>Wednesday Lunch: NL West Preview and Playoff Predictions

Posted: March 23, 2011 in mlb, world series
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By Nick Gallaudet

This week we finish our division-by-division look at Major League Baseball with the National League West, home of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. This division is notoriously tough to pick and it seems like each of the last five years, it’s ended up the opposite of what everyone thought it would be, so let’s see if this year is going to be any different.

 

 

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Arizona finished dead last in the West last year by 15 games, and went into this offseason looking to complete the roster purge they began in the regular season. Since Opening Day of last year, the Diamondbacks parted ways with starting pitchers Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, and Edwin Jackson. On top of that, they also lost power bats Adam LaRoche and Mark Reynolds, but honestly, LaRoche and Reynolds really aren’t as good as everyone is making them out to be. LaRoche was replaced by the more than capable Russell Branyan. In the last two seasons in the American League, Branyan has over 50 homeruns in just over 200 games. Branyan has shown he can provide some pop when he’s in the lineup, but it’s kind of a lateral move, because he also has almost 300 strikeouts in that same span, around the same number LaRoche put up in more games.

 

The strengths in this Diamondbacks team rest in its youth, except I don’t know if you can call it youth anymore. SS Stephen Drew, CF Chris Young, and RF Justin Upton have had plenty of time now to adjust to the Major League game, but none of them have blossomed into what they were expected to be. All three of them put up decent numbers last year but none of them look like they’re capable of putting this team on their back and making them serious contenders, and the way this team has be shuttling people out the door, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two of these guys move this year if they don’t start winning.

 

The pitching staff is the one ray of hope on this team, albeit a little one. In the 11 games he started for the D-Backs last year, Daniel Hudson was 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA. Hudson, coupled with the promising, but still unproven Ian Kennedy make a solid core for their future rotation, but this year, the talent stops there. Joe Saunders was unimpressive last year, and Barry Enright showed signs of fatigue toward the end of the year. Even with the addition of J.J. Putz as closer, this bullpen isn’t much to worry about either, all things considered, this looks like another long year for the Diamondbacks.

 

COLORADO ROCKIES

Offensively, this team is pretty formidable. Aside from 1B Todd Helton, this team is young and very good. The only weaknesses in the lineup are on the right side of the infield where Eric Young Jr. and Todd Helton look to get the majority of the playing time It’s hard to believe, but Todd Helton has simply fallen off the face of the planet, statistically. In 118 games last year, Helton hit eight homeruns and drove in 37 while posting a .257 average. It’s a little disheartening to see a perennial All-Star play like that, but for the sake of his dignity; I hope he can pull out a decent season this year. Other than those two, though, this lineup sports slugging SS Troy Tulowitski, Triple Crown threat Carlos Gonzalez, and young studs like Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith. This team was third in the NL in runs scored last year, and will most definitely put up some runs this year, as well.

The Rockies pitching staff is a little more suspect. Anchored by flamethrower and first-half phenom, Ubaldo Jimenez, this rotation could be worse. Jimenez will be followed by Jorge de la Rosa, Aaron Cook, Jason Hammel, and Jhoulys Chacin, all four of which have potential. Luckily for them, this rotation will have a stellar bullpen to fall back on, with studs like Matt Lidstrom, Rafael Bettancourt, and Huston Street. This staff will get a lot of run support this year, so if they can get decent outings from their staff, this team could make a run for the NL West crown.

 

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

The story of the Dodgers for the last season and a half has been instability. The McCourts, owners of the Dodgers, are going through a nasty divorce, manager Joe Torre retired, and don’t forget the whole Manny Ramirez saga. The mayhem culminated in an offseason where they had to sit and watch as their rival won the World Series. New manager Don Mattingly will look to stabilize this team and create an identity, and he may just have the talent to do so. The Dodgers offense certainly underachieved last year, finishing toward the back of the pack in most offensive categories, which is surprising given the talent they have. Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Rafael Furcal, and Casey Blake are all coming off years in which they all showed flashes of brilliance, but never really got it going consistently. If a couple of those guys can return to form and James Loney can continue his quiet consistency, and new addition Juan Uribe picks up where he left off with the Giants last year, there is no reason the Dodgers shouldn’t be able to compete offensively, even with the loss of catcher Russell Martin.

 

The Dodgers also look to improve their middle-of-the-pack rotation from last year. Again, this is going to be a case of proven veterans regaining their form. Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, and Vicente Padilla have all proven they can play at the big league level. Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw have also proven to be formidable starters, and throw in Jon Garland on top of all this; the Dodgers definitely have options on the mound. The real problem for this pitching staff is in the bullpen. The Dodgers added Matt Gurrier to a sub-par pen from last year, and closer Jonathan Broxton looked human last year, blowing seven saves and posting a 4.04 ERA. Mattingly made it clear that no one’s spot is safe in the bullpen, and this group of relievers is going to be a huge factor in whether or not the Dodgers can compete in this division.

 

SAN DIEGO PADRES

The Padres ended last season with a devastating collapse, losing the division and wild card race in the last weekend of the season, and unfortunately for them, it just gets worse from there. The Padres lost their only real run producer from last year in Adrian Gonzalez as well as their shortstop, centerfielder, second baseman, and one of their top starting pitchers. The Padres managed to fill those gaps well, but they weren’t really able to upgrade any position other than Orlando Hudson replacing David Eckstein at 2B. Josh Bartlett is a decent replacement for Miguel Tejada and Cameron Maybin is kind of a lateral move from Tony Gwynn Jr., but Brad Hawpe is far from Adrian Gonzalez. It’s going to be hard for this team to do worse offensively than it did last year, but it may just be able to do it.

 

As far as the pitching staff that posted the second best ERA in the league last year, it’s looking like it may take a major step back. Jon Garland, who tied for the team lead in wins last year, is being replaced by a rapidly aging Aaron Harang. Harang, the ace of the Reds once-upon-a-time has been steadily declining these last couple years and is most definitely not the pitcher he used to be. With that being said, this is still largely the same staff from last year, with Mat Latos and Clayton Richard looking to repeat their solid season and young gun Tim Stauffer getting a larger workload. The bullpen is also largely the same and should supply manager Bud Black with plenty of option toward the end of the game. I’m really not expecting a lot from this team, but I said the same thing last year, and they almost made the playoffs.

 

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

The Giants pitching alone should be enough to get them back to the playoffs, but there is not a lot of room for error with this team. All it takes is one injury or one down year, and this team is vulnerable, because as good as their pitching is, their offense is mediocre. The Giants were dead last in hitting with runners in scoring position last year, and they didn’t do much to bolster their lineup. The Giants lost Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria, but they shouldn’t feel it that much because replacement Miguel Tejada is a comparable replacement. Other than that, this lineup hasn’t changed much, but having C Buster Posey for a whole season should provide a little boost. On top of that, word on the street is that Fat Boy Sandoval has slimmed down a little and maybe might learn how to hit again. I just don’t have much faith in this offense, but with their rotation, it doesn’t really matter.

 

Even with Tim Lincecum coming off a “down” year, the Giants still posted the best ERA in the Bigs last year, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito, and Madison Bumgarner make up what many are calling the best rotation in Major League baseball. On top of that, the Giants also sport one of the best bullpens in the NL anchored by closer Brian Wilson. I personally don’t think Wilson is going to be able to duplicate his 48 save performance from last year, but notwithstanding, the Giants are still the team to beat in the NL West

 

TEAM W-L

San Francisco Giants 91-71

Colorado Rockies 90-72

Los Angeles Dodgers 84-78

San Diego Padres 78-84

Arizona Diamondbacks 69-93

 

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

AL East Red Sox NL East Phillies

 

AL Central White Sox NL Central Reds

 

AL West A’s NL West Giants

 

AL Wild Card Yankees NL Wild Card Rockies

 

ALDS NLDS

Red Sox over White Sox Phillies over Rockies

A’s over Yankees Giants over Reds

 

ALCS NLCS

Red Sox over A’s Phillies over Giants

 

WORLD SERIES

Phillies over Red Sox

 

There you have it, the Philadelphia Phillies will win the 2011 World Series. I don’t like the pick any more than you do, but that’s what it’s going to be. Go A’s.

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