Over the past couple of seasons, the NL West has been one of the most wide-open divisions in baseball.
In the past decade, four of the five teams in the NL West have won the division (the Colorado Rockies being the exception as they have never won the division).
In 2012, expect to see every team having a legitimate chance to take home the division crown. There are plenty of styles in which the teams represent, as well.
In short, this division is one of the most interesting in baseball.
There could be several different conclusions as the division contains hitting, pitching, and youth. However, the team that rises to the top will be the team that can balance all three with success.
The San Diego Padres are a team that's in rebuilding mode, but it seems that they've reloaded their organization with success.
The massive overhaul of the Padres started after the 2010 season, when they lost to the San Francisco Giants by one game in the NL West. The Padres didn't want to spend the money necessary to keep hometown hero Adrian Gonzalez at first base, so they traded him to the Boston Red Sox.
Since then, the Padres have taken their assets and turned them into youth.
The team took their best starting pitcher in Mat Latos and turned him into Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal while adding pieces that could help right away in Edison Volquez and trading for Carlos Quentin from the Chicago White Sox.
The Padres also boast one of the best bullpens in baseball despite losing Heath Bell to the Miami Marlins. The Padres dealt top prospect Anthony Rizzo and got a power arm in Andrew Cashner from the Chicago Cubs in return.
To replace Bell, they also got Huston Street from the Colorado Rockies. Street is a solid option at the back of the pen as he has recorded over 20 saves in five seasons.
All of this means the Padres have a bright future, but they're not there yet.
Once several more prospects such as Grandal and Casey Kelly (who was acquired from Boston in the Gonzalez trade) develop more, the Padres can make a move.
For now, they'll be competing for last place.
How can a team with the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner and NL Most Valuable Player Award Runner-Up (although some people believe he should be given that award after the issues surrounding Ryan Braun) be picked to finish fourth in their own division?
They don't have the money to have the fire power around them.
It's easy to point out the off-the-field drama that's engulfed the Los Angeles Dodgers as a reason they haven't been able to compete, but with the players fearing they might not get paid, it's a legit reason.
On the field, they've lost their closer in Jonathan Broxton, and other than Kemp, you have to question who will drive in runs for the team.
In my opinion, I think the Dodgers will be on the decline until they're able to find a new owner.
It doesn't mean that they have to rebuild (as keeping Kemp and Kershaw locked up were brilliant moves), but it will still be a season or two before the Dodgers compete in the NL West again.
The Colorado Rockies are trying to rebuild their starting rotation after the Ubaldo Jimenez trade last July. This could be the one thing that keeps the Rockies from being a legitimate contender in the division.
Offense has never been a problem in Colorado, but the Rockies have struggled to find pitchers that can handle the way the balls fly out of Coors Field.
This year, Colorado be leaning on a starting rotation that lacks experience.
With the exception of Jhoulys Chacin and Jeremy Guthrie, there is very limited experience in the Rockies rotation. Drew Pomeranz seems to be the one with the most promise, as he was obtained from the Cleveland Indians in the trade for Jimenez.
The team may also get a contribution from Tyler Chatwood, who's turned in several good years with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The subtraction Huston Street may also hurt them, but they feel that Rafael Betancourt can slam the door at the end of games.
Offensively, the Rockies look pretty good, especially after the additions of Michael Cuddyer and Marco Scutaro. The addition of Scutaro should shine on the defensive end as well as he'll be paired up with one of the best shortstops in the game in Troy Tulowitzki.
If the Rockies can get a bigger contribution from their young starters, they have a chance to move up in the NL West.
However, it looks like the Rockies will have to slug their way into contention.
The San Francisco Giants have had the same problem over the past five seasons.
While the Giants may possess one of the best starting rotations in baseball, they struggle to score runs.
Last year was no exception to that rule, as the Giants finished last in the National League with just 570 runs scored. Even a mid-season acquisition of Carlos Beltran couldn't help the defending World Series Champions, as the Giants finished eight games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This year, the team have one weapon that they didn't have for much of last season: Buster Posey.
Posey was the savior of the Giants offense in 2010 as he lead them to a World Series Championship.
In 2011, Posey was off to a decent start in his first 45 game before completely destroying his leg in a home plate collision. The loss of Posey was too much for the Giants lineup to recover from.
Posey will be the key for the Giants in 2012.
If he's able to pick up where he left off (and if the Giants can get one more guy to step up...Brandon Belt?), the Giants offense will be much better.
If the pitching staff holds up their end of the bargain, the Giants could be headed back to October where they'll be a very dangerous team.
Last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks saw a true star emerge as Justin Upton thrust himself into the MVP consideration and national spotlight.
The 24 year old outfielder had shown glimpses of promise before, but he put together a spectacular .289/31 HR/88 RBI line in 2011 and finished fifth in the MVP voting.
Upton is a star right now, and he's only going to get better. He is exactly the player you want to build your team around and Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers has done a great job of doing just that.
To add to Upton's talents, the Diamondbacks acquired Trevor Cahill from the Oakland Athletics. Adding Cahill makes a strong rotation even stronger as Ian Kennedy had a great year for the Diamondbacks in 2011 as well.
I haven't even mentioned that the Diamondbacks have the second overall pick, Trevor Bauer, waiting in the minor leagues to make a major impact once he gets the call-up.
When you add in manager Kirk Gibson hit all the right buttons in Arizona last year for a young team, the Diamondbacks could be a very scary team out West.