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Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 MLB Preview: NL West

Finally, with a few days before opening day, we've arrived at the division all of us are interested in. The NL West. Unfortunately for most, you may not like who we've placed atop the division this year, but it just goes to show you we are as unbiased as possible here when making predictions. I'll tell you one thing though, the NL West is no longer the "NL Worst".

1st Place, Los Angeles Dodgers

LF Carl Crawford
RF Yasiel Puig
CF Matt Kemp*
 SS Hanley Ramirez
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Juan Uribe
C  A.J. Ellis
2B Dee Gordon

LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Zach Grienke
LHP Hyun-jin Ryu
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Josh Beckett*
SU: RH Brian Wilson
CL: RH Kenley Jansen

Had the Dodgers entered October with a healthy Matt Kemp, who knows what would have happened, as they cruised to a division tittle last season while their star outfielder spent most the year sideline. Kemp is now back and healthy and should be ready to join the team within the first week or two of the season. He'll rejoin a team in which he no longer has to be the offensive catalyst, with Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig each in the fold. The Dodgers definitely have the makings of the best outfield in baseball should Kemp get back to his level of play and Carl Crawford stays healthy for 85% of the games this year. They have a hole at 2nd base, but if they don't find a suitable in-house candidate by June, you can bet your bottom dollar they'll go find one outside the organization... The starting pitching looks strong, led by one of the better 1-2 duos in all of baseball and that bullpen is ridiculously deep, sporting 4 guys with ample closing experience as well as a couple of nasty lefties. The Dodgers, on paper, appear to have it all. Speed, power and average in their lineup, sound defense, and a talented, deep pitching staff. Of course, we know that doesn't always spell success in LA, but they enter the season as legit World Series contenders.
*Kemp and Beckett each start year on 15-day DL (expected back by mid-April)

2nd Place, San Francisco Giants (NL Wild Card)

CF Angel Pagan
2B Marco Scutaro*
1B Brandon Belt
C Buster Posey
RF Hunter Pence
3B Pablo Sandoval
LF Michael Morse
SS Brandon Crawford

LHP Madison Bumgarner
RHP Matt Cain
RHP Tim Hudson
RHP Tim Lincecum
RHP Ryan Vogelsong
SU: Santiago Casilla
CL: Sergio Romo

The Giants made a couple of acquisitions this winter that they hope helps get them back on track and avoid the mishaps they were unable to last summer. They suffered some key injuries and didn't have the depth to overcome those losses. This year, they're hoping for improved health of course, and also that the addition of Michael Morse to the lineup and Tim Hudson to the rotation make both those units deeper and stronger. The question they have to be most concerned with right now is how often they're going to be able to use Marco Scutaro this summer. Even when he's healthy and returns to the lineup (starting year on DL), he may only be a guy who only can play 3-4 times per week. If they get improvements from 2013 out of Posey, Sandoval and Morse with continued growth from Brandon Belt, the offense could be one of the better ones the Giants have had in recent years (deeper than their Championship runs). However, like it has since Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain became mainstays, this teams success will come down to how they pitch. If 3/5ths of their rotation struggles again, they're not going to be a good ballclub. If Lineceum and Cain show better consistency, Huddy shows he's still got plenty left in the tank and Vogelsong is at least adequate in the fifth spot, they'll be just fine. All those things have a good chance at happening, but are far from locks. Also, the bullpen, again, lacks depth, so if guys at the back end, like Casilla, Lopez or Romo need to miss any time, it's going to cause a ripple effect.

All in all, with the improved lineup, and expected rebound performances in the rotation (at least to some extent), I see them being a strong enough squad to hold off Arizona and be serious players for one of the two wild card spots.
*Scutaro to start year on 15-day DL

3rd Place, Arizona Diamondbacks

CF A.J. Pollock
3B Martin Prado
1B Paul Goldschmidt
LF Mark Trumbo
2B Aaron Hill
C Miguel Montero
LF Gerardo Parra
SS Chris Owings

LHP Wade Miley
RHP Trevor Cahill
RHP Bronson Arroyo
RHP Brandon McCarthy
RHP Randall Delgado
SU: RH J.J. Putz
CL: RH Addison Reed

The D-Backs suffered a huge loss when ace Patrick Corbin went down this spring and needed Tommy John Surgery. That may have cost them their shot at making a serious run in the division, but they still do have some talent throughout the roster. Perhaps the best move they made was swiping up Bronson Arroyo in the 11th hour, which looks even better after losing Corbin. Even so, they don't really have an ace on the roster, and while their staff has some depth, they aren't quite up their with San Francisco or LA. The lineup is a decent one with a lot of speed and big time power in the middle. They do have some questions at the bottom, but most teams do. Goldschmidt may be in the MVP conversation come years end, and Mark Trumbo may have 40 HR potential in that ballpark. Also, their defense is always solid, led by Montero behind the plate and Prado over at third. If a couple of guys step up big, they could very easily sneak past the Giants and should very much be in play for one of the Wild Card spots come September. The bullpen is decent, with new closer Addison Reed taking over the 9th inning, but they can be beaten. I see Arizona as a hair above .500, though an addition or a breakout year by someone could put them firmly over the hump.

4th Place, San Diego Padres

SS Everth Cabrera
RF Will Venable
2B Jedd Gyorko
3B Chase Headley
LF Carlos Quentin
1B Yonder Alonso
C Yasmani Grandal
CF Cameron Maybin

RHP Andrew Cashner
RHP Josh Johnson*
RHP Tyson Ross
RHP Ian Kennedy
LHP Eric Stults
SU: Joaquin Benoit
CL: Huston Street

The Padres are a team that is definitely headed in the right direction, and I've even come across a few baseball sites that have them finishing ahead of the Giants and D-Backs in this division. While I don't hold that high of optimism for this team quite yet, you can see why people are hyped about their future. They have a lineup that's well suited to playing in their spacious ballpark, with a lot of gap power and speed. If Headley and Quentin rebound in the middle and provide the power they can, and the other youngsters take another step forward, they're gonna score runs. Their pitching took a big hit when Josh Johnson went down in the last week of spring, costing him the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season (surprise, surprise). They have some quality arms in that rotation though aside from Johnson, and their bullpen always seems to be strong, ever since the days Bochy was at the helm. They don't quite have enough talent to make a serious play, but there a team that could make a blockbuster deal and maybe enter the mix. The Padres have been notoriously quiet in terms of trading and big free agent moves in recent years, but something tells me their eventually going to make a splash. Right now, they're a solid squad in a good division, so .500 looks reasonable, but an injury to one of the teams ahead of them, or a big move or two by them could ascend them a spot or two.
*Johnson out till early May

5th Place, Colorado Rockies

CF Drew Stubbs
RF Michael Cuddyer
LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Justin Morenau
C Wilin Rosario
3B Nolan Arenado
2B D.J. LeMahieu

LHP Jorge De La Rosa
RHP Jhoulys Chacin*
LHP Brett Anderson
RHP Juan Nicasio
RHP Tyler Chatwood
SU: Rex Brothers
CL: LaTroy Hawkins

The Rockies, like the Padres, are definitely headed in the right direction, but aren't quite there yet. I don't think it was a good move dealing away Dexter Fowler on their part, as he was their leadoff hitter and a guy with a ton of talent, but out he goes and in comes Drew Stubbs (who I could actually see thriving in that yard). Their lineup, as alwasy, should have no problem scoring. They have the best 3-4 punch in the game with Tulo and CarGo, but they're also the most fragile combo as well. If both play 140+ games, it will mean good things for Colorado. The pitching staff has a few bright spots but their top arm, Chacin, will miss the first month of the year. If Anderson can stay on the field and provide 30 starts, and Nicasio can find some consistency, the rotation will be better than most expect. While their bullpen has some nice arms (Belisle, Brothers, Logan)  they don't have a clear-cut closer, though Hawkins will take the role to begin the season. I'm surprised they couldn't find a more sure-fire closer though as there were many available in free agency this winter and it would have really solidified their bullpen. They have the firepower in their lineup to play with most teams, but their still a tad short in the pitching department to be taken seriously.
*Chacin out till early May
The Giants Baseball Blog


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