Sunday, March 8, 2009

NL West Preview 2009

And finally, we have the preview for the NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Negotiations began around the time of the election and finalized almost 4 months later, but finally, Manny is a Dodger. Even without Manny, the Dodgers are a decent ball club. With Manny—assuming his head is on right—they should take the West easy. Across the outfield, you have Manny and his Hall of Fame numbers, Andre Either (.305 BA, .510 Slugging) and Matt Kemp (18 HRs, 35 stolen bases). Catcher Russell Martin should be an All-Star for the next decade, and 22-year-old Blake Dewitt moves from 3B to 2B to take over for Jeff Kent. On the mound, the youth movement continues as Derek Lowe has moved on to Atlanta and Chad Billingsley takes over as the ace of the staff. Following him are not-yet-able-to-drink 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw who flashed brilliance as much as inconsistency, and Hiroki Kuroda, who had a nice 2nd half of the season (2.57 in August and September). The Dodgers really hope Jason Schmidt can come back from shoulder surgery in June 2007. Rust is expected. To help with that the Dodgers signed Randy Wolf to help round out the rotation. Jonathan Broxton has a grip on the closer role with 88 SO in 69 innings. The NL West is weak, and now with Manny on board, the Dodgers have enough pieces of the puzzle to win. Even with just 87 wins or so.

2 Arizona Diamondbacks
Just like last year, Arizona is pitching-drunk. Their rotation consists of this: Dan Haren (3.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), Brandon Webb (22-7, 3.30 ERA) nice, middle-of-the-rotation lefty Doug Davis who has won 54 games in five years, despite coming back thyroid cancer last season. Then you have Jon Garland, who went 14-8 for the Angles last year. The fifth spot will be a battle between 2 talented rookies, Max Scherzer and Yusmeiro Petit, both of whom the D-Backs are very high on. Yeah, sure wow, that's great, but who closes games? Arizona let Brandon Lyon leave in free agency and are prepared to let Chad Qualls close games for them, who will promising is relatively untested. Arizona has signed old-as-the-Redwoods, Tom Gordon to provide veteran help. The other thing reminiscent of Arizona's 2008 season is the expectation that all their young talent has put it all together. In 2008, there were signs of the talent; Justin Upton hit 15 HRs in his first full season, Chris Young smacked 42 doubles and 22 HRs, Mark Reynolds hit 22 doubles and 28 HRs, and Stephen Drew batted .291 with 11 triples. But there was also the plain ugly; Upton had a disgusting .334 OBP and struck out 121 times, Young batted .248 and had 165 Ks, Reynolds led the majors in errors, had a sad .320 OBP and an astounding 201 Ks, and Drew's OBP was just .333 OBP—and he's the lead-off hitter. Overall, the prognosis in the desert is not bad—if the pitchers stay healthy and the young D-Back players can sample even a little of their talent, they can contend in the West. If the kids flame out, it will be a frustrating year looking up at the Dodgers all summer.

3. San Francisco Giants
It's astonishing that the prediction here is that the Giants are good enough to be 3rd in any division. The post-Bonds era had the 2008 Giants slugging at a pathetic .382 percentage. They hit a league low 94 home runs all year (second lowest were the Twins with 111 dingers). They had a collective .321 OBP—4 points off the league worst status. Add to that the fact that closer Brian Wilson had a 4.62 ERA and a 1.444 WHIP. Oh, and he had a 6.23 ERA at AT&T park—not good when your close has that kind of ERA in your home park. Also, The Giants spent almost 10 million over two seasons for the aging Edgar Rentaria. Sure, he's not as old and decrepit as his predecessor, Omar Visquel, but his batting average dropped sixty points last season, and he had a career low 6 stolen bases. 20 million for this? Really? Oh, and their projected outfield, of Aaron Rowland, Randy Winn and Fred Lewis (who?) hit 32 home runs last year, or 16 less than Ryan Howard did. Yet for all this, the Giants are projected 3rd in the West. Their starting rotation isn't all that bad; Tim Lincecum is lights out as a no. 1 and Matt Cain is solid as a number 2, (3.76 ERA). Randy Johnson, if he can hold off the Grim Reaper another season can be a solid no 3. (2.41 ERA in 2nd half last year). Barry Zito's insane contract will take the 4th spot and Jonathan Sanchez round out the rotation—not awful. However, "not awful" is nowhere good enough to make up for a lineup that scares no one—yet, strangely enough, it's good enough for 3rd in the NL West.

4. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are screwed. Just a couple years back, they were in the Series. Since then, seemingly, everything has gone wrong. First, they traded their best player, and to whit, didn't get the value they should have. Huston Street is ok, Greg Smith is a middle reliever and Carlos Gonzalez should pan out to be—in one person's estimation—the next incarnation of Juan Encarnacion. Great. But that's not all, No. 1 starter (and even that's pushing it), Jeff Francis is out for the season, leaving a mish-mash as the starting rotation. Aaron Cook is ok at best and Ubaldo Jimenez not bad if he can keep his walks in check. After that, it could get ugly—Franklin Morales? Jason Marquis? In the field, the Rockies have some parts: Troy Tulowitzki should return healthy and back to his 2007 numbers. Brad Hawpe is a nice player in the outfield and he should get some company from can't-miss rookie, Dexter Fowler, who hit .335 in AA last year and should be up some time this season in Denver. But Garrett Atkins is the man who must replace Matt Holliday's production. And while Atkins had nice numbers last year, he's not the same player he was in 2006, and since that career year, his numbers have dropped each season. For this season to not be a total disaster, Atkins must return to some semblance of the 2006 version of himself. Even if that happens though, the scoreboard operator is going to earn his pay, as the Rockies pitching should be giving up runs by the bushels this year. The 2008 Rockies won 74 games. They won't win that many this year.

5. San Diego Padres
The Padres tried all winter to trade their ace starter as the enter complete rebuilding mode. They couldn't even do that right. The Padres batted .250 collectively as a team and were dead last with a .317 team-wide OBP. You're telling me, Jake Peavy couldn't have brought back some nice prospects to help change that? In any event, Peavy and Chris Young will be the excellent 1-2 combination at the start of the Padres rotation, at least until the trade deadline. After them, promising rookie Josh Green, Cha Seung Baek and Josh Banks round out the rotation. Mark Prior will try once again to stay healthy. And for the first time since the Korean War, Trevor Hoffman will not be closing games for the Padres, having been allowed to go to Milwaukee in free agency. Heath Bell taking over those duties, having the benefit of being young and cheaper if not as reliable as Hoffman. As for the lineup, well, it really shouldn't scare anyone. Adrian Gonzalez is the best player no one knows anything about. Brian Giles is not bad, but is as old as dirt. Jody Gerut is decent, Kevin Kouzmanoff is nothing special. And frankly that's about it. And despite the commitment to rebuilding by youth (i.e., trading talent for cheaper players), the Padres only have one prospect in Baseball America's top 100 prospects, so help wont be coming anytime soon. If fans in southern California are upset. Well, they should be. The Padres have mangled their team and offer no hope anytime soon. The no. 1 pick in the amateur draft is all Padres fans have to look forward to.

That's it, enjoy the season!!

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