It’s my turn to create an all-division team. And lucky for me, the NL West is chock full of talent, even if it might only take 90 wins to capture the division. I’ll try to include one player from each team, but that’s hard to do with bottom feeders like the San Diego Padres hanging around. That being said, I have plenty of stars to choose from on the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies. I’m spoiled with this division, so I’m going with the full 25-man roster. Here goes:
1. Carlos Gonzalez, LF (Colorado):
If Car-Go is leading off, you know the other divisions are in for a hell of a time. Gonzalez is one of the few legitimate 40/40 threats in baseball. He hits for power, average, and can steal bases. Not to mention he plays a very impressive left field. Forget the typical leadoff hitter, Gonzalez is the guy!
2. Todd Helton, 1B (Colorado)
First base was a bit of a weak spot in the NL West, and while I was tempted to choose the Padres’ Yonder Alonso based on potential and personal bromance, I stuck with the wily veteran here. Helton is a career .322 hitter with an on-base percentage well over .400. Despite his stature, he’s the perfect #2 hitter.
3. Matt Kemp, CF (Los Angeles)
Duh. Do I really have to explain? Okay, fine…I’d love to! Kemp, the 2011 NL MSMVP (Most Snubbed Most Valuable Player) is the hottest hitter in baseball so far in 2012, picking up right where he left off from last season’s .324/39/126/40 line. Oh, and all he’s done in the first two weeks is pick up back-to-back NL Player of the Week awards.
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS (Colorado)
Tulo is a defensive magician at shortstop and one of the ten best hitters in baseball when healthy. I sure hope he stays off the DL for this team too. Otherwise I’m stuck picking between a bunch of guys who can’t break a .250 batting average. This 3-4 will give opposing pitchers fits though, and might push this lineup over 200 combined homers.
5. Andre Ethier/Justin Upton, RF (Los Angeles/Arizona)
Yeah, that just happened. A good old-fashioned platoon in right field. Why? Because Andre Ethier struggles against lefties. The remedy? How about slotting the defending divisional champions’ best hitter into the spot? You can’t really go wrong. Both can rake, and play a little defense. Ethier won a Gold Glove last season.
6. Pablo Sandoval, 3B (San Francisco)
Sandoval is a very dangerous switch hitter and can play a mean hot corner. He gets the nod over teammate Posey in this spot because he can hit from both sides. When your sixth hitter is putting up 25 homers and 100 RBI, your team might be verging on legendary.
7. Buster Posey, C (San Francisco)
What is the best offensive catcher in baseball not named Healthy Joe Mauer doing hitting seventh? Have you SEEN the lineup ahead of him? This is the best I could do. But catcher for this division was no contest; the former Rookie of the Year can handle a pitching staff and hits cleanup in the Giants’ lineup already.
8. Orlando Hudson, 2B (San Diego)
The correct choice here probably should have been Mark Ellis from the Dodgers. A .994 career fielder who is a specialist at moving runners over. But Hudson gets the nod for a few reasons: First, he can make some dazzling plays in the field. But he can also hit from both sides and is just one of the coolest dudes to ever play ball.
9. Clayton Kershaw, P (Los Angeles)
The 2011 NL Cy Young winner and leader of all three pitching Triple Crown categories was a no-brainer. The Giants boast three incredible pitchers and Arizona has a 21-game winner, but Kershaw is the best of the bunch. In fact, he is arguably the best pitcher in the entire National League. I dare you to disagree with me.
2. Matt Cain (San Francisco)
Mr. Cain is very, very rich as of a couple of weeks ago. And proved his worth with a complete game, 1-hit shutout of the Pirates in his last start. Cain is absolutely lights-out in the postseason, but also is good for an ERA in the low 3’s every regular season. Man, I’d sure like to have a shirsey of his.
3. Ian Kennedy (Arizona)
Kennedy gets a look at the #2 spot because of his incredible 2011 season. He went 21-4 and finished second in the Cy Young voting to Kershaw. He does have a good arsenal of pitches, but could find himself demoted to the fifth spot in the rotation if he doesn’t have continued success in 2012.
4. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco)
Bumgarner also just got locked up by the Giants through 2017 for a measly $7 million per year or so. That’s a bargain, considering the Giants relied on the young southpaw to take them to the Promised Land in 2010. He’s got some of the filthiest pitches in the game. This is an unfair #4 starter.
5. Tim Lincecum (San Francisco)
I’m very worried about Tim in the rotation at all, but I wasn’t in the mood to hide from a horde of angry Giants fans with pitchforks and bread bowls (I live close enough that this is a real possibility). His velocity is down and his location is way off. The ERA is in double digits this season, but he is still a young, two-time Cy Young winner.
Lefty specialist: Javier Lopez (San Francisco)
Ask any lefty if they’d want to face a side-arming southpaw. The answer is no. Lopez is the guy, barely getting the nod over San Diego’s Joe Thatcher.
Long reliever: Jamie Moyer (Colorado)
Hey, why not? I can’t make an all-NL West team without Grandpa Jamie on the team! He can put together a few innings if the starter is rocked (ahem…Lincecum…) and the change of pace from any of the starters would be very confusing for the hitters.
Others: Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles), Craig Breslow (Arizona)
One righty, one lefty, respectively. They are both young, quality arms. Jansen is actually a guy who challenged for Guerra’s closer’s role in L.A. And Breslow has had good success wherever he’s been in the bigs.
7th-inning Man: Andrew Cashner (San Diego)
Call me crazy, but I’ll take the young gun over the likes of Kenley Jansen in Los Angeles or Santiago Casilla for the Giants. Cashner is still raw, but seems to have good command of his pitches and a great idea of situational pitching. Did I mention he throws an easy 98 MPH?
Set-Up Man: Sergio Romo (San Francisco)
The man with the less-than-stellar-and-therefore-more-respectable beard than teammate Brian Wilson has been one of the best set-up men in baseball for the last couple seasons. He throws a weird frisbee-like slider that absolutely destroys right-handed hitters. He’s the guy you want in for a big strikeout in a tight spot.
Closer: Javy Guerra (Los Angeles)
First of all, Brian Wilson is on the DL. Again. So don’t even go there. And I know Guerra isn’t as big of a name as Huston Street in San Diego or J.J. Putz in Arizona, but tell me you’d rather have either of those guys (especially Putz this year…YIKES!) than Guerra’s 26 out of 28 career saves. Didn’t think so.
Backup Catcher: Miguel Montero (Arizona)
Montero is a dangerous bat. You have to figure Posey will play most games, but he might need to take some days off. And in that case, Montero is the next best thing.
Pinch-running specialist: Dee Gordon (Los Angeles)
Hands down the fastest man in baseball, he’s a threat to steal any time. Can you imagine Todd Helton getting on base in the 8th inning of a tie game (not that any games would be close against this team…) and suddenly turning into Gordon on the basepaths? Besides, it’s good insurance with Tulo’s injury history at short.
Pinch-hitting specialist: Chris Young (Arizona)
This is by default. He’s having an incredible 2012 so far, and has adjusted his swing to finally live up to the potential he really possesses. Young is not somebody a reliever wants to face anytime, let alone in a pressure situation.
Utility specialist: Marco Scutaro (Colorado)
Scutaro has been around the block. He can hit a little, but most importantly can play second, short and third. Honestly, he could probably be stuck in the outfield if necessary.