Divisional Previews: NL West

Despite being one of the weaker divisions in baseball for the past couple seasons, the 2010 World Champions, the San Francisco Giants, called the NL West home. Moreover, the NL West was one of three divisions that had 2 90+ win teams, and only one team had a win total below 80. What can we expect from the division in 2011?

1) San Francisco Giants (87-75)

In 2010, the Giants strength by far was its pitching and pitching should be its strong point again in 2011. The staff will be led by ace Tim Lincecum, who had himself a “down year” in 2010. With him and Cain, the Giants have a 1-2 punch that could be the best duo in baseball, up there with Philadelphia, and both LA teams. But their rotation doesn’t end there. Their aces are backed up by Jonathon Sanchez, who is an effective starter despite a bad BB rate and Madison Bumgarner. Last year the Giants only got 18 starts from Bumgarner, who was my favorite rookie entering the past season. The dood is really good at limiting the free passes and keeps the ball on the ground. In 18 starts he had a 3.66 FIP and solid 2.0 WAR. With a “rebound” year from Timmy and a full season from Bumgarner, I think the Giants pitching will be even better in 2011.

On offense though…I’m not impressed. While Aubrey Huff was a beast in 2010, I think it’s safe to assume he will regress considerably. He may not put up 2009 numbers, but he won’t be nearly the contributor that he was in 2010. The same goes for the aging Pat Burrell, whose legs won’t be doing any favors for the Giants in the outfield either. A big question mark will be Pablo Sandoval and Andres Torres. Whether or not Sandoval can overcome a terrible plate discipline could be the difference in whether SF can field a reasonable offense to score runs for their dominant staff. Moreover, was 2010 a fluke year for Torres? If the answer is yes, SF will be a lot more pedestrian than people might expect. Especially with the ancient Miguel Tejada manning shortstop. The one bright spot, in my estimation, is obviously Buster Posey. Whether or not anyone else on the team will care to hit alongside him remains to be seen. Also, the possible emergence of prospect Brandon Belt could go a long ways for an average offensive team.

Players to watch: Brandon Belt, Madison Bumgarner.

2) Colorado Rockies (83-79)

I am a big Rockies fan. I am always on their bandwagon. But I don’t think 2011 is their year. The offense should be better than San Francisco’s, with players like Troy Tulowitzski and Carlos Gonzalez. But their offense isn’t as potent as I thought it was. I am a big Seth Smith believer, but the team will be giving PAs to the likes of Jose Lopez, Ian Stewart, and a past his prime Todd Helton. So while the bats are decent, they aren’t good enough to carry a team past any other flaws.

The rotation is led by Ubaldo Jiminez who had a stellar 2010 and after him is Jhoulys Chacin, a pitcher I really like. But after those two, the rotation goes downhill. Jorge De La Rosa is okay, but nothing special. Huston Street is a real good closer, and there are some okay options out of the pen, but as a whole, the pitching isn’t spectacular- it’s okay.

That’s why I think the Rockies will be just an okay team- 83 wins. They have the potential to hit 90+ wins if players like Dexter Fowler breakout, but that’s asking a lot.

Players to watch: Jhoulys Chacin, Seth Smith

3) Los Angeles Dodgers (78-84)

It’s been a rough past year or so for LA, from ownership problems to Joe Torre ruining good, young players like Jon Broxton and Russell Martin. So I’ll start with what I like. I believe LA has a pretty darn underrated staff. Clayton Kershaw is already an ace in my book and he should continue to improve and get better as he matures. Chad Billingsley is another underrated arm who has been putting up excellent numbers and WARs for a few seasons now. Ted Lilly continues to be an average pitcher and Hideki Kuroda continues to be underrated as well. He is paid like an AS pitcher, but doesn’t get the hype of an AS pitcher. He continually posts FIPs in the mid 3’s and does everything well that a pitcher has some control over. The Dodgers have the starting pitching of a winning team. The pen should also be a strength with Kuo, Jansen, and Broxton- assuming he is over is arm issues which I of course am contributing to Torre overuse.

Now comes the bad. The defense. Gibbons, Kemp, and Ethier has to be one of the worst defensive outfields in baseball. That’s not a good thing since the outfield is spacious and there is a lot of ground to cover. The defensive isn’t so that bad, but it’s not good either. The offense is another weak aspect. Andre Ethier is a legitimate middle of the order bat and I still believe in Matt Kemp, but outside that, there are a bunch of below average or average hitters. Rod Barajas? Juan Uribe? Jay Gibbons? Yeah, no team that features those three as everyday players will have a winning record.

Players to watch: Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw

4) San Diego Padres (75-87)

Last year the Padres were the team I loved to root against, simply because they were defying the odds. Luck was on their side and it HAD to run out. In September it finally did, and I was baffled it took that long. The Padres didn’t get any better and with some regression to the mean, I think San Diego will return to being a below average team that has trouble scoring, and isn’t that effective at preventing runs.

I love Mat Latos and he should have a good campaign, but who else is on their staff? The corpse of Aaron Harang, Wade LeBlanc and the rest of the rotation are simply not talented enough or good enough to repeat their success from last season. Players like LeBlanc were aided by good fortunes and extremely high LOB%. With a return to the mean, their production will decrease from a season ago. The defense will be a strong suit again which should help the pitching staff, but I have a tough time believing the run prevention will be as good as it was in 2010.

With that said, the offense hasn’t improved. Yes, Orlando Hudson was brought in, and he is a good hitter, but he isn’t a team changing hitter and he’s played in hitter and neutral friendly parks (Arizona, Minnesota) the past few years. Moving to Petco could depress his numbers. Morever, I could make the case Hudson is the team’s best hitter. When Orlando Hudson is your best hitter, you have big problems.

Players to watch: Cameron Maybin, Mat Latos

5) Arizona Diamondbacks (71-91)

After a dreadful 2010 the D-Backs will be…well, still bad in 2011. Justin Upton took a step back in 2010, but I and many others still expect big things from him 2011 and I am expecting a 5+ WAR season. The offense should also get contributions from Chris Young, Miguel Montero, Stephen Drew, and Kelly Johnson. The offense is not a weak point, and it’s arguably the second best offense in the division. But Melvin Mora will not be a productive player at third and relying on Juan Miranda at first is a risky play that probably won’t work out.

The bullpen was historically bad last season and while JJ Putz provides a solid arm to close out games, the pen still is weak. The staff is okay, but has little potential outside Dan Hudson. I think his HR tendencies can hurt him in Arizona, but he had a great half season for them in 2011 and I expect improvement. Ian Kennedy is another solid arm, but that’s it. He is just a solid arm, not a future ace. The rest of the rotation is filled with mediocre arms like Joe Saunders. This is a team that doesn’t do anything good, and is pretty weak in several aspects. As a result, the D-Backs should be bringing up the rear once again.

Players to watch: Dan Hudson, Justin Upton

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