The NL West should be a fairly tight race this year. Much has changed since the Dodgers nearly blew a huge lead last season. For starters, a bitter divorce has gripped Dodgers’ ownership and put a tight cap on the spending of last year’s champs. The Giants have made strides to improve a weak offense and the D-Backs and Padres underwent major changes as well. A short capsule will break down each team, listed in predicted order of finish.
1- Colorado Rockies
The Rockies have the most complete team on paper heading into 2010. They have a solid pitching staff that will be lead by Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook, two of the more underrated pitchers in the game, joined by Jorge de la Rosa, a surprise 17-game winner a year ago. Jeff Francis returns this year after missing all of 2009 with injuries. The bullpen will be lead by closer Huston Street, who was perhaps the best in the NL last year. He will be set-up by Franklin Morales and Rafael Betancourt.
The offense will be lead by MVP candidate Troy Tulowitzki and first baseman Todd Helton, the Rockies career leader in just about every offensive category. Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez is a player to watch, he has superstar talent and had a great half-season with the Rockies in 2009.
2- San Fransisco Giants
Manager Bruce Bochy has the best starting staff in the division and maybe the league. Two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum is the class of a staff that also features Matt Cain and a resurgent Barry Zito. Look for lefty phenom Madison Baumgartner to make a big splash upon his arrival this year as well. The bullpen features closer Brian Wilson and lefty Jeremy Affeldt, one of the best in the business.
If the Giants want to keep up with Colorado, they’ll need a big year from a few newcomers to the lineup. Last year’s team featured Bengie Molina and Pablo Sandoval and both are back again, but Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff will have to produce if this team is going to score enough runs to contend. Otherwise, there will be a lot of 3-1 losses by the bay.
3- Los Angeles Dodgers
Starting pitching has been the calling card of this franchise since they moved to LA, but the cabinet looks pretty thin this year. How much so? Well Rangers cast-off Vicente Padilla will be there number one starter. Chad Billingsley was an all-star last year but faded down the stretch and the Dodgers allowed Randy Wolfe and Jon Garland to walk away without getting suitable replacements. The Bullpen should be fantastic again this year, but what good does that do you if the starters can keep the other team from putting up crooked numbers?
This might be Joe Torre’s final year as Dodgers manager, but at least he won’t have to worry about his offense. The lineup will feature Matt Kemp, one of the best young outfielders in baseball, along with another very good one in RF Andre Eithier. Russell Martin will look to bounce back after regressing a bit in 2009, but the test for this team will be for the aging veterans in Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez. If those two can keep hitting like they used to, this team might have enough to vie for another playoff run, if not the Dodgers will place no higher than third.
4- San Diego Padres
The Padres might wind up with the lowest payroll in baseball this year, especially if Ps Heath Bell and Chris Young are traded, which likely will happen. There is enough talent there to avoid the cellar, but it’s young talent. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez didn’t have much protection last year and figures to get less with the loss of Kevin Kouzmanoff. LF Kyle Blanks is a player to watch; he’s a giant man with tons of power.
As mentioned, Chris Young will lead the staff and Garland is on board to help as the number two, at least until the trade deadline. There are some good arms though, keep an eye on Mat Latos and Clayton Richard.
5- Arizona Diamondbacks
Well, they still have Dan Haren, and they did get all-star Edwin Jackson from Detroit, but Brandon Webb still has no firm timetable for a possible return and the fourth starter is set to be Rodrigo Lopez. Unless Jackson can show he’s the guy from the first half of last year, and not the guy that faded so much down the stretch, the young D-backs lineup will be looking up at some large deficits all too often.
But that lineup should be a good one, if they make enough contact. Mark Reynolds has enough power to consistently hit 40+ bombs a year, but he might strikeout 250 times one of these seasons. Right fielder Justin Upton has perhaps the most talent of any player in baseball and new first baseman Adam LaRoche should help as well. On paper, this team might look okay, but there just isn’t enough pitching, especially without Webb.
Coming tomorrow: the AL East and West