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)