The NL West is not the strongest division in baseball. And while anything can happen, it figures to be a two-team race between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. (Padre, Rockies, and Diamondback fans…I apologize in advance…and better luck next year).
So what will separate the Dodgers from the Giants? Here are five factors likely to have an impact.
1) Home Grown Talent
Both teams have seen a number of players rise through the farm system and contribute to the major league roster. These players will need to continue taking steps forward if their clubs are going to succeed.
Neither team is particularly deep, and so the ability to add additional home-grown talent over the course of the season will also come into play. A promising debut from the likes of Ivan DeJesus, Buster Posey, or Madison Bumgarner could provide a late season lift.
2) Billingsley vs. Lincicum
Speaking of homegrown talent. Lincicum is an ace. Billingsley could become one. Both need to perform like No. 1 starters and anchor their staffs.
This may be especially true for Billingsley, as the Dodger rotation seems to have more question marks than the Giants.
3) Renteria vs. Furcal
Both shortstops are looking to rebound. Furcal has to prove he can stay healthy. Renteria needs to prove he can still hit and defend at a high level.
These guys will likely hit at or near the top of the order, so getting on base and serving as a catalyst for the rest of the offense will be the key.
4) Colletti vs. Sabean
Neither team has had a particularly exciting off-season. In a way, this goes back to point No. 1. The teams will win or lose with their young talent. But that is not to say that either general manager will shy away from an in-season move.
Of course, this assumes that ownership will be willing to take on some additional salary or give up a prospect or two. But a trade that shores up the pitching, replaces a injured player, or adds a proven run producer may be what it takes to put one team over the top.
After all, just look at the impact Manny Ramirez had on the 2008 pennant race. And speaking of Manny…
5) Manny vs. Manny
Points 1, 2, 3, and 4 are important. But they pale in comparison to the impact Manny Ramirez could have if he elects to sign with either club. Without Manny, the Giants have what could be the worst lineup in baseball.
The Dodgers may not be that much better. Simply put, the team that signs Manny is the team that wins the National League West.