Wednesday, March 30, 2011

KD's N.L. West Preview

Team: San Francisco Giants
Manager: Bruce Bochy
Last Year: 92-70

Offseason losses: Jose Guillen, OF (FA); Fred Lewis, OF (Cincinnati); Chris Ray, RHP (FA); Edgar Renteria, SS (Cincinnati); Juan Uribe, SS (Los Angeles Dodgers); Eugenio Velez, OF (FA).

Offseason additions: Miguel Tejada, SS (San Diego)

Best offseason move: Miguel Tejada coming over to replace Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria at SS is a good move for San Francisco. He’s a veteran presence with some power still left in his bat. While only playing 58 games at SS last year (93 at 3B, 4 as DH), he’ll return to regular infield duty.

Worst offseason move: Not figuring out what to do with Aaron Rowand. Andres Torres emerged last year and has the CF duties locked down. Pat Burrell figures to start in left field, leaving Rowand as a $10M per year insurance policy. While he figures to get a few starts here and there, that’s quite a hefty price to pay for a bench player.

Pitching: Other than some issues in middle relief, the Giants have a tremendous pitching staff. Led by aces Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, along with Madison Burngarner (all former 1st round draft picks), and fireball closer Brian Wilson, who unfortunately will begin the year on the DL, the Giants shouldn’t have much trouble getting production from this staff. Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito round out the starting rotation. Jeremy Affeldt, Gueillermo Mota, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Ramon Ramirez, and Santiago Casilla head up the bullpen.

Lineup: Aubrey Huff and Pablo Sandoval are the only returning starters from opening day in 2010. GM Brian Sabean figures to make a few more moves to add potent hitting to the lineup, so don’t be concerned that the Giants were only 17th in runs scored and 15th and team batting average last year. Buster Posey came on like gangbusters behind the plate, and Huff and Sandoval have 1B and 3B covered respectively. Burrell, Torres, and mid-season pickup Cody Ross will patrol the outfield. Miguel Tejada and Freddy Sanchez will field up the middle at SS and 2B.

Biggest question this year: A simple one here, do the Giants have what it takes to repeat as World Series Champs? I’d like to think they can. They certainly have the starting rotation to make it back to the postseason. If they can figure out how to get from the starting rotation to closer Brian Wilson, once he returns, they’ll be in good shape there. I wouldn’t count on GM Sabean to stand pat on his every-day lineup either, and I expect another bat or two will find their way to San Francisco at some point during the season.

Outlook: The Giants have an outstanding starting rotation (1st in ERA, saves, and opponents BA, .236) and they were in the middle of the pack in just about every offensive category, save for stolen bases. If the Giants can add some more power to go with Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff, and Cody Ross, they could certainly repeat again. You’d like to see them with a little more speed so Bruce Bochy can manufacture more runs. All things considered, to me, it seems like the Philadelphia Phillies will once again be the main competition facing the Giants on the road back to the World Series.

Predicted finish this year: 1st N.L. West

Team: Colorado Rockies
Manager: Jim Tracy
Last Year: 83-79

Offseason losses: Clint Barmes, 2B (trade, Houston); Joe Beimel, LHP (FA); Manny Corpas, RHP (released); Manny Celcarmen, RHP (FA); Ocavtio Dotel, RHP (FA); jeff Francis, LHP (FA); Jason Giambi, 1B (FA); Melvin Mora, 3B (Arizona); Miguel Olivo, C (trade, Toronto); Jay Payton, OF (FA); Paul Phillips, C (Cleveland).

Offseason additions: Matt Lidstrom, RHP (trade, Houston); Jose Lopez, 3B (trade, Seattle), Jose Morales, C (trade, Minnesota); Felipe Paulino, RHP (trade, Houston); Ty Wiggington, 1B (Baltimore).

Best offseason move: Acquiring 1B Ty Wiggington from the Orioles was a solid move for the Rockies. While he’ll be used in a utility role, thanks to Todd Helton’s presence at first base, Wiggington gives the Rockies a right handed bat in a lineup that’s filled with lefty’s. He should get a few starts at 1B to spell Helton, and he should get plenty of opportunities to pinch hit and play some at 3B.

Worst offseason move: Trading 2B Clint Barmes to Houston. The Rockies couldn’t workout a new deal with Barmes, so they sent him packing to the Astros. They’ll miss his dependable glove at 2B. Taking over will be Jose Lopez, who batted .239 for the Mariners last season, knocking in 58 runs. While his offensive production is similar to Barmes’, it remains to be seen if he’ll have the same defensive prowess, something the Rockies pitching staff is reliant on.

Pitching: Speaking of pitching, the Rockies have some very talented arms. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Aaron Cook, and Jason Hammel give the Rockies 5 solid starting pitchers. Felipe Paulino and Esmil Rogers give the Rockies some options as emergency starters and solid long-relief options in the pen. Matt Lidstrom can provide a closing role if Huston Street is injured again. Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle, Franklin Morales, and Matt Reynolds round out the bullpen.

Lineup: The Rockies have a lot of homegrown talent in their every-day lineup to go with their two stars, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, who is one of the homegrown guys. Going with Tulowitzki are C Chris Iannetta, 3B Ian Stewart, RF Seth Smith, 1B Todd Helton, and CF Dexter Fowler. Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, along with Todd Helton, will carry the Rockies offense at the Coors Field launching pad.

Biggest question this year: Can the Rockies put it all together? If the pitching staff stays healthy, and the key starters don’t have injuries, I expect the Rockies to make a strong run at the N.L. wild-card spot. While I don’t think they have all the pieces to keep pace with the Giants, especially with a rebuilt bullpen, they can certainly over take San Diego and Los Angeles in the N.L. West.

Outlook: Ubaldo Jimenez gives the Rockies a bonafide ace, and if he can keep up his consistency over the whole season, not just half, he’ll be in Cy Young contention. Keep Jorge De La Rosa was a good move. If the Rockies can continue to get production out of Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez in addition to keep Troy Tulowitzki healthy, why have the potential to make some serious noise out west.

Predicted finish this year: 2nd N.L. West

Team: Los Angeles Dodgers
Manager: Don Mattingly
Last Year: 80-82

Offseason losses: Brad Ausmus, C (retired); Reed Johnson, OF (FA); Russell Martin C, (New York Yankees); Scott Podsednik, OF (FA); George Sherrill, LHP (Atlanta); Ryan Theriot 2B (trade, St. Louis); Jeff Weaver, RHP (FA).

Offseason additions: Jon Garland, RHP (San Diego); Matt Guerrier, RHP (Minnesota); Tony Gwynn, OF (San Diego); Blake Hawksworth, RHP (trade, St. Louis); Dioner Navarro, C (Tampa Bay); Juan Uribe, 2B (San Francisco).

Best offseason move: Signing John Garland away from division rival San Diego. The addition of Garland, along with re-signing some of their own pitchers, gives the Dodgers a solid starting rotation. Garland is a veteran right-hander that won 14 games, pitched 200 innings, and tossed 136 strikeouts in 2010. His addition gives the Dodgers another solid starter.

Worst offseason move: Losing C Russell Martin hurts. He handled their pitching staff pretty well, and it will be tough for Rod Barajas to replicate that performance. Martin’s bat won’t be missed all that much, but his defense and ability to call a game will be.

Pitching: The Dodgers have a starting rotation that’s in that upper tier with Philadelphia and San Francisco. Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jon Garland give them an excellent 1-5 staff. Kershaw and Lilly give them two lefties with good stuff. Jonathan Broxton has big-time closer stuff, and he’ll have to respond well to new manager Don Mattingly. Hong-Chih Kuo gives them another option to close if needed. Matt Gurrier was a great pickup from Minnesota - he’s had at least 70 appearances in 4 straight seasons. Vincete Padilla, Carlos Monasterios, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, and Ramon Troncoso round out the bullpen.

Lineup: Adding Juan Uribe at 2B is a nice addition. The Dodgers still have plenty of hitters to go with him. RF Andre Either is one of the best players you’ve never heard about. He’s joined in the outfield by Matt Kemp and John Gibbons. Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal man the left side of the infield and veteran Rod Barajas takes over for Russell Martin behind the plate. Tony Gwynn Jr, and a C Dioner Navarro provide some depth for the Dodgers.

Biggest question this year: How will Don Mattingly be as a manager? It’s always tough for first-time managers, and it will be no different for Mattingly. The Dodgers have win-now expectations, and rightfully so with their pitching. Mattingly will be under some pressure to produce a team that betters last year’s 80-82 record. The Dodgers should, and I emphasize “should”, be able to give the Giants a run in the N.L. West, but I don’t think that will come to fruition.

Outlook: With a solid pitching staff and decent batting order, the Dodgers have potential. But when you mix in a new manager and take away a catcher who knew that starting lineup, you get some issues. The Dodgers have the pieces, but it remains to be seen how they’ll all be put together. I think the Dodgers will be better than last year’s team record-wise, but I’m not sure they’ll have what it takes to overtake not only San Francisco, but Colorado as well.

Predicted finish this year: 3rd N.L. West

Team: San Diego Padres
Manager: Bud Black
Last Year: 90-72

Offseason losses: Kevin Corriea, RHP (Pittsburgh); David Eckstein, 2B (FA); Jon Garland, RHP (Los Angeles Dodgers); Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (trade Boston); Tony Gwynn Jr, OF (Los Angeles Dodgers); Jerry Hairston, SS (FA); Scott Hairston, OF (FA); Edward Mujica, RHP (Florida); Matt Stairs, OF (Washington); Miguel Tejada, SS (San Francisco); Yorvit Torrealba, C (Texas); Chris Young, RHP (FA); Ryan Webb, RHP (trade, Florida); Adam Russell, RHP (trade, Tampa Bay); Cesar Ramos, LHP (trade, Tampa Bay).

Offseason additions: Jason Bartlett, SS (trade, Tampa Bay); Aaron Harang, RHP (Cincinnati); Jarrett Hoffpauir, 3B (Toronto); Orlando Hudson, 2B (Minnesota); Rob Johnson, C (Seattle); Cameron Maybin, OF (Florida); Dustin Moeseley, RHP (New York Yankees); Eric Patterson, OF (trade, Boston); Brad Hawpe, 1B (Tampa Bay).

Best offseason move: Acquiring former Marlins CF Cameron Maybin. The 23 year old outfield has tons of talent, but he’s already had two prior teams - Detroit and Florida. The hope is that Maybin will do for San Diego what Carlos Gonzalez did for the Rockies a year ago. He’ll have to improve a lot upon his .234 average from 2010 to do that.

Worst offseason move: Losing 1B Adrian Gonzalez. I shouldn’t really have to explain this one, but losing his .298 average, 31 HR and 101 RBI definitely hurts the Padres. To make matters worse, there’s really no talent at all to replace him in the lineup. Even if everyone were to peak this season offensively, the Padres will still have a tough, tough time replacing his production.

Pitching: Mat Latos is the ace here, and he’ll be relied upon more heavily this year with losing Kevin Correia and John Garland out of the starting rotation. Aaron Harang comes over from the Reds, but he’s been a shell of himself since making the All-Star game a few years back. He’ll eat up innings, but won’t do much else. Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, and Cory Luebke round out the starting rotation. Heath Bell is back as closer, but a ton of bullpen depth is gone from last year. Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, Dustin Moseley, Joe Thatcher, and Ernesto Frieri will try to pick up the slack in the pen.

Lineup: Again, losing Gonzalez hurts. Replacing him at first will be Brad Hawpe. Orlando Hudson at 2B, Jason Bartlett at SS, and Chase Headley round out the infield. Nick Hundley will be the man behind the plate. Joining CF Cameron Maybin in the outfield will be Ryan Ludwick and Will Venable. Even with Gonzalez last year, the Padres were pretty woeful when up to bat. They finished 28th in team average with a .246 clip. But, when they did get on, they could manufacture runs and were 6th in stolen bases with 126. Look for Bud Black to try to squeeze out every run he possibly can from this lineup. They’ll need them.

Biggest question this year: How do the Padres overcome all of the changes from last year? Losing your top offensive player, two starting pitchers, and most of your bullpen depth is a lot to overcome. The Padres were one of the surprise teams in baseball last year. It’d be an even bigger surprise if they played as well this year. Bud Black will have to be Manager of the Year again to keep the Padres in the wild-card race. They simply don’t seem to have the components to get the job done.

Outlook: This year looks pretty grim for the Padres. They lost a lot of key parts to last year’s team. They play in a pitcher’s park, which hopefully takes out some of the sting from losing Gonzalez’s offensive production. They’re banking an awful lot on CF Cameron Maybin, who just hasn’t been what the Tigers envisioned he could be when they used a 1st round pick on him . That said, they can at least thank the Diamondbacks for not finishing last…I think.

Predicted finish this year: 4th N.L. West

Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Manager: Kirk Gibson
Last Year: 65-97

Offseason losses: Kris Benson, RHP (FA); Blaine Boyer, RHP (FA); D.J. Carrasco, RHP (New York Mets); Ryan Church, OF (FA); Mike Hampton, LHP (FA); Aaron Heilman, RHP (FA); Adam LaRoche, 1B (FA); Rodrigo Lopez, RHP (FA); Augie Ojeda, 2B (FA); Mark Reynolds 3B (trade, Baltimore); Rusty Ryal, OF (released); Brandon Webb, RHP (Texas).

Offseason additions: Henry Blanco, C (New York Mets); Geoff Blum, 1B Houston); Zach Duke, LHP (trade, Pittsburgh); David Hernandez, RHP (trade, Baltimore); Kam Mickolio, RHP (trade, Baltimore); Juan Miranda, 1B (trade, New York Yankees); Melvin Mora, 3B (Colorado); Xavier Nady, OF (Chicago Cubs); J.J. Putz, RHP (Chicago White Sox).

Best offseason move: Signing J.J. Putz. Puts gives the D-Backs a solid closer to hopefully end Arizona’s run of 4 closers in 4 years. Putz was the setup man for the White Sox last year, and struck out 65 in 64 innings. Putz did have 76 saves in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. He should solidify, or will at least attempt to, the D-Backs bullpen.

Worst offseason move: Not re-signing Brandon Webb. Webb signed with the Rangers and takes with him one of the most talented arms on the D-Backs staff. Granted, he’s missed two season with shoulder surgery, he might have been another big piece to the puzzle of getting the D-Backs out of the N.L. West cellar. The former Cy Young award winner could’ve helped the starting rotation, but GM Kevin Towers is banking that he won’t be missed.

Pitching: Losing Webb aside, the D-Backs starting rotation will consist of Joe Saunders, Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Barry Enright, and Zach Duke. Putz will take over the closer’s role allowing Jose Gutierrez to take over the setup role, which he’ll be more comfortable with. David Hernandez, Kam Mickolio, Sam Dernel, Esmerling Vasquez, and Joe Patterson should round out the bullpen. Patterson, is one of the few lefties in the pen.

Lineup: The D-Backs will rely on young star Justin Upton again in RF, and he’s got a lot of new help this year. Chris Young and Xavier Nady will round out the outfield with Upton. Brandon Allen, Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew, and Melvin Mora will take the infield spots from first to third and Miguel Montero will be the man behind the plate. The D-Backs were 6th in homers last year with 180 and ranged from 10-20 in most major offensive categories. Stolen bases were low with only 86 last year.

Biggest Question this year: How will Kirk Gibson do in his first full year as manager? Coming from an interim role last year, Gibson will have some experienced coaches alongside him in the dugout. Don Baylor, Charles Nagy, Matt Williams, Eric Young, and Alan Trammell bring a wealth of experience. GM Kevin Towers comes over from San Diego, and has rebuilt the D-Backs bullpen, but not to the same quality that he had with the Padres.

Outlook: This could be the year the D-Backs finally climb back out of the cellar. They have some decent pitching, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen, but they’ll have to put it all together with their lineup, which will be considerably different form last year’s squad. I have a feeling this team could sneak up on a few people, and I imagine they might be a lot like Houston was last year. A team that’s tough, plays you tough, and will be one that you won’t want to see down the stretch.

Predicted finish this year: 5th N.L. West

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