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Saturday, March 31, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: NL West

The National League West is the division that seems to get less coverage than any other.  This may be because the Dodgers have been mediocre of late, the Rockies play in a smaller market, the late start times, or all of the above.  This is all too bad because there were some impressive performances in this division last season.  Ian Kennedy and Clayton Kershaw tied for the league lead with 21 wins apiece -Kershaw actually won the triple crown (wins, strikeouts, ERA) title.  Matt Kemp nearly won the hitter's triple crown, failing to win only the batting title where he finished third.  Troy Tulowitzki is one of the most impressive talents in baseball and last season put up his third straight season of 5 wins above replacement. There is a lot of individual talent but the depth of each team's rosters is lacking.  No team should run away from another and whoever finishes in last place may only be 10 games back giving each intradivisional matchup meaning.  That's good for baseball.

Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 Record: 94-68
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $72.9 million
Highest Paid Player: Stephen Drew - $7.75 million
Best Player: Justin Upton was expected to be a superstar when he broke through to the majors at age 19. Last season he seemed to put it together by hitting 31 homers and finishing with a .289/.369/.529 line.
Best Pitcher: Ian Kennedy had his breakthrough season last year going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP.
Say Hello To: Lyle Overbay 1B, Trevor Cahill SP, Craig Breslow RP, Takashi Saito RP, Jason Kubel OF, Mike Jacobs 1B, Cody Ransom 3B, Craig Tatum C
Wave Goodbye: Xavier Nady OF, Jason Marquis SP,  Zach Duke SP (Hou), Collin Cowgill OF (Oak), Jarrod Parker SP (Oak), Ryan Cook RP (Oak), Micah Owings P (SD)
Biggest Questions:
1. Is this team the 2010-11 Padres? Oh no, they're much better than that.  The Padres won the division in 2010 due to an incredible bullpen, defense, and a ton of luck.  The Dbacks have some real talent on the roster and won't collapse like the Padres did last season.
2. Who's the biggest wild card on this team?  Stephen Drew's health is paramount. Willie Bloomquist is not a good enough player to have in the lineup everyday and while Drew may not have lived up to his hype, he's still a solid major league shortstop.  The longer the club is without him the tougher it will be to overtake the Giants.
3. Is Ian Kennedy the type of pitcher to build around long term? It's too soon to say although last season's results were pretty remarkable.  If he performs close to that level again this season Arizona should be working their butts off to keep him around. 
Expectations: The team traded for Oakland's #2 starter in the offseason in an effort to bolster their own rotation and signed Jason Kubel to be the left-handed side of their platoon in left field.  This team should compete and has a very good chance to get back to the playoffs.
Arizona traded for groundball machine Trevor Cahill to
improve a rotation and enhance their attempts to win now.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Bloomquist SS
2. Hill 2B
3. Upton RF
4. Montero C
5. Young CF
6. Kubel LF
7. Roberts 3B
8. Goldschmidt 1B
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Kennedy
2. Hudson
3. Cahill
4. Collmenter
5. Saunders
CL: Putz

Colorado Rockies
2011 Record: 73-89
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $64.9 million
Highest Paid Player: Michael Cuddyer - $10.5 million
Best Player: Troy Tulowitzki looks like he's going to go down as the best shortstop of his generation.
Best Pitcher: Since I have to choose, it's Jhoulys Chacin.  He's just 24 and should improve but the way things have been going for Colorado lately that's no sure thing.
Say Hello To: Michael Cuddyer 4C, Marco Scutaro SS, Jeremy Gurthrie SP, Jamie Moyer SP, Tyler Chatwood RP, Ramon Hernandez C, Tyler Colvin OF, Chad Tracy 1B
Wave Goodbye: 
Huston Street CL (SD), Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B, Aaron Cook SP (, Kevin Millwood SP (Sea), JC Romero RP, Ty Wigginton 4C (Phi), Chris Iannetta C (LAA), Ian Stewart 3B (ChC), Ryan Spilborghs OF, Greg Reynolds RP (Tex), Clay Mortensen RP (Bos), Jason Hammel SP (Bal), Matt Lindstrom RP (Bal)
Biggest Questions: 
1. What happened to winning now? In 2009 the Rockies won 92 games, made the playoffs, and looked to be a team to be reckoned with for years to come. Two years later they went 73-89 and traded away their best pitcher for prospects, embracing a rebuilding process.  Aside from Ubaldo Jimenez, the rotation never reached their potential and hitting prospects Dexter Fowler, Ian Stewart, and Chris Iannetta haven't improved since their rookie seasons. The idea was right but the players didn't work out. It happens.
2. How long will this rebuild take? It's hard to say but it seems that the Rockies are shooting for 2014 or 2015.  They have some young pitching that will be ready for the big leagues and that seems to be what every team in a rebuild uses for their timetable.  The good news is Tulo will still be around.
3. Is the Jamie Moyer experiment for real?  Evidently it is since they've just named him as their #2 starter. It's pretty amazing a 49 year old can pitch in the major leagues and even more amazing that he's doing it as a starting pitcher coming off a major arm injury.
Expectations: As with every team in this division there is a chance at making the playoffs. It will require a lot of luck, though. Maybe Fowler finally capitalizes on his talent, Helton and Tulo stay healthy, and the young starters are better than expected.  That's what it'll take otherwise they'll be in a fight for third with a decent chance at finishing last.
It may be early but Troy Tulowitzki could be one of the ten or 
twelve greatest shortstop of all time when it's all said and done.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Fowler CF
2. Scutaro 2B
3. Gonzalez LF
4. Tulowitzki SS
5. Helton 1B
6. Cuddyer RF
7. Nelson 3B
8. Hernandez C
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Guthrie
2. Moyer
3. Nicasio
4. Chacin
5. Pomeranz
CL: Betancourt

Los Angeles Dodgers
2011 Record: 82-79
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $113.2 million
Highest Paid Player: Andre Ethier - $10.95 million
Best Player: Matt Kemp was in contention for the Triple Crown until the final week of the season.  He still failed to win the MVP but that's another story for another day.
Best Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw had one of the best seasons ever for a Dodger pitcher.  That's saying something for a franchise that's employed Koufax, Sutton, Hershiser, and Dazzy Vance among others.
Say Hello To: Aaron Harang SP, Chris Capuano SP, Matt Treanor C, Adam Kennedy 2B, Jerry Hairston UT, Wil Ledezma, Josh Bard C, Fernando Nieve RP, Todd Coffey RP
Wave Goodbye: Hiroki Kuroda SP (NYY), Rod Barajas C (Pit), Jonathan Broxton CL (KC), Jamey Carroll INF (Min), Casey Blake 3B (FA), Jon Garland SP (Cle), Aaron Miles INF (FA), Vincente Padilla P (Bos), Hong-Chih Kuo RP (FA)
Biggest Questions:
1. Can Matt Kemp do it again?  Up to this point in his career, Kemp has alternated good seasons with poor ones.  The Dodgers hope the performance he displayed last season will continue as evidenced with the monster extension he signed, but a minor drop should be expected.
2. How does the new ownership group plan to rebuild?  Based on the selling price ($2 billion!) the Dodgers won't be in rebuild mode for long.  I expect the team to be serious in the free agent market over the next few seasons as they look to turn this thing around ASAP.
3. Is Kershaw now one of the elite pitchers in baseball? You've got to think so after last season's performance.  The biggest difference was his improved control as he improved his walk rate by nearly 40%.  If this improvement is real, he'll be one of the top pitchers as long as he's healthy.
Expectations: The Dodgers are stuck in the middle for the time being. They just signed Matt Kemp to an extension and need to do the same with Kershaw.  There's some big names in next year's free agent class so expect the Dodgers to do what's necessary to get multiple impact players.  Until then, it's going to be a long summer in Dodgertown.
Andre Ethier's rift with the organization likely
means this is his last season wearing Dodger blue.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Gordon SS
2. Ellis 2B
3. Kemp CF
4. Ethier RF
5. Loney 1B
6. Rivera LF
7. Uribe 3B
8. Ellis C
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Kershaw
2. Billingsley
3. Lilly
4. Harang
5. Capuano
CL: Guerra

San Diego Padres
2011 Record: 71-91
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $54 million
Highest Paid Player: Huston Street - $7.5 million
Best Player: The Padres have few players that really stand out but Cameron Maybin has the most potential.  He's an above average defender and has some speed and power that give the team value despite his low batting average.
Best Pitcher: Moving to Petco should be a dream come true for Edinson Volquez who gave up 19 home runs last year.
Say Hello To: Huston Street CL, Mark Kotsay OF, John Baker C, Edinson Volquez SP, Yonder Alonso 1B, Carlos Quentin OF, Anthony Cashner SP, Micah Owings RP, Jeff Suppan SP
Wave goodbye: Mat Latos SP (Cin), Aaron Harang SP (LA), Heath Bell CL (Mia), Jeff Fulchino RP (Was), Rob Johnson C (NYM), Chad Qualls RP (Phi), Brad Hawpe OF (Tex), Wade LeBlanc RP (Mia), Jeremy Hermida OF (FA), Aaron Cunningham OF (Cle), Luis Martinez C (Tex), Simon Castro RP (ChA)
Biggest Questions:
1. Why did the Padres trade their best young pitcher? A lot of analysts are asking this question but the Padres have the same issue the Mariners do scoring runs.  They play in a park that's only slightly smaller than Yellowstone and have few hitting prospects.  Trading Latos allowed them to get a young hitter they can plug into the lineup immediately.  It's not a bad trade.
2. How many games can Carlos Quentin play? This is a guy who's had issues staying healthy his entire career.  It's why Arizona gave up on him as a prospect and part of why the White Sox were willing to listen for offers.  He's already on the DL for a pulled hamstring and since there's no DH in the National League, 130 games might be too optimistic.
3. With the change of scenery, can Edinson Volquez turn his career around?  That's what the Padres think. He's been plagued injuries that have limited both his playing time and effectiveness.  The new ballpark will help prevent gopher balls but he really needs to cut down on his walk rate. If he can improve his command even a little bit the ballpark will do the rest.
Expectations: Though this team is not going to win the division as they did in 2010, I don't think they'll be pushovers either.  If everything breaks right they could challenge for a wildcard spot but it's more likely they finish below .500.
The Padres are gambling on a healthy Quentin in an effort
 to make the playoffs. That's quite a gamble.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Maybin CF
2. Bartlett SS
3. Headley 3B
4. Alonso 1B
5. Venable RF
6. Hudson 2B
7. Kotsay LF
8. Hundley C
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Volquez
2. Luebke
3. Stauffer
4. Richard
5. Moseley
CL: Street

San Francisco Giants
2011 Record: 86-76
2012 Estimated Team Salary: $107.5 million
Highest Paid Player: Barry Zito $19 million
Best Player: Pablo Sandoval lost over 35 pounds before the beginning of 2011 and it showed in his results. He finished with a .909 OPS and was a pretty darn good defender according to the Fielding Bible.
Best Pitcher: Despite a declining strikeout rate and 13-14 record in 2011, Tim Lincecum is a mighty fine pitcher.  He'll be in the discussion for the Cy Young Award again this year.
Say Hello To: Melky Cabrera OF, Angel Pagan OF, Ryan Theriot INF
Wave goodbye: Jonathan Sanchez SP (KC), Carlos Beltran OF (StL), Mark DeRosa UT (Was), Cody Ross OF (Bos), Orlando Cabrera SS (retired), Ramon Ramirez RP (NYM), Andres Torres OF (NYM) 
Biggest Questions:
1. Will the Giants score runs this year?  The Giants finished dead last in the league in runs scored in 2011 yet still won 86 games.  In 2010 they finished 9th and went to the World Series.  Average is all they need to be on offense with this pitching staff.  The additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will help but so will a healthy Buster Posey.  Also #FreeBrandonBelt!
2. Can Buster Posey be a full time catcher?  All signs point to Posey being healthy and ready to go.  He's a nimble catcher and now that the Giants have forbid him from blocking the plate, it seems there shouldn't be any questions about him remaining at catcher.  Good thing too since he's going to be a good one.
3. What's up with Barry Zito?  It appears Zito has a spot in the rotation but that's more by default than anything else.  With no pitchers ready to take his place in the rotation at the beginning of the year, the Giants will just have to cross their fingers and hope he doesn't get hammered this season.  If he's even average it's probable this is his last year as a Giant. What a disappointment.
Expectations: The Giants traded one of their starting pitchers for outfield help and seem intent on letting Brandon Belt play this year.  With their top three starters and Buster Posey back, this team should be considered the co-favorite to win the division.
  Though a svelte Kung Fu Panda is still a large man, he's
one heck of a defensive player at the hot corner.
Probable Opening day lineup:
1. Pagan CF
2. Cabrera RF
3. Sandoval 3B
4. Posey C
5. Huff LF
6. Belt 1B
7. Theriot 2B
8. Crawford SS
Probable Rotation/Closer
1. Lincecum
2. Cain
3. Bumgarner
4. Zito
5. Vogelsong
CL: Wilson
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