Sunday, March 31, 2013

MLB 2013: NL West Preview

The 2012 NL West race was a battle between two rivals: the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers held the division lead from Opening Day until the end of June until the Giants took over first and never gave it back. In the NLDS, the Giants lost the first two games at home, giving themselves the tough task of having to win three straight all on the road. Challenge accepted as the Giants came back to defeat the Reds in five games. The comeback kids were back at again, this time in the NLCS when they battled back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Cardinals in seven games. The Giants advanced to the World Series to face the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers were no match for the Giants as they not only won their second title in three years but also swept the Tigers. The Dodgers finished two games behind the Cards for the second wild card spot while a late charge by the Arizona Diamondbacks came up short as they lost 6 of their last 10. The San Diego Padres had their second straight losing season, finishing in fourth place at 76-86 while the Colorado Rockies had their worst season in franchise history, finishing in last at 64-98.
            Arizona Diamondbacks: After winning the 2011 NL West Crown, the Arizona Diamondbacks entered the 2012 season with lofty expectations including winning the division and the NL Pennant. The Diamondbacks failed to achieve their goals as they struggled to stay above .500 all year and finished in 3rd place at 81-81. This offseason, the Diamondbacks got rid of two of their starting outfielders when they traded OF Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves and OF Chris Young to the Oakland A’s. The bold move by the organization will benefit the team greatly as both players struggled last year and struck out a lot. Gerardo Parra is expected to take over the starting center fielder job and Adam Eaton was supposed to be the starting right fielder, but a late spring training injury will force him to miss 6-8 weeks. In his first full season with the team, 1B Paul Goldschmidt had his coming out party last year, hitting .286 with 20 HRs and 82 RBIs. Goldschmidt will definitely improve on those numbers making him a possible All-Star. 2B Aaron Hill had a .302 batting average last year and LF Jason Kubel had a career high 30 HRs. 3B Martin Prado comes over to the Diamondbacks from the Upton trade and is capable of 15 HRs and 80 RBIs this year. C Miguel Montero is coming off of his second straight season of over 80 RBIs. The Diamondbacks have a lineup that can take them to the postseason but the factor that will determine if they make it to the playoffs is their starting rotation. Ian Kennedy is the team’s ace with 36 wins in his two seasons with the team. Wade Miley had 16 wins as a rookie last year and was chosen as an All-Star. Can Miley improve off of last year or will he fall into the dreaded sophomore slump? The Diamondbacks also signed Brandon McCarthy to a two-year deal in the offseason and return Trevor Cahill to give them four quality starters, but who will become their 5th starter? Will it be Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, or Randall Delgado? The D-Backs wont have to worry about their bullpen as they have one of the deepest bullpens in the league with setup men Heath Bell and David Hernandez and closer J.J. Putz. The D-Backs are the dark horse to win the division but don’t be surprised if they are in contention come late September.
            Colorado Rockies: The 2012 season was the worst season in franchise history for the Colorado Rockies as they finished last in the division at 64-98. Manager Jim Tracy resigned after four seasons with the team and the team hired former Rockie Walt Weiss. The Rockies were without All-Star SS Troy Tulowitzki for much of last year as Tulowitzki only played in 47 games due to needing surgery on his left groin. Without Tulowitzki in the lineup, the Rockies still managed to finish 6th in the league in runs as OF Carlos Gonzalez, C Wilin Rosario, and RF Michael Cuddyer all combined to fill the void left by Tulowitzki. The problem for the Rockies last year was their pitching. The Rockies pitching staff ranked last in the MLB with a team ERA of 5.22. There is no way a team can compete in a division if they allow over five runs per game. The Rockies didn’t have a double-digit winner last year but will get SP Jorge De La Rosa back after he missed the 2012 season due to having Tommy John Surgery. Having Tulowitzki healthy will help the Rockies in their 2013 campaign but due to their lack of quality pitchers, the Rockies will have their third straight season of finishing under .500.
            Los Angeles Dodgers: The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Although the Dodgers didn’t make the playoffs last year, fans were excited as Frank McCourt finally sold the team to a group that included Stan Kasten and Laker legend Magic Johnson. Since buying the team, the Dodgers have traded for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford, P Josh Beckett, SS Hanley Ramirez, and signed pitchers Zach Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers have the second largest payroll behind the Yankees entering Monday’s Opening Day at just over $216 million. In his third year as manager, Don Mattingly will have to realize that this year is either playoffs or bust for the Dodgers as expectations are high in Chavez Ravine. When healthy, the Dodgers lineup is one of the best in the league. MVP candidate CF Matt Kemp is finally healthy after having surgery in the offseason to repair a torn labrum. Gonzalez struggled early after being traded from the Red Sox but still managed to go over 100 RBIs for the third straight season and Ramirez had 44 RBIs in 64 games with the team. The lineup also features RF Andre Either, Crawford, 3B Luis Cruz. The main question entering this season for the Dodgers is if they can stay healthy. Ramirez is already out until mid-May after tearing his right thumb ligament in the WBC and Crawford is still recovering after undergoing Tommy John surgery on August 23rd of last year. The Dodgers pitching staff ranked 3rd in 2012 with a team ERA of 3.34. SP Clayton Kershaw is perhaps the best left-handed pitcher in the MLB and Greinke can be a great #2 starter if he can stay healthy. Ryu will be a rookie this year but has the tools to be the Dodgers #3 starter and Beckett’s numbers improved once he arrived in LA last year. The Dodgers are looking to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1988 and have expectations of doing so. But can the Dodgers stay healthy all season, or will too many injuries force the Dodgers to miss the playoffs for a 4th straight season?
            San Diego Padres: For the 4th time in five years, the San Diego Padres finished the season under .500, finishing 76-86 in the 2012 season. It was a one man show in 2012 for the Padres as 3B Chase Headley had a breakout season with 31 HRs and 115 RBIs. Headley also was the NL RBI Champion and was a Gold Glove recipient. Besides Headley, only OF Carlos Quentin was the only Padre to hit more than 10 HRs and 1B Yonder Alonso was the only Padre to have more than 60 RBIs. Quentin is healthy and will finally be able to play a full season. The Padres will struggle early on the season as Headley is not expected to return until late-April due to a fractured left thumb. Pitchers Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez each had double-digit wins in 2012 but also had double-digit losses.  The Padres are still a couple years away from competing for a division title and will miss they playoffs for 7th straight season.
            San Francisco Giants: The San Francisco Giants are coming off their 7th World Series Title in 2012 as they swept the Detroit Tigers in the Fall Classic. The Giants didn’t make it easy on themselves at all in the postseason as they had to win three straight just to make it to the NLCS and then had to come back from a 3-1 deficit. Entering the 2013 season, can the Giants repeat as champions? Absolutely. The Giants have the 2012 NL MVP in C Buster Posey. Posey had perhaps the best season by a catcher as he led the MLB in batting average at .336 but also had 24 HRs and 103 RBIs. 3B Pablo Sandoval was plagued by injury all season long but still managed to bat .283 and OF Angel Pagan became one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. The Giants have one of the deepest rotations in the league as all five starters had at least 10 wins last year led by P Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarmer who each had 16. If two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum can get back to his normal self after a disappointing season last year, the Giants will have the best rotation in the league. The Giants have the team to get back to the World Series for a second straight year but can they do it will be the question.
            Prediction: The Giants-Dodgers rivalry is one of the best in sports. But lately it has been all Giants as they have won two of the last three World Series Titles. The Dodgers feel that they finally have the team to defeat the Giants. The NL West, like it always seems to do, will come down to the last few weeks. In the end, I think that the Dodgers will win the division by one game and the Giants will earn a Wild Card Spot.
1.     Los Angeles Dodgers
2.     San Francisco Giants
3.     Arizona Diamondbacks
4.     Colorado Rockies
5.     San Diego Padres
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