 2010 championship. They are hoping to avoid that again this year as they look to compete with the Dodgers and their new payroll for the division title. It will be a tough fight throughout the year and the Giants may just fall short although another postseason appearance is possible.

 

Strength:
Pitching Staff
– The Giants have constantly relied on their pitching staff to carry them to the World Series and although their offence has improved since 2010 the core of their team is still the pitching staff which is one of the best in the league

Weakness:
Championship Hangover
– The 2011 season was proof that the Giants can suffer a championship hangover and they may just suffer another one this year as they return from the celebration and the long run that makes a World Series Champion to begin another long run

Biggest Loss:
Brian Wilson, RHP (Free Agency)
– Not only was Wilson a lights out closer for the Giants but he was also the heart and soul of the team with equal parts intensity and comedy as he will be missed in the locker room and on the field with the Giants moving on

Biggest Addition:
Andres Torres, OF (Free Agency)
– The Giants are full of talent and there are very few spots available for new players but the addition of Torres was a not about adding another start and instead was about adding a solid bench player who can fill in for any outfield position

Player to Watch:
Sergio Romo, RHP
– With Brian Wilson gone Sergio Romo is left to handle the closer role for the Giants and he has shown he can handle it with his time at the end of the season and in the postseason but can he establish himself for a full season and bring that steadiness that Wilson used to bring

 

Prediction:
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. San Diego Padres
5. Colorado Rockies

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