One of my favorite divisions, the NL West has gone from embarrassingly terrible to highly competitive in just a few seasons. Now clearly a respectable division, it should be one of the most hotly contested in baseball. There are three teams that are solid that will all beat each other up all season long before one emerges victorious. Time to break this down.
Notes: A well-balanced squad, the DBacks have a great chance at getting back to the postseason in 2012. At the dish, they’re led by Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, Chris Young and Jason Kubel. Emerging players Paul Goldschmidt and Gerardo Parra will chip in as well. Ian Kennedy returns as the ace of a rotation that also contains Trevor Cahill, Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter. I fully expect Trevor Bauer to join the bunch at some point, too. Putz, Hernandez, Saito and Breslow anchor the bullpen, which is a respectable group that will be important to Arizona’s success. This team has it all, but isn't overwhelming in any particular area.
Notes: You know they can score runs, but run prevention will be a question mark. Tulo and CarGo are totally legit but they don’t have to do it all for the Rox. Cuddyer is a nice addition, Helton is still useful while Fowler and Scutaro will get on base enough to keep the offense clicking. Unfortunately, the rotation isn’t nearly as impressive. Guthrie, Chacin, Nicasio and Moscoso are all useful pitchers, but they are anything but dominant. Drew Pomeranz will make is anticipated full season debut but hasn’t been amazing this spring. The bullpen is reasonable but, yet again, is nothing to get excited about. Betancourt, Brothers and Belisle will have to carry an otherwise unimpressive staff.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Notes: Matt Kemp is a total beast, but he’s almost completely going it alone in LA. Ethier had better bounce back or Kemp will get pitched around a lot. Dee Gordon has big time speed at the top of the order but it’s yet to be seen if he can get on base with regularity. The rest of the lineup is simply uninspiring. Clayton Kershaw is every bit as good a pitcher as Kemp is a hitter, but similarly to Kemp, there isn’t much surrounding him. Billingsly, Lilly, Harrang and Capuano are all veterans that know how to pitch but lack the pure stuff to dominate. Youngsters Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen are set to share the closing duties, while Matt Guerrier is a nice 7th inning guy to bridge the gap.
San Diego Padres
Notes: I fully expect the Padres to be anemic once again this season. Cameron Maybin, Chase Headley and rookie Yonder Alonso will have to attempt to carry the offense (“attempt” is the key word here). I think we all know how well that’s going to play out. Tim Stauffer, Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez will have to stabilize the rotation, as Corey Luebke and Dustin Moseley round things out. It’s not the worst pitching staff, that’s for sure, but they don’t have enough dominance to keep the lackluster offense in the game. The bullpen will be functional with Houston Street and Luke Gregerson. Cashner and Thatcher offer upside, but they are a weak bunch overall.
San Francisco Giants
Notes: If Pagan clicks, he and Cabrera could be a very nice pair of table-setters for the San Francisco offense. Another solid season from Pablo Sandoval is a must and getting Buster Posey back should only help. There’s unfortunately very little behind those four. Aubrey Huff is played out, Nate Schierholtz has never made the progress expected, Mike Fontenot is a poor hitter and Brandon Crawford is in the lineup for his glove, not his bat. The Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner trio rivals what the Phillies have on the mound. Vogelsong is a nice fourth starter and Barry Zito shouldn’t even be pitching any more. The bullpen is very good, especially if Brian Wilson can get back to form. He walked way too many batters last year. Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez are nearly as good as any bullpen in baseball.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
5. San Diego Padres
This is a real toss-up. Both Arizona and San Francisco will be legit contenders while, if their pitching surprises, Colorado could make a run as well. I truly see this coming down to the wire between the DBacks and Giants. Arizona is more well-balanced while the Giants are all pitching and will struggle to score as they usually do. The difference may be the fact that Arizona is in a “win now” mode where they will be willing to make a deadline deal that could push them over the top. Colorado and Los Angeles will score, but they don’t have enough pitching to keep up with the top two teams. San Diego is rebuilding, as usual. Cameron Maybin has been a nice surprise and if the prospects pan out, they could be competitive, but not in playoff contention.