Over the course of the next six days I will be analyzing each division in baseball and telling you how I believe things are going to shake up this season.
I am by no means a credible source, merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share his observations and thoughts. We start in the NL West, with the other divisions to follow soon after. The West coast thing isn't for you? Try the NL Central or NL East.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72)
It's fun when an outside team can swoop in on a Yankees trade and score from it themselves. That's just what the D'Backs did, giving up prized pitching prospect Max Scherzer in exchange for two solid starters, both young with ceilings just as high.
People forget how much potential Ian Kennedy had before he went down with injuries, forgoing any legitimate shot the Yanks were gonna give him. His minor league numbers had even more promise than Scherzer's. In the minors from '08-'09, Kennedy topped Scherzer in ERA (2.08 vs 2.65), WHIP (1.00 vs 1.075), and K/BB ratio (4.32 vs 3.23).
Scherzer's control problems were featured more prominently when we was brought up to the big leagues—it's just that nobody noticed because he was also racking up strikeouts like crazy. So they shipped him off to Detroit and also got their hands on Detroit's breakout ace last year Edwin Jackson.
Keep in mind that these two new guys weren't brought in to be anchors. They're gonna be holding down the back end of the rotation, behind the killer one-two punch of Webb and Haren they already have.
If I had one concern it'd be the bullpen. The D'Backs evidently don't believe in closing games properly, and by "properly," I mean putting someone with intimidating facial hair on the mound. Currently slotted into the closer role is the past-his-prime Chad Qualls, when they have one of the great mustaches just sitting on the bench.
I'm talking about Clay Zavada, a near spitting image of the great Rollie Fingers, a man defined by his mustache and thriving in a role where the intimidation factor is what's important. What is closing games anyway besides the facade of a dramatic situation enhanced by the media and the meaningless save statistic?
Here's the game plan for Arizona: Toss Qualls in middle relief, Howry takes the eighth, Lip Fur makes hitters cower in fear in the ninth, and the D'Backs take the division.
2. San Francisco Giants (86-76) (Wild Card)
Bruce Bochy's announcement that, "Aaron Rowand will be our leadoff hitter come opening day" has worried me a little bit—both for the fate of the Giants and the mental health of Bochy.
Rowand is not a capable leadoff hitter. He contributed -8.5 batting runs last season, meaning having his bat in the lineup as opposed to say, Andres Torres, actually COST us about eight runs.
Whether the cause of this ill-fated stratagem has anything to do with the higher-ups demanding that the highest paid bat on the team sees more playing time (probably a factor), or if it's all just part of Bochy's ridiculously humanistic no-regard-for-numbers managerial style, this needs to change.
Hopefully when Freddy Sanchez returns, he'll be able to step up and produce at the leadoff spot. Until then, we'll see if an unlikely contender emerges to hit leadoff. Mark DeRosa? Unconventional, but I wouldn't mind seeing it.
There are a few standout performances from spring to take note of. Kevin Pucetas really came out of nowhere and put up a 1.59 ERA, not quite winning the job as fifth starter only because Todd Wellemeyer is more established. But he should make the opening day roster as a reliever, maybe earning a starting job down the road if he continues this strong.
Aaron Rowand has also hit .444, so he could prove me wrong about his production as a lead-off hitter. Don't be fooled by Spring Training numbers though, we all remember the greats like Brian Bocock and Angel Guzman, doing their best Babe Ruth impressions in March only to forget how to hit as soon as April rolled around.
3. Colorado Rockies (83-79)
There are a few fast-improving youngsters to watch out for on the Rockies, but plenty of holes as well. We can even do this one Three Up, Three Down style. Starting with the impact players:
Carlos Gonzalez. Watch out because not only did he come upon some power, he learned how to hit lefties last year at a .276 clip, up from .188 the year before. Give him a little more practice pulling the ball and he'll be the ultimate power/speed threat.
Troy Tulowitzki. First of all, have you seen him lately? He looks like the Incredible Hulk. So not only will he be the best defensive shortstop in the game for the fourth year running, he'll hit 40 home runs this season and sport an OBP around .400. Could Gonzalez and Tulo become a Biggio/Bagwell like tandem for years to come? You wouldn't have seen it coming, but it's possible.
Jorge de la Rosa. Expect him to challenge Jimenez for the job of staff ace this year. He's shown consistent improvement since becoming a full-time starter in Kansas City, and upon arriving in Denver, somehow has learned to strike batters out at an alarming rate.
My three disappointments:
Brad Hawpe. His numbers don't look bad at first glance, but keep in mind he only hit .240 after the all-star break last year. If he doesn't regain his first-half form again, the Rockies may trade him away (I think he'd look good in pinstripes).
My other two have a lot in common, they're both slotted to start and both sported .228 averages last year:
Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart. That kind of production from two of your starting eight won't be enough to reach the playoffs again. I really hope they stressed plate discipline over spring, because some of these guys, Stewart especially, need it badly.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers (75-87)
The costs of the McCourt divorce proceedings have crippled the Dodgers' payroll and any chance they may have had of returning to the postseason.
While the three teams above them have solid cores of players that could potentially be building blocks for a playoff team, the Dodgers know that the team they enter the season with is the team they're stuck with.
They can't afford to be buyers at the trade deadline, so if the team starts to lose ground it could be a fire sale. Manny will probably lose interest and want to be moved to a contending team, and I'm sure the Dodgers will be happy to oblige him if they can net a few prospects out of it.
There are a few problems with their rotation too, a glaring one being that it's not very good.
Chad Billingsley, expected to reach "staff ace" status last season, instead regressed to the highest ERA of his career and the worst K/BB ratio since his rookie year. Clayton Kershaw gave up an absurd number of walks as well. Kuroda is their best pitcher but he came down with injuries last year, and being 35, now is susceptible to do so again.
The bullpen, however, is still the best in the league, and they made it all the way to the NLCS last year by overtaxing those guys. The question is, how much more do they have left in them?
5. San Diego Padres (68-94)
The Padres had a lot of fun playing spoiler last September and became the bane of NL West contenders, taking five out of six series that they played against Colorado, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
What wasn't as publicized is after the last game of the season, we waited for them out behind Petco Park, beat them up, and took their lunch money.
In case there was any doubt, the Padres now know they have no business trying to contend in this division, and they have acknowledged this by neglecting to re-sign third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and focus on building for the future.
They got their hands out a nice bevy of pitching prospects for Jake Peavy last year; expect them to build up for the 2013 season and get a few young bats in a deal for Adrian Gonzalez in July.
They're actually built pretty well for the future already.
Kyle Blanks projects as an All-Star first baseman with serious power (and "shootin' blanks" projects as an awesome catch phrase for when he hits a slump), Mat Latos will be a top-of-the-rotation starter, and Yorvit Torrealba, somewhat of an under-the-radar pickup this winter, is a veteran catcher who will really help the pitching staff develop.
I say it'll be about three years before they can talk crap and back it up.
Check back in the next few days for future installments of this six-part analysis.