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)
Well, the San Diego Padres are the newest organization to give a big middle finger to traditionalist baseball fans by announcing they would move their outfield fences in for the 2013 season. Petco Park will follow Safeco Field in Seattle, Citi Field for the New York Mets before the 2012 season, and the ridiculous right field porch at the new Yankee Stadium.
What happened to the good old days? What happened to stadiums like the Polo Grounds (483 feet to the center field wall)? Okay, that’s a bit extreme. But still, since when does giving in to the fan’s thirst for the long ball take precedence over classic, fundamental baseball?
I’ll tell you when. It was 1998 when a juiced-up Mark McGwire hit a then-record 70 home runs in the same season Sammy Sosa hit 66. In 2001, Barry Bonds got so big it looked like he would have trouble lifting his arms above his shoulders, and he smacked 73 home runs in a single season.
Even though everyone and their mothers know those numbers were inflated, Americans really fell in love with the home run. And it’s understandable – to most fans, there is nothing more majestic than a perfectly squared up fastball hitting the upper deck on the fly. It’s the biggest, hardest, farthest, most impressive feat a batter can accomplish.
But we have the Home Run Derby every July, so why can’t we get our fix then? When the Mets decided to move their fences in to a more attainable distance, for lack of nicer terms, it didn’t help. They still finished in fourth place in the NL East, and star third baseman David Wright didn’t see a huge jump in his power numbers.
So what’s the big deal? Personally, I think it’s a cop-out. Did the Yankees really need a joke of a right-field fence? Did the Mariners really finish in fourth place because their fences were too deep? If the Padres get better in 2013, is it going to be because the fences were 11 feet closer? Or because they have a better team in general, regardless of the stadium?
Mets GM Sandy Alderson admitted that when the Mets decided to move the fences in at Citi Field, it was because “scoring brought excitement.” Well Sandy, so does winning.
The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have two of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball, and neither team were a power threat in their own stadiums in 2012. They finished 1-2 in the NL West and now the Giants are in the World Series.
Let’s ban the moving of the fences (and the wave while we’re at it…sheesh), and put together teams that thrive on base hits, good base running, bunting, defense and pitching.
You know…how baseball is supposed to be.
Alas, chicks dig the long ball. Fences will continue to move. But are you for or against it? This blogger says nay. Vote below:
– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)
If you caught last night’s Three Up, Three Down podcast…you rock. If you didn’t, you suck. But you have a chance at redemption! Click this link to take a listen!
Anyway, in our monumental 10th podcast, we talked briefly about Mariano Rivera and his knee injury. That led us to wonder who we would put on our Mt. Rushmore of the New York Yankees. Picking between Mo, Derek Jeter, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Reggie Jackson (somebody stop me, I could go for days!) was nearly impossible. But we made it happen.
That got me wondering, who is on my division’s Mt. Rushmore right NOW. Not ever, because that would be just as difficult to choose. But right now, can I pick the four most epic, legendary players in my division and make up an NL West Mt. Rushmore? Here goes nothing:
After much deliberation, I’ve come up with four guys who have met certain criteria. You must have proven yourself to be a legitimate Cy Young or MVP candidate. You must give me good reason to believe that it’s not a fluke. And you can’t be 30 games into your career.
So, with all apologies to Buster Posey, Carlos Gonzalez, and other fantastic young players, the following are the Mt. Rushmore of the National League West right now.
1. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Was there really any doubt? Not only is Kemp the best player in the division, but he’s the best in baseball. Kemp is still relatively young, but this is the fifth straight season he’s put up big numbers, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will add some MVP awards to his mantle soon.
2. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
I know this year has been a little rough for Timmy, but the absolute dominance he displayed at the beginning of his career can not be overlooked. He won two straight Cy Young awards and may have been snubbed for a third. Lincecum is still young and has time to fix whatever is wrong in 2012 and truly be a legendary pitcher.
3. Todd Helton, Colorado Rockies
Helton is a .322 career hitter, is in his 16th season in a Colorado uniform, plays great defense, and has one of the best plate approaches you’ll ever see. The old man (38 years old) can still rake, and will go down in Rockies lore as the most beloved, most productive hitter in the team’s history when he retires. Though he’s been the ultimate snub (no MVP awards, only five all-star appearances), Helton has a borderline case for Hall of Fame consideration.
4. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
This is my riskiest pick, as Kershaw is still a young gun. He did win the pitching Triple Crown last season and the Cy Young, but has he proved enough? The only other legitimate option for the fourth face of the NL West was Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who despite immense talent, has only reached the 100-RBI plateau once so far. Kershaw has been compared by many to Dodger great Sandy Koufax. Only time will tell.
Let me know who YOUR picks are in the comments section!
– Jeremy (@Jamblinman)
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.