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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions: NL West

What Lincecum (right) fails to realize is he just lost in the first round of the World Series of Beard. 
Brian Wilson (left) would go on to win both championships last November.

Instead of writing a preview of the National League Central we'll skip it and head to the West. The Central has six teams and will take a bit longer so I'll save it for last. In the West you've got the defending champions as well as some of the best players in baseball. Let's take a look.

Colorado Rockies
Best Player: Troy Tulowitzki is not only the best SS in baseball but possibly the best player in the National League.
Best Pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez had 16 wins at the All-Star break last year.
Biggest off-season move:  Adding Ty Wigginton who can play each infield position may pay dividends.
Biggest off-season loss: Clint Barmes was a solid middle infielder.
Biggest Questions:
1. Is the rotation good enough to make the playoffs?  The rotation has questions, yes, but if Jason Hammel and Jorge de la Rosa are healthy they'll be just fine.
2. Was Carlos Gonzalez a fluke last year? Oakland gave up on him because they viewed him as an all-tools guy who couldn't put it together. I think those tools have translated into success.
3. What happens when Todd Helton gets hurt again? Helton's back issues are no secret but he's done better lately at staying in the lineup. Regardless, Colorado should have ample infield depth with Jose Lopez, Ty Wigginton, and Ian Stewart.
Expectations: This is a playoff caliber team and anything short of the playoffs will put pressure on everyone in the organization to get back to the level Colorado was at in 2008.
Opening day lineup:
1. Fowler CF
2. Smith RF
3. Gonzalez RF
4. Tulowitzki SS
5. Helton 1B
6. Wigginton 3B
7. Lopez 2B
8. Iannetta C
SP Ubaldo Jimenez

San Francisco Giants
Best Player: Buster Posey was the best player as a rookie last year. The kid's good.
Best Pitcher: Tim Lincecum is a pothead but also the second best pitcher in the league.
Biggest off-season move: Adding Miguel Tejada weakens the infield defense but gives the team a "proven veteran" who has played in the playoffs.
Biggest off-season loss: Juan Uribe surprisingly spurned the team's offer for LA. His power will be missed.
Biggest Concerns:
1. Were Lincecum's late season struggles an indicator of things to come?  I doubt it. He had a minor glitch in his windup that got fixed. He was great in the playoffs.
2. Is the offense any better? Not really. Buster Posey will be up for a full season and Pablo Sandoval may rebound a bit, but the middle infield and outfield leaves a lot to be desired. This offense might be lousy.
3. Will Brandon Belt play enough to win Rookie of the Year? No. San Francisco seems destined to leave the kids down too long as they did Posey last year.  He'll get a chance with Cody Ross starting off on the DL but won't get the playing time necessary to win the award.
Expectations: The Giants are the favorites to win the division and with this pitching staff should be contenders to win it all again. Unfortunately I think the offense is lousy and the infield defense is also weak.
Opening day lineup:
1. Torres CF
2. Sanchez 2B
3. Huff RF
4. Posey C
5. Burrell LF
6. Tejada SS
7. Belt 1B
8. Sandoval 3B
SP Tim Lincecum

Los Angeles Dodgers
Best Player: Mr. Inconsistent Matt Kemp.
Best Pitcher: Mr. Inefficient Clayton Kershaw.
Biggest off-season move:  Owner Frank McCourt getting rid of his wife.
Biggest off-season loss: Owner Frank McCourt likely losing the team (it's now official. MLB has moved in and taken control of the franchise).
Biggest Questions:
1. Will the financial limitations prevent the team from making any in-season moves? This is the million dollar question and one I cannot answer. I'd guess if the team needs to tweak it's roster they'll be given the flexibility but no blockbusters will be permitted to take place.
2. Is Matt Kemp on his way out?  Kemp's performance left a lot to be desired last season and in the off-season he admitted he didn't focus like he should have.  He will need to show he is dedicated to his craft to stick around. But with his new girlfriend I think the organization has reason to be bit worried. Honestly, if I was dating Rihanna I'd have problems focusing, too.
3. Will Rihanna be attending any home games?  Since it's unlikely the team will win the World Series this is probably the next most pertinent question if I'm a Dodger fan. I'd prefer it if she was a Braves fan.
Expectations: This team is going nowhere fast. Too good to tank but not quite good enough to make a strong playoff push, the Dodgers will spend the year in baseball's version of purgatory (no, not Kansas City).
Opening day lineup:
1. Furcal SS
2. Gwynn LF
3. Ethier RF
4. Kemp CF
5. Loney 1B
6. Uribe 3B
7. Barajas C
8. Carroll
SP Clayton Kershaw

San Diego Padres
Best Player: Chase Headley - no slam dunk choice on this team.
Best Pitcher: Mat Latos could be special.
Biggest off-season move:  Trading two relievers for Cameron Maybin is a big risk but exactly the type of risk this team should be taking.
Biggest off-season loss: Adrian Gonzalez and San Diego's playoff hopes were traded to Boston for several prospects.
Biggest Questions:
1. What was this team thinking in Decmeber?  Adrian Gonzalez was going to earn a massive pay raise and the Padres decided to cash in on him before he broke their bank or left them with nothing. Prospects are risky though and this trade won't be able to get a grade for a few years.
2. Is Mat Latos healthy?  Latos is to San Diego what Strasburg is to Washington.  The only difference is there's a lot less hype (understandably so, Strasburg was the greatest pitcher in NCAA history). Latos needs to be healthy to prove to the organization they can build around him.
3. Are there any other young guys to watch? 1B Kyle Blanks should get his first real shot at earning playing time once he returns from injury in June.
Expectations: This is clearly the worst offense in the National League.  If the Padres are above .500 I'll be shocked. I think they overachieved last season and should stick to the plan of rebuilding. 
Opening day lineup:
1. Venable RF
2. Bartlett SS
3. Hudson 2B
4. Hawpe 1B
5. Ludwick LF
6. Headley 3B
7. Maybin CF
8. Hundley C
SP Tim Stauffer

Arizona Diamondbacks 
Best Player: Justin Upton could be a superduperstar.
Best Pitcher: Ian Kennedy blew raspberries at the Yankees all season long.
Biggest off-season move:  Adding JJ Putz is a savvy move, at least until his arm falls off in June.
Biggest off-season loss: Yeah Mark Reynolds batted less than his weight but he also can jack 35+ homers.
Biggest Questions:
1. How good is the outfield? Chris Young FINALLY put together a solid season last year and Justin Upton can be as good as he wants to be.  Nady and Parra form a pretty sweet outfield platoon in left. So, yeah, it's pretty darn good.
2. How many people in the bullpen will stick? I feel like I'm in the board meeting in Major League when I see the names of the relievers. "I never heard of half these guys. This guy here is dead..."
3. Will the front office show patience with development? I thought the answer was yes but the GM, manager, and pitching coaches were fired last season when the owner was told all along they would be rebuilding.
Expectations: Expect the offense to score a lot of runs and the bullpen to blow a lot of leads. I also think they could challenge .500 but I have so little faith in the back end of the rotation I don't think it's likely.
Opening day lineup:
1. Bloomquist SS
2. Johnson 2B
3. Upton RF
4. Young CF
5. Miranda 1B
6. Mora 3B
7. Montero C
8. Parra LF
SP Ian Kennedy
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