Giants and Dodgers and Snakes, Oh My! National League West in 2013

Kim HastingsContributor IMarch 29, 2013

The sight of Sergio Romo sneaking that last fastball by Miguel Cabrera may seem like yesterday to the thousands who lined the streets of The City for the parade.  It was 132 days ago, though, and the new baseball season gets underway this weekend.  

Texas travels to Houston to play the newly minted American League version of the Astros on Sunday Night Baseball.  The rest of the league hits the diamond on Monday.

Fans of the Giants will spend at least half the season basking in hearing the term World Champion used as a prefix to their team's name.  Soon, though, the standings for the new year will become of paramount importance.  

Will the free-spending Dodgers make a mockery of the NL West?  Will the always pesky Diamondbacks continue to rough up the Giants' staff on their way to a surprising top of the division finish? What about the Giants themselves?  Is there still some magic in the bottle?  Let's take a look, in unbiased alphabetical order.

Arizona Diamondbacks:  The D'Backs had as much turnover as any team in the National League. Gone is the potent bat and base-stealing speed of Justin Upton, along with Chris Young and Stephen Drew. Cliff Pennington, Martin Prado, and Cody Ross are the replacement parts.  

Since Ross is likely disabled to start the season, the Diamondbacks fans may well be wondering if they have enough power to light up hitter-friendly Chase Field.  Expect continued improvement from first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who has looked a bit over-matched against top righties.

Ian Kennedy is expected to be the pitcher in the top spot of Arizona's rotation.  Absolutely serviceable, Kennedy and his 15-12 record and 4.02 ERA won't remind anyone of Randy Johnson. Predicted finish: Third.

Colorado Rockies:  The Rox used to send lineups to the plate that would terrify opposing pitchers. Led by Todd Helton in his heyday, Andres Galarraga, and Larry Walker, it just went on and on.  Now, while hurlers from visiting teams don't relish pitching in oxygen-challenged Coors Field, the Colorado lineup is average.

The hope in Denver is that All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki makes a complete recovery and headlines an offense good enough to mask the team's lack of proven pitching, as well as its deficiencies in the field.

The Rockies' ace, and Opening Day starter against Milwaukee, will be Jhoulis Chacin.  He has 67 innings of big league work under his belt.  Colorado sports fans will be looking for Peyton Manning updates by Memorial Day.  Predicted finish: Fifth.

Los Angeles Dodgers:  When Carl Crawford steps to the plate in the bottom of the first inning on Monday, April 1, 2013, the next era of Dodger baseball will be officially underway.  The Dodgers were a moribund franchise under previous owner Frank McCourt, whose divorce negotiations dominated the sports pages as well as the tabloids. 

That has all changed.  Magic Johnson brought star power, and his co-buyers brought truckloads of cash to Chavez Ravine.  The result is a lineup that should have speed at the top, power in the middle, and peskiness at the bottom.  Matt Kemp is the linchpin of the Dodgers' offense, but Crawford hopes to regain the form that made him feared in Tampa Bay.  

Clayton Kershaw is the ace on this staff, but the Dodgers expect newcomer Zach Grienke to be an ace as well.  If he has recovered from a health scare in spring training, then he should be exactly that. Will it all be enough?  Predicted finish: Second

San Diego Padres:  The San Diego Padres are expecting a fine career from catcher Yasmani Grandal.  That will all have to wait, of course, as Grandal will be in PED jail for 50 games to start the 2013 campaign.  It has been that kind of decade and a half for San Diegans.  

Even while Grandal contemplates his sins, the Padres will put a representative lineup on the field. Chase Headley and Yonder Alonso key the offense.

When Edinson Volquez is your staff ace, you have...questions.  Volquez can be very, very good.  He can also be wretched.  He was wretched often enough that Cincinnati gave up on him and was more than happy that the Padres were willing to part with Mat Latos in exchange.  Predicted finish: Fourth.

San Francisco Giants:  The World Champion (didn't that feel good, Giants fan?) Giants were largely in stand-pat mode this offseason.  They expect offensive improvement from Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, though both field their positions with enough aplomb to stay on the field even during their too-frequent slumps.  

The left-field platoon is shaky offensively, and Pablo Sandoval needs to stay healthy.  That said, this is not a dynasty in the making that looks like the Big Red Machine.  It's the staff that makes this team hum, baby.

Matt Cain is the unquestioned ace, and Madison Bumgarner continues to cement his position as the No. 2 man.  Ryan Vogelsong has second-starter stuff and an ace's glower, making him a valuable piece to the rotation in the third hole.  

Can Sergio Romo close all year like he did for a half year in 2012?  The bet here is yes.  Projected finish:  First.