Turn of the Tide? 2010 NL West Predictions
In recent years, the NL West has been dubbed baseball's worst division. In 2005, the San Diego Padres won the division with a mere 82 wins, barely clinching a winning season. The other four NL West teams had losing seasons.
In 2006, not a single team reached the 90-win plateau and three teams endured sub-.500 seasons.
2007 finally brought two 90-win teams thanks to Arizona's solid season and Colorado's magical late-season run. With San Diego's third place 89-win season, many felt the division was heading in the right direction.
Not so fast.
The division regressed once again in 2008 and the Dodgers won the division with a mere 84 wins, only six games over .500. By the end of the year, the Dodgers appeared to be the only real threat to compete in 2009 with the addition of Manny Ramirez.
However, 2009 has given fans and analysts alike hope that the division is going to be among the most competitive in the game in 2010.
That is largely because three teams finished with winning records: The Dodgers with 95, the Rockies surprisingly with 92, and the Giants with 88. The division is now filled with some of the best young talent among the game.
Young stars such as Tim Lincecum, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Troy Tulowitzki, Pablo Sandoval, and Adrian Gonzalez give NL West fans hopes for a competitive division for years to come.
From a writer's standpoint, this makes the division much more difficult to predict than in years past. The Dodgers two year streak of NL West crowns is in jeopardy as a result of the division's turnaround.
The Rockies have surprisingly emerged as a legitimate contender thanks to their remarkable 2009 turnaround. The Giants have hope of building on last year's success. Arizona has made some intriguing offseason moves and welcomes back some familiar faces from injuries.
And the Padres...well, are still the Padres.
I had a difficult time predicting this division which is, in my opinion, the most competitive in baseball. I have spent weeks researching and pondering over the NL West and still found myself scratching my head afterwards.
So without further ado, I give you my 2010 NL West predictions.
5th Place: San Diego Padres
The Padres showed signs of life during the latter part of 2009. The team combined to finish strong with a 37-25 record in their final 62 games.
As encouraging as that was, momentum cannot be carried over year-to-year and thus the Padres will find themselves staring at the bottom of the division once again barring some unforeseen, supernatural surprise.
Tony Gwynn Jr (SS)
David Eckstein (2B)
Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
Chase Headley (3B)
Kyle Blanks (LF)
Will Venable (RF)
Nick Hundley (C)
Everth Cabrera (SS)
There is a problem when people can only name the first three hitters in a lineup. And Gwynn Jr. is only known because of his father. This lineup boasts the same core, with the exception of Kevin Kouzmanoff, as last year’s 87-loss team and as far as predictions go, that’s a bad thing.
The Padres finished dead last in four major offensive categories in 2009. A .242 batting average, 2065 total bases, .281 slugging percentage, and 605 RBI all ranked 30 out of 30 among MLB organizations.
The problem is, not much has changed.
The Padres packaged Kouzmanoff and sent him to Oakland in January. In return, the Padres received outfielders Scott Harrison and Aaron Cunningham. The Padres also waved goodbye to solid veteran Brian Giles, declining to offer him arbitration. Free-swinging lefty Matt Stairs was signed to bolster a depleted bench.
Like last year, the Padres will rely on Adrian Gonzalez to provide most of the snap, crackle, and pop to an otherwise quiet lineup. However, rumors have floated the Red Sox are very interested in the young slugger. If that trade occurs, the Padres may reach a new low offensively speaking,
The Padres hope to further develop their young core of Cabrera, Gwynn Jr, Headley, Blanks, Venable, and Hundley in their quest for some sort of offensive ignition.
Chris Young (R)
John Garland (R)
Kevin Correia (R)
Clayton Richard (L)
Mat Latos (R)
Closer: Heath Bell
The days of Jake Peavy have ended. The Padres’ rotation has a new-look feel since the former ace was traded to the White Sox.
After missing most of 2009, Chris Young returns to a rotation that was best described as average. Their 4.17 staff ERA ranked 17th in the majors. After that, much has changed since Jake Peavy anchored what was once a proud rotation.
Kevin Correia was solid addition with 12 wins. Veteran John Garland figures to help solidify the cliff that follows. Clayton Richards, a chip from the Peavy trade, has upside and should make a terrific pitcher in the future. Intriguing sophomore Mat Latos rounds out the rotation with many inconsistencies to pan out.
The Padres do not need to worry about the back-end of their bullpen. They have a gem in closer Heath Bell, one of the game’s elite closers and personalities.
Unfortunately, Bell’s personality will not save the Padres from an almost certain last-place finish.
4th Place: Arizona Diamondbacks
The sting of a 92-loss season has eased due to a few offseason moves and return of some familiar faces from injuries. The D-backs look to rebound in the NL West and some consider the snakes a potential surprise team.
Not such a crazy thought.
Stephen Drew (SS)
Connor Jackson (LF)
Justin Upton (RF)
Mark Reynolds (3B)
Adam LaRoche (1B)
Miguel Montero (C)
Chris Young (CF)
Ryan Roberts (2B)
Two new faces, one familiar face. GM Josh Byrnes snatched two free agents from the Braves that could prove helpful. 1B Adam LaRoche figures to play a more prominent role after hitting 25 home runs and driving in 83 runs.
What more can be said about the duo of Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds who combined to hit 70 home runs and drive in 188 runs. If Chris Young regains his 2007 form, the D-Backs could find themselves among the top five lineups in baseball.
No longer is Eric Byrnes in left. Now stands old friend Connor Jackson, who returns from missing most of 2009 with Valley Fever. Jackson brings hope that he can somehow continue his performance of 2008 in which he compiled a batting average of .300 and an OBP of .376, both career highs.
This offense is simply a ticking time bomb if the pieces fall into place.
Brandon Webb (R)
Dan Haren (R)
Edwin Jackson (R)
Ian Kennedy (R)
Billy Buckner (R)
Closer: Chad Qualls
Brandon Webb returns after making only one start last year. Webb figures to significantly boost a rotation that missed his presence in 2009. Arizona composed a team ERA of 4.42 which ranked eleventh in the National League.
Dan Haren hopes to overcome his usual second half struggles and join Webb as one of the game’s elite 1-2 punches.
The D-Backs also partook in a three-way trade that brought established starter Edwin Jackson and potential-filled Ian Kennedy to the desert. By doing so, the D-backs have their one of their best rotations since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling ruled Phoenix.
One glaring issue with the projected rotation is the lack of lefties. This is an advantage opposing teams can use against the D-Backs. It also doesn’t help the Byrnes tried to solve a bad bullpen situation with Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman.
For the most part, I made the D-backs look pretty good. So why then, did I project them to finish in fourth place?
One word: Defense
And quite possibly the worst defense.
124 errors in 2009 gave Arizona the National League’s second-worst defense. Rarely can a team compete with a horrific defense. Manager AJ Hinch will have to make defense the focus of Spring Training if the snakes have any hope of competing in the NL West.
If the D-Back’s defense falls into place, don’t be surprised to see the snakes climb the standings and even possibly capture an NL West crown.
3rd Place: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers enter 2010 with higher expectation having won the NL West two straight seasons, but also losing to the Phillies in the Championship series in both seasons.
A quiet offseason is the result of financial instability thanks to the McCourt divorce. How much has the divorce affected the payroll? Put it this way: the Minnesota Twins will begin the season with a higher payroll than the Dodgers.
The Dodgers let Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson walk, two key members of the 2009 squad. Who was signed to fill in their shoes? Well, let’s just leave it at that.
Rafael Furcal (SS)
Matt Kemp (CF)
Andre Eithier (RF)
Manny Ramirez (LF)
James Loney (1B)
Casey Blake (3B)
Ronnie Belliard (2B)
Russell Martin (C)
The Dodger still possess one of the National League’s most potent lineups. Last year, the Dodgers scored 780 runs ranking fourth in the National League.
Orlando Hudson’s bat (the first half version, at least) and defense will be sorely missed from this lineup and will probably be plugged with a platoon of Belliard, newly signed Jamey Carroll,and Blake DeWitt.
Kemp, Either, and Loney should only get better as their careers progress. However, after proving himself worthy among the National League’s top catchers, Russell Martin took a step backwards last year and was practically a no-show at the plate. Luckily for the Dodgers, Martin still provided solid defense and game-calling behind the plate.
And then there’s Manny. There’s no avoiding good ‘ol non-hustling, Red Sox-quitting Manny. Manny never even came close to his 2008 second-half form in which he single-handedly took the Dodgers to the playoffs. To Manny’s “credit”, it probably didn’t help that he was slapped with a 50-game suspension for using a woman’s fertility drug (hey we all have a feminine side…).
The Dodgers would greatly appreciate better years offensively from Martin and Ramirez. Especially, Manny.
Clayton Kershaw (L)
Chad Billingsley (R)
Hiroki Kuroda (R)
Eric Stults (L)
Charlie Haeger (R)
Closer: Jonathan Broxton
Pitching Coach Rick Honeycutt did an excellent job with his 2009 staff compiling a sparkling 3.41 ERA, which ranked first in the MLB. But don’t let that fool you.
Randy Wolf has departed Hollywood taking his 11-7 record, 3.23 ERA, and 1.10 WHIP with him. Chad Billingsley, the supposed ace of the Dodgers, fell apart in the second half going 3-7 with a 5.20 ERA.
Heck, he didn’t even reach five innings in the postseason.
Hiroki Kuroda could be a solid presence but remains a health question mark.
Kershaw, the young 21-year ace of the rotation had a 2.79 ERA in 2009. The fact that he still has plenty of room to mature should be enough to convince fans he will be an elite pitcher within the near future.
Several components need to tie together in this rotation if the Dodgers hope to compete in a division filled with pitching
Obviously, not too many worries when it comes to fearless closer Jonathan Broxton.
The fact of the matter is the Dodgers didn’t really address some glaring needs this offseason and as a result will probably fall in the standings.
2nd Place: San Francisco Giants
After a 14 game improvement from 2008 to 2009, the Giants found themselves out of gas in September, unable to catch the Rockies for their first playoff berth since 2003.
However, the Giants’ first winning season since 2004 signaled the end of the Bonds’ hangover. The Giants now have an increased focus on farm system development, but sometimes questionable offseason moves.
Aaron Rowand (CF)
Freddy Sanchez (2B)
Pablo Sandoval (3B)
Aubrey Huff (1B)
Mark DeRosa (LF)
Bengie Molina (C)
Edgar Renteria (SS)
Nate Schierholtz (RF)
Well it’s not the 1927 “Murder’s Row” lineup, but it’s decent at best. The Giants should see much more production from this lineup on the condition that a few health questions go the Giants way.
Freddy Sanchez will probably miss the first week or so of the season due to arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder. He will likely be replaced by Juan Uribe until he returns. Mark DeRosa could be a valuable addition if his wrist holds up from offseason surgery.
Edgar Renteria, perhaps the Giants’ biggest disappointment of 2009, could rebound after having bone chips removed from his elbow. Manager Bruce Bochy cites the bone chips as Renteria’s hindrance last year.
As for the rest of the lineup, Aaron Rowand is not the ideal leadoff man, but he excelled in that spot last year and the Giants hope he catches fire there once again.
Newly-signed Aubrey Huff had a down year last year, but still managed to drive in 85 runs. Bengie Molina’s surprise return should help solidify the bottom of the lineup now that he no longer needs to bat clean up.
Nate Schierholtz enters Spring Training as the favorite to start in right field. As of now, it’s his job to lose.
There is, however one potentially serious problem with this lineup.
On Base Percentage.
The average fan may skip over this stat that is so crucially important to a team’s success. The Giants finished dead last in the majors last year with an OBP of .309. As dismal as that is, the Giants lineup is once again filled with players with subpar OBPs, including the newcomers.
Why is OBP so important? Simple. If you don’t get on base, you don’t score.
It will be interesting to see the Giants attempt to build on offense with a low team OBP. It will take a lot of coaching from new batting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Muelens to bring that OBP up.
Also, the Giants defense was average this year many thanks to Randy Winn (now departed), and Travis Ishikawa (no longer an everyday player). Their defense will be sorely miss and the offense will probably dip below average.
Tim Lincecum (R)
Matt Cain (R)
Barry Zito (L)
Jonathan Sanchez (L)
Madison Bumgarner (L)
Closer: Brian Wilson
Three total Cy Young Awards, seven all-star appearances, 79 saves in two seasons, a no-hitter, and a top prospect as the No.5 starter.
So with a decent lineup and the best pitching in the majors, the Giants are poised to make a serious run at the division leader if not win it. If the Giants can squeeze their way into the playoffs, they would be a nightmare for anybody with the pitching they have. It’s already a nightmare for those lucky teams who get to face Lincecum and Cain back-to-back during the regular season.
Pitching wins championships.
True. But if there is only a decent offense and subpar defense, it’s hard to project the Giants to finish first. A wild card berth seems more reasonable.
1st Place: Colorado Rockies
Those darn Rockies. They rode sudden momentum in 2007 all the way to the World Series and exploded after replacing Clint Hurdle with Jim Tracy last season.
The Rockies established themselves as one of the game’s best all around teams. They can pitch. They can hit. They can pick it. And they will win the west.
Carlos Gonzalez (LF)
Dexter Fowler (CF)
Todd Helton (1B)
Troy Tulowitzki (SS)
Brad Hawpe (RF)
Chris Ianetta (C)
Ian Stewart (3B)
Clint Barmes (2B)
This is a lineup to be reckoned with.
Veteran slugger Todd Helton leads the charge with his career batting average of .328. Helton was tied for second on the Rockies with 86 RBI. Helton also boasts a staggering career OBP of .427 and stayed close to that number with a .416 OBP in 2009 which ranked fourth in baseball.
The Rockies as a team ranked sixth in baseball with a .343 OBP.
Carlos Gonzalez, a product of the Matt Holliday trade, is loaded with speed and potential. He is nicely complemented by Dexter Fowler who swiped 27 bases. Together, these two had average OBPs and could potentially be a deadly 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup if they continue to grow.
Then there’s Tulowitzki. Tulo bounced back from a subpar 2008 campaign that was cut short by a torn quad in which he managed to drive in only 46 runs. The 2007 Rookie of the Year runner-up figures to once again be a major part of the Rockies success this year.
The Rox consider defense to be a major portion of their continued success both now and in the long run. A team fielding percentage of .986 ranked ninth in baseball and can only continue to rise given little offseason improvements/subtractions.
Ubaldo Jimenez (R)
Jeff Francisc (L)
Aaron Cook (R)
Jorje De La Rosa (L)
Jason Hammel (R)
Closer: Huston Street
One of the reasons the Rockies are elite contenders is due to a strong pitching staff that has adjusted well to the offensive luxuries of Coors Field.
Ubaldo Jimenez is one of the game’s filthiest pitchers when he’s on top of his game. Jimenez needs to make sure he gets to off to a good start (3-6 to begin last year) in order to solidify his job as the staff ace.
Jeff Francis returns after missing last season due to injury. Francis won 17 games for the 2007 National League Champion Rockies, but posted an ERA above 5.00 as an encore performance in 2008. Francis looks to rebound nicely and should be a solid addition.
Aaron Cook, an All-Star in 2008, possess one of the game’s best sinkers. Cook’s 31-25 record at home, where fly balls drift forever, has proven his sinker is as effective as any other in baseball. Cook will try to overcome some late-season injuries from 2009 to give the Rockies a nice 1-2-3 punch at the top of the rotation.
The Rockies virtually snatched Huston Street from the A’s, who many thought was finished after disappointment in Oakland. Street did a fine job saving 35 games and proving to be one of 2009’s premiere closers.
The Rockies will be an exciting team to watch in 2010. If they catch fire and endure a trademark Rocky Mountain hot streak, they can be as dangerous as any team in baseball.
Expect these Rockies to overtake all NL West opponents and make it one exhilarating “Rock-tober”.