Well we did the most important division yesterday, so let’s round out the National League today by looking at the NL West. This may well be the most interesting division in the league for the 2010 season. Think about this: Philadelphia is the two-time League champion, and currently has a stranglehold on the NL East. St Louis is loaded and has a virtual stranglehold on the NL Central. The NL West? Which team is the most dominant? Hard to say. Which is why it will be a fun pennant race this summer. Lets take a look.
1. Colorado. On paper, this is the class of the division. Manager Jim Tracey returns to lead the nine that won the NL Wild Card in 2009. The Rockies made no significant roster changes from last year’s squad, other than Garrett Atkins is gone and Ian Stewart is your every day third sacker. Ubaldo Jimenez is the best pitcher no one’s ever heard of, Aaron Cook will give teams fits, and Jorge De La Rosa couldn’t lose the second half of last season (I doubt that will repeat this year, however). Frankly the only weakness I see for this team is the back of their bullpen – Huston Street doesn’t strike fear in hearts anymore (Think of him as a clean-shaven Ryan Franklin. He’s competent, but it can be a high-wire act.).
2. San Diego. I will be accused of some homerism with this pick. After all, I live in the self-styled “America’s Finest City”, so I’m inundated with Padre information. And, there’s this little side gig I’ve started for myself. AND they did win 15 of their last 18 spring training games, but spring training doesn’t matter, right? Probably. But I have to say I’m excited about watching the Padres play in 2010. They are a little more seasoned, they are emphasizing the speed/defense combination (a la Whiteyball), they may well have the best bullpen in the league top to bottom, and in the back of their rotation (Correia, Richard, Latos) they have an ace and two #2 starters. Adrian Gonzalez did not look good in the spring, which is a major worry for them. I don’t think Chase Headley and Kyle Blanks can carry this team if Gonzo has an off year (although they well may have to should Gonzo get traded in July). But they will compete, and I think they have an edge on the other 3 teams in the division.
3. Los Angeles. They’ve won the division two years running, but the McCourt divorce soap opera has spilled over into this team. Witness the non-offer of arbitration to Randy Wolf, which was an asinine decision on every level. Their lineup is still imposing, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are two of the best starters in the league, but the rest of their rotation (Kuroda, the Ortiz brothers, Padilla) is Brewer-esque in its weakness. The Dodgers will fight to stay at .500 this season.
4. San Francisco. How can I pick a team that fronts Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to finish fourth? Easy – you project to have Audrey Huff hit cleanup. The Giants major problem was an inability to score runs, and they did nothing to address that need during the off-season. Instead they will field a bunch of guys that can’t get on base (Huff, Renteria, a Flying Molina brother, Schierholtz). Not to mention the back of their rotation is a huge question mark too. Jonathan Sanchez no-hit a bad first-half 2009 Padre team, but was only 7-12 against the league. Todd Wellemeyer has re-surfaced in their rotation, and Barry Zito is, well, Barry Zito. This team fights to stay at .500 as well.
5. Arizona. This should be a good team, but it seems to under-achieve every year. I don’t have a reason why. Brandon Webb remains hurt and may never reprise the form that won him a Cy Young. Danny Haren is very good, Edwin Jackson had a career last year in Detroit, Ian Kennedy has been a bust so far in his career, and I don’t know much of anything about Billy Buckner (other than I’m sure he’s grateful not to be playing in Boston). Mark Reynolds is very good, and Stephen Drew/Justin Upton have enormous potential, so this group could easily over-achieve and finish a lot higher. I just don’t get that sense about them.
If I’m picking the Padres second, the division must be wide open. In fact, each team boasts a quality 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. It is the starting pitching depth of the Rockies and Padres that leads me to put them at the top of the division.
Friday we’ll do some playoff and post-season award predictions.