NL West Preview

The teams, questions and predictions heading into spring training.

Josh Helmuthby Josh Helmuth

Being one of the few divisions that seems variably up-for-grabs, the Diamondbacks went from worst to first in 2011. It might be asking too much to see San Diego in the title hunt, but nonetheless, there are a few teams that could walk away with the NL West crown.

 

San Francisco Giants                        Predicted Finish – 1st 

San Fran could have the best pitching staff in baseball. Couple that staff with some reliable bats and it’s hard not seeing the Giants in the post-season. This is mostly the same team that won the World Series two years ago, only matured and hopefully at full health.

The Questions:

Is Buster Posey 100%?

All reports say he is ready to go. The surgically repaired ankle is holding up and he’s ready to play full-throttle. The Giants are telling him to not block home plate. At all. Nada. Never again…

Considering he could be the best catcher in the National League, I can see why. Losing him last season was detrimental.

Will Brian Wilson return to his old form?

Just two years ago in the midst of their World Series run, Brian Wilson was ‘the man.’ He got a ring, frequented LA hot spots, starred in Taco Bell commercials and late night talk shows….it’s been Wilson mania! But in 2011 he struggled with injuries and his WHIP rose to a ridiculous 1.47.

In an era in which we see full-time closers short-lived and on even shorter leashes, if Wilson doesn’t perform well we could see the last of him in a Giants uniform.

Wilson’s contract is up after this season and they have a closer prospect in waiting by the name of Heath Hembree—who fires heat in the high 90’s.

Wilson and the team seem confident that the ‘bearded one’ will perform well in 2012. To me it all depends on the health of his arm.

Rundown: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum lead one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. While the Giants could use another big bat, Posey and Pablo Sandoval should anchor a lineup worthy of contention.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks                        Predicted finish – 2nd

Going from worst to first is hard to do. Somehow Arizona accomplished the bounce-back feat in 2011. Staying in fist place in this division however may be harder.

The Question:

Will any of the newbie’s be difference makers?

All the hype is on Paul Goldschmidt at first base. The 24 year old led the minors in home runs before a brief call-up at the end of last season. The only knock on him is that he strikes out way too much. Most projections have him around a .250 average, hitting 20-30 home runs this year. That would be one heck of a rookie year.

I absolutely love the signing of Jason Kubel for the left fielding gig. The former Twin went .300/28/103 in 2009. He’s a career .271 hitter. When he’s healthy he can rake.

Trevor Cahill was brought in from Oakland to be their number three starting pitcher. This could be a very high reward for a low-risk situation. In 2010, Cahill had a 2.97 ERA.

In short, all three of these guys could play a big part for the D’backs this season.

Rundown: This team is going to hit. Hard. Arizona will have the best lineup in the NL West. If they want to beat out San Francisco for the crown, they’ll have to do it with continued improvement from their starting rotation. J.J. Putz will have to dominate as closer once again as well.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers            Predicted Finish: 3rd

Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp are as solid of a foundation you can have for a big league club, but until there is an owner not much can be done.

Question:

When will there be a new owner?

Although former owner (and current seller) Frank McCourt has been lally-dagging the deal in hopes to keep driving up the price and negotiate contract terms (some of which includes ownership of land and parking), a court order was just released stating that he needs to sell the team by April 30th.  That same court also declared that he submit a ‘finalist’ to buy the club by April 1st.

Hopefully all of this ‘ordering’ helps the transition of ownership play out as scheduled. The Dodgers will be unable to make any major transitions until the new owner is in place. Until then, they’re a club in limbo.

Rundown: You can contend anytime you have Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The changing of ownership (if it finally does happen) could be a tough transition for this entire franchise though. They might need another bat if Andre Ethier doesn’t return to form, and they’re still another big arm away from having a good starting rotation.


Colorado Rockies            Predicted finish: 4th

This team is a healthy mix of young and old, but they’ll need a few guys to step up if they want to surprise critics.

Question:

How can they win the division?

Sounds like a very vague question, but it’s what many are thinking when it comes to this team.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is as good of a shortstop as they come, but he can be streaky and got off to a horrible start last season. They also don’t have Ubaldo Jimenez anymore, and super utility man Ty Wigginton is now in Philadelphia.

The good news is that Carlos Gonzalez is legit. He’s coming off another solid year in which he went .295/26/92, and that was with fewer at-bats because of a slight injury.

Colorado also brought in another utility man, Michael Cuddyer, who is coming off a career year in Minnesota. He’s a much better all-around player than Wigginton has ever been.

This team will hit and run, but it’s their pitching that gives me much doubt. Which leads me to their rundown…

Rundown: Jorge De La Rosa is their number one on the depth chart right now. With a career 4.90 ERA, I’m not so sure he’s their guy. Jhoulys Chacin proved he was the real deal last year (3.62 ERA and 1.31 WHIP) and will most likely be the team’s ace.  Everyone is raving over Drew Pomeranz, the rookie prospect out of Ole Miss. If he performs really well I like the Rockie’s chances. Bringing in Jeremy Guthrie from Baltimore could help too. But with Guthrie not being a strikeout guy, he’ll have to make sure he gets batters out on the ground, keeping pitches in the park; which is hard to do in Denver.

 

San Diego Padres                        Predicted Finish: 5th

San Diego made a couple of moves in the off-season; getting Yonder Alonso and Carlos Quentin, but it will take a lot more for them to party like it’s 1998; their last and only World Series appearance.

Question:

Is Yonder Alonso better than Anthony Rizzo?

Anthony Rizzo is one of the most touted prospects in baseball and the Padres gave him up, along with Matt Latos, in the Alonso trade.

Alonso hasn’t been given full-time duty because he was behind NL MVP Joey Votto in Cincinnati. Now he has his shot. Most don’t think he has much power, especially in Petco, but he should hit for a high average. However, that’s also what Jesus Guzman did last year and could be healthy competition for the starting first base job.

Do they have one ace on the staff?

The one guy I’m fairly confident in is Cory Leubke. Some of you are asking who??

Leubke broke out last season with a 3.29 ERA and punched out 154 batters. He’s a mature 27 years old and all baseball statisticians like him for a similar repeat performance in 2012.

Rundown: Just like every other predicted last place team, they lack pitching. Star closer Heath Bell is now a Miami Marlin, starting ace Matt Latos is now a Red, and their still reeling away from the post-Adrian Gonzalez era.

If they want to win, they’ll need career years from not only Leubke, but Tim Stauffer, Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard and Dustin Moseley. But hey, crazier things have happened (ie. 2010 San Diego Fathers—that’s ‘Padres’ in English—and my attempt to be funny).

 

Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS