27 February 2010
Historically, the NL West has been an extremely competitive division. Although there was a 25-game difference between the first- and late-place teams in the NL West this past season, each team in the division has had some degree of success in the past.
While the Los Angeles Dodgers have enjoyed the greatest amount of success in the NL West this past decade, the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants are right behind them. The San Diego Padres have won two division titles since 2000, the same total as the Giants. Both the Dodgers and D-Backs have three crowns, while the closest the Colorado Rockies have come is 2nd place.
Here is how I see the NL West playing out in 2010:
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1. Colorado Rockies - (90-72)
The Rockies have just about everything required for a lengthy run of division titles: A young lineup, solid defense, and a very capable starting rotation. Colorado's young batting order – headlined by Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez – is expected to put up very solid offensive numbers in 2010, (which could very well be more a result of Coors Field than actual ability, but that's beside the point.)
Colorado has an extremely crowded outfield bursting at the seams with young talent. Although some have much better defensive gloves than others, there will likely be plenty of different combinations in the Rockies' outfield in 2010. 31-year-old Brad Hawpe is an extremely poor defensive outfielder, but he can hit the ball out of the park quite often and boasts a very high on-base percentage. Fowler doesn't have the best glove, either, but he is very quick on the base paths and also manages to get on base at an above-average clip. Seth Smith and Ryan Spillborghs will also find plenty of playing time.
Gonzalez, just 24 years old, will be one of the premier outfielders in 2010. He provides excellent defense and hit .320/.384/.608 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases in the second half of last season. He should be given full-time duties in 2010, and will be a vital part of the Rockie's offense from the No. 2 hole.
The infield should also provide the Rockies with plenty of offensive support. Todd Helton, Clint Barnes, Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart, and hopefully a breakthrough season from Chris Iannetta will make all of the infield very dangerous at the plate.
Another of Colorado's strengths this season should be their rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Cook, Jason Hammel, and Jeff Francis are all very capable starting pitchers, and should once again limit opponents to around 700 runs in 2010.
The Rockies were a surprisingly good team in 2009, but few seemed to take notice. Coming eight games shy of the century-mark last season, Colorado will look to get the recognition they deserve in 2010 as they take on another strong NL West.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers - (87-75)
Although their current ownership is quickly becoming a public relations nightmare, the Los Angeles Dodgers have all the pieces in place for yet another division title. Although last year's 95-win total came as a result of quite a few lucky breaks , Los Angeles should still be in prime position to give Colorado a fight in 2010.
The Dodger's combination of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Manny Ramirez could form one of the best 2-3-4 combination in the league. All are very capable of 20-home runs seasons, and should all post VORPs north of the 30 mark. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Dodger's offense, though, is their collective ability to get on base. All but one of the eight projected starters are predicted to have OBPs higher than .345.
While they relied on Randy Wolf last season, the Dodgers still have a very impressive starting rotation. Youngsters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley could both have VORPs in the 35-40 range, while Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, and Eric Stults all all intriguing options whose ERAs should float in the 4.50 range.
Financial problems (or ineptitude, if you prefer) have hurt the Dodgers to the point where no external aid is expected. The rotation contains five pitchers who are huge injury risks, yet Los Angeles will be forced to replenish from within should anyone land on the disabled list. Scott Elbert and James McDonald are decent enough replacements, though, so one or two stints on the disabled list won't cripple the starting rotation.
If the off-field distractions don't ruin the team's chemistry this year, the Dodgers stand a very high chance of competing in 2010. When two feuding owners (who happen to be husband and wife) are battling through divorce court for possession of the team, though, it will be emotionally draining and awfully difficult.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks - (82-80)
As Baseball Prospectus 2010 notes, the Diamondbacks have had success in their rotation, bullpen, and offense since 2007; just not in the same year. Prior to the 2009 season, Arizona looked to have everything in order and were set to go on a playoff run. Brandon Webb ended his season after just four innings, though, and the season eventually derailed.
This year, the Diamondbacks once again appear to have all the pieces required for their second division crown since 2003. The bullpen appears solid enough, the offense is young and filled with power, and the rotation stands a chance to be the best in the league.
Anticipating a full season of a healthy Webb, Dan Haren, and Edwin Jackson along with some progression from Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Stephen Drew, the Diamondbacks aren't content to sit back and label 2010 as a transition year. They acquired first baseman Adam LaRoche -- which effectively blocks prospect Brandon Allen – and second baseman Kelly Johnson to signify that they intend to compete.
LaRoche and Johnson, both quality offensive options, will have the help of Miguel Montero, one of the best young catchers in the league both offensively and defensively, and Mark Reynolds, who will continue to blast 35 home runs while breaking his own strikeout records.
Upton, still just 22 years old, is quickly turning into one of the best young outfielders in the game, while Young and Drew are both capable of putting up 20 home runs with VORPs lingering around 20. A big factor into the success/failure of the 2010 season for Arizona will be the health of Conor Jackson, who dealt with Valley Fever for much of 2009. When healthy, Jackson can be one of the best outfielders in the game.
The Diamondbacks traded for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy this past offseason, and both will help Arizona battle the Dodgers and Giants for the right to claim the “best rotation in the division.” With full, healthy seasons from the entire rotation, my money is on Arizona.
A lot of question marks remain for the Diamondbacks, but they have all the potential needed to come home with their first division title since 2007. With more big seasons expected from their young contingent of stars, Arizona could battle the Rockies and Dodgers for the NL West for much of the season.
4. San Francisco Giants - (81-81)
The Giants are attempting to right their ship, but 2010 should look a lot like last season: Outstanding pitching coupled with a nonexistent offense. San Francisco should see more of the same from Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, but will probably fail to reach the 700-runs scored plateau once again.
In spite of the best efforts of Pablo Sandoval, the Giants tallied the lowest wOBA in the league last season. General Manager Brian Sabean brought on second baseman Freddie Sanchez and man-of-many-gloves Mark DeRosa, which will be upgrades over who the Giants trotted out last year, but won't be significant offensive assets.
San Francisco will likely benefit from the “resurgence” of Barry Zito, and could also see Madison Bumgarner in the rotation in 2010. This will keep them among the league-leaders in run prevention, but won't be able to win them games unless the offense takes significant steps forward.
The offense could benefit if catching prospect Buster Posey starts the year somewhere in the Giant's infield while learning the art of catching from Bengie Molina. Posey will provide a solid bat anywhere on the diamond, while Molina also adds great offensive value but is unable to learn another position. First base is occupied by 33-year old Aubrey Huff, who, after posting a .241/.310/.384 line last year, is somehow qualified to bat clean-up.
Aaron Rowand and the rest of San Francisco's outfield could combine for a fairly pathetic 45 VORP. The Giants had a lot of things go right in 2009, and probably won't receive so much good fortune in 2010. Their rotation will remain one of the best in the game, but you can't win enough games to compete if you can't score runs. Although their various offseason moves will undoubtedly improve their offense – if for no other reason than removing Travis Ishikawa, Emmanuel Burriss, and Randy Winn from regular duties – they won't be able to bring the Giants up to a level of contention in the NL West.
5. San Diego Padres - (70-92)
Fans of the Padres shouldn't expect much in 2010. Their team hit the second-lowest wOBA in either league last year, and didn't sport the best pitching staff, either. That being said, new general manager Jed Hoyer appears to have the situation under control and is giving San Diego fans a reason to be optimistic.
Perhaps the largest question looming for Hoyer is the status of his lone offensive star, Adrian Gonzalez. Still just 28-years old, Gonzalez could either bring in a plethora of excellent prospects via trade in order to jump-start the rebuilding process, or he could be the piece Hoyer builds his team around. I suspect that Gonzalez will find himself on another team before the July 31 trading deadline, and the Padres will have more young talent than they know what to do with.
It's not like San Diego doesn't already have a very strong nucleus, though. The Padres have third baseman Chase Headley, shortstop Everth Cabrera, and outfielder/first baseman Kyle Blanks who are all under 26 years of age and are on the cusps of breakout seasons. On the mound, San Diego boasts Mat Latos, who has the makings of a future ace, and Aaron Poreda, who should be an excellent closer if he's still stuck in the bullpen.
The Padres have a young team that is brimming with potential. If Hoyer can manage to release Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell at the trading deadline this summer, there could be even more young talent in San Diego. Short of pulling a Huizenga-esque spending spree, 2010 will not be the Padre's year. If San Diego fans can hold on for a few more years, though, things will be looking up.