NL West: The Land of the Lost

Corey McSweeneyAnalyst IMarch 31, 2009

MIAMI - MARCH 14:  Starting pitcher Jake Peavy #22 of the United States pitches against Puerto Rico during round 2 of the World Baseball Classic at Dolphin Stadium on March 14, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Onto number six. The NL West is arguably one of the easiest divisions to predict this year, especially since Manny Ramirez rejoined the Dodgers. There seems not to be a lot of room for surprise, but there may be more than you think.

Time for dessert. Two things define the Diamondbacks for me: young players and cool uniforms. I mean, seriously, what jersey in baseball is cooler than those? I vote for these. You slap a Rollie Fingers mustache on anything and I’m sold. Anyway, back to business.

Arizona is one of these teams that has the parts to succeed, you just don’t know when/if they’re going to come together and get things done. It will be intriguing to see if they can ride this wave coming from the football Cardinals success and Arizona basketball’s run to the Sweet 16 and turn it into some inspired baseball.

Things might hinge on Justin Upton’s development as a complete player this year. He’s one of these guys out there with huge loads of ability and potential attached to it that can make or break a team. If he pans out, the D-Backs are going to be one of the teams we talk about year in and year out in terms of championship potential. If he doesn’t, Arizona will have to start from square one.

Delmon Young was another one of these guys. The jury is still out on him, but you have to believe the whole package isn’t going to come together with him. The Rays seemed to figure this out and dealt him when his value was still high, before he doomed their team.

I do believe Upton will turn into something special. I think part of the reason Young hasn’t worked out as of yet is behavioral issues (like this) and so far Upton hasn’t shown anything like that. He also has the pedigree people like to see in brother B.J. (Plus he can hit a baseball like this.)

Well, what about the rest of the D-Backs? Webb and Haren is a dynamic duo at the top of the rotation, and Scherzer might be more talented than either of those two. The question is, is he a starter or a reliever?

They are going to start him in the rotation, but you have to think if he struggles, even a little, that they are going to put him in relief and let him pitch in less stressful situations. Plus, he might not have the stamina for starting.

If he does, look out.

I like the Diamondbacks this year. Call it what you want: me being a sucker for young talent, or those cool uni’s, but I think they can make some things happen this year.

And remember, this is a weak division.

O, Rocky Top. That is Colorado, my friends.

They also might be a bit of a surprise, but I think the one word to describe them is mystery. They went to the World Series only two years ago with mostly the same players (sans Holliday) but fell off the face of the Earth last year.

Part of the problem was the offense wasn’t what it was supposed to be. Troy Tulowitzki not only didn’t progress from an impressive rookie campaign, he actually regressed, quite a bit if I may say so.

He was injured for a significant chunk of the season, and the in the 100 games he did play, he hit .263 with eight home runs and an abysmal one for seven in steal attempts.

Doesn’t sound like the “next Derek Jeter” to me.

Can he rebound? I think so. Part of his problem had to be with lingering effects from his injury. The consensus on the guy is that he has the talent to succeed, and I have a feeling if he rebounds, maybe just a little, but he will.

But what about the loss of Holliday? Yeah, have to admit, that’s going to hurt.

They did get back a package that included Huston Street and Carlos Gonzalez, (by the way, did anyone see that coming? Oakland trading FOR a stud, not dumping one? File that under C for Curveball.) who should both be able to contribute, especially for Street with Fuentes in Anaheim, (I refuse to call them the “Los Angeles Metro District Angels" or whatever they are) with Gonzalez having a chance to take Holliday’s spot.

Garrett Atkins is a solid offensive player and Chris Iannetta looks like one of the better catchers around, so the offense should be OK this year. However, the problem will be with speed.

Outside of Willy Taveras and even Matt Holliday last year, no one ran on this team. The leadoff hitter will most likely be Ryan Spilborghs or Clint Barmes, and neither of those two are known as speed demons. This might be a station-to-station team.

The key to the team might be the pitching staff. It was actually a strength last year, with Ubaldo Jimenez slowly getting better as the year progressed and Aaron Cook being solid as usual. It will need to be a strength again if the team wants to get anywhere.

It would be hard to argue that the Rockies got better from last year with the loss of Holliday, Taveras, and Fuentes, but with the team being a member of the NL West, or as I like to call it, “The division where Manny Ramirez is King,” it might be easier than you think to have success.

The Padres hold a special place in my heart because one of their farm teams calls my hometown home, and because of that, I have been given the chance to see a lot of these guys for years. I would love to see them have success, but I don’t know if it can happen.

For one, with their owner and his personal situation, the team has been trying to sell off assets like Jake Peavy, who is a great pitcher with a very reasonable contract. I hope that doesn’t have to happen.

So, do the Pads have any strengths? Umm…..

Maybe the infield. Adrian Gonzalez is starting to live up to his No. 1 overall pick status and Kouzmanoff has a chance to be good at third. Still, I’m not excited about David Eckstein and Luis Rodriguez up the middle.

At least they got Eckstein at second. I love the guy, but seriously I think Mariah Carey has a better arm.

While it is hard to find a strength on the team, the outfield might be key. They have guys like Chase Headley, Jody Gerut, Scott Hairston, and Will Venable, who have all shown flashes of ability, but haven’t broken out yet.

Look especially at Venable. He’s a guy who hit .300 with nearly 100 RBI’s in the Midwest League, which is the epitome of a pitchers league in the minors. He can hit the ball. He’s also extremely athletic, having played basketball at Princeton. Watch out for him.

What about pitching? Peavy is strong at the top, and while Chris Young had a bad year last year, he has generally been pretty good, so look for him to rebound. I’m interested in the back end of the rotation.

Shawn Hill?

Kevin Correia?

Cha Seung “I’m dying to have someone give me a fake American first name like Jackie Chan” Beck?

(That might’ve been a stretch.)

Anyway, I’m not happy with those guys If I’m Clint Black, I mean Bud Black. (Seriously, these two have to be brothers.)

Anyway, there are a few minor league arms like Cesar Ramos and Cesar Carrillo coming up who have some ability. Look for them to get a chance as well.

(By the way, if those two pan out and a reality show is created called “The Two Cesars,” I want it known I came up with it first.)

Eventually, this team is going to get good again. I have confidence in some of their younger players. But I just don’t know when that time will be. It might take an ownership change before things can get better again.

Let’s look at the Dodgers, or as I like to call them, “the Better, West Coast version of the Yankees.”

(Yeah, I went there.)

I like them this year. Their young nucleus of Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, James Loney, and Jonathan Broxton is as good as you’ll see, this side of the Rays.

Throw in the hitting of Manny Ramirez and the wisdom of Joe Torre, and you have a recipe for success, as much as it kills me to say it.

The bottom line is that they are just very, very solid. There’s no glaring weakness and they have a lot of different parts you look for in a potentially successful team.

They got a good lead off guy in Furcal.

The got a strong presence behind the plate to control the staff in Russell Martin.

They have speed with Furcal, Kemp, and Martin, to some degree.

They have strong, proven arms in the bullpen with the likes of Broxton, Guillermo Mota, and Hong “Kong” Chih Kuo.

And like I said before, they have a very good core of hitters with Manny Ramirez leading the charge, plus a strong manager to make the tough decisions.

I like the Dodgers this year, and for the future as well.

(Damn Manny and Torre.)

And then you have the San Francisco Lincecums. If it wasn’t for the MLB 2K9 coverboy, I think the over/under on total attendance this year for Giants home games would be the number of dollar beer nights multiplied times the number of people who buy kayaks to float around McCovey Cove. And I might take the under.

I think it goes without saying that the Giants' upside is limited at the moment. The number of real unknowns on the team is staggering. I mean, look at the question marks.

Is “Travis Ishikawa the coolest name ever?”

Who is Kevin Frandsen?

And what other team could have these guys being two different people?

Ok, time to stop being so serious.

Pablo Sandoval intrigues me. In all of athletics, only in baseball can you have a 5'9", 300 pound man being the centerpiece of your offense.

(And yeah, I know he’s not that big, work with me)

That’s only the beginning with Sandoval. He’s 22, a switch hitter, than can play three positions, one of them being catcher. There’s not a guy out there like him.

Alright, I need to wrap this puppy up before I become a reason for narcolepsy in Bleacher Report readers.

The bottom line with the Giants is that they don’t have nearly enough to compete in the National League. They have an asset in Lincecum, but that’s about it.

Think about it: outside of him, what other impact players do they have? Matt Cain was supposed to be a guy like that but he has been too erratic so far in his career, and Barry Zito, is, well, Barry Zito.

The lineup is too young and inexperienced as well. The Giants need time.

Onto the breakdown.

1.       Dodgers

2.       D-Backs

3.       Rockies

4.       Padres

5.       Giants

Well, that wraps up the divisions. I still have one more preseason article coming that will lay out my playoff and award picks.

And knowing me, it’ll turn into a mid-season piece.

Just for reference, here’s the previous previews.

AL East

NL East

AL Central

NL Central

AL West


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