Expect everyone to be competitive in the NL West every year, well, except one team. Last year it was the Giants, and this year looks to be the same. Sadly.
The NL Champions came out of the division, but nobody figured it in July. The Rockies seemed dead in the water, but made a valiant comeback to take the Wild Card. Then they swept our Phillies, took down the Diamondbacks and grabbed the pennant before falling hard to the mighty Red Sox. Around them were good teams, but teams not good enough to win big games. This year, they won’t be as good. Any of them.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Don’t sleep on the Dodgers. It’s a slick-hitting offense and a hot pitching staff. That leads to wins in the National League. Start with the foundation, Russell Martin. Add to him Andruw Jones â€” who will bounce back for a solid season â€” and James Loney â€” who’s ready to break out, and you have a solid middle of the order. Juan Pierre isn’t a great leadoff guy, but somehow he’ll score runs. Youngsters Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will become stalwarts as regulars. A good rotation starts with Brad Penny and continues with the forever-young Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley. Hiroki Kuroda isn’t a stud, but he’s good for 12 wins and a 4.00 ERA. The back end of the bullpen, with closer Takashi Saito and setup man Johnathan Broxton, is maybe the best in the National League. Strong pitching will lead the Dodgers into contention, and enough offense makes them the division’s best.
Predicted Finish: 90-72
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
Like the Dodgers, they’ll win with pitching; the problem is, their hitting is worse off than the Blue boys. Eric Byrnes is the leader of the offense, but his 1988-type numbers won’t suffice anymore. He will run, though. Luckil, Chris Young will glide into the leadoff spot with nice power and speed. Connor Jackson is also a nice player, and should get his hits in the middle of the lineup. Will Justin Upton and Stephen Drew combine to add young depth to the offense? They will, but not enough. The pitching is strong â€” Dan Haren and Brandon Webb form a hot 1-2. Randy Johnson is hoping to bounce back, but the rotation was delivered a swift blow when Doug Davis was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The bullpen is good â€” Brandon Lyon hopes to ease into the closer role, while Tony Pena and Chad Qualls form a nice backup plan. Like I said, pitching is an obvious strength, but can they win with more young, light hitting players than the Dodgers?
Predicted Finish: 87-75
3. Colorado Rockies
Forget the old Coors Field jokes â€” this team can pitch. And they can hit. But are they the Wild Card, NL Champion of 2007? Meh. Start with Matt Holliday, an all-world talent who will bash. Todd Helton is still steady, but expect a let down. Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe are both good hitters and will produce. Troy Tulowitzki will try and expand on a record-breaking rookie season. Expect a slump, but nothing mammoth. Willy Taveras isn’t my choice for leadoff hitter of a defending NL champion. 15-year-old-lookalike Jeff Francis leads a rotation with some uncertainties. Kip Wells? Mark Redman? At least Ubaldo Jiminez is a nice young arm. Manny Corpas pitched out of his mind down the stretch as new closer; he’ll likely ascend to the top of the line this season. But it’s a mixed bag â€” they played over the heads to finish 2007. Are they a .500 team or an NL champ? Probably closer to the former.
Predicted Finish: 82-80
4. San Diego Padres
Adrian Gonzalez is the hot bat in a lineup of nothingness. Kevin Kouzmanoff offers hope, but Khalil Greene, 30-home run threat? Don’t think so. Is Tadahito Iguchi a starter on a contending team? He did well for a month with the Phils, but for 162? Too man questions, obviously. The pitching is there. Jake Peavy is the best starter in baseball, quite frankly, and Chris Young is great when healthy. The bullpen is also nice, but age, age, age will dictate all. Trevor Hoffman is going to lose it, it’s evident. The rotation also features Greg Maddux and Randy Wolf. One is old, one is always hurt. Can they combine for 22 wins? And Justin Germano is ready to get going in the rotation, but he faltered in the second half. There’s hope in San Diego, but the offense is too bad, and the pitching is too questionable. Watch for a bad year out in the sands.
Predicted Finsh: 78-84
5. San Francisco Giants
Welcome to post-Barry San Francisco, not a nice place to live. Your new Bonds? Aaron Rowand. He’ll hit 20 homers and hand in a .280 clip, as long as he’s healthy. But really, what can you expect? Ray Durham is also a big feature of the offense. Seriously. Randy Winn, Bengie Molina. I mean, come on. Brian Roberts has fantasy value, though. The pitching staff includes a lot of young promise, including Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Barry Zito looks to regain his 2003 form. The closer is Brian Wilson â€” lying in bed. Yes, pitching is OK, but there’s no way they’re winning with that offense. Forget it, San Fran â€” it’s 100 losses or bust.
Predicted Finish: 61-101