MLB Season Preview: NL West

The 2013 MLB Season Preview Series continues with analysis of the National League West Division…

Probable 1st place finish: Los Angeles Dodgers

Almost a year removed from the much-maligned ownership of Frank McCourt, it’s amazing to see how the Dodgers’ fortunes have changed. The new ownership group, led by former NBA star Magic Johnson, has broken out the checkbooks and shown they’re serious about winning: At the start of the 2012 season, the Dodgers’ payroll was roughly $111 million. And now? $232 million. This drastic increase in payroll did not entirely happen over the winter however. It’s largely a result of last summer’s blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox that saw Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and Adrian Gonzalez leave their sinking ship of a team and arrive in LA. Although criticized for failing to make the postseason after the mid-season acquisition, the Dodgers have set themselves up nicely for a postseason run, now that they will get full seasons out of the former Red Sox.

The Dodgers have added two quality starters to their rotation this off-season: Zack Greinke (6 years, $147 million) and Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (6 years, $36 million). Greinke projects to be the number 2 starter, behind Clayton Kershaw, a Cy Young contender and one of the best pitchers in the game. Was Greinke overpaid? Yes. Do the Dodgers care? No. Ryu will be considered the number 3 starter once Greinke is healthy. If he can successfully transition to MLB from Korea, the Dodgers will have a very formidable 1-2-3 punch in ace Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu. Josh Beckett is the number 4 pitcher in what is suddenly a very deep rotation. Free-agent Brandon League was resigned by the Dodgers to toss out of the ‘pen. He’ll likely have competition for the closer role from Kenley Jansen, provided the latter, a fireballer, can stay healthy. Either way, the Dodger’s rotation and ‘pen look to be comfortably above average. As for the lineup, the former BoSox stars join Andre Ethier, slugger Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez (who will be on the DL for the first two months). There’s some concern that Crawford and Ethier can’t hit left-handed pitching; regardless, this is a top 5 offense in the NL. The biggest question mark for this team is the defense: Kemp and Ramirez are both rated below average by the various defensive metrics. Hopefully Kershaw and Co. induce lots of strikeouts. Health is a huge concern for the Dodgers as Crawford, Ramirez, Greinke, Beckett, Kemp, Ethier and Gonzalez have all dealt with significant injuries in the past.

Ryu Hyun-Jin owns an impressive 2.80 ERA through 6 seasons in Korean Professional Baseball. (Image via ESPN)

The San Francisco Giants accomplished quite a number of impressive feats en-route to their World Series Championship last year. They completed a perfect game (only the 22nd in baseball history), came back from down 2 games to none against the Reds in the NLDS, and rallied past a 3 games to 1 deficit to defeat the Cardinals in the NLCS. This season, the Giants are looking to win their 3rd World Series in 4 years despite their free-spending rivals the Dodgers breathing down their necks. Ace Matt Cain anchors a rotation that will be one of the best in the NL along with Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner. In 2012, all three pitchers tossed +189 innings with ERAs under 3.37. Of particular interest will be pitcher Tim Lincecum; the former NL Cy Young winner struggled throughout the season and was relegated to the bullpen. A bounce-back year from Lincecum will greatly aid the Giants in what projects to be a tight division race with the Dodgers. The offense will once again center around face-of-the-franchise catcher Buster Posey, who was just inked to a 9 year, $167 million extension. Posey, Hunter Pence, and Pablo Sandoval will provide much of the team’s power, although the latter has been dealing with elbow trouble as of late. Solid contributions will also be provided by Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan, both of whom were resigned in the off-season. Make no mistake though, if the Giants make it to the postseason it will be because of pitching. The projected 2013 lineup is very similar to the 2012 lineup, which hit a measly 103 home runs (worst in the majors). Additionally, the team will be without Melky Cabrera, whose .346 BA and .906 OPS at time of his suspension was a big reason the Giants made the postseason. Sergio Romo will take over the role of closer from the eccentric Brian Wilson; Romo proved he is more than capable for the job last season. He’ll be joined in the bullpen by relief pitchers George Kontos, Jeremy Affeldt, and Santiago Castilla. The biggest weakness this team has is depth: If one of the starting 5 pitchers goes down, manage Bruce Bochy will find himself scrambling for help. Expect the Giants to be a lock for a wild card slot, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they won the division.

Tim Lincecum looks to return to the Giants’ starting rotation after a sub-par 2012 season. (Image via NY Daily News)

The Arizona Diamondbacks finished the 2012 season with an even 81-81 record, and this season, expect them to make a legitimate run at a wild card berth. After months of speculation and rumors, the D-backs finally shipped out outfielder Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves in return for third baseman Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado and a minor-league prospects. With top-prospect Adam Eaton sidelined with an elbow injury for two months, the D-backs will bite with Prado, Aaron Hill, Miguel Montero, Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt. Newly-acquired utfielder Cody Ross will also begin the season on the DL, but should return in roughly 2 weeks. This isn’t the most potent of lineups, but its certainly serviceable. Ian Kennedy will be the Opening Day starter, though his command can evade him at times. Kennedy will be joined by Wade Miley (led the team with a 3.33 ERA last year), newly-acquired Brandon McCarthy, and Trevor Cahill. The fifth spot in the rotation will likely see a host of different names throughout the season, including Daniel Hudson in early summer, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. J.J. Putz projects to be the closer, and is only 2 years removed from a 45 save season. Other arms in the ‘pen include reclamation project Heath Bell and fireballer David Hernandez.

A quick Google search of “Padres season preview” will yield you articles dating back to 2005, which says a lot about the current status of the team. The San Diego Padres finished 4th in the division last year, and this year looks to be no different. After all, their biggest move this off-season was moving the right field and left-center fences in at Petco Park. Maybe that will remedy the fact that just 2 (!!!) Padres players had double digit home runs last season. Despite new ownership and a new TV deal, the Padres were a non-factor in every free-agent hunt. Their rotation consists of the underwhelming Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Jason Marquis, Eric Stults, and Tyson Ross. Ross beat out Andrew Cashner, a top prospect, for the 5th spot, and no starter finished with an ERA in 2012 under 3.99, which is frightening considering Petco is a pitcher’s park. The only bright spots in the lineup are Carlos Quentin and third baseman Chase Headley, though Quentin’s defense leaves much to be desired and Headley is injured to begin the season. Expect both to be used as trade bait at the July 31st deadline, as the Padres try to improve their farm system as they slowly and gruelingly rebuild.

Chase Headley may end up wearing a different uniform by the end of the season. (Image via CBS Sports)

The Colorado Rockies finished last season in 5th place in the NL West and 17 games under .500. Like the Padres, little has been done to change the outlook for this team, but the role of injuries last year should not be overlooked: the Rockies’ top three starters – Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa, and Juan Nicasio – combined for a measly 28 starts last season. This was especially detrimental considering Coors Field is a notorious hitters park. Chacin, who owned a record of 3-5 in 14 starts, will likely be number 1 in the rotation. While the rotation is a mess, the bullpen is surprisingly strong in closer Rafael Betancourt, setup man Wilton Lopez, Matt Belisle, and Rex Brothers. Even more surprisingly, the Rockies ranked 3rd in the NL in runs scored last season. With star shortstop Troy Tulowitszki healthy again, and with contributions from Todd Helton, Michael Cuddyer, superstar Carlos Gonzalez and prospect Jordan Pacheco, the offense is the one area the Rockies may be able to improve upon in 2013. Still though, it is difficult to them fighting for a wild card. Perhaps they duel with the Padres for 4th place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.