2012 Preview: NL West

Did you know there were only two divisions in baseball with more than 2 teams above .500 in 2011?  You probably knew that one of them was the AL East.  But, how many guesses would you have gone through before you got to the NL West??  The D’backs, Giants and Dodgers all finished with winning records last season.  So, this should be a fun, albeit offensively challenged, division to watch.  Here’s how I see things shaking out:

1. San Francisco Giants (93-69)

2. Colorado Rockies (88-74)

3. Arizona Diamondbacks (84-78)

4. Los Angeles Dodgers (80-82)

5. San Diego Padres (77-85)

If you look at the records, you’ll see that I don’t really think anyone in this division is going to be just plain awful in 2012.  When you look at the lineups, and how they’ve changed, plus the continued dominant pitching, this division is actually quite good.  And, since it always seems to be in flux, my gut says it will be again in 2012.

The Giants will be back on top, because they have one of the best overall starting rotations in baseball.  Only Philly might be better in the NL.  And, with Buster Posey back in the middle of the lineup, and Pablo Sandoval playing better, and the addition of Melky Cabrera, they won’t be anywhere near as anemic offensively as they were in 2011.  But, again, it’s the pitching that makes all the difference.  And, as if the starting rotation wasn’t good enough, their bullpen is lights out with Wilson, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez.  This is a legit World Series contender.

Colorado is my surprise NL team for 2012.  The Rockies don’t usually have problems generating offense in the thin, Denver air.  But, they struggled in 2011, so they’ve added some pieces.  Michael Cuddyer’s numbers were very good in Minnesota, and could get even better in Colorado.  He’ll provide some much needed protection for Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.  And, with additions like Marco Scutaro, from top to bottom, pitchers won’t get much of a break in this lineup (the worst OBP belongs to catcher Ramon Hernandez at .341).  Of course, the question is – will the pitching be able to hold up?  The additions of Jeremy Guthrie (from Baltimore) and Guillermo Moscoso (from Oakland) look like good moves.  Chacin needs to prove he belongs at the top of a rotation, while they’re waiting for De La Rosa to come back from Tommy John surgery.  And, Rafael Betancourt is going from lights-out set-up man to closer (which doesn’t always work).  But, if they start out hot, and build some confidence, watch out for the Rockies.  And, you’ll see that I have 3 teams at 88-74 in the NL.  I’ll go ahead and pick the Rockies for now as my NL Wild Card – surprise!!

The Diamondbacks were our 2011 version of the 2010 Cincinnati Reds.  They beat up on bad teams, and didn’t play well against the good teams.  There were only two teams with winning records that Arizona had a winning record against in 2011 – the Dodgers (who finished 82-79), and the Brewers (who they went 4-3 against).  The pitching is there (and may have just gotten better with the addition of Trevor Cahill from Oakland), and could help this team return to the postseason in 2012.  But, the offense was more fortunate in 2011 than it was good.  While the Rockies’ worst OBP is .341, the D’backs only have 3 players with an OBP higher than that.  They could have a very good offense if Aaron Hill, Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, and Jason Kubel all have above average years.  But, anything less than that, and I see this team sliding back considerably from where they finished 2011.

The Dodgers just seem to have too much upheaval right now to be able to focus on putting together a high-quality baseball team.  I almost picked them to be my surprise team in the NL, but there are just too many question-marks.  Can Andre Ethier recover from a low-production 2011?  Can Dee Gordon get on base enough to use his blazing speed?  Can anyone protect Matt Kemp?  Does this aging pitching staff have enough gas left in the tank for one more big run?  If all goes perfectly, the Dodgers could be very good.  But, I just can’t see all of this coming together.  And, I think the weak link is going to be the back end of their starting rotation.  Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, and Chris Capuano . . . eek.  I like Lilly in the #3 spot, but he’s getting older, and the other two are losing value fast.  I think they’ll take a slight step back until the ownership issue gets settled.  Then, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a couple big free-agent splashes (especially in the pitching market) at the end of the season.

I think the Padres improved themselves over last year.  For starters, the Reds gave them way too much for Mat Latos.  Latos was very good, but for Volquez and Yonder Alonso (one of the top 1B prospects in all of baseball), and two top-tier prospects (Boxberger & Grandal – both of whom could be in San Diego before the season’s over)??  San Diego, in my opinion, got the best deal of the off-season.  It will be interesting to see how the Padres’ young pitching does.  And, I think their offense will be improved with the additions of Quentin and Alonso (guys who hit a lot of doubles to the gap).  But, they likely aren’t ready for playoff contention.  Give their youngsters another year or two to develop, and if they can add one more big bat somewhere along the way, this could be a very dangerous team come 2014.

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