In 2010, the NL West was the greatest drama in all of baseball. From the very beginning, everything went upside down in the division. The Rockies and Dodgers were pegged to be the season long favorites to take the crown, but after several rounds of injuries and drama (namely Manny being Manny and Manny leaving town in LA), the division was flipped on its head. In the end, the Padres and Giants fought until the final month of the season for the crown, with the Giants flipped from a one game difference into reaching the pinnacle of the game, bringing the first World Series title to San Francisco, and the franchise’s first since Willie Mays roamed the outfields for the New York Giants in 1954. If you bet the odds on this one last spring, I’d imagine you’d still be lighting fresh victory cigars even now.
Lincecum led the Giants to their first title in over 50 years. Can the unlikely champs hold down the fort again?
2010 Final Standings
1. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
2. San Diego Padres (90-72)
3. Colorado Rockies (83-79)
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (80-82)
5. Arizona Diamondbacks (65-97)
While the Giants held it down and played some of the most clutch baseball in recent memory down the stretch last year, this is a new spring with a lot of questions to be addressed about each team. The Giants had a lot of timely hitting and still feature a dominant pitching staff, but if Colorado has a world of talent that is a legit threat to take the fight to the entire NL all summer. The Dodgers also made some very specific adjustments to their team this off season; a rebound from them should be expected. What about the Padres, who were perhaps the biggest overachievers of last summer? They lost their best player, but still have a lot of live arms and solid veteran led club that knows what it takes to compete. Even Arizona is under aggressive new management focused on putting someone beside s them in cellar of the division very soon. All things considered, it’s always easier to get to top than stay there, and the Giants have a serious target on their chest from everywhere. Can they defend the highest throne in all of baseball, or will they be taken out before even getting away from their home division?
ALL DIVISION TEAM
Catcher: Buster Posey-San Francisco Giants
First Base: Aubrey Huff-San Francisco Giants
Second Base: Kelly Johnson-Arizona Diamondbacks
Third Base: Chase Headley-San Diego Padres
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki-Colorado Rockies
Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez-Colorado Rockies
Center Field: Matt Kemp-Los Angeles Dodgers
Right Field: Justin Upton-Arizona Diamondbacks
Kemp is one of the great overall talents in the game, and is now the #1 guy in Dodger Stadium, post-Manny.
Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum-San Francisco Giants
Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw-Los Angeles Dodgers
Starting Pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez-Colorado Rockies
Starting Pitcher: Mat Latos-San Diego Padres
Bullpen Righty: Mike Adams-San Diego Padres
Bullpen Lefty: Hong-Chih Kuo-Los Angeles Dodgers
Closer: Brian Wilson-San Francisco Giants
There is no more intimidating closer than Wilson and his two pitch approach. (Fastball, hard & harder)
1. Tim Lincecum-Giants
2. Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies
3. Carlos Gonzalez-Rockies
4. Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers
5. Brian Wilson-Giants
6. Ubaldo Jimenez-Rockies
7. Mat Latos-Padres
8. Matt Cain-Giants
9. Matt Kemp-Dodgers
10. Buster Posey-Giants
Nothing Jimenez throws is anywhere close to straight...nor is it soft (96 mph AVERAGE fastball).
Pitching is the name of the game in the West, with nearly every team having at least 2 two high quality guys. None of them surpasses the two-time Cy Young Winner Lincecum, however for the first half of last year Jimenez did a great Sandy Koufax impression, and Kershaw one in the second half. Tulowitzki made a legit MVP push last year despite nearly two months on the DL, with a 15 home run, 40 RBI MONTH in September. His teammate Gonzalez made a push for the Triple Crown last year, and took home the NL batting title. Posey’s May promotion last year, the Giants took off towards their title, and he landed Rookie of the Year along the way.
This is a close one, as they are a very high risk/reward club, but the Rockies have the edge in the division’s best 3-4 combo in Gonzalez & Tulowitzki, and round it out with Ian Stewart, who is improving slower than expected, but is headed upwards. This combo is capable of 75+ homers alone. The Giants have a deep and balanced attack with plenty of veteran bats that will be consistent all summer. If the Dodgers get big years from Kemp and Andre Either, watch out.
Rotation depth is a strength for each West club. Giants have as talented of a rotation in baseball has anyone, including Philly. Lincecum and Cain are top talents in the game, and they have three talented lefties to mix in around their 1-2 in Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito. The Dodgers and Rockies have a viable Cy Young candidate at the top of their rotations, and couple them with solid, winning arms throughout the rest of their rotation. Mat Latos is one of the best young arms in baseball in San Diego.
Latos had his breakout season last year (189 K's, 2.92 ERA) and is the biggest building block left in SD.
1. Giants (Lincecum & Cain)
2. Dodgers (Kershaw & Billingsley)
3. Rockies (Jimenez & De La Rosa)
4. Padres (Latos & Richards)
5. Diamondbacks (Kennedy & Hudson)
The Giants are splitting Sanchez in-between Lincecum and Cain for matchup purposes, but they are still the best duo in the division. Despite just turning 23 earlier this month Kershaw has averaged 198 strikeouts over the past two seasons. They are buried at the bottom of this impressive group, but Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy have a world of potential for the rebuilding D’Backs as well.
The Giants bullpen led all of baseball in ERA a year ago, and are led by “Wild Thing” Rick Vaughn clone Brian Wilson, who may have a little bit of Charlie Sheen in him as well. He led the NL with 48 saves a year ago, and has the confidence of closing out a World Series now as well. Heath Bell would be the best closer in any other division, and leads a low profile, yet high impact group in San Diego. In LA, Jonathan Broxton’s inconsistencies have dropped him down a notch, but if he straightens up again, he can be better than both Wilson and Bell.
1. Rockies (Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Stewart)
2. Dodgers (Either/Kemp/Loney)
3. Giants (Huff/Posey/Sandoval)
4. Diamondbacks (Upton/Young/Montero)
5. Padres (Hudson/Ludwick/ Hawpe)
Tulowitzki (27 HR, 95 RBI) is the best offensive shortstop in the game, and got numbers added to his bank account ($189 million) to prove it.
As mentioned earlier, the heart of the Rockies order can get it all over the field and over the fence. However, the Giants and Diamondbacks mid-lineups have the most to gain, from more and less. If Pablo Sandoval becomes closer to his .329/24/89 form of ’09, instead of the .268/13/63 year he had last year, the Giants get a huge boost in their run scoring potential. In Phoenix, if Upton and Young put cut down on the strikeouts (297 in ’10) and put more balls in play, the D’Backs as a whole will get much better.
1. Diamondbacks (Drew & Johnson)
2. Giants (Torres & Sanchez)
3. Dodgers (Furcal & Blake)
4. Rockies (Fowler & Smith)
5. Padres (Venable & Bartlett)
Furcal and Fowler are the only traditional leadoff men, but both have injury tags attached to them. Andres Torres broke out and was another timely spark for the Giants last year, but he was a journeyman before midway of last year, so I need to see more to believe it. The D’Backs coupling is one of the most powerful in baseball, but suffers from the same contact woes as the rest of their lineup.
A 2010 All-Star for Baltimore, Ty Wigginton will become a super sub for the Rockies, and will contribute all across the infield and add a strong bat. Ryan Spilborghs and Jason Giambi round a solid group of reserves in Denver. The Giants have Aaron Rowland ($12 million per) stashed on their bench, for better or worse, along with Mark DeRosa to in a very experienced bench group.
For everything they lost in their offensive capabilities when Adrian Gonzalez jumped town, the Pads still have a good defense, and it may have gotten better, former Gold Glover Orlando Hudson in the mix. Kemp and Either are Gold Glove caliber outfielders in LA, while the Giants have a solid group that supports their great pitching troops nicely.
With Cameron Maybin & Jason Bartlett coming to town this year, the NL’s second best lineup at base theft will get even quicker, which is good since they’ll be needing to win many more games inside the outfield walls now. The rest of the division is very much an American League, “get em on and hit em in” style division, but Fowler brings a speed burst to Colorado that will become much more evident when his batting average improves.
1. Bud Black (Padres)
2. Bruce Bochy (Giants)
3. Jim Tracy (Rockies)
4. Don Mattingly (Dodgers)
5. Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks)
Black and Bochy are two of the best minds in baseball, as Bochy’s two trips to the World Series and Black’s 2010 Manager of the Year Award, speak to. They are among the select few managers who make a legit difference in the potential of their team every year with the tactics and pitching usage. Mattingly and Gibson bring big names from their playing days into their managerial debuts in ’11, but now have to prove their chops without bats in their hands anymore.
ROOKIES/*PROSPECTS TO WATCH
1. *Brandon Belt (OF/1B, Giants)
2. Kenley Jansen (Pitcher, Dodgers)
3. *Jarrod Parker (Pitcher, Diamondbacks)
4. *Wilin Rosario (Catcher, Rockies)
5. *Corey Luebke (Pitcher, Padres)
Belt was one of the biggest rising prospect in all of baseball last year, hitting a combined .352 and 23 homers in his first season of pro ball while rising from single A, all the way to AAA by the season’s end. He can play both first base and leftfield, but with Huff at 1B, Pat Burrell and DeRosa may be keeping left warm for his debut this year. Jansen is being groomed for late inning work in LA, and could be tried in the ninth inning this season if Broxton doesn’t turn it around soon.
Adding some more support for Upton would could definitely speed up the D'Back resurrection.
The Diamondbacks have given new GM Kevin Towers creative control on the club’s roster to raise them out of the dungeon again, and they have the finances to help him attack this mission. He is aggressively taking apart the team’s core, and won’t to use his financial benefit, but only in a smart way. Giants seem to be set now, but if the need arises they could spring, and afford, a bat later in the year.
1. Juan Uribe (Dodgers from Giants)
2. JJ Putz (Diamondbacks from White Sox)
3. Cameron Maybin (Padres from Marlins)
4. Orlando Hudson (Padres from Twins)
5. Miguel Tejada (Giants from Padres)
This division wasn’t characterized by any of the huge deals every other division in baseball was this offseason, but each team made small, yet meaningful moves to better themselves. The Dodgers boosted their production by taking Uribe from their rivals in San Francisco, and his ability to play the entire infield gives them important depth and an everyday presence. Maybin is either on the verge of being a big time talent or a big time bust, either way the Pads didn’t have to give up much to get him and find out. Putz gives Arizona a much needed stopper at the end of games, something they haven’t had in years.
Look familiar? Well it should, because in a division of very similar teams that rely on the same strengths to win games, winning pitching matchups early and late, solid defense and a few key batters making the difference, the Giants have the edge in each of these areas. In addition to that, they win on intangibles such as experience together under the gun. This is what happens when you return a World Series champ nearly completely intact, and where you do lose experience, you acquire a former MVP (Tejada) to fill in the blank. Both the Rockies and the Dodgers will be better and closer to the teams they were supposed to be last year, while the Padres will feel the loss of Gonzalez and will take time to come together in their new approach. The Diamondbacks are being rebuilt to compete, but this isn’t a division where reconstruction will lead to much success. Factor in all of these elements from the other clubs beside the Giants, and you’ll see level of talent is not what wins out here. I’d say a few of them are more talented on paper than Frisco, but they don’t have the advantage of chemistry they have, and more so than for any other team, that makes a world of difference for the Giants, and it will land them another title in the West.