Way Too Early National League West Predictions
With the news that the Arizona Diamondbacks have signed veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche, the opening day rosters for each team in the NL West look to be set.
Well, for the most part. A couple teams are still looking for back-end of the rotation help as well as another arm to aid the bullpen.
Furthermore, we all know come Spring Training that each team will have a surprise or two make the roster as a bench player or in the bullpen but the main contributors look set for each club.
Of all the clubs, the Diamondbacks (albeit under the radar) have made the most offseason acquisitions.
Along with LaRoche, the Diamondbacks have picked up veteran relievers Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman as well as trading for starting pitcher Edwin Jackson who finished last season with the Detroit Tigers. Arizona also signed former Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson.
The San Francisco Giants have signed (name almost any position) Mark DeRosa and first base-man Aubrey Huff to "bolster" their offense.
And as for the Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres? Not a lot of offseason moves other than losing key players.
The Rockies picked up catcher Miguel Olivo to backup Chris Iannetta, but other than that, nothing significantly has changed via offseason signings. Garrett Atkins was let go after a disappointing season but Colorado most likely won't miss a beat with the impressive Ian Stewart taking over full time at third base.
The Dodgers' biggest offseason signing? Get ready for it, Jamey Carroll! Granted LA has a pretty stacked lineup once again in 2010, it is surprising they didn't bring back Randy Wolf, their most consistent starting pitcher from last season.
While the Dodgers could still sign a Joel Pineiro to help solidify the back-end of their rotation, there will still be question marks with the way Chad Billingsley finished his 2009 campaign.
As for the San Diego Padres, let's just say that the biggest name on their offseason list is veteran outfielder Brian Giles who is still out on the free-agent market. Simply said, nobody significant on the Padres roster from last season has found a new home and nobody significant has made a new home in San Diego.
At this point in time, any new free-agent pickups in the NL West won't be enough to change anybody's opinion on where each club will finish in the division.
Therefore, without further ado, here are my way too early NL West predictions.
Last Place- Adrian Gonzalez (aka the San Diego Padres)
Of all the predictions, this was the easiest choice. The San Diego Padres are a one-man show. Adrian Gonzalez is the only player on the team that has the ability to make a difference this season. Gonzalez led San Diego in just about everything in 2009. He led them in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, RBI and walks. If given the chance, he would probably would have led the team in ERA.
Other than "AG," the Padres don't got much. After trading away Jake Peavy during the middle of last season, San Diego pretty much gave up on being anywhere near contenders for a minimum of the next two seasons if it not longer.
Their "ace" Chris Young had a terrible season last year, finishing with a 5.21 ERA, and No. 2 starter Kevin Correia is no more than an average fifth starter on a good team.
The bullpen is anchored by the closer Heath Bell but nobody else in the pen has any type of positive track record.
San Diego is just bad, flat out bad. They have the worst lineup, the worst rotation and worst bullpen in the division.
Not a formula for success.
At least they have AG to pop 40 homers. If I lived in San Diego, I would pay money just to see the man hit.
But other than that, the Padres are filled with little talent and will suffer at the cellar of the NL West.
Fourth place- Los Angeles Dodgers
Call me crazy if you want, seeing that I'm predicting a team who has made two straight NLCS appearances to finish fourth in their division but teams need pitching and the Dodgers have major question marks in that area.
LA's top starter from last season, Randy Wolf, will be pitching for the Brewers in 2010 after putting up a 11-7 record, 3.23 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP for the Dodgers in 2009.
Currently, the official website for the Dodgers only lists three starting pitchers on their depth chart. Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Clayton Kershaw are the only listed starters.
Billingsley, listed as the ace, stumbled in the second half of 2009. His ERA increased nearly a full run from July to the end of the regular season and the Dodgers took him out of the rotation for the postseason.
Kuroda had a solid season going 8-7 with a 3.76 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP but due to injury threw just 117 1/3 innings.
Kershaw was the most consistent of the three, finishing 2009 with a 2.79 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and an astonishing .200 BAA. But at age 21 going on 22, it would be asking a lot for Kershaw to keep up his 2009 numbers in 2010.
With the Dodgers going thought front office issues and their starting rotation thin and inexperienced, the Dodgers will have trouble competing with the likes of the Rockies, D-Backs and Giants who have all improved this offseason.
Now with a lineup that still features young stars Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney, as well as everybody's favorite Manny, the Dodgers have the offense to do some damage.
Combine the offense with a solid bullpen led by closer Jonathan Broxton and setup man George Sherrill, the Dodgers will still be dangerous this season.
But unlike the Rockies, the Dodgers don't have a deep enough all around roster to win the division in 2010. Granted they might finish above Arizona or San Francisco but both of those clubs improved their rosters from last season while LA has pretty much stayed quiet all offseason.
Unless the Dodgers make a trade for a solid No.1 or No. 2 starter, expect the defending division champs to fall in 2010.
Third Place- San Francisco Giants
Woah. Who would of thought a San Francisco Giants home-grown position player could surpass Tim Lincecum as the face of the team? Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval might have done just that in 2009.
In his first full year at the big league level, Sandoval hit .330 with 25 homers and 90 RBI. Sandoval put up these numbers all while being the only legitimate threat in the San Francisco lineup. Had he benefited from a lineup around him at the level of the Rockies or Dodgers from last season, Sandoval could have been a 30 HR/100 RBI man in his first full season.
Now Giants fans could argue all day long that Tim Lincecum is still the face of the team, but Lincecum can't play 150 games a year. Sandoval on the other hand is San Francisco's lone force in the heart of their everyday lineup.
And when I say "lone" force, I'm not joking.
Other than the Panda's studly .943 OPS from last season, the next best projected positional starter for the Giants in terms of last season's OPS is Mark DeRosa's .752. Can you say, ouch?
Even with the DeRosa and Aubrey Huff additions, the Giants simply don't have the offense to win the division unless their starting rotation somehow betters their blistering 2009 numbers.
The projected lineup:
1. Aaron Rowand
2. Freddy Sanchez
3. Pablo Sandoval
4. Aubrey Huff
5. Mark DeRosa
6. Nate Schierholtz
7. Edgar Renteria
8. Buster Posey
This lineup while slightly improved from last year's lineup still doesn't come close to the offensive firepower that the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Dodgers bring to the table.
Unless Sandoval just goes absolutely insane and hits .340 with 45 bombs and 140 RBI, I just don't see the offense being enough to win the division.
Now the backbone of this Giants team is their incredible pitching led by a stellar rotation. Linecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner have the potential to be the most dominant rotation in baseball in 2010
However, there is a good chance both Cain and Zito regress in 2010. But even if they do regress, the starting pitching will still be top-5 in baseball. Unfortunately they will have to be the best in baseball if they want to carry the Giants to a playoff berth.
Now the bullpen was absolutely phenomenal in 2009, with Jeremy Affeldt leading the way with a 1.73 ERA and closer Brian Wilson registering 38 saves with a 2.74 ERA. Combine these two veterans with youngsters Sergio Romo and Dan Runzler, the Giants bullpen will once again be amongst the best in baseball in 2010.
But will it matter? Just like how the starting rotation needs to better their 2009 seasons, the relievers will have to do the same to get the team to the playoffs. The Giants pen was so good last year it would be almost impossible for the group as a whole to better last years performance.
Once again, a team filled with the biggest surplus of young and talented pitching will fall short because of offensive inefficiencies.
Second Place- Arizona Diamondbacks
Without Brandon Webb last season, Dan Haren proved that with Webb healthy, the Arizona Diamondbacks have two Cy Young candidate starting pitchers. Arizona's No. 1 starter was hurt for almost the entirety of last season but the former Cy Young Award winner has a teammate who arguably could have won the award in 2009.
Haren finished the 2009 campaign with 14-10 with a 3.14 ERA, 223 strikeouts and get this, a 1.00 WHIP. Not even Tim Lincecum, who won the NL Cy Young Award in 2009, had a WHIP as minuscule as Haren's.
These two aces at the top of Arizona's rotation, along with gaining former Tiger Edwin Jackson in an offseason trade give the Diamondbacks the best top-3 starters in the entire division.
While the San Francisco Giants may have a deeper rotation with the likes of Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, the Diamondbacks statistically have the best combined top three starters.
Add that with a lineup that is absolutely stacked with power, and the Diamondbacks might just sneak into the playoffs as either the division winner or Wild Card.
But as for these predictions, I have them finishing second in the NL West behind the Rockies.
Arizona's lineup is down right scary.
1. Chris Young
2. Stephen Drew
3. Conor Jackson
4. Justin Upton
5. Adam LaRoche
6. Mark Reynolds
7. Miguel Montero
8. Ryan Roberts
Perhaps the Diamondbacks lineup is slightly less impressive than Colorado but with Conor Jackson returning healthy and Adam LaRoche protecting up and coming stud outfielder Justin Upton, Arizona has a very dangerous lineup.
And that's not even mentioning that guy hitting sixth who hit 44 bombs last year. And Miguel Montero, the D-Backs catcher who hit 16 homers with an amazingly high .832 OPS last season.
However, the Diamondbacks clearly have an Achilles Heel and that is their bullpen. Outside of closer Chad Qualls, Arizona doesn't have much in the way of solid relievers. Offseason veteran pickups Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman are nothing special and will only take innings away from the younger relievers on the staff.
But with the offense and starting pitching, the Arizona bullpen only has to be average for the Diamondbacks to compete this season and therefore they will be a surprise playoff contender in 2010.
Division Winners- Colorado Rockies
There is no doubt about it. The best all around team in the NL West is the Colorado Rockies. Top to bottom, this team has what it takes to get make another World Series run like they did back in 2007.
Barring significant injuries or unexpected drop-offs in the play of key contributors, the Colorado Rockies will win the division in 2009.
Colorado has the offense, the defense, the starting pitching and the bullpen needed to contend for the World Series.
Their projected lineup (seen below) has everything a playoff lineup needs.
1. Carlos Gonzalez
2. Dexter Fowler
3. Todd Helton
4. Troy Tulowitzki
5. Brad Hawpe
6. Ian Stewart
7. Chris Iannetta
8. Clint Barmes
With Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler as the table setters, the heart of the Rockies lineup is going to have potential RBI staring them in the face all season long. Both young studs had OBP's over .350 last year and the two of them combined for 43 stolen bases in just 711 combined at-bats.
Once the table setters get on base, future hall of famer Todd Helton, budding Super-Star Troy Tulowitzki and 2009 All-Star Brad Hawpe make up one of the best 3-4-5's in baseball.
Then add in a six through eight hitters in Ian Stewart, Chris Iannetta and Clint Barmes who combined for 64 home runs last year, and the Rockies have a lineup running eight deep.
Now while neither the starting rotation or bullpen can match the firepower the offense brings to the table, the Rockies hurlers can still bring it with the best of them.
Leading the rotation is none other than Ubaldo Jimenez who had a breakout 2009 season, winning 15 games with a 3.47 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. And all that while having to pitch at Coors Field. Throw in the absolutely stellar .226 batting average against, and Jimenez was absolutely filthy last season.
The No. 2 starter and eight-year veteran Aaron Cook doesn't put up the sexy numbers but will always have an ERA right around the 3.75-4.25 range and brings that consistency which helps solidify the rotation.
Now Colorado's third starter is the one I'm most looking forward to watching in 2010. Jorge De La Rosa finished 2009 with 16 wins, a 4.38 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. But it was the 198 strikeouts in just 185 innings last year that make this young starter exciting to watch. Another year of experience and the "young" going to be 29-year-old should only improve on his 2009 numbers this season.
And perhaps a healthy Jeff Francis can be an effective four/five starter along with Jason Hammel and the rotation rounds out quite nice for the Rockies.
The bullpen however, could be an area of concern. Admittedly, I find their bullpen to be sufficient enough to close out games but Huston Street has had up and down years throughout his career. If he can put together another solid year, and the Rockies get a healthy Taylor Buchholz back to go along with Rafael Betancourt and Matt Daley, the bullpen could prove much better than last season.
Defensively, this team can cover the vast outfield space at Coors with Fowler, Gonzalez and Hawpe all more than capable of running down some should be doubles.
Tulowitzki and Helton headline the infield defensively and along with Stewart and Barmes, the Colorado infield shapes up quite nicely with the gloves.
I honestly just can't stop talking about how good the Rockies can be. And I'm a Giants fan. But Colorado has everything a team needs to compete for division titles year in and year out. They have great players in every facet of the game and should win the division in 2010.