2010 MLB Division Previews: NL West

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2010 MLB Division Previews: NL West
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They’re not as bad as you thought!

Last year, the National League West was a bit of a punching bag, quite like the American League Central is this season.

Not quite as bad, as they had a strong Dodger team, an on the rise Giants team, and a modest Diamondbacks squad. But it still was expected to be a bit chaotic.

Well it was chaotic, but Colorado won the wild card, Los Angeles won the division with 95 wins, and the Giants were two wins shy of 90. Everyone had at least 70 wins, something only the AL West could boast, and they have one less team to worry about.

So this year, expectations for the West are a little higher. Many expect the Dodgers and Rockies to once again be in contention and the Giants are certainly capable of repeating an 85-plus win season. There is also a belief that Arizona is primed to bounce back in a strong way.

There is talent in the West and they aren’t just the punching bags of the National League.

But who will lay claim to the division when all is said and done? Really any of the teams outside of San Diego have a shot in my mind. They’ve all got the talent if things fall their way.

Will the West be able to boast the NL’s wild card team again? We know the AL East is strong with the top three, but the top of the West won’t exactly be able to beat up on the lower part for a lot of wins like New York, Boston, and Tampa will.

*Denotes Free Agent has an Option Year

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Last Year: Finished Fifth in NL West

Additions: P Aaron Heilman, 2B Kelly Johnson, P Bob Howry, 1B Jeff Bailey, P Edwin Jackson, P Ian Kennedy, 1B Adam LaRoche, P Rodrigo Lopez

Subtractions: P Doug Davis, 1B Chad Tracy, P Yusmeiro Petit, P Doug Slaten, P Daniel Schlereth, P Max Scherzer, OF Eric Byrnes

2010 Free Agents: 1B Adam LaRoche, P Chad Qualls, P Brandon Webb, P Aaron Heilman, *P Bob Howry

Three Strikes: SS Stephen Drew, OF Conor Jackson, P Ian Kennedy

After three full seasons at the major league level, is 27-year-old Stephen Drew ready to finally take the next step? Drew hasn’t lived up to the highly touted hype he received, aside from a decent year in 2008. I think this could be the year it clicks.

Don’t forget about Conor Jackson, who logged just 99 at-bats thanks to a battle with Valley Fever. Jackson can be an important part of the lineup if he’s healthy.

A lot of talk surrounding starter Ian Kennedy, who was acquired in the Curtis Granderson deal along with Edwin Jackson. Kennedy has battled injuries in conjunction with his stint in New York and had a nice spring with Arizona.

What’s different?

Bob Melvin was fired during the 2009 season and replaced by young an inexperienced front office executive A.J. Hinch. The move was seen as one for the future; so obviously, Hinch remains in the saddle and now has a full spring and offseason to leave his mark on the team.

Arizona was active in the offseason, adding free agents Adam LaRoche and Kelly Johnson to the right side of their infield.

The rotation underwent some work via the trade route. In addition to Doug Davis heading back to Milwaukee, Arizona traded young Max Scherzer in the Curtis Granderson deal. They not only replaced him with Ian Kennedy, but acquired one of the AL’s best pitchers in 2009, Edwin Jackson.

If Brandon Webb can return and pitch well, it will give Arizona a lethal three-headed monster at the top of their rotation.

The Diamondbacks also did some work to their bullpen, adding free agent Bobby Howry and trading for Aaron Heilman. They did lose Daniel Schlereth in the Granderson deal. They’re hopeful their big changes lead to a bounce back campaign.

Summary

Arizona was supposed to contend for the division in 2009, in fact, I even picked them to win the National League. I was on the bandwagon, hook, line, and sinker.

It makes it look even worse since they finished dead last, even behind San Diego.

Don’t sleep on this Arizona team though. They lost Brandon Webb after just one game in 2009 and their lineup had plenty of injuries to deal with. If Jackson and Kennedy can fill out the rotation and Webb can get back healthy sooner rather than later, their pitching will be more than adequate.

I think one thing you have to take note of is the fact that things weren’t all that bad last year, despite the record. They still managed to score runs and pitch well at times. They weren’t at the bottom of the league in terms of production.

Dan Haren and Justin Upton are studs, Mark Reynolds is going to hit a lot of home runs, and if Webb is healthy, that one-two punch is as good as anyone’s.

Arizona has the potential to be one of those teams that takes a dive the previous year and doesn’t meet expectations, then comes back the next year and exceeds them. They’re a classic sleeper team.

 

Colorado Rockies

Last Year: Finished Second in NL West, Won Wild Card

Additions: C Miguel Olivo, C Paul Lo Duca, OF Jay Payton, P Tim Redding, P Justin Speier, P Jimmy Gobble, 3B Melvin Mora

Subtractions: P Josh Fogg, P Jose Contreras, C Yorvit Torrealba, P Jason Marquis, OF Matt Murton, 3B Garrett Atkins

2010 Free Agents: *C Miguel Olivo, *Brad Hawpe, *P Jeff Francis

Three Strikes: OF Carlos Gonzalez, OF Dexter Fowler, P Jeff Francis

Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler are loaded with potential. I love the two 24-year-olds that could be fixtures at the top of the Rockies lineup for a long time.

Gonzalez hit 13 home runs last year and Fowler stole 27 bases in 2009. The young guns now have full-time gigs and will roam the Coors Field outfield this season. Expect big things.

Jeff Francis is coming off an entire missed season in 2009. In addition to that, 2008 wasn’t too kind to him.

Francis has a career high 17 wins with a 4.22 ERA in 2007, the year Colorado went to the World Series. He’s never put together a stellar season that makes you scream number two starter. However, the Rockies could use that 2007 type production out of him.

What’s different?

Jim Tracy took over the Colorado ballclub from Clint Hurdle last year when they were left for dead. After guiding them to the playoffs, you can bet the NL Manager of the Year was brought back to guide the squad in 2010.

That squad remains pretty much intact from what they ended the season with. Well traveled catcher Miguel Olivo comes in to backup Chris Iannetta and even steal a little bit of playing time.

The club welcomes Melvin Mora to their veteran batch of bench players. Jason Giambi was re-signed after a successful stint in Colorado late last season.

As mentioned earlier, the pitching staff is getting back one of their big guns in Jeff Francis. He strengthens a rotation that already had Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, and team wins leader Jorge De La Rosa.

Summary

If there is a team out there you want to peg as a fast-riser, I think Colorado is the perfect candidate. They’ll be a trendy pick after their run in 2009, but this vteam is oozing with talent.

From the rotation with Jimenez leading the way for a solid starting five, to a bullpen with a bevy of options, and a lineup with a lot of young potential, they’ve got it all to make some noise in the West.

Things are starting to click for Troy Tulowitzki and a healthy Brad Hawpe provides a punch in the middle of the lineup. Rising stars Gonzalez and Fowler join Hawpe to form a formidable outfield.

Their bullpen will have to overcome the possibility of not having closer Huston Street for the first month of the season, but they’ve got options. Manny Corpas has closed games out before and leading up to him, Rafael Betancourt is one of the best. They’re also getting back Taylor Buchholz off a lost 2009 season and they brought back Joe Beimel to eventually join the fray.

It is hard for me to not like the Rockies this season. There is so much potential just waiting to go to the next level in their lineup and you can actually trust their pitching staff. That isn’t something you could have said a few years ago.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Last Year: Finished First in NL West, Lost in Playoffs

Additions: 2B Jamey Carroll, P Luis Ayala, P Josh Towers, P Justin Miller, P Russ Ortiz, SS Nick Green, OF Reed Johnson, OF Alfredo Amezaga

Subtractions: 2B Tony Abreu, P Will Ohman, P Jason Schmidt, 3B Mark Loretta, 1B Jim Thome, 2B Orlando Hudson, P Jon Garland, P Randy Wolf, OF Juan Pierre

2010 Free Agents: 2B Ronnie Belliard, OF Manny Ramirez

Three Strikes: 2B Blake DeWitt, P Ronald Belisario, P Vincente Padilla

Blake DeWitt gets another shot at claiming second base. DeWitt was a pleasant surprise in 2008 as a 22-year-old rookie. Last year he played sparingly for the Dodgers as they signed Orlando Hudson for second and brought back Casey Blake at third. Now the starting second base job is all his.

Ronald Belisario finally made it to spring training just a few days ago. He had visa issues, but some think that it’s just another example of Belisario’s problems off the field. The Dodgers had one of the best bullpens in the game last year and Belisario was a big reason why. He’ll start the year behind his teammates, but should eventually make an impact.

Starter Vincente Padilla wasn’t quite getting it done for Texas in the first 18 games. Then he latched on with the Dodgers and started three games for them in the postseason. Now he’s their opening day starter. Oh, how quickly things can change.

What’s different?

In the middle of a bitter and very messy divorce situation, Frank McCourt probably wasn’t going to let his front office make many moves.

At least that’s what we can assume looking at their additions. Lots of players left, but not a lot arrived.

The best player they added was Jamey Carroll, who will provide a big spark off the bench as one of the better backup infielders in the game. They’ll need it with uncertainty at second with DeWitt.

Jon Garland and Vincente Padilla both came in last year during the season, but Padilla is the one who’s stuck. The club also lost Randy Wolf to free agency. Healthy Hiroki Kuroda and back from the baseball grave Ramon Ortiz fill out their rotation. Ortiz hasn’t pitched in a major league game since 2007.

Their bullpen looks very familiar to the 2009 version, with trade deadline addition George Sherrill returning as the primary setup man to Jonathan Broxton to form one of the best one-two combos at the back end of a bullpen.

The club also let one-year addition Orlando Hudson and waiver trade acquisition Jim Thome go to Minnesota. They traded Juan Pierre to Chicago, making their outfield a little less crowded.

Summary

You wouldn’t think that the Dodgers won the division last year the way some people have talked about them. Yes they won the division, but the lack of offseason movement has turned people off.

I’m a little skeptical about them, but not because of the lack of offseason moves. They already had a solid team in place. I think the teams around them are growing a little bit, which has closed the talent gap.

They’ll have a potent lineup with Kemp, Ethier, Furcal, and of course Manny Ramirez. James Loney is an underrated first baseman and if Russell Martin can get healthy and bounce back, they’ll be fine scoring runs.

As mentioned, their bullpen is one of the tops in the entire game. While you can never trust a bullpen from year-to-year, the Dodgers’ pen is one you can feel safe about.

The Dodger rotation has its issues, but it too is solid. Clayton Kershaw is good, like real good. But can he take on ace-like pressure at just 22 and coming off a stellar year?

A lot of pressure would be taken off if Chad Billingsley is more like first-half Billingsley and not second-half Billingsley. Hiroki Kuroda is tough and a nice compliment in the rotation, but after him, I’m a little worried.

Who knows if Vincente Padilla can hold up and the fact that Ramon Ortiz seems to have resurrected his career after two seasons out of the major leagues is nice, but not assuring.

This team can win the division, no doubt. My question comes into what kind of state will this team be in? Is there bad karma going around with the ownership issues? Is Manny Ramirez no longer the hitter he once was and will he even be out there playing hard now that he doesn’t believe he’ll be back next year?

Remember he caused problems in the clubhouse in Boston towards the end of his tenure.

These are the only reasons I could see the Dodgers not contending in the division. If they don’t get in the way of themselves, they’ll be hot in pursuit of a third straight NL West crown.

 

San Diego Padres

Last Year: Finished Fourth in NL West

Additions: P Radhames Liz, C Dusty Ryan, OF Chris Denorfia, OF Matt Stairs, P Jon Garland, 3B Jerry Hairston Jr., OF Scott Hairston, OF Aaron Cunningham, C Yorvit Torrealba

Subtractions: C Henry Blanco, OF Brian Giles, P Eulogio De La Cruz, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff

2010 Free Agents: C Yorvit Torrealba, 2B David Eckstein, *P Chris Young

Three Strikes: 3B Chase Headley, OF Kyle Blanks, P Luke Gregerson

In 259 post All-Star at-bats, Chase Headley hit .293 with four home runs and 31 RBI. He saw most of his time in left field, but will now be making his home at the hot corner with the trade of Kevin Kouzmanoff. Not only will he be replacing Kouzmanoff at third, but he may need to replace his production.

Kyle Blanks is one big dude. He fittingly wore the number of a tight end, 88, in spring training and let me tell you, he looked like one out there. A guy that big has to have some serious power in his swing, right?

If the Padres end up trading Heath Bell at some point, I like Luke Gregerson to be the guy to take over the closer role. Mainly because I will never trust Eddie Mujica, but also because he struck out 93 hitters in 75 innings as a rookie last season.

What’s different?

Things look a lot different in San Diego without Jake Peavy in the rotation. They dealt their ace last year to Chicago and now move forward looking to replace him.

They hope Chris Young, who battled injuries in 2009, can step up and be that man. But they did attempt to improve their rotation with the addition of Jon Garland through free agency.

The Padres hope Yorvit Torrealba will be a suitable mentor to young Nick Hundley, but he provides a great presence off the bench as the backup catcher.

The club brought back Scott Hairston in a trade and it united him with brother Jerry Hairston Jr., who was signed as a free agent. They also acquired young outfielder Aaron Cunningham in the deal with Hairston.

Not much has actually changed for the Padres over the offseason, but we may be singing a different tune next year. Some think that it is a realistic possibility that they trade both Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell at some point this season. However neither are free agents, so they could wait until the offseason, but the Padres may look to maximize value.

Summary

The Padres can only hope they get a repeat of Kevin Correia’s career year as a starter in addition to a healthy Chris Young and Jon Garland. They’ll also be counting on Clayton Richard, a cog in the Peavy deal, to come in and build off the 26 starts he made last year.

Richard was 5-2 with a lower ERA than the one he had in Chicago, but he walked nearly the same amount he did with the White Sox in fewer innings.

The bullpen is respectable with aforementioned closer Heath Bell, possible heir apparent Luke Gregerson, and Mike Adams.

Their lineup is a bit of a work in progress though. Nick Hundley, Chase Headley, Everth Cabrera, and Kyle Blanks are all young players that are progressing at their own rates. Their best hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, will be asked to do a lot, if he even remains there the entire year.

That being said, I still can’t see them doing much, and if they deal Gonzalez, they’ll really be in a pickle offensively.

 

San Francisco Giants – NL West

Last Year: Finished Third in NL West

Additions: 3B Mark DeRosa, P Denny Bautista, P Santiago Casilla, 1B Aubrey Huff, P Todd Wellemeyer

Subtractions: P Randy Johnson, 1B Rich Aurilia, P Brad Penny, P Bob Howry, OF Randy Winn, P Noah Lowry, P Justin Miller, 1B Ryan Garko, P Merkin Valdez, SS Brian Bocock

2010 Free Agents: C Bengie Molina, 1B Aubrey Huff, P Jeremy Affeldt, *SS Edgar Renteria, *P Matt Cain

Three Strikes: 2B Freddy Sanchez, P Jonathan Sanchez, P Brandon Medders

Last year the Giants acquired former Pirate Freddy Sanchez despite an injury. He played in just 25 games for the club after the trade and ended up having offseason surgery. The Giants re-upped with Sanchez on a two-year deal, so in a ways they are stuck with him. The problem is he’ll probably miss the beginning of the season due to that surgery.

Jonathan Sanchez is most known for throwing a near-perfect game last season. It’s tough to get some credit when you are overshadowed by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and have a personality like Barry Zito in front of you. What is funny about Sanchez’s season was that aside from the no-hitter, he only pitched seven innings or more on three other occasions. They all came after the no-hitter.

I don’t know if it’s because he is in San Francisco and on the other side of the country or what, but Brandon Medders had the quietest 68 relief innings pitched last year. The long time Diamondback finally caught on and had the best full-season of his career with the Giants.

What’s different?

Every year we seem to be singing the same tune about the San Francisco Giants.

Where is the offense?!

The Giants hope that the additions of Mark DeRoss and Aubrey Huff can help end that tune. Huff brings some pop to the lineup, but the concern with Huff has to be the fact that they can’t spell him as a designated hitter like Baltimore did.

Mark DeRosa can play anywhere, but he looks slated for the outfield in San Francisco with Huff and Pablo Sandoval locking down first and third. And with Randy Winn gone, the Giants will be attempting to break in Nate Schierholtz in as a regular starter in the outfield as well.

The Giant rotation remains the same for the most part, but with Randy Johnson’s retirement and mid-season acquisition Brad Penny signing elsewhere, they needed a fifth starter.

It appeared as if young Madison Bumgarner would claim that spot. That was until he struggled in the spring and free agent addition Todd Wellemeyer stepped up and won the job.

Summary

Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. If you don’t believe this team lives and dies on what they throw on the mound, then you just aren’t paying attention. With a spotty offense, they rely on their pitchers being top-notch.

And on most nights, they are. We know Lincecum is a freak and the man who follows him is good despite the lack of publicity. Matt Cain for the record had an ERA under 3.00 as well.

Barry Zito had a bit of a bounce back year and we already covered the near-perfection of Jonathan Sanchez. So the rotation is good and we know Brian Wilson is one of the best closers you never hear about.

What about that lineup? “Where is the offense,” as we sing that tune.

Pablo Sandoval is a machine and a bit of a one-man wrecking crew, that much we do know. He definitely needs some help though. Aubrey Huff should be an added punch and Mark DeRosa is a solid player.

But this team needs more than those additions. Aaron Rowand is going to be leading off, but he cannot sport that .319 on-base percentage and expect the Giants to be successful offensively.

Bengie Molina is still hitting and holding off young Buster Posey, but it’s only a matter of time before the Giants get a long extended look at him behind the plate.

They’ve got many holes offensively, that is a given. They’ll win many games on their pitching, but if they expect to make the playoffs, they need to find some bats for the offense.

 

"2010 MLB Division Previews" is a part of a month long series of articles that are previewing the 2010 MLB season. For the other parts of "2010 MLB Division Previews, " other features, and a schedule, click here . Winners and projections will be available after all divisions have been previewed.

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