On one hand, the San Francisco Giants are the defending world champions and can look forward to having a full season of Hunter Pence in the middle of their lineup. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Dodgers went out and spent about 500 Houston Astros to acquire the most powerful lineup in the league and add a second ace to the rotation. And don’t forget about the Arizona Diamondbacks, who this writer believes is a dark horse to win the West with a more balanced lineup and a ridiculously underrated pitching staff. Sorry Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres fans…your teams just won’t cut it this year. Let’s break down the N.L. West:
Predicted Order of Finish: Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies
Why the Dodgers could win the N.L. West: There’s a difference between what the Yankees used to be hated for doing every off-season and what the Dodgers did this winter. Rather than just throwing the most money at every ego maniacal overage player on the market, Los Angeles actually went out and acquired new corner infielders, a leadoff man, and a top of the rotation pitcher who they believed would mesh into an already-tight clubhouse and contribute on the field. Taking a chance on Carl Crawford might pay off huge for the Dodgers, who can use him as an invaluable trading chip at the deadline if he’s playing well (remember, Yasiel Puig should be nearly ready by then). With Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the top, it’s easy to overlook the fantastic spring from Hyun-Jin Ryu, too. But with a strong rotation, good bullpen and explosive lineup, a lot of things will have to go wrong for the Dodgers to not at least be in the hunt down the stretch.
Why the Dodgers wouldn’t win the N.L. West: I’m not buying into the whole “team chemistry” issue, and not just because I root for the team. The Dodgers in the preseason seem to have become a fraternity of sorts, without the cheap beer and piles of laundry. Anyway, there is something to be said for the injury history of key players on this team. The entire starting outfield has had recent issues, both middle infielders have encountered some bad luck lately, and three-fifths of the starting rotation either had problems throughout the 2012 season or during this spring. If the injury bug doesn’t hit Southern California, there is always the possibility that Greinke bombs and the Dodgers are left leaning on Kershaw as the lone stud pitcher, which could mean big time trouble.
Why the Giants could win the N.L. West: The Giants won the World Series last year, god forbid Angelo or I forget it. And they’ve been one of the models of consistency throughout the regular season over the last few years. It’s scary that this 2013 team, on paper, is their best in years. We know the pitching staff is dominant, even with Tim Lincecum struggling, and Sergio Romo anchors a very good bullpen. But the biggest reason you might see the Giants make another run at defending their division and world titles is because their offense is going to be MUCH better than people are expecting. Angel Pagan is in his prime, and we know what Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Pence can do in full seasons. Additionally, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford seem to be getting better with the bat every week.
Why the Giants wouldn’t win the N.L. West: At the rate the Dodgers improved their roster and the ease with which they gelled in spring, it might just be bad timing for the Giants. They could still be just as good or better than last year and miss out on the division title. But the two guys who could really end their dreams are the city’s newest hero and the city’s oldest. Lincecum looked awful again in the spring, and could cost the Giants in the long run–Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong are all either good or great pitchers, but nobody ever had the consistency that Lincecum had during his glory years. And Marco Scutaro is bound to come down to earth. As a 37-year-old middle infielder, chances are his .362 average with the Giants in 2012 drops back to around his career average of .275.
Why the Diamondbacks could win the N.L. West: As I mentioned in the intro, this is the most dangerous team in the league that nobody is talking about. When you have to send Tyler Skaggs, one of the better rookie performers of last season, to the bullpen because your rotation is already too stacked, you are pretty set for pitching. And the level of talent in the lineup can’t be understated. Miguel Montero, Paul Goldschmidt, and Martin Prado are all signed for the long run, and are complemented by a strong outfield group and a powerful second baseman in Aaron Hill. This team loves playing together and now that it cut out the cancer of Justin Upton, manager Kirk Gibson can take control and mold the team as he pleases.
Why the Diamondbacks wouldn’t win the N.L. West: Not only are the two teams that finished above Arizona last year improved, but questions do linger in the D’Backs starting rotation. As high-potential as it might be, you never know what you’re going to get from Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill, and Brandon McCarthy is always on the DL. Furthermore, how will the offense respond without long-time outfielders Chris Young and Upton no longer in the clubhouse or lineup? I have faith in Jason Kubel and new addition Cody Ross, but I’m not sure if either will be reliable enough over the course of an entire year.
Why the Padres could win the N.L. West: Because you never know. Who in their right mind would have thought the Orioles or A’s would have represented the American League in the playoffs last season? The Padres do have a scrappy team of mostly unknown players who proved they can play some good ball. Down the stretch in 2012, they played spoiler and looked like a legitimate dark horse playoff team. If they can carry some of that momentum over and get a full season out of closer Huston Street and slugger Carlos Quentin, San Diego will turn some heads. They have some solid young hitters like Yonder Alonso and Cameron Maybin who could completely turn around the team’s fortunes if they continue to progress, too.
Why the Padres wouldn’t win the N.L. West: They just don’t have enough. The pitching rotation is not deep and it’s very inexperienced. The bullpen has some fire, but it isn’t on par with the three teams ahead of them. And the facts that Yasmani Grandal will be suspended for 25 games and Chase Headley, far and away their best player, will be nursing an injury and start the season on the DL, make a death sentence. I truly think the Friars are close to contending (give it two more seasons), but this is a year they focus on building some of the young talent.
Why the Rockies could win the N.L. West: Let’s put it this way: Most players in the Colorado lineup know how to hit baseballs very far. Last year, they were the most prolific offense in the National League, and they didn’t even have Troy Tulowitzki around, or Michael Cuddyer for much of the year. The fact that both of those guys will be back (at least to start the year) is a terrifying proposition for opposing pitchers. In 2012, the Rockies scored 758 runs and hit .274 without their two stars. Those numbers could go up, believe it or not, in 2013.
Why the Rockies wouldn’t win the N.L. West: Is it possible the Rockies score 10 runs per game? Sure! But if they give up 11, it doesn’t matter. The pitching staff, on the other end of the spectrum, was god awful. The worst in baseball by a comfortable margin. And the Rockies really didn’t do much to improve that particular aspect of the team over the winter. There is some promising young talent in the farm system, but nowhere near the level they need to be competitive. And even some of the best potential has been wasted once their fastballs start sailing through the thin Rocky Mountain air in Denver.
Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez – Los Angeles Dodgers
Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval – San Francisco Giants
Martin Prado – Arizona Diamondbacks
Chase Headley – San Diego Padres
Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez – Colorado Rockies
Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Cain – San Francisco Giants
Brandon McCarthy – Arizona Diamondbacks
Rookie of the Year
Hyun-Jin Ryu – Los Angeles Dodgers
Adam Eaton – Arizona Diamondbacks
Jedd Gyorko – San Diego Padres
So will the Dodgers steal the division away from the defending champs? Do the D’Backs sneak up and surprise everybody? Can Colorado or San Diego battle for the cellar or make spoiler runs? Comment below!
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
The offseason is upon us! We’ve already seen a few trades, like Ervin Santana heading to the Royals and Mike Aviles being dealt more than hands at a poker table. The meat that cooks deliciously on the hot stove in the offseason is free agency. Here’s the first part of what we can see cooking this winter.
The Big Catch
Zack Greinke is the best pitcher available on the free agent market after being acquired by the Angels at the trade deadline. Greinke may never reach his 2009 Cy Young form again, but he is still in his prime at 29 years old. Matt Cain’s recent extension might be the benchmark for what Greinke is looking for on the open market. Who will pay that price though? I can see the Rangers being involved, especially with Greinke’s somewhat success in the AL West the second half of 2012. They need the big name pitcher to anchor the rotation with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando. He could stay put in Anaheim, where the Angels have gone from a plethora of starting pitching to a need for it with Ervin Santana in Kansas City and Dan Haren’s option declined after rumors of being dealt to the Cubs. I would not sleep on the other team in Los Angeles making a play on Greinke to pair at the top of the rotation with Clayton Kershaw; that new ownership is ready and willing to spend money.
The We Wish You Were Zack Greinke, But You’re Still Really Good Tier
Hiroki Kuroda was given a qualifying offer by the Yankees, so he might not be on this list for very long. I think a better one-year offer, or even a two-year deal might be enough to pull him away from the Bronx. Would a team go to two years on a starter that will be 38 years old on Opening Day? I think so after he quelled the fears that his numbers were skewed by the NL West and finished with a 3.32 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with the Yankees playing the AL East. In the end, I think he stays with the Yankees.
Anibal Sanchez appeared to be a bust after going 3-6 with a 4.55 ERA in his first ten starts in a Tigers uniform. But something finally clicked on September 25th with a 10-strikeout, shutout performance against the Royals. Sanchez used that momentum into the playoffs making himself a ton of money, having a 1.77 ERA in three starts. He doesn’t have #1 starter potential, but could make for a great 2/3 for a team. Early rumors have him sticking around in Motown, but I’m sure there will be other teams offering up a deal.
The only other pitcher with the potential to be a staff ace on the free agent market is Dan Haren. Haren had a rough 2012, with his worst ERA and WHIP since 2004. Haren also landed on the disabled list for the 1st time in his career. The Angels bought him out instead of picking up his $15.5 million option. Unlike Greinke, don’t expect him back with the Halos. Like Greinke, I could see the Dodgers interested in bringing Haren back to the NL West where he was an ace for the Diamondbacks. I see the Cubs, who tried to deal for Haren, making a play for him. And there are even rumors of another NL West team, the Padres, making a play for Haren’s services.
What Pitcher are we Getting Tier?
No starting pitcher made themselves more money in 2012 than Kyle Lohse. He went out to prove he was a top of the rotation pitcher, but I would rather take my chances on Haren returning to ace form, than Lohse staying there. Has he learned how to pitch and has full control of his pitches now? Or is he going to return to the terrible form he just had in 2009-10? Someone is going to pay to find out. The Cardinals made a qualifying offer to Lohse, but I think at his age, he is looking to cash in on a long-term deal at big money coming off a career year.
Full disclosure: Brandon McCarthy is one of my favorite players in the league. From his hilarious Twitter account to his great production on the mound and even his value in fantasy baseball leagues, I just plain like the guy. The questions do arise from his recovery after sadly being hit in the head with a line drive this season. It might be that injury though, that gets a team a discount on a solid pitcher that has #2 starter potential. I think the Athletics would like to bring him back at the right price, but if they see the value, I’m sure other teams will too.
What to do with Ryan Dempster? Are you getting the pitcher that led the National League in ERA for the 1st half of 2012? Are you getting the pitcher that had an ERA north of five for the Rangers in their 2nd half collapse? There’s not a doubt in my mind that Dempster has eyes on a return to the National League. Going back to the Cubs is a real possibility, especially if he has his killer Harry Caray impersonation still in his repertoire.
Will Edwin Jackson land on his 8th different team, all while still being under 30 years old? He’s nothing spectacular overall, but does have his flashes of brilliance. I could see a playoff potential team like Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, maybe even Boston taking a chance on Jackson. We’ll see if he gets more than a one-year deal, but he will end up getting around and probably more than the $11 million he made in 2012.
No pitcher had a more Jekyll and Hyde season than Jeremy Guthrie. He was unable to adjust to pitching in Colorado (6.35 ERA/1.69 WHIP), but was a great pickup for the Royals (3.16 ERA/1.13 WHIP), who dumped Jonathan Sanchez. If teams believe in the sea level Guthrie, he could be a solid pickup for an American League team, where he seems comfortable between his time in Kansas City and Baltimore. Based on his dominance of the White Sox, giving up just one earned run over 29.2 innings in 2012, I could see the entire AL Central having interest.
The Wild Cards
Scott Baker’s $9.25 million option was declined by the Twins after he had Tommy John surgery. He could stay in Minnesota as one of the best pitchers in that rotation, but there are contenders that could take the chance on him regaining his form to be a middle of the rotation starter.
This years “coming to America” sweepstakes? Hyun-Jin Ryu of South Korea. Ryu has a career 2.80 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his career in Korea with the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO. He’s not as sought after as Darvish a year ago, but he could be a solid middle of the rotation starter for a team willing to put up the posting fee for the 25-year old.
The Aren’t You Retired? Tier
I’m pretty sure that Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt have retired a combined 435 times, but there they are in the free agent pool. I can’t see Pettitte going anywhere besides the Yankees and we’ll see if Oswalt decides to pick and choose his spot once the season starts. Kevin Millwood was a servicable starter for the Mariners, but those numbers may be skewed by Safeco Field. Derek Lowe was seemingly out of baseball after being released by the Indians, but was solid with the Yankees in a mop-up reliever role. Ben Sheets showed some magic for a stretch with the Braves, oh wait he actually did retire. Good for him.
Which starters do you think are the most important of this year’s free agent crop? Let us know in the comments or let me know on Twitter!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
Earlier edition of Weekend Watch this week. Only three games on a Thursday night? Something seems off with that, I’m currently filling my time with the Women’s College World Series and Scripps National Spelling Bee. Would it kill them to make sure there is a day game every day? Here’s what I’m excited for this weekend.
5) Braves at Nationals
I’ve decided to stop putting the Braves near the top spot in these rankings every week, but this match-up is still too juicy to not include at all. Nationals befuddled the Braves at Turner Field this weekend while Atlanta was in the midst of a 8-game losing streak. Taking two of three from the Cardinals put some spring in their step heading on the road. Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman’s returns were sorely needed for the Braves offense. Almost the same pitching duels as last weekend as we’ll see Mike Minor/Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Beachy/Gio Gonzalez part deux, along with Tommy Hanson/Jordan Zimmermann on Sunday. Gonzalez was the most impressive last Sunday shutting down the Braves to one hit over seven innings with 10 strikeouts. He now leads the NL in strikeouts and K/9. Was that start enough to take my NL Cy Young in the “Too Early MLB Awards”? Answer coming this weekend. Weird but true stat: Michael Bourn already has five home runs this season, he had four in 2010 and 2011 combined.
4) Yankees at Tigers
The Tigers have been the biggest team disappointment in the Majors this season sitting at just 23-27 so far in a weak AL Central. Doug Fister is heading back to the DL to join teammate Austin Jackson. Tigers might be in some trouble with the Yankees coming to town. CC Sabathia is heading to the hill for the opener against Casey Crosby, who has a 4.26 ERA in AAA this season. What does bode well for Tigers fans is the Yankee lineup typically has trouble with pitchers they have never seen before. I’m excited to watch Justin Verlander on Sunday take on the Yankee lineup in a rematch from the 2011 ALDS. Not weird but true stat: CC Sabathia has more losses against the Tigers (12) than any other team.
3) Marlins at Phillies
There is no team hotter in the Majors than the Miami Marlins. Their 21 wins in May set the franchise record for wins in a month. The Phillies were dealt a tough blow with the loss of ace Roy Halladay for 6-8 weeks, but still have enough rotation goodness to survive. Kyle Kendrick has filled in admirably thus far and Vance Worley should be due back shortly. Cole Hamels with his 8-1 record and 2.43 ERA is also in the running for the “Too Early MLB Awards” NL Cy Young. Two plugs for a future blog in this blog? Oops. Weird but true stat: Giancarlo Stanton is 3 for 4 this season with two outs and the bases loaded with two grand slams. He loves the pressure. Please vote for him to go to Kansas City for the All-Star Game.
2) Orioles at Rays
Typically, I would put the battle of teams tied for the division lead in the AL East in the top spot, but A) I don’t want to hear about any East Coast bias and B) there’s a match-up that intrigues me slightly more. Orioles are hitting a rough patch right now, just 2-8 in their last 10 games, but did take two of three from the Rays, three weeks ago. Wei-Yin Chen has been a find for Baltimore and will take on David Price in the Friday opener. I’m also intrigued to see if shutting down a then-hot White Sox offense on Memorial Day is enough for Matt Moore to turn the corner. Would make me feel a lot better about picking him to win AL Rookie of the Year and AL Cy Young in the preseason. Signing a new extension hasn’t slowed down Adam Jones as he’s hitting .385 with two home runs since the press conference before last Sunday’s game. Not weird but true stat: Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson has beaten the Orioles more times (4) than any other team in his young career.
1) Rangers at Angels
So why this series over Orioles/Rays? I want to watch how the Rangers respond to getting 20+ runs put up on them by the Mariners. I want to see if Albert Pujols hot streak continues. I want to watch Mark Trumbo demolish pitches. I want to see Mike Trout do everything. (Told you I’d rather have him than Bryce Harper this season.) I want to see Yu Darvish pitch against C.J. Wilson. I want to see if Mike Trout can chase down Yu Darvish for AL Rookie of the Year. I want to see if Dan Haren has really turned things around. I want to see if the Angels can get over the .500 hump and make the AL West interesting. Last but definitely not least, I want to watch Josh Hamilton. Weird but true stat: Yu Darvish has given up 9 ER in 9.2 IP against the Mariners and 13 ER in 50.1 IP against every other team he’s faced. I asked for votes for Giancarlo Stanton before for the All-Star game, now it’s Mark Trumbo’s turn. He’s hitting .348 this season with 10 home runs this season while bouncing around from 3B to 1B to RF, to LF, to DH. If that doesn’t convince you, let my friends at the MLB Fan Cave try and do it.
Mapes Fantasy Special
A great 3-0 week last week as Ivan Nova, Mark Buehrle, and especially R.A. Dickey came through with starts that helped your fantasy team. These are now 15-5 on positive starts on the season. Sadly, Dickey and Buehrle have moved over the 50% owned threshold for Mapes Fantasy Special, so let’s see what I can find for this weekend.
6/1 Wade Miley at Padres (45% owned), Might as well go with our Three Up player on the podcast this week. Miley has been great and you have to like facing the Padres at Petco even with the return of Carlos Quentin.
6/2 Brandon McCarthy at Royals (45% owned), I’m not feeling too strong about this one with McCarthy just coming off the DL. It is a nice spot though against a KC team that is just 5-17 at home this year. McCarthy gave up 2 ER in 6 IP earlier this year against the Royals.
6/3 Barry Zito vs. Cubs (22% owned) I really like Zito here at home coming off a good start against the Diamondbacks. Cubs are 27th in the league in runs scored and are pitching Travis Wood, who hasn’t been great.
Coming soon is my “Too Early MLB Awards” now that June is upon us. Who do you think should be taking the hardware at this point in the season?
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)