Prediction Time: NL West

National League West:

It’s an arms race in the NL West with the San Francisco Giants winning the season long war last year. But don’t lose sight of the Dodgers and Rockies, who boast plenty of electric arms of their own. Look for another snooze-fest in this division until the final two weeks when it comes down to clinching time.

1. San Francisco Giants (94-68)— Tim Lincecum and this rotation are still the best in the National League. The Phillies are very close, but I would take the youth and high ceiling that the Giants starters possess. However, the question marks lie in the lineup and bullpen. Their bearded and feared closer may start the season on the shelf, which doesn’t bode well for a team that puts up minimal run support. The offense if virtually the same as it was last year except with the departure of Juan Uribe, but I don’t think anyone will complain much about that in San-Fran. The only way they can improve is if the 40 pounds Pablo Sandoval dropped equates to better averages and run production. They will once again rely heavily on pitching, which means more big innings for the Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez, How did that work out for the Cubs in 2004?

2. Colorado Rockies (89-73)— The Rockies finally solved their long problem with pitching in the thin air of Coors Field… just throw the ball right past the hitter. Ubaldo Jimenez has an elite power arm, although he did taper off in the second half of the season last year. He is joined by talented but inconsistent Jorge De La Rosa and highly touted prospect Jhoulys Chacin in the middle of the rotation. One thing that is consistent on this team is the fact that there is not, and never will be a shortage of fireworks at Coors. Troy Tulowitzki is an absolute monster when he is healthy, but very rarely is that the case for 162 games. As for Carlos Gonzalez, he must prove that the numbers weren’t an aberration in order to truly rise to the elite status. This team has a chance to be very good, but they cannot leave it until September to make their run like they do year in and year out.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78)— Jay Gibbons… really? I thought he was out of baseball. His best season came in 2003 when he was juiced up on roids. Putting that aside, the nucleus of this team is still intact. James Loney is still on the cusp of breaking out, Matt Kemp just needs to put it all together, and Andre Ethier was incredible before breaking his finger. The rotation is very solid with five above-average pitchers, led by 2011 breakout star Clayton Kershaw. Chad Billingsley still has yet to put together a full season worth of good starts, but he certainly has potential and hasn’t come close to reaching it. It’s a shame that Russell Martin’s production declined to the point of no return, but the Dodger’s were wrong by letting him go to the Yankees. He was a leader on this team and look at who is replacing him… Rob Barajas. I’ll take Martin in his worst year.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks (68-94)— This team has talent at a few positions, but when those few players underachieve, you get the D-Backs. Justin Upton, much like his brother, has shown a world of promise but seemed to lose focus for the entirety of last season. On top of that, Chris Young is still searching for some consistence that has eluded him for his entire career. Other than those two, the lineup contains a lot of journeymen with low ceilings. Stephen Drew has reached his peak and it isn’t as impressive as we initially thought. Kelly Johnson on the other hand, jumped way over his peak last year and will surely return to his normal state of being, which is a .275-70-12-80-15 level. The rotation is okay, but fairly suspect. The most exciting pitcher on this staff is Dan Hudson, who enjoyed a very successful season in his rookie campaign. Expect him to be the ace by the end of the season, but he won’t be able to carry his team to more than 70 wins.

5. San Diego Padres (58-104)— Their only offense is shipping out to Boston and leaves the Padres with a lineup that looks like a barren-wasteland. Matt Latos is the ace, and only proven pitcher remaining on this staff. They no longer have any identity, letting Peavy, Gonzalez, and Hoffman all leave. Hopefully Ron Burgundy can put a positive spin on an otherwise long season in San Diego.

Jackman

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

NL West Predictions

Rocks Take Down Defending Champs with Dominant Trio

1. Rockies (91-71)– Fantasy baseball owners are very familiar with some of the stars on this team. Guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ubaldo Jimenez hope to do more this year than lead their fantasy owners to victory. Tulo has yet to show he can stay healthy and Ubaldo really fell back in the second half last year. As for Carlos, well he was truly remarkable year round, but whether or not he can put those numbers up again remains a big question. Taking down the Giants in the west will rely on those 3 guys to perform from April until October. Their supporting cast is solid, but not great. Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin fit nicely behind Ubaldo and Huston Street continues to get the job done in the ninth. Don’t expect them to run away with anything as they don’t have a noticeable strength, but they could be flyin’ high in the mile high city by season’s end.

2.Giants (90-72)– Who needs Barry Bonds? Especially when you have one of the best pitching staffs in the majors and the reigning rookie of the year. All signs point towards the type of year the Giants had in 2010 except maybe the part of winning the whole thing again. Pablo Sandoval has a lot of weight to carry on his shoulders this year. If the Giants want to make a run again, they will need him to have a major bounce back season. As for Aubrey Huff, who knows if he can hit like that again. Posey looked like anything but a rookie last year, and now he faces the ultimate test: avoiding the sophomore slump. Brian Wilson had an enormous 2010 campaign, and his World Series ring will only bring more intensity to the mound in ’11. The NL wild card is unlikely to come from this division so the Giants may need to make another late run at a shot for a repeat.

3.Dodgers (85-77)– People in L.A. may actually arrive to games on time this year since their team has a legitimate shot at taking this division. The staff is pretty solid one through four with Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly, and Kuroda. While Clayton may be slightly overrated, he is still very young and growing every year. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier highlight the outfield once again. If Ethier didn’t break his finger last year, he could have helped this team reach the playoffs after getting off to a monster start. Matt Kemp batted a lowly .249 last year, but those numbers should go up. He was one of two players to play in all 162 regular season games (the other one being Ichiro of course), which shows his determination day in and day out. Jonathan Broxton had a tough year, and if he fails again the Dodgers have Hong-Chih Kuo, who was lights out in 2010, in the waiting. Still needing to fill holes, they may need to wait a couple more years to become serious contenders.

4.Diamondbacks (80-82)– The Diamondbacks can say “Hasta la vista” to Mark Reynolds and his 500 strikeouts and say hello to a brand new season, which will hopefully be more productive than a year ago. Justin Upton had a down year, but the sky is the limit for this guy since he is only 24. Chris Young looked more like the Chris Young of the past, and he will be needed to put up those types of numbers again. The guys up the middle of Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson are pretty quiet, but can compete for the top middle infield combo in the league. Arizona has seen its fair share of top-level pitchers ranging from Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Those days are over and the new guys, Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy, highlight the pitching staff.  They bring young, top of the market stuff to this team, which may take a few years to fully develop, but they certainly have what it takes. To be real, there are many for sure things you will see in the desert and this inconsistent baseball team is not one of them.

5.Padres (72-90)– The padres went from having one of the top pitching staffs in the league to having quite possibly one of the worst. Mat Latos is still atop the rotation, but his last month of the season causes reasons for concern heading into 2011. The bullpen, however, remains at the top of the league and should continue to close out ballgames in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park. The offense is a bit scrappy with a number of guys who have found success in the past, but may have also found the end of their good old days. These include Ryan Ludwick, Brad Hawpe, and the O-Dawg. The Padres were in good contention to surprise the baseball world by taking the division crown last year, but once their pitchers fell apart the rest of the team sank with them. Adrian Gonzalez is gone and with him goes all of the Padres’ hopes this year. 

Bobby Mette

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