Posts Tagged ‘Colorado Rockies’

Dodgers-Clayton-Kershaw-Tigers-Max-Scherzer-claim-Cy-Youngs

Last summer, the National League West was the scene of the most drastic 180 in all baseball. Coming into the year, it was fully expected that the Dodgers would grab it early on for themselves and not let up, however that was far from the case. As a matter of fact, due to a mix of injuries and uncertain day-to-day lineup production, LA found itself in the cellar of the division in early May, and no other club really stepped and away either. The defending World Series champs in San Francisco were dealing with a host of injuries and down seasons, and the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres didn’t make the opportunistic push that they could have. Soon enough, they would grow to regret this.

2013 Finish

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)

3. San Diego Padres (76-86)

4. San Francisco Giants (76-86)

5. Colorado Rockies (74-88)

In mid-May, the Dodgers came around and ran away with the West. Sparked by the promotion of Yasiel Puig and returns of Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and (briefly) Matt Kemp, they ran away with the division, finishing with the biggest divisional margin of victory in the Majors. Pulling ahead to this summer, they will enter with the same expectations. However, the division enters in a much better place overall that won’t allow for any temporary slips that the last time around allowed.

The Diamondbacks showed the most growth of any team that did not make the postseason last year, sparked by the coming of age of MVP runner up Paul Goldschmidt, and they made some smart additions to continue the process. The Giants never stay down for long, and with a strong core and a few additions to mend their fall of last year, they project well again too. And the Padres and Rockies both are the type of teams that can rock a boat while keeping their hand on it as well.

What does this all mean? And can it continue to be the aggressive mix of a division that has not had a repeat champ since 2009?

All-Division Team

1. Yasiel Puig -RF—Dodgers

2. Carlos Gonzalez-LF—Rockies

3. Troy Tulowitzki-SS—Rockies

4. Buster Posey-C—Giants

5. Paul Goldschmidt-1B—Diamondbacks

6. Matt Kemp-CF—Dodgers

7. Chase Headley-3B—Padres

8. Marco Scutaro-2B—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain—Giants

Right Handed Reliever: Joaquin Benoit—Padres

Lefty Handed Reliever: Rex Brothers—Rockies

Closer: Kenley Jansen—Dodgers

Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

With five current or former All-Stars comprising their everyday lineup, without accounting for Puig, the Dodgers have a undeniably balanced offering that still could do even more than it has to date if they can get a better shake regarding health. Following their addition of Mark Trumbo, the D’Backs are the only NL team running out two 30-home run hitters from a year ago, with Goldschmidt as well. The Rockies always produce, but if Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki can join NL-batting champ Michael Cuddyer and new addition Justin Morneau with some regularity, they should lead the NL in runs scored again.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years and 20 homers in each campaign.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

The Hanley Ramirez/Adrian Gonzalez/Matt Kemp trio that the Dodgers could yield is a pure terror, as is the Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer mix in Colorado. However, the Giants could see a big upswing around Buster Posey if Pablo Sandoval’s re-conditioned approach pays out, Brandon Belt continues to develop and Michael Morse can rediscover his 2011-12 form, where he hit .297 with 49 homers over the run.

Table Setters

1. Dodgers

2. Padres

3. Giants

4. Rockies

5. Diamondbacks

The decision to put Puig at the top of the lineup by Don Mattingly is partially due to a lack of a true leadoff hitter, but it is also a case of getting his most diverse talent as many at-bats as possible. If he develops more patience, he could be among the best leadoff options in the NL (.391 on-base % in 2013). The Padres are a throwback of an attack, that has plenty of dash and run options. Before he lost the end of his season due to a Biogenesis-related suspension, Everth Cabrera was on pace to lead the NL in stolen bases again, and still managed to swipe 37. He is backed up by the chronically underrated Will Venable.

Depth

1. Diamondbacks

2. Giants

3. Dodgers

4. Rockies

5. Padres

Kirk Gibson has a very deep offering, with the enviable option of alternating between Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and will eventually have the versatile Cody Ross available as well. San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco is one of the better 4th outfielders in the game, and Andre Ethier is currently the best 4th outfielder in baseball—for as long as he lasts in LA.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer in route to a 13-win, 199 strikeout campaign.

Rotation

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

For all of the depth of their everyday lineup, it is rotational depth that is the real strength of the Dodgers. Behind their big two, they have a rotation and a half, with a mix of Hyun Jin-Ryu, Dan Haren and options of Paul Maholm, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley as well. However, the Giants are not far behind them, with Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogel song providing a solid supporting group.

1-2 Punch

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

The West is home to two of the elite starting duos in the game, in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke and Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Kershaw and Greinke combined for a  31-13 record with a 2.23 ERA and 380 strikeouts  last year, with Kershaw winning his second Cy Young in three years. In SF, Cain had a down year, before rebounding with a superb second half, while Bumgarner posted a 2.77 ERA in route to earning this year’s Opening Day nod. Arizona suffered a huge loss in their top guy Patrick Corbin being lost to Tommy John surgery this spring, while the Padres have a blooming star in Andrew Cashner atop their order.

Bullpen

1. Dodgers

2. Diamondbacks

3. Padres

4. Giants

5. Rockies

LA boasts a dominant Kenley Jansen at the end of their pen, with two former closers on one-year deals auditioning for a return to the role in Chris Perez and Brian Wilson setting up for him. That’s a mix that leads to some very short games behind their already potent starting staff. The D’Backs have a similar mix, with J.J. Putz, David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler all capable of shutting the door in front of Addison Reed. The Padres annually have a superb pen, and saw to it that it continues to be so by making a big commitment to former Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit to setup for Huston Street.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

Defense

1. Diamondbacks

2. Padres

3. Rockies

4. Giants

5. Dodgers

Led by all-universe defender Gerardo Parra and the Gold Glover Goldschmidt, the D’Backs can pick it, especially with a healthy Miguel Montero captaining it all behind the plate. The athletic Padres are built to make cover the spacious grounds in Petco Park, with Chase Headley a former Gold Glover and Venable, Chris Denorfia, Yonder Alonso and Cabrera all very good defenders as well. In Colorado, Carlos Gonzalez is the best defensive outfielder in the NL, as is Hunter Pence in right for the Giants.

Manager

1. Giants

2. Padres

3. Diamondbacks

4. Dodgers

5. Rockies

Bruce Bochy has played a major role in the regular success of the Giants, and with two World Series titles under his belt in the last four years, he’ll have them ready for a rebound. Bud Black doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does in getting the cash strapped, young Padres to a respectable finish each year either. Don Mattingly also proved his chops last year, by corralling the spiraling Dodgers back into the race—and saving his job in real-time as well.

Finances

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Rockies

5. Padres

The Dodgers can have whatever they want, it is just a reality of the game that everybody in the market has to adjust to. They are squarely in ‘win now’ mode and will acquire whatever they can to make that a reality. The other teams in the division are more modest with their resources, so what is in tow now is likely to be close to what they compete with, although the D’Backs do have some attractive young prospects they could bargain with.

Impact Additions

1. Mark Trumbo (Diamondbacks via trade)

2. Tim Hudson (Giants via free agency)

3. Addison Reed (Diamondbacks via trade)

4. Dan Haren (Dodgers via free agency)

5. Justin Morneau (Rockies via free agency)

The D’Backs mortgaged away some of their young potential to add slightly more proven young Major Leaguers in Trumbo and Addison this winter, to add much needed power in Trumbo, and late inning depth in Reed.  The Dodgers and Giants both made smart, ready-to –win contributions in Haren and Hudson to offset each other’s addition of the other.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL's most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL’s most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Leap Forward

1. Nolan Arenado—Rockies

2. Andrew Cashner—Padres

3. Brandon Belt—Giants

4. Jedd Gyorko—Padres

5. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

Arenado’s rookie year got swept away by the some of the more famous ones around the NL, but he made his own instant impact as well, winning the NL Gold Glove at third base. Look for him to make a more regular impact at the plate this year, as his .311 career minor league average indicates. Cashner could be the breakout starter in the NL this year, as the eccentric, flame throwing righty posted a 2.14 second half ERA, with a .194 average against.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Archie Bradley—Diamondbacks

2. Eddie Butler—Rockies

3. Jonathan Gray—Rockies

4. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

5. Austin Hedges—Padres

The West is home to a group of the premier pitching prospects in the game, with two oddly enough being headed towards Colorado in Butler and Gray. Gray was the 3rd pick in last spring’s Draft, posting a 1.93 ERA in two stops after signing. Butler started 28 games in the minors last year, and dominated to the tune of a 1.80 ERA and 143 strikeouts. If they can carry over their success to Coors, it could signal a change of tides for the long-suffering Rockies pitching. Bradley is the top pitching prospect in the minors (12-5, 1.97 ERA at Double A in 2013), and should see action in the desert fairly early in the year due to Corbin’s injury.

PREDICTIONS

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. San Diego Padres

5. Colorado Rockies

The prognosis for the West seems to be for it to be much more competitive than it was a year ago, even while it stands to be host to one of baseball’s most dominating clubs, it is also compromised of a few teams that are either growing into postseason form or returning to it. The Diamondbacks look to continue their growth into a postseason contender, and despite the loss of their top arm in Corbin, they still have what it takes to continue their push into the wild card picture. They will need to get help from their on-the-verge prospects throughout the year, and may need to add an arm later in the year, but they are close. The same can be said for the Giants, who are only two years removed from being the best team in baseball, and are at a crossroads with their established core. If it has one more run in it, and a consistent offering from its rotation, they will push for the post season.

The Padres are a wild card in the fact that they have the understated cohesiveness to make a difference in the division, even if they are a few years (and a legit offensive star away) from being a factor in the wild card race. The Rockies are still a one-sided affair; potent offensively, but offer very little in the way vital pitching to compete with their division mates.

But in the end, it is the Dodgers division to negotiate their way through from the very beginning. It is about not winning the West, but getting over the NLCS hump that is their task for the year. After a season where they pushed to the brink of the World Series despite never being healthy, it is definitely within reason to expect them to do better entering the year in markedly better shape than they were at any point last year. Making reality meet what paper shows is a completely different thing however, but their prime competition is not from within the West, but from the top of the other divisions.

It has been four years since a team repeated in the West, but it is time for it to happen again. The Dodgers will once again pull away with the division, although by not the same amount of games, in route to posting the National League’s best record. However, expect the Giants and Diamondbacks to compete for one of the Wild Card spots throughout the year, with the Padres being a surprisingly competitive club as well.

For more on the season to come in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.

Matt+Holliday+Atlanta+Braves+v+St+Louis+Cardinals+qSAqdjUT3Cwl

The next entry in the ongoing series looking at the potential candidacy (or lack thereof) for the Baseball Hall of Fame turns to middle of the country and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday. For the better part of his career, Holliday has been among the most consistent hitters in baseball. From the major boom he made early in his career with the Colorado Rockies, to the role as protector of Albert Pujols, and more recently, lineup axis in St. Louis, Holliday’s comprehensive approach has kept him among his era’s best at the plate.

Yet when assessing his value in the big picture of the game, he’s the classic example of hitter that doesn’t have any eye popping numbers mid-career, but then towards the end has complete body of work that begins to shift the opinion on him some. However, that is a pendulum that can swing both ways: sometimes they continue to build up, yet other times it runs into the ultimate gray area of the “nice, but not quite THAT nice” that so many fantastic hitters have landed at. But Holliday is also playing for consistent contenders and in a solid spotlight as well, which has been known to make the difference in a push over the hump as well.

Let’s have a look at the career of Holliday, where’s it has been and where it could be headed, and if the unique combinations of career levels he’s built already could make him an intriguing candidate somewhere down the line…or not.

The numbers (thru July 12): .310 average, 242 home runs, 919 RBI, 1608 hits, 910 runs, 359 doubles, .385 on-base percentage, .531 slugging percentage

 

The Case For: Holliday has been among the most balanced hitters of the past ten years. In his first decade in the game, he has hit over .300 six times, drove in 100 runs five times and hit over 25 home runs five times as well. Among active players, his .310 career average is the tenth best total, and sixth best among players with ten years served. He is not what would be classified as a power hitter, but he is easily among the best line drive producers of his time, as his seasonal average of 42 doubles indicates. In his 9 full seasons, he has hit over 35 doubles seven times, and led the league with 50 in 2007. Also during that ’07, which truly put him on the map, he led the NL in hits (216), RBI (137), total bases (386) and was the batting champ with a .340 mark. He finished second in the MVP race that season, and was the runner-up in the MVP race.

That season also was his first in the postseason, due to being the catalyst of the Rockies improbable 21 wins in 22 September games and scoring a thrilling (and debated) winning run in the season’s final game against the San Diego Padres to win the NL West on the season’s final day. He has continued his winning ways in St. Louis, where he made the postseason in three of his four seasons, and won a World Series in 2011. Also in St. Louis, he has successful shook off the “Coors Field stigma”, with an average season of .302 avg/25 home runs/95 RBI/165 hits as a Cardinal over roughly four years, compared to a only slightly better .319/25 HR/96 RBI/170 hits per year over five seasons.

The Case Against: For as many benefits as there has been to Holliday’s career, there are a few easy calls against it as well. Even at his very best, he’s been a bit of a complimentary player. He’s been at his best when in an ensemble role: a la not the primary focus. He’s never really carried a team on his own for long; although he’s definitely been a difference maker in all of his stops, save for the brief one in Oakland.

There’s also the Coors factor. His best statistical years were when he was a member of the Rockies, and while he has been an All-Star caliber player elsewhere, perception plays as reality, and the fact that the only time he led his league in anything was in Colorado could hurt him.

Another issue is his age. He’s 33 years old in his tenth year, and while he isn’t showing much downturn, time is not on his side to get in range of many magical numbers that stand out on a HOF resume. His best bet would be stay as close to being a .300 lifetime hitter as he can, because it’s his biggest calling card currently. A steady stream of .300/25/100 seasons would be a strong indicator, because he’ll never be seen as the guiding force in such a deep St. Louis team that sets him from the pack.

There is also the fact that he has struggled in the postseason in his career, hitting only .261 across 10 career postseason series, including a .158 mark in the 2011 World Series. He also had a crucial dropped pop fly that played a pivotal role in the Cardinals’ elimination at the hands of the Dodgers in the 2009 NL Division Series.

Similar Players (thru age 32)

Larry Walker: .312 avg, 262 HR, 855 RBI, 1431 hits, 886 runs, 314 doubles, .389 on-base percentage

Wally Berger: .303 avg, 227 HR, 849 RBI, 1452 hits, 770 runs, 282 doubles, .360 on-base percentage

Magglio Ordonez: .305 avg, 219 HR, 853 RBI, 1436 hits, 744 runs, 289 doubles, .362 on-base %

Holliday had a top two MVP finish, and led the NL in four categories during his breakout 2007 season in Colorado.

Holliday had a top two MVP finish, and led the NL in four categories during his breakout 2007 season in Colorado.

Where he Stands: His resume is a complicated one, because it screams above average for his era, but then it’s much grounded at the same time. Perhaps Holliday is the ultimate “really, really good” player. He’s been an All-Star for more than half of his career, and factored into a few MVP races as well. Yet, at the same time, he’s always been A factor, over being THE factor. He’s been best being able to be the complimentary hammer over the focus of a team’s success. And while there is nothing wrong with that, it is usually a bit tougher on those guys to pull themselves apart from the pack.

Yet what is on his side is winning. He’s consistently been a member of competitive teams due in part to his presence. The Cardinals and Rockies have averaged 86.5 wins per season with Holliday in the fold, who has sported an average of 5.2 Wins Above Replacement over that time. This impact has been particularly evident in the teams he has been a member of who have made the postseason, whom only won their divisions by a half game in 2007 (21 of 22 to finish season), 7 ½ in 2009(he joined at the trade deadline), 1 game in 2011 (won Wild Card on last day of the season) and 2 games (won Wild Card play in) in 2012. All things considered, he has made a steady impact for teams that have had to fight to just make the postseason.

But individually considered there’s more ground to cover. He should top 2,000 hits in about 2.5 years, which would keep him well short of the magic number range. He has another three guaranteed seasons on his deal, which would likely have him in the range of just above 2,100 hits, and if he plays through a few more seasons, about 2,300 hits. In regards to the HOF, that’s borderline and the fact he’ll be below 400 home runs or so for a player of his type is a tough sell as well.

So when the question is asked regarding Matt Holliday, and his likelihood of being IN, OUT or IN-BETWEEN Cooperstown, he’s OUT, but still an upper tier very, very good career…quietly.

 

For more on the now with both Holliday and his St. Louis Cardinals, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

ROCKIES_VS_LA_04_06_hc

The debate on the validity of numbers made by those that spend the majority of their seasons as members of the Colorado Rockies is nothing new. Ever since the club was founded and quickly became a fountain of youth for veteran bats that had long seen their better days elsewhere, as well as a springboard for borderline hitters elsewhere, the environment has been under dispute. However, until now, there had never been a player who had staked his entire career in friendly, Humidor regulated environment of the Rockies come up for inspection for the Hall of Fame until Todd Helton. And now, in his final season, the greatest Rockie of all-time will have his list of achievements taken not only under the microscope, but also stretched to be put in context.

Helton has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball over the past 17 years. A career Rockie, he is the owner of eight major career records in offense friendly book for the club. Yet, if there is an element in baseball that is issued a more blanketed line of questioning than PEDs, it’s numbers produced with 81 games spent in Coors Field a year. How will this effect Helton when it’s time for him to be placed on the ballot for Cooperstown? Will he be held to an even keel with others of his era and position? Or will he instead be under review for being in the right place, most of the time? Here’s his case, coming and going.

The Numbers (Thru July 1st): .318 avg, 360 home runs, 1372 RBI, 2461 hits, 576 doubles, 1374 runs scored, .416 on-base percentage, .542 slugging percentage

The Case For: Helton is one the best hitters of the 2000’s by far. He is the only player in MLB history to have 100+ extra base hits in consecutive seasons, and is tenth all-time in on-base percentage. After coming up during the 1997 season, he quickly became one of the most consistent performers at the plate of any era, hitting over .300 for ten consecutive seasons and only once under .315. His masterpiece season was in 2000, when he won his sole batting title, with a .372 average and 147 RBI, made on 216 hits, including 42 home runs and 59 doubles. While power was never absent from his game (six seasons of 30 or more home runs, two over 40), his true calling card was the double. His steady, level swing made him a terror in the gaps, and he has 10 consecutive seasons with at least 35 doubles, making him the only player in MLB history to achieve this as well. His career total is good for 20th best all-time. A winner of four consecutive Silver Slugger awards, his patient approach often forced pitchers to deliver to him; he has only has one season of greater than 100 strikeouts and eight straight years of totaling more walks than K’s, with seven seasons where he did not total more than 70 strikeouts.

He is also far from a one-dimensional player, as in his prime he was one of the best defensive infielders in baseball. He is a winner of three Gold Glove awards, and was an asset as a defensive stopper in an offensively inclined ballpark. He’s also the definition of a company man, and is the third most tenured active player to spend his career with one club.

The Case Against: This is where the situation gets sticky for Helton, and where all of those prestigious accomplishments begin to be diluted for some. Coors Field has produced a record amount of offense in its time, like no other field before or since it. The lighter atmosphere is kinder to bats, and it is a pretty solid advantage to have on your side for half a season, as it has hosted several record-setting seasons for home runs. And while regulation of the baseballs used in Coors (via a humidor to regulate the density of the ball) have changed things some, he has still benefitted from a thin air home half of his career games. This can aid the line drive ball, which is his greatest tool, and it slightly has.

In his career, he is a .347 hitter at home, compared to .289 on the road, and has 142 more extra base hits at home as well. Perhaps the greatest difference in splits is the impact it has on his home versus road on-base + slugging percentage (OPS). At Coors, his total is an incredible 1.052, which when placed on an even keel with the greatest totals of all-time, would sit at the fourth best of all-time, right in-between Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds. That is hallowed ground in baseball heaven, and is quickly brought back to mortality by his road OPS of .861, which would be good for 133nd of all-time, yet right between Darryl Strawberry (a upper-tier Hall of Very Good member) and Jesse Burkett (an actual Hall of Famer) all-time.

Along with Lou Gehrig and Bill Terry, Helton is one of three first basemen ever to hit at least .315 for eight consecutive years.

Along with Lou Gehrig and Bill Terry, Helton is one of three first basemen ever to hit at least .315 for eight consecutive years.

Similar Players (through age 39)

  1. Larry Walker (.313 avg, 383 home runs, 1311 RBI, 2160 hits, 1355 runs, 471 doubles)
  2. Frank Thomas (.301 avg, 521 home runs, 1667 RBI, 2468 Hits, 1494 runs, 495 doubles)
  3. Chipper Jones (.303 avg, 468 home runs, 1623 RBI, 2726 hits, 1619 runs, 549 doubles)

Cooperstown Likelihood: Helton’s career is a study in differences, but not extremes. He had a five year run from 2000-2004 that was as productive as anybody has ever had. Some of it was encouraged by location, but a lot of it was him being a great hitter as well. In many cases, the “yeah, but” approach has handicapped him from getting many of the individual awards that could he for the taking. Helton has flown below the radar for much of his career; in part due to being in a sort of media nowhere land in Colorado, but also not being a highlight player. Yet he has not only been one of the most productive, bad team players of all-time, he has also been one of the most consistently above-average to quietly great players of any era as well. Despite averaging posting an average year of .336, 30 home runs, 108 RBI and 188 hits from 2000 to 2007, he never finished higher than fifth in any MVP vote and is only a five-time All-Star in his career. As far as magic numbers, injuries curbed his chance at 400 home runs (which would qualify well for a line drive hitter of his variety), as well as 3,000 hits (which would be a clincher in his case).

Injuries curbed his later years, starting at about 34 years old, which also ended his chance at big accumulation marks. He went from averaging 154 games a season his first ten years, to only playing in better than 124 once in his last six years. Regardless, the OPS difference once again paints the easiest picture of understanding Helton’s credibility. He is neither the 4th best all-time that he has been at Coors, nor is he the 133nd all-time that he was on the road. The truth is found in the middle, which would be just about at 65th all-time. That’s where you would find Bill Terry, the star manager and first baseman of the 1920s/30’s New York Giants, as well as a likewise undervalued contributor in the big picture at the position.

In the end, Helton is among the very best hitters of his era, and has made a quietly historic impact in his career. While there could be some apprehension in the vote results covering him, in the same fashion that former teammate Larry Walker experienced in his initial appearance on the ballot, the truth should eventually set him free.

So when the question is asked if Todd Helton is in, out or in-between Hall of Fame status, the answer should be IN…even if it takes the clouds clearing up some to realize it.

For more on the season as it develops in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game Six

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.

2012 Finish

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

Clayton_Kershaw

No other NL pitcher has approached Kershaw the previous two years: a 35-14 record, 477 strikeouts and a MLB-best 2.40 ERA.

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

Top 10

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
  3. Buster Posey, Giants
  4. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  5. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  6. Matt Cain, Giants
  7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
  8. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
  9. Chase Headley, Padres
  10. Pablo Sandoval, Giants

Lineup

  1. Dodgers
  2. Rockies
  3. Giants
  4. Diamondbacks
  5. Padres

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.

The return of Tulowitzki to the join Gonzalez puts potentially two-All Stars back-to-back in the Rockie lineup

The return of Tulowitzki to the join Gonzalez puts potentially two-All Stars back-to-back in the Rockie lineup

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Dodgers (Gonzalez/Kemp/Ramirez)
  2. Giants (Posey/Sandoval/Pence)
  3. Rockies (Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer)
  4. Diamondbacks (Montero/Kubel/Prado)
  5. 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.

Table Setters

  1. Giants (Pagan/Scutaro)
  2. Rockies (Fowler/Rutledge)
  3. Dodgers (Crawford/Ellis)
  4. Diamondbacks (Prado/Parra)
  5. 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.

Bench

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Rockies
  3. Dodgers
  4. Giants
  5. Padres

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.

Kennedy (36 wins since 2011) anchors a deep Diamondbacks rotation that is needed to hang in the West.

Kennedy (36 wins since 2011) anchors a deep Diamondbacks rotation that is needed to hang in the West.

Rotation

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

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.

1-2 Punch

  1. Dodgers (Kershaw/Greinke)
  2. Giants (Cain/Bumgarner)
  3. Diamondbacks (Kennedy/McCarthy)
  4. Padres (Volquez/Richards)
  5. 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.

Bullpen

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Padres
  4. Diamondbacks
  5. Rockies

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.

Defense

Although it was Headley's bat that made the loudest impact, he landed his first Gold Glove in rise of 2012.

Although it was Headley’s bat that made the loudest impact, he landed his first Gold Glove in rise of 2012.

Giants

  1. Padres
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers

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.

Speed

  1. Padres
  2. Rockies
  3. Giants
  4. Dodgers
  5. Diamondbacks

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.

Manager

  1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
  2. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
  3. Bud Black, Padres
  4. Don Mattingly, Dodgers
  5. 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.

Finances

  1. Dodgers
  2. Giants
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

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.

Impact Additions

  1. Zack Greinke (Dodgers from Angels)
  2. Martin Prado (D’Backs from Braves)
  3. Cody Ross (Diamondbacks from Red Sox)
  4. Brandon McCarthy (Diamondbacks from Athletics)
  5. 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.

The addition of Greinke gave the Dodgers an arm that's struck out 200 and pitched 200 innings 3 of the last 4 years.

The addition of Greinke gave the Dodgers an arm that’s struck out 200 and pitched 200 innings 3 of the last 4 years, and devastating duo along with Kershaw.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  2. Sergio Romo, Giants
  3. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies
  4. Brandon Crawford, Giants
  5. 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

  1. Jedd Gyorko (Infielder-Padres, MLB)
  2. Yaisel Puig (Outfilder-Dodgers, AAA)
  3. Tyler Skaggs (Pitcher-Diamondbacks, AAA)
  4. Nolan Arenado (Third base-Rockies, AAA)
  5. 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.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

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.

There’s one more preview to go and to get the details on this, that and everything in between as baseball is primed to reset itself in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

In the final entry in the CHEAP SEATS best units in baseball series, I’m turning to the biggest highlight of every day of the week; the best everyday lineups in baseball. With the DH in the mix (begrudingly), this would be an area that would most likely cater towards the American League, but there’s a lot of National League squads that have bulked up in the last few years, as well as creatively balanced squads that can win in a variety of ways. But when it comes down to it, it’s about putting up runs, and being able to do so up and down the order to reach this level of the game.

Fielder & Cabrera

Below there are teams that have shown and proved, as well as those that have potential to bust out. However, like all other things, it’s all on potential at this point in the year. And nobody has more of a chance to capitalize on it than these groups. But no more build up, get into it: the best lineups in 2013 baseball, starting with a squad that made the World Series last year….at less than full strength…

  1. Detroit Tigers: Let’s put in context how daunting of a 3-4 punch that Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were last year: 74 homers, 247 RBI, 569 hits and a combined .322 average. What’s most frightening Is that 2012 was neither their best effort either, regardless of what honors and accomplishments they hit. Add in Austin Jackson’s leap forward, the addition of Torii Hunter, the underrated effort of Andy Dirks, a likely bounce back effort from Alex Avila and the return of Victor Martinez at DH, and you’ve got the biggest everyday issue for pitchers in business.
  2. Los Angeles Angels: Folks were ready to toss Mike Scicosia’s boys up here last year, but that was a bit premature. And it was also before Mike Trout made a legit claim to best in the world status and Josh Hamilton came over as well. Anytime Albert Pujols is just a piece of the puzzle, things are looking good. But outside of the big names, Howie Kendrick, Mike Trumbo and Erick Aybar are very solid table setters, and this should prove to be an unrelenting lineup.
  3. Washington Nationals: There are no breaks in this lineup, and it should actually improve this year. Adam LaRoche returns to be the power anchor, while Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond are among the most balanced bats in the NL. Adding Denard Span as a long-sought after legit lead off presence helps, but the continued growth of the prodigious Bryce Harper is the most exciting thing about the team, and the reason why it’s as good as the NL will see.
  4. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals were a ridiculously balanced attack last year, with Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, David Freese and Jon Jay all hitting over .290, and Carlos Beltran adding in 32 homers on top of it all. Overall, five of their nine starters topped 20 homers as well, with rookie Matt Carpenter returning after a .294 average, 22 double rookie campaign as potentially an everyday presence as well.
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers: This is the year where we see if the all of the blockbuster bats can swing together. Having Matt Kemp is a damn good start to any lineup, but the last year as seen Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford be added on make the push. This isn’t a team that’s built play D; it’s about the O. And if health stays on their side, there could be no limits to the numbers it puts up.
  6. Cincinnati Reds: Being way too left-handed has been the knock on them.  Joey Votto may be the best left-handed hitter in the game, and Jay Bruce quietly one of his best power hitters. Adding Shin-Choo Soo makes them better, but doesn’t solve that issue. I mean, Brandon Phillips can’t do it all by himself on the other side of the dish. Good thing is that a full-season of Todd Frazier (19 homers, 67 RBI) and another strong effort from Ryan Ludwick (25 homers, 80 RBI), he won’t have too.
There's a lot more to the Brewers than waiting for Braun to attack; they led the NL in extra base hits last summer.

There’s a lot more to the Brewers than waiting for Braun to attack; they led the NL in extra base hits last summer.

  1. Milwaukee Brewers: Another very complete lineup, that is home to a lot of understated contributors. Norichika Aoki (37 doubles, 30 steals) and Jonathan Lucroy (.320 avg) were quietly very productive. The mid-season move of Corey Hart to first base once again gives the club one of the better offensive infields in the NL, with Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks. And then on top of it all, there’s Ryan Braun, who’s been the most productive player in the NL over the last two years (.326/37 homers/112 RBI/189 hits/32 steals average for 2011-12).
  2. Texas Rangers: True, they lost Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, but there’s strength in numbers, and they have it. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus are dynamic at the top of the order, while Adrian Beltre has become one of the best bats in the game. If Nelson Cruz and Lance Berkman can stay healthy, there’s a chance that this team doesn’t regress at all.
  3. Colorado Rockies: It’s not shocking that the Rockies were the most productive home offense in the game last year, but what’s real is they could get even better everywhere this year. Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer and Todd Helton are a solid base, while Dexter Fowler (.300 avg), Josh Rutledge (33 extra base hits in 73 games) and Wilin Rosario (28 homers as rookie) rounded out a strong lineup. All of this was done with Troy Tulowikzki only playing 47 games, yet returning at full health finally for ’13.
  4. New York Yankees: A-Rod is out indefinitely, Derek Jeter’s health is in question, and Nick Swisher and Russell Martin were lost to free agency. Despite all of that, the Yankees lineup is still potent. Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeria and Curtis Granderson are power plant in the middle of the lineup, while Ichiro and Brett Gardner could be terror on the base paths in front of them. Add in the potential return of Jeter and a bounce back effort from Kevin Youkilis, and this is still the best offense in the AL East.

Just Missed: Blue Jays, Giants, Red Sox

For more on this, and the stroll up to Spring Training, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Oakland A's

Yesterday, I broke down the Top 10 infields in Major League Baseball headed into 2013. Today, we move back a little further to the outfield, where things are not as set as yesterday’s groups are. With a premier free agent still on the board (Michael Bourn) potentially impacting this group, as well as a few moves that could effect the who is playing where, there could be some ground that gets shook up.

But at any rate, here we go again:

1. Los Angeles Angels (Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, Josh Hamilton): This is nearly unfair on a few levels. Trout and Bourjos cover so much range that it’s much of an exaggeration to think they could play the entire outfield by themselves. Tack on Hamilton, who’s good for a default 30 homers, Vernon Wells on the bench and the scary idea that Trout is still improving, and this is the best of the bunch.

2. Washington Nationals (Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth): Another highly versatile, do everything group. Span is the long sought after speedy, leadoff centerfield they’ve needed for so long. Werth is ridiculously versatile in both the field and in the lineup, and Harper is entering his 20 year old season already as one of the most well-rounded players in the game.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier): This is a group that COULD be the best of them all at the end of the year IF Crawford can make it back to form. Kemp is the perhaps the most dangerous player in the game, and Ethier is steady contributor as well. Defensively, Kemp is probably better suited for a corner now, but he makes up for it by being a 40-40 threat annually.

4. Oakland A’s (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Chris Young): Yeah, four guys have to get listed here, because this is the deepest talent pool across the board after the addition of Young. What’s scarier is that Reddick (32 homers/Gold Glove) and Cespedes (23 homers) are just coming off of their first years as starters.

5. Atlanta Braves (Martin Prado, BJ Upton, Jason Heyward): This group is here for now, due to the fact they have acquired a left fielder to move Prado back to third. But even with just Upton and Heyward, it’s one of the best collections of young talent in the game. Heyward is back on track (60 homers, 23 years old) and Prado has hit over .300 three of his four full seasons.

6. Colorado Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer): Quiet consistency. CarGo is a perennial MVP candidate, despite playing on some subpar clubs recently. He hit .300 and topped both 20 homers and stolen bases for the third straight summer. Fowler was rightfully one of the most sought after players of the winter after hitting .300 and topping 10 triples for the fourth straight year.

At the All-Star Break last year, both Holliday & Beltran were viable MVP candidates, and pushed STL to the brink of another World Series.

Holliday & Beltran were MVP candidates in their first year together, and pushed STL to the brink of another World Series.

7. St. Louis Cardinals (Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran): Beltran was a revelation in his first year in St. Louis at the plate, while Jay became one of the better fielders in the league, while hitting .304. Holliday is one of the best hitters in either league, and transitioned well to being the biggest bat in the Cardinal order, hitting over .340 for three consecutive months in 2012.

8. Cincinnati Reds (Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce): Cincy took this group to another level with the addition of Choo, and retaining Ludwick assured balance in their lineup. Bruce is the biggest power threat on the club, as well as perhaps the best fielding right fielder in the game. However, he may have to move to center to accommodate Choo.

9. Baltimore Orioles (Nate McLouth, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis): Jones and Markakis are the mainstays of the organization, with Markakis as the constant of the org and Jones currently the franchise player. AJ10 has improved in each of the last 5 seasons, while Markakis was limited by a broken arm. Along with McLouth’s resurgence, this is a group that could still grow more together a year later.

10 Toronto Blue Jays (Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Jose Bautista): Biggest boom or bust group of all on this list, but the upside is undeniable. If Cabrera can break even from his pre and post PED form, Rasmus keeps up his mid-summer form (.291/8/25 in June) and most importantly, Joey Bats has his health in order, and gets his average back up (from .306 to .241 in ’12), while keeping his power (14 June homers), this is a very strong group.

Just Missed: Yankees, Diamondbacks, Brewers

 

For more in-depth talk on this list, the upcoming season and what I had for breakfast, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The National League’s most ever-changing division lived up to its usual standard once again. It was the host to all sorts of arrays of breakout performances and competitive finishes that made it the most closely competed division in the league. The drama kicked off early when the previously cellar dwelling Arizona Diamondacks went on a tear through May, eclipsing the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants for the division lead. This was a lead they would hold on to for the long run, aided by a gruesome season-ending injury to Buster Posey, which kept the Giants from pulling back into the race. Propelled by Justin Upton coming into his own as one of the game’s all-around great talents and Ian Kennedy’s rise to leading the NL in wins, D’Backs became the most unlikely division champions in all of baseball.

Upton’s breakthrough, 31 homer campaign made him an MVP candidate, and catapulted the D’Backs from worst to first.

2010 Finish

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68)
  2. San Francisco Giants (86-76)
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79)
  4. Colorado Rockies (73-89)
  5. San Diego Padres (71-91)

All the while, the Los Angeles Dodgers off-field ownership wars nearly took the headlines from two timeless performances on it. Clayton Kershaw won the NL’s pitching Triple Crown and brought a third Cy Young winner in four years to the West and Matt Kemp had one of the great performances in recent history. So what happens this time around in the NL’s grab bag division? Can the D’Backs play with the same urge and intensity they did last summer and still hold down the division crown? Or will the once again full-strength Giants regain their grasp on the division. Can the top heavy Dodgers or Rockies get some stronger efforts from their supporting casts to help their superstars efforts pay off? Or can the Padres young ensemble follow the lead of last year’s D’Backs and pull off this year’s heist of the summer? Time will tell, but you’ll never see it coming out West, that’s for sure.

All-Division Team

Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants

First Base: Yonder Alonso, Padres

Second Base: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

Center Field: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Right Field: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

 

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain, Giants

Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

Kershaw led the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248) to become the first Dodger Cy Young winner since 2003 at 23 years old.

Bullpen Righty: Sergio Romo, Giants

Bullpen Lefty: Rex Brothers, Rockies

Closer: Brian Wilson, Giants

 

Top 10 Players

  1. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
  2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  4. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  6. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
  7. Matt Cain, Giants
  8. Buster Posey, Giants
  9. Brian Wilson, Giants
  10. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

 

Lineup

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Giants
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

Top to bottom, the D’Backs have a unique mixture of speed, power and both rebound and growth potential. Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt will provide a power axis behind Justin Upton & Chris Young’s balanced attack. The Giants receive a major boost in Posey’s return, which has served as a constant catalyst the to the SF attack. Cargo and Tulo is the NL’s best back-to-back tandem.

Kemp’s monstrous 2011 made him the first player since Hank Aaron to finish in the top two in both homers and steals in the same summer.

Rotation

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Dodgers
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

Lincecum and Cain get the big headlines, but Madison Bumgartner and Ryan Vogelsong both tied for the team lead in wins last year with 13 a piece. The Giants provided the least run support to any staff in baseball, but their top four starters each sported ERA’s fewer than 3.20. Trevor Cahill adds a former 18-game winner to the growing Arizona staff.

1-2 Punch

  1. Giants (Lincecum & Cain)
  2. Diamondbacks (Kennedy & Hudson)
  3. Dodgers (Kershaw & Billingsley)
  4. Padres (Stauffer & Richard)
  5. Rockies (Chacin & Guthrie)

Lincecum and Cain combined for only 25 wins a year ago, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on their part: the duo combined for a .219 average against last year. Ian Kennedy broke through last year, with a 21 win performance. Speaking of breaking through, anybody paired with Kershaw is bound to look pretty good, but Billingsley has won in double digits for the last five years, with over 150 strikeouts the last four.

The Giants rotation is anchored by two of the toughest to hit pitchers in the game, which often pitch in the toughest luck as well.

Bullpen

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Dodgers
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

The Frisco pen is the game’s best. Headlined by Wilson, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez among others are an extension of the dominance started at the beginning of the game. JJ Putz took a hold of his opportunity as an undisputed closer in Arizona a year ago and turned in a 45 save shutdown performance. Huston Street changes Western addresses for closing down games, taking over for Heath Bell in San Diego.

 

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Rockies (Tulowitzki/Gonzalez/Helton)
  2. Giants (Sandoval/Posey/Huff)
  3. Diamondbacks (Upton/Montero/Young)
  4. Dodgers (Kemp/Ethier/Loney)
  5. Padres (Maybin/Quentin/Alonso)

Tulowitzki and Gonzalez provide nearly all of the punch for the Rockies offering, but their combined effort is nearly enough still. Helton is far from out to the pasture, as he still topped .300 last year. Pablo Sandoval had a strong comeback effort last year, hitting .315, and is over .300 for his career. Upton and Young give the D’Backs two potential 30/30 threat. Kemp has set 50/50 as a goal; don’t laugh at that either.

Tulowitzki’s has become both the most prodigious offensive shortstop since Alex Rodriguez, and a back-to-back Gold Glove winner.

Tablesetters

  1. Giants (Pagan & Cabrera)
  2. Dodgers (Gordon & Ellis)
  3. Rockies (Fowler & Scutaro)
  4. Padres  (Venable & Headley)
  5. Diamondbacks (Bloomquist & Hill)

Pagan and Cabrera could prove to be one of the best hit and run duos in the game, for a team that really needs to emphasize small ball. Dee Gordon is poised to be the breakthrough leadoff hitter in the game, and stole 24 bases after debuting last June.

Bench

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Padres
  3. Giants
  4. Rockies
  5. Dodgers

2011 Gold Glove winner Geraldo Parra will lead the way for a tough D’Backs bench, and Willie Bloomquist will be another boost once Stephen Drew reclaims shortstop. Tyler Colvin and Jason Giambi give the Rockies two real threats to change games late.

Defense

  1. Giants
  2. Rockies
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Padres
  5. Dodgers

The San Francisco pitching staff is backed by a solid defensive offering that keeps them intact. Sandoval is a surprisingly able third bagger and Posey’s presence will better the entire team as well. Tulowitzki and Scutaro will form a potent middle infield combo, while Gonzalez and Fowler can cover acres in the outfield. Kemp and Ethier have lived on reputation over results some in recent years.

Speed

  1.  Padres
  2. Dodgers
  3. Giants
  4. Rockies
  5. Diamondbacks

Cameron Maybin had a breakout season last year, and finished with 40 steals, while Will Venerable, Orlando Hudson, Jason Barlett and Chase Headley are all plus runners too. Kemp and Gordon will both surpass 30 steals easily in LA, while Pagan and Cabrera will move around the bases in a way the low power Giants desperately need.

After playing for 3 teams before turning 23, Maybin finally lived up to his potential and had a 40 steal breakout year for the Padres.

Manager

  1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
  2. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
  3. Bud Black, Padres
  4. Jim Tracy, Rockies
  5. Don Mattingly, Dodgers

Bochy has gotten a ton from some limited resources on his team over the past few years, even in their World Series season. Same goes for Gibson, who took a talented, but directionless club from the cellar to a Division title last year, winning the NL Manager of the Year as a result. Year two for Mattingly should give him a better chance to operate, has the stresses of the sale of the team should subside.

Finances

  1. Giants
  2. Rockies
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

No team in the division has a ton of assets currently, and the Giants have to make a big decision on how to approach the forthcoming free agency of Cain. The Dodgers could potentially be big spenders soon, with whoever ends up buying the club most likely looking to make a big splash once taking control of the team. If they are in the race late, they could be in full on “buy it all” mode at the trade deadline.

Impact Additions

  1. Trevor Cahill (Diamondbacks from A’s)
  2. Melky Cabrera (Giants from Royals)
  3. Angel Pagan (Giants from Mets)
  4. Michael Cuddyer (Rockies from Twins)
  5. Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks from Twins)

Cahill was 6-0 out the gates of 2011 before slowing down. With the switch to the lighter hitting NL (and heavier hitting D’Backs), a return to his 2010 form should be expected. Cuddyer is the game’s most effective utility man, and will provide a huge bonus in Colorado as a right and left fielder, as well as a first, second and third baseman.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Buster Posey, Giants
  2. Dee Gordon, Dodgers
  3. Brandon Belt, Giants
  4. Cory Luebke, Padres
  5. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Kind of odd to see Posey at the top of the list of break out candidates right? Well remember, we still haven’t seen a full year of him from start to finish in his two professional years. If he can work the magic he’s waved over the Giants’ lineup for a full year, in addition to Belt coming of age, runs will no longer be at a premium for Frisco. Paul Goldschmidt shows the potential to be an outright masher in the desert.

The invaluable Posey returns to both be a field general behind the plate, and the axis the Giants lineup revolves around.

Rookies/Prospects* to Watch

  1. Yonder Alonso (First Base, Padres)
  2. Trevor Bauer (Pitcher, Diamondbacks)
  3. Drew Pomaranz (Pitcher, Rockies)
  4. Nolan Arenado (Third Base, Rockies)
  5. Wilin Rosario (Catcher, Rockies)

Alonso was the key piece of the Padres decision to move ace Mat Latos to Cincinnati this winter, and for good reason. He’ll fit in as the everyday first baseman this year, and should be the team’s premier power hitter as well. Bauer was the third pick in last year’s draft, but already is forcing his way onto the Major League staff, and could have the best stuff of them all.

2012 PREDICTIONS

  1. Giants
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers
  5. Padres

It comes down to depth and details that separates the best from the rest out West. The Giants were the most talented team in the division last year until their offense sputtered out once Posey went on the DL in June. With Posey in or out of the lineup in his career, they have played either eight games better or eight games worst than the competition; a pretty remarkable difference. How his surgically repaired lower leg holds up over the summer will be important, but overall, this is a team that has few flaws. Cabrera and Pagan can reshape the energy for the team, and an ever improving Big Panda Sandoval could be up for an even bigger year with more support around him. Add this to a rotation that, with just two to three more runs a night, could have a pair of 20 game winners, and this is the hardest team to match up with night to night in the West.

Is this a slight against what the Diamondbacks did last year? No, not at all, and actually they should be about as good as they were a year ago this season. Aaron Hill turned the corner once he reached Phoenix last year and if Stephen Drew returns in good condition from the torn ACL that ended his summer early; this team could push the division race to its final days and snag a Wild Card for its efforts. The Rockies always have potential, and should score a good amount of runs, but they have a bad pitching staff in a division where that just won’t work. The Dodgers couldn’t do much to improve their club from where it was last summer, and lost some key pieces in Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake and Jonathan Broxton. It’s going to be tough to get better unless a sale goes through soon enough to impact their moves this year. The Padres have re-entered another rebuilding phase, and while they will be the best last place club in the league, it’s still last place all the same.

But buckle up for what will shape up to be the most exciting race for a division crown in all of baseball…with recent king taking the first step to reclaim its throne.

 

For more on where the National League will go this year, check back here in the upcoming days, and also follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.