Every spring, it is always fun to make pointless and meaningless predictions on the outcome of the upcoming baseball season. Regardless of the total lack of importance in the grand scheme of things, it always fun to see how things turned. Bragging is order for those predictions that turn out correct and the mistakes are quickly ignored and forgotten. This is the third of a series of six divisional predictions. Click here for a look at the NL East, and here for the NL Central. Let’s have some!
This division is one of the hardest in baseball to rank because it may be one of the closest from fourth through first in the majors. From a total talent standpoint, only one of the teams from the NL West should finish in the bottom four or five in the National League.
5) San Diego Padres: The team with the most question marks in its starting rotation is the Padres. Although San Diego’s offense may be helped by moving in the fences at Petco, they sure didn’t do much to help a mediocre pitching staff. Edison Volquez is probably the best of the bunch but he can be wildly inconsistent. The rest of the rotation could look like this – Clayton Richard, Eric Stults (no, not the guy who was in Mask with Cher – if only…), Freddy Garcia, Jason Marquis – any of these guys scaring you? Didn’t think so. The Padres best pitchers may be coming off injuries. Though Cory Luebke and Andrew Cashner have both shown promise, neither can save this rotation. The bullpen is as strong as Huston Street‘s fragile health. When he isn’t hurt, he is a fine pitcher. Luke Gregerson sets him up and will cover for him if (when?) Street hurts something. Chase Headley will miss a couple of weeks with a thumb injury but he is the biggest bat the Padres can offer. Like Street, Carlos Quentin can produce when healthy. Cameron Maybin hasn’t developed into the player people thought he would be but he is settling into a decent player. Will Venable is a versatile player who won’t wow anyone but is a solid performer. The Padres really hope Yonder Alonso can develop into a power hitter in the friendlier confines at Petco. Speedy Everth Cabrera and rookie Jedd Gyorko round out the offense. There is more total talent here than on some other rosters around the league but there are just too many holes to compete this season.
4) Arizona Diamondbacks: It is possible the D-Backs traded themselves out of contention, at least for 2013, during the off season. The offense is decent but not awesome by any stretch. Martin Prado, Jason Kubel, Aaron Hill, Miguel Montero, and Cody Ross are all nice pieces but they won’t win any championships as major components. Arizona is hoping young players like first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and rookie Adam Eaton can reach their potential sooner rather than later and be major forces in the line-up. The rotation is solid but not all that flashy. Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, and Brandon McCarthy are much like their offensive counterparts – nice pieces. The future for the Diamondbacks rest with a trio of young guns who are not quite ready for prime time. Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, and Randall Delgado all have loads of talent but it will take some polish as well to excel against major league hitters. The bullpen is deep and talented with J.J. Putz, Heath Bell, and David Hernandez. No worries, there. Arizona has some talent but no stars at this point. It will be tough to challenge for the divisional title but they should be competitive throughout the year.
3) Colorado Rockies: Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Rockies offense should be much better than what the San Francisco Giants can muster but one just can’t rank Colorado higher because of the difference in their rotations. It is not as if the Rockies’ starters aren’t talented; it’s just that most have looming question marks because of past injuries and inconsistency. Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, and Juan Nicasio have all had stretches in their careers when they were healthy and productive. Jeff Francis will never be what he once was but he can more than fill a space in the bottom of the rotation. The Rockies need more from youngster Drew Pomeranz. Rafael Betancourt anchors a strong a deep bullpen so if Betancourt’s age (he turns 38 in April) catches up with him, the Rockies have some options in Rex Brothers and Wilton Lopez. Offensively, Colorado has some real talent. A healthy Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are stars, and Michael Cuddyer and Dexter Fowler are really good pieces in a successful offense. Todd Helton is still around, sharing time at first with Tyler Colvin. Young power hitting catcher Wilin Rosario hopes to continue crushing homers. The Rockies do have some holes at second and third but several players could step up and contribute at these positions. It is plausible for the Rockies to win this division but there are just too many questions about the rotation to pick them higher in the NL West than third.
2)San Francisco:Pitching, pitching, pitching. It all comes down to pitching for the Giants. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner give the Giants two top tier starters and if former ace Tim Lincecum can bounce back from a very sub par 2012 campaign, the Giants could have 3 aces. Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong are not near that category but offer experience and pitching savvy. With this staff, it will be very rare for San Fran to lose more than 3 or 4 games in a row all season. The Giants closer by committee churned out over 50 saves last season without Brian Wilson. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla will get the most opportunities to close. On the offensive side of things, it is not near as sparkly. MVP catcher Buster Posey is the only true star. Overweight Pablo Sandoval is an injury waiting to happen. If Brandon Belt can improve, he can fit in nicely with Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan in providing production. Marco Scutaro is aging but still effective at second but Brandon Crawford is as light a hitting shortstop as there is in the majors. The Giants have just enough offense to win a lot of 2-1 games behind those top tier starters. If things go their way, as it has the last few years, San Francisco can win this division.
1) Los Angeles: It has been obvious that new ownership regime is willing to buy their championships, much like the Yankees and Red Sox over the past decade and a half or so. There is an incredible amount of risk with those big price tags. The Dodgers threw a whole bunch of cash at Zack Greinke and right now it is not known if his elbow is sound. They took on Carl Crawford‘s mighty contract and he hasn’t been healthy or productive for the past two years. The Dodgers do have stars though. Clayton Kershaw is as good a starting pitcher as there is in the majors. Adrian Gonzalez can be a major force in the middle of any line-up. Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier are all big time bats. Ramirez injured his thumb in the WBC and could be out up to 10 weeks. Despite their depth, Ramirez’s injury would leave a huge hole (pun intended) on the left side of the Dodger infield. If one of the outfielders falter, rookie Yasiel Puig could step in a produce big time. The staff behind Kershaw and Greinke (if he can go), is a bit more shaky. Josh Beckett is inconsistent and Hyun-Jin Ryu is an unknown commodity. The Dodgers have stock piled middle to end of the rotation arms – Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang, and Chris Capuano – to give them more rotation depth than any other team could possibly afford and makes them more able to suffer injuries than all other teams. Although Brandon League is slated to start the season as the closer, look for Kenley Jansen to take over at some point. The Dodgers were the biggest spenders over the past year and they have some nice depth. Their total talent may be second to none in the majors. This should be a team that not only wins their division but also one you could see in the World Series.
Summary: While the Dodgers are clearly the class of NL West, there is plenty of talent in the division. If things should go awry for LA, any of the other teams, except for the Padres, could step in a take over the division. The Dodgers do enjoy more depth than the other team – money can do that for an organization – but it has happened in the past that the best teams money can buy don’t always win championships. Don Mattingly knows all about that first hand.