Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NL West Preview

I begin my foray into the world of season previewing (for preview seasoning see my food blog), by taking a look at the National League West. Four of the five teams seem to have stayed the course with their franchise building philosophies; while the Diamondbacks have been busy doing god knows what. Let's break it down team-by-team.

San Francisco Giants

The World Series champs have decided to keep the band together in an attempt to defend their crown. The re-signing of Angel Pagan makes all the sense in the world, by I'm a little more skeptical that re-upping Marco Scutaro was the right move. Giving three years to a middle infielder in his late 30's never seems like a smart move and it looks to me like the G-Men (is this appropriate for the baseball Giants) are once again overrating "clutch hitting." Bringing in Andres Torres for another go around with the squad seems to be a good "low-cost, high-reward" move, after a couple lost years for the outfielder with the Mets.
I think the Giants have a pretty good chance at making the playoffs once again, either by beating out the Dodgers for the division crown or by picking up a wild card slot. The offense doesn't look to be much improved, but the pitching staff should remain one of the top in the NL. If Timmy Lincecum can rebound from his horrendous '12 season to be even a mediocre hurler the staff could single-handedly carry the team to another post-season berth. It's impossible to predict World Series winner's in this day and age, but if the Giants could do it in two of the past three seasons, I see no reason they can't run through the post-season with a little bit of magic again.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have continued their brute force roster building philosophy they've had under their new ownership group by signing the best pitchers available on two different continents. Of course no one is going to argue that South Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu is anywhere near Zack Greinke's class, but the lefty does add depth to a pitching staff that looks to be pushing more-than-capable major league starters like Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly into long relief. Of course the headline of the offseason was the acquisition of Zack Greinke. It was obvious for the day the new ownership group put pen to paper, that they were going after Greinke, and at the low-low cost of $147 million they got they're man.

The big question coming into the season will be if the Dodgers' plan of throwing around as much money as possible will translate into a successful season. If heavy hitters Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, and Hanley Ramirez can stay healthy and reasonably productive, I see no reason why the team won't make the postseason. If the team gets anything out of Red Sox cast-off Carl Crawford that's gravy, and believing in Luis Cruz as an everyday third baseman is a little far-fetched, but the rest of the lineup should be able to fill-in those potential holes.

Arizona Diamondbacks

What the heck are the D-Backs doing? Shipping out Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer, and Chris Young to make room for Cody Ross, Martin Prado, and Heath Bell seems insane. The organizational line seems to be that they want grinders and "clubhouse guys" over finesse and aloof players, but in practice that has led to a squad that looks to be inferior to how it looked coming into the offseason. The Upton trade is especially puzzling. A 24 year old former MVP candidate coming off a down season isn't the sort of guy any team would trade, but he wasn't enough of a dirt dog so off he goes. Martin Prado will probably pick up some of the slack in the short term, but looking down the line I don't see how this team will generate much excitement.

Despite the questionable offseason, the 'Backs (nobody calls them that) could still secure a wild card spot if everything breaks right. Their pitching staff has some good depth with the addition of Brandon McCarthy and if Daniel Hudson can return at any point from Tommy John Surgery, the staff could be one of the best in the NL. The offense is pretty mediocre, but a big rookie season from centerfielder Adam Eaton and a return to form by catcher Miguel Montero could spell an under-the-radar post-season run by the snakes.

San Diego Padres

Looks like more of the same this season from the Dads. The team's only offseason acquisitions seem to be predicated on getting low-level pitching depth. A full season from Carlos Quentin would be huge for the team, but that is asking a lot from a man who's only player more than 120 games twice in his 7 big league season. The big question surrounding the club all year will be whether or not they'll trade third baseman Chase Headley. After Headley's breakout '12 season his stock is at an all-time high and although he's under team control for the next two seasons, it doesn't seem likely the team will contend with him in the fold.
It will take nothing short of a miracle for the Padres to make a playoff run. If everything breaks right (Quentin staying healthy, Carmon Maybin living up to his potential, Yasmani Grandal continuing to develop after a 50 game suspension) the Padres offense could be above-average. The pitching staff on the other hand is a horror show. Default ace Edinson Volquez is as mediocre as they come and the like of Clayton Richard and Casey Kelly can only aspire to even a Volquez-esque level of meh. Youngster Andrew Cashner does remain the lone bright spot, but after spending most of last season in the bullpen a full season in the rotation would be a big step up. The Dads also have Cory Luebke waiting in the wings after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season, but I would expect this non-contending club to be slow with bringing him back.

Colorado Rockies

Lastly, we have the lowly Colorado Rockies. The Rockies have a pretty nice little bullpen group and that's about the best thing they have going for them. The only offseason move of note was adding lefty Wilton Lopez to the pen for the Astros, in a good but ultimately meaningless move. There's potential for an above average offensive club if Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can stay healthy, but offense has never been the Rox' problem. Starting pitching is now and has always been the teams Achilles heel. Pitching in the thin air of Colorado will always be a struggle and I seem to be the only person who applauded the team's attempts at thinking outside the box by going with a four-man rotation last season. It looks like they'll be going back to the traditional five man starting staff his year, but I think the club should push forward in trying to find a way to field a competitive staff by unconventional means.

I'm not going out on a limb by saying the Rockies won't be making the postseason this year, but I don't think their future is quite as grim as it would seem. The team has good young core up the middle with Wilin Rosario behind the plate (as terrible defensively as he is prodigious with the bat), Josh Rutledge at second, Tulo at short, and solid Dexter Fowler in center. Add in Car-Go in left and Tyler Colvin wherever and you have the makings of a decent young offense. Pitching development is obviously the big key to the team's future. Jhoulys Chacin, lefty Christian Friedrich, and Drew Pomeranz have all the potential in the world, but if they will live up to it in the house of horrors that is Coors Field, is anyone's guess.

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