Sunday, March 7, 2010

How the (NL) West Was Fun

The NL West should provide one of the most exciting division races in all of baseball. The Dodgers are the reigning champs, but have certainly taken a step back. The Rockies were last year's wild card team and look to be ready for a run at the division title this year. Meanwhile, the Giants and D'Backs have made strong additions to their squadrons and could leap frog both Colorado and L.A. this year. Forecasting this division is going to be very tough because there are four teams that could conceivably take the division. One thing I think we can be sure of though is that the Padres are going to be awful. Let's take a look at how the west was fun, shall we?

1. San Francisco Giants
The Gay Town Giants finally added some decent hitting to their amazing pitching staff and I think that this year they will finally get over the hump. Let's face it, with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito and newcomer Madison Bumgarner the Giants will not need to score too many runs to win. With help from guys like Freddy Sanchez, Dorne's boy Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa the Giants should be able to scratch across enough runs to support that amazing staff. I see them winning about 90 games in this tough division and taking the title. It could come down to the last day though.

KEY ADDITION: Mark DeRosa. DeRosa will help solidify what was one of the worst lineups in all of baseball last year, and will give Fat Pablo Sandoval some lineup protection that he sorely needs.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Brian Wilson. Papa Dub is a bit of a basket case and can be shaky at times as a closer. He will need to keep it together if the Giants are to be successful.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is the Giants top pitching prospect and now has a good chance to be the fifth starter. Look for him to take advantage of spacious AT&T Park (is that what its called now?) and possibly win rookie of the year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Barry Zito. This guy has been a bust in San Fran for 3 years now, but appears to be turning it around a little bit. Perhaps this year he can find his dominance again.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks
I picked the D'Backs to win this division last year and they really screwed me over. Nonetheless, I am going to the well one more time and picking them as my wild card favorite. The D'Backs 1-2-3 of Brandon Webb, Danny Haren and Edwin Jackson is as good as any other team in baseball. Moreover, their young lineup should only get better with guys like Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds and Chris Young taking the next step in their career. The addition of Adam Laroche will also help the D'Backs middle of the order. The summation of all of these factors should lead to a wild card berth for the D'Backs in my opinion. I see them falling maybe 1 or 2 games behind the Gay Town Giants, but making the playoffs as the wild card.

KEY ADDITION: Edwin Jackson. This guy was very good for the Tigers last year, yet they decided to trade him anyway. We all know what happens to AL pitchers when they go to the NL, so look for Jackson to be a great addition to an already good rotation.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Brandon Webb. When Webb is healthy, he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Last year he missed the entire season due to arm surgery and the team really suffered. The D'Backs success this year really hinges on Webb returning to his Cy Young form of a few years ago.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Justin Upton. Upton had a good year last year with 26 homers and 86 rib eye steaks. I see both of those numbers rising in 2010.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Conor Jackson. Co Jack missed almost the entire year last year with the obscure malady of "valley fever". He played well in the Winter League though and could really help the D'Backs with his bat again this year.

3. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies will be a good team this year, as they were last year, but I think they might fall just short of the playoffs because of their pitching. They lost Jason Marquis via free agency and will have to rely on Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa if they want to make the playoffs. I think these guys are too inconsistent to take a team to the playoffs. One thing that could change it all though is their lineup. These guys are going to rake. In Coors field though, good pitching is a necessity, and I see the Rox falling just short of the playoffs with about 85 wins because their starting pitching is just not good enough.

KEY ADDITION: Jeff Francis. The Rockies didn't really sign anybody, but should be buoyed somewhat by the return of Jeff Francis, who missed all of 2009 to shoulder surgery.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Starting pitching. Will Ubaldo improve? Can Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Jorge De LaRosa be relied upon for a full year? We will see. I doubt it though.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Carlos Gonzalez. The Phillies could not get this guy out at all during the playoffs last year. Look for him to have a big year this year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Chris Iannetta. Iannetta is friends with a buddy of the Schellinator, so you know he keeps good company. With Yorvit Torrealba out of the way now, Iannetta should blossom as the Rockies full time catcher.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers were not able to spend a lot of money this offseason because their owner is getting cleaned out in a divorce. Because of that, I see them falling by the wayside in the NL West this year. Their pitching is nothing to write home about, and their offense has only a few bright spots. I see them only winning about 80 games and falling back to mediocrity in the NL West.

KEY ADDITION: Brad Ausmus. Ausmus was on the team in 2009. The Dodgers literally signed nobody of note this offseason. I'm just using this space as a forum to tout New Haven native Brad Ausmus.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Manny. Will Manny be any good after presumably stopping using steroids? If this team starts to play poorly, will he poison them with his attitude? He is a scary superstar.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is now the man in L.A. He has some nasty stuff and I could see him winning over 15 games this year.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Jonathan Broxton. How will he fare after being burned by the Phils in the playoffs again? Two of my most favorite baseball memories involve John Broxton getting owned.

5. San Diego Padres
The Padres are one of the few teams that we can truly say has no shot at making the playoffs this year. Their pitching is awful, and their only good hitter is Adrian Gonzalez. I fully expect them to trade Gonzalez by the deadline and start rebuilding. Look for them to win only about 60 games this year. At least the weather is nice!

KEY ADDITION: MATT STAIRS. Fear Stairs. The Padres should probably use their entire marketing budget to promote Matt Stairs; he is the real draw here. It will also be interesting to see how many times he gets to face Broxton at the ends of games. That's probably why he signed with San Diego in the first place.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK: Too many to choose just one. Who will be starters 2-5 for the Fathers? Who besides Adrian Gonzalez will have a good oeffensive year? What do the Padres think they are doing?

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Matt Stairs. As long as he hits an epic blast off of someone, it will have been a banner year for Stairs.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Matt Stairs. When he hits that epic blast, it will be the only reason to watch the Padres all season.

This should be one of the most exciting and competitive division races in all of baseball. It was tough to decide how it would go down, but this is what I see happening. Enjoy!

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