No. 99 Will Determine Where the Dodgers Finish in '09

Torey ZiskaCorrespondent IIFebruary 25, 2009

There are four words baseball fans love hearing: 'Pitchers and Catchers report.' This season however, there are four words baseball fans everywhere (a large majority of them in Los Angeles) are wondering to themselves: 'Where Will Manny Go?'

With less than two weeks until the World Baseball Classic is set to begin, and just over a month until the 2009 Major League Baseball season will begin, Manny Ramirez has yet to sign with a team. Manny is clearly the best player still on the free agent market, but no team is willing to give him the contract he wants.

Most assume he will end up back with the Dodgers, and if that is the case, Los Angeles will be the clear favorite to win the National League West. However, if that is the case, there is almost no reason to even discuss the remaining four teams in the division. But for the sake of discussion, lets take a look at how the NL West may fare if Manny's travels take him elsewhere.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Should Manny not return to LA, the Dodgers will still have a great chance at making the playoffs. They have a great mix of young stars and veterans that know how to get the job done. Their young talent includes from Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier on offense, as well as Chad Billingsley, and Clayton Kershaw in the starting rotation, and Jonathon Broxton as the closer.

Juan Pierre, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal, and under-the-radar free agent pick up Orlando Hudson are among the great group of veterans on the team. If Furcal can stay healthy, this team is very dangerous. He creates an enormous amount of havoc on the basepaths and is one of the keys to the Dodgers success on offense.

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Why they will win the West

With our without Manny, they have a very good offensive lineup, with speed at the top and power in the middle.

Why they wont win the West

Beyond young star Chad Billingsley, their starting rotation could cause them problems. Kuroda had his moments last year, but was fairly inconsistent. Young Clayton Kershaw showed promise as well, but he will have to avoid a sophomore slump. Randy Wolf and Jason Schmidt are getting up there in age, and may not be able to last through an entire season.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The D-backs are a team that continues to make me scratch my head. They won 20 games last April, and went on to win just 60 more in the final 5+ months of the season. If their offense can produce for more than just one month, they will be legitimate contenders in the west.

The key to Arizona is speed. This team should be in the top 3 in baseball in stolen bases.  They have three players that when healthy can steal 40 bases, and 3 others that can steal 20 or more. It is beyond me as to why this team stole a TOTAL of 58 bases last season.

Why they will win the West

On paper they have the best rotation in the division. Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Doug Davis, Jon Garland, and a young star in the making, Max Scherzer. Their offense is very young, similar to the Rockies and the Dodgers, and they have the potential to score a lot of runs. If young stars Chris Young, Justin Upton, and Mark Reynolds can cut down on their strikeouts, and improve their batting average, this will be a team to be reckoned with.

Why they wont win the West

Their starters will need to eat up innings, because their bullpen will once again be their Achilles heal. They did add veterans Tom Gordon and Scott Schoeneweis, but both are getting up there in age and may not be able to shoulder the load. Beyond them, they have the erratic Jon Rauch, inconsistent Tony Pena, and un-proven Leo Rosales, and a very iffy closer, in Chad Qualls.

Also, as previously stated, if Bob Melvin does not let this team steal bases, they could be in for another tough season. Lastly, this team lost quite a few key players from 2008. Adam Dunn to the Nationals, closer Brandon Lyon to the Tigers, Randy Johnson to the rival San Fran Giants, and Orlando Hudson to another division rival, the Dodgers.

Colorado Rockies

This is another team that is hard to figure out. They end the 2007 season on one of the hottest hot streaks of all time, to barely make the playoffs, and then turn around in 2008 and finish 14 games under .500. The Rockies may have more young talent on offense than either Arizona or Los Angeles. Aside from the ageless Todd Helton, this team has young talent at every other spot.

Why they will win the West

Very few are considering the Rockies as threats this year, but with key additions to their rotation in Jason Marquis and little-known Greg Smith, as well as adding Huston Street as their closer, their pitching could be able to hold its own. Their offense, though young, has proven it can be potent and if they return to any form from the end of 2007, this team will push Arizona and LA to the end.

Why they wont win the West

Despite many of their young players having experienced the stretch run and the playoffs, the Rockies still may have a few bumps in the road. Their starting rotation, though solid, could struggle within the division against the solid offenses in Arizona and LA.

San Diego Padres

The Padres are another team that very few are considering as a threat in the NL West. And in this case, those that believe the Padres will have a rough year, are correct. The Padres did next to nothing in the offseason, adding scrappy infielder David Eckstein.

Why they will win the West

If this team has any shot at the playoffs, its going to come from pitching and defense, and that's a scary thought.  Jake Peavy and Chris Young will have to carry the load, because the Padres 3, 4 and 5 starters are extremely un-proven.

Why they wont win the West

Beyond their 1-2 punch in the rotation, the Padres likely have nobody that will even win them 10 games. They mine as well give me a call, my 65mph fastball will be as just as [in]effective as anyone else they have. Also, their offense is not potent, and playing in that stadium will only hurt them. Lastly, their once dominant bullpen now consists of Cla Meredith, closer Heath Bell, and a bunch of no-names.

San Francisco Giants

I suppose it's my due diligence to discuss the final team in the West, the Giants. Unless they can manage to bring back Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and company, its going to be another long season of watching Travis Ishikawa, Eugenio Velez, and Pablo Sandoval.

Why the will win the West

I was worried I wasn't going to be able to come up with anything legitimate for them actually contending this year. And in all honesty, what I came up with is a huge stretch. However, with reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, as well as Matt Cain, free-agent addition Randy Johnson and former Cy Young winner Barry Zito, their pitching staff has potential.  And I use that word very loosely.

Lincecum is dominant. Cain has showed spurts of dominance. Randy Johnson will be motivated to beat his former team, Arizona, as well as end his career on a high note, and winning his 300th game. And in September last year Barry Zito actually began to show signs of his days from Oakland. If, and that is one enormous IF, those four pitched like they have been able to in the past, they could stay in the race for a while, but I just don't seem them lasting the entire season.

Why they wont win the West

Is it possible to use the same argument for why a team WILL win its division, and why it WON'T? Well if not, I'm going to use it anyway.

The pitching on this team, beyond Lincecum, is very suspect. Yes, if they pitched like they did at one point, they could be good, but there is almost no reason to believe that they will. And if they do miraculously pitch extremely well, they still wont win because their offense is just plain bad and their bullpen leaves a lot to be desired.

Bob Howry, Jeremy Affeldt, Alex Hinshaw, Jack Taschner, Sergio Romo, and Brian Wilson. I see four other NL West teams drooling to get to face that bullpen 18 times this year.

So, finally, my prediction for the NL West in 2009. I started out talking about Manny Ramirez, and I will end with Manny Ramirez. The fact is, if he is a Dodger, they are the favorite to win the division and they will be my pick to win the West. If he is not a Dodger, (and presuming he doesn't join another NL West team) my final standings look like this:

1. Arizona

2. Los Angeles

3. Colorado

4. San Diego

5. San Francisco