The National League West was a free for all a year ago, as it was a division without a dominant team. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who pulled off a last-to-first coup to win the West in 2011, couldn’t recapture that same spark. The Los Angeles Dodgers made the most aggressive trade deadline push in history, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox in an attempt to make a late charge for the division. The San Diego Padres turned in another strong second half behind the MVP-level upturn by Chase Headley, while the Colorado Rockies looked for creative ways to manage a bad pitching staff and a wounded lineup. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants caught a spark inspired by the perfection of Matt Cain and the outstanding, batting championship/MVP-winning Stan Musial Most Valuable Player” href=”https://cheapseatsplease.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/the-cheap-seats-2012-nl-stan-musial-most-valuable-player/”>return of Buster Posey. A spark that ended with a Giants sweep of the World Series, and winning their second championship in three seasons.
1. Giants (94-68)
2. Dodgers (86-76)
3. Diamondbacks (81-81)
4. Padres (76-86)
5. Rockies (64-98)
Fast forward a year later, and much has changed in the West mostly. Gone is Justin Upton from the D’Backs and back to the Rockies is Troy Tulowitzki. The Padres have continued their Motley Crew mix of young potential and select veterans, looking to maximize their potential. The Dodgers have continued their no ceilings approach to spending, fronting the big bill to add a second top tier arm in Zack Greinke to their rotation. And meanwhile, amid all of this change, set the defending champion Giants: returning intact and healthy. Is this the season that they make everyone believers? That the most slept on success in baseball gets it’s due by holding back the big bank monsters to their south, as well as the rest of the pack in one of the most balanced divisions in baseball? It’s never easy to stay on top, whether they see you coming or not.
All Division Team
Catcher: Buster Posey-Giants
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez-Dodgers
Second Base: Aaron Hill-Diamondbacks
Third Base: Chase Headley-Padres
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies
Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez-Rockies
Center Field: Matt Kemp-Dodgers
Right Field: Andre Ethier-Dodgers
Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers
Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain-Giants
Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke-Dodgers
Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy-Diamondbacks
Righty Relief: Luke Gregersen-Padres
Lefty Relief: Jeremy Affeldt-Giants
Closer: JJ Putz-Diamondbacks
- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
- Matt Kemp, Dodgers
- Buster Posey, Giants
- Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
- Matt Cain, Giants
- Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
- Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
- Chase Headley, Padres
- Pablo Sandoval, Giants
LA has put together (potentially) a powerhouse of an everyday lineup. But injuries are already taking a toll on its early offering, with Carl Crawford still touch and go in his attempt to make his Dodger debut, and Hanley Ramirez out for two months with a broken wrist. Colorado will always kill the ball at home, but health (especially Tulowitzki’s) and road performance limit their full output. Even with these challenges, Colorado as a team finished third in the NL in hits.
Heart of the Lineup
- Dodgers (Gonzalez/Kemp/Ramirez)
- Giants (Posey/Sandoval/Pence)
- Rockies (Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer)
- Diamondbacks (Montero/Kubel/Prado)
- Padres (Headley/QuentinAlonso)
The potential of Kemp and Gonzalez is staggering; both have had career-high seasons of 39 and 40 homers, respectively, and could be an gauntlet to work through for opposing pitchers. Sandoval really came into his own in the fall last season, and Posey crushed lefties to the tone of an even average a year ago. The last time CarGo and Tulo hit back-to-back for a full season in 2011, they put up a combined 56 home runs, 197 RBI and 173 runs scored.
- Giants (Pagan/Scutaro)
- Rockies (Fowler/Rutledge)
- Dodgers (Crawford/Ellis)
- Diamondbacks (Prado/Parra)
- Padres (Cabrera/Gyorko)
The strength of the Giants is being able to work timely, extra base hitting. Scutaro put up a .362 average once reaching the Bay a year ago, and Pagan led the NL with 15 triples. Dexter Fowler had a career-high .300 last season for the Rocks, while Crawford has long been one of the most dangerous players on the basepaths in baseball. He has averaged 50 steals per 162 games for his career.
When completely healthy, Arizona has constructed a very diverse team, which has plenty of capable contributors off the bench, such as Eric Chavez and Willie Bloomquist. The Dodgers have quietly assembled a very capable supporting cast in-between its headline signings, with Skip Schumaker, Aaron Miles and Tony Gwynn, Jr.
The long-standing strength of the Giants attack is starting pitching. Led by Matt Cain, the Giants had big game effort after big game effort from Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgartner in-route to winning out last season. Quietly, Arizona has assembled a deep starting five behind former 20-game winner Ian Kennedy. Brandon McCarthy and NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Wade Miley are part of a very solid group.
- Dodgers (Kershaw/Greinke)
- Giants (Cain/Bumgarner)
- Diamondbacks (Kennedy/McCarthy)
- Padres (Volquez/Richards)
- Rockies (De La Rosa/Chacin)
If you’ve got one Cy Young winner, why not add another if you can? That’s exact what the Dodgers paid $158 million to do when they put 2009 AL winner with 2011’s NL winner, adding Greinke to Kershaw atop their rotation. Bumgartner has increased his win total each season, reaching 16 in year three.
Despite losing closer Brian Wilson, the Giant bullpen continued to be a late game roadblock. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla combined for 39 saves, while Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and George Kontos all round out a great effort. The Padres have a very underrated bullpen collection; Huston Street saved 23 games on 1.85 ERA, and was one of four pitchers to average better than nine strikeouts per nine innings.
There is not one subpar defender on the field for the Giants, who just as much depend on pitching, also depend on strong defense to secure their victories. Posey, Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan are all plus defenders. Conversely, for the Dodgers, a lack of range behind their pitching staff could cause for some prolonged woes in maximizing their potential.
The Padres have a huge ballpark, and have added the type of speed to capitalize on it. Cabrera lead the NL is steals with 46 a year ago, while Cameron Maybin and Will Venable both topped 20 as well. If health is their ally, the Dodgers have a chance to have an impressive speed trio in Kemp, Crawford and Ramirez, all of which have swiped at least 40 bases before in their careers.
- Bruce Bochy, Giants
- Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
- Bud Black, Padres
- Don Mattingly, Dodgers
- Walt Weiss, Rockies
Black is quietly putting together a very strong coaching resume, with two World Series titles in the past four years; a stretch he hasn’t won less than 86 games during. Gibson won the NL Manager of the Year as a rookie in 2011, something that Walt Weiss will be pressed to do with the pitching hungry Rockies as a debuting manager this year.
The Dodgers seem to have no ceilings in what they can put out to build the roster of their dreams. The combination of a new management team seeking to make its mark, as well as a $6 billion television deal gives them the capabilities to do as they please. The Giants have the ability to impact the market with the dollar, as Cain’s $127 million extension reflects, but being able to keep up with LA from a spending projects as difficult task for them and the rest of baseball.
- Zack Greinke (Dodgers from Angels)
- Martin Prado (D’Backs from Braves)
- Cody Ross (Diamondbacks from Red Sox)
- Brandon McCarthy (Diamondbacks from Athletics)
- Hyunjin Ryu (Dodgers from Japan)
The headline deal was of course Greinke, and rightfully so, but the Diamondbacks were the team that made the most adjustments. Prado came over as the key piece in the Justin Upton to Atlanta deal, while Cody Ross was handed $26 million to solidify the outfield. Brandon McCarthy, who sported a 3.29 ERA in his two years in Oakland is potentially the steal of the winter if he can recapture his form after returning from the brain surgery due to the line drive that ended his 2012.
Leap Forward Candidates
- Tim Lincecum, Giants
- Sergio Romo, Giants
- Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies
- Brandon Crawford, Giants
- Luis Cruz, Dodgers
To have two players as accomplished as Lincecum and Romo at the top of this list seems odd, but in their own particular ways they have much to accomplish this season. Lincecum is looking to prove that he can continue to be effective, despite a diminished arsenal. Romo, who became a late inning sensation in the postseason, is looking to prove he can hold the role in a more permanent fashion (18 saves in 19 overall 2012 chances).
Rookies/Prospects to Watch
- Jedd Gyorko (Infielder-Padres, MLB)
- Yaisel Puig (Outfilder-Dodgers, AAA)
- Tyler Skaggs (Pitcher-Diamondbacks, AAA)
- Nolan Arenado (Third base-Rockies, AAA)
- Zach Lee (Pitcher-Dodgers, AA)
Gyorko has hit everywhere he’s been, from the minors (.311 at Double/Triple A in 2012, 3 Spring MLB homers), and has hit his way into the everyday mix in San Diego as well. He will start the season at third base until Headley returns from injury, but will likely move to second base once he’s back. Yaisel Puig and Nolan Arenado have proven to have big bats that are forcing some tough decisions about keeping them in the minors for much longer by their respective clubs.
The West will be a very competitive division. Despite their undeniable success in recent years, the Giants are not the type of team that is an outright dominant club. Mostly because it isn’t an offense that scores in bulk; rather they are a timely one that wins close games. The Diamondbacks have the potential to factor into the wild card picture, if not the division, but a few things will have to go in their favor, starting with some consistency in health. They have strong pitching, and a balanced lineup. Balance is not in favor of the Rockies, who still have a mismatched pitching staff, but could fare better than a year ago with the return of Tulowitzki. The Padres have a steadily improving everyday lineup, but are still young in many areas and don’t have the firepower to keep up with the rest of the clubs in the division.
In the end, the question comes down to either the Dodgers or the Giants. While LA has constructed a formidable club in a short amount of time, there are still shortcomings in the club. Every area of the team is facing injury issues, Matt Kemp has to prove his hamstring woes are behind him, and injuries to Greinke, Ramirez, Crawford and Chad Billingsley have already plagued the team this spring. The Giants great strength is chemistry, and this is a battle tested group that knows how to rely on each other. Until the Dodgers can get fully healthy all at once and learn to play together, that’s a distinct advantage that the Giants have, and combined with the major difference making presence of Posey and a supremely deep pitching staff, the champs keep the edge and should win the West for a third time in four years.
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