Unlike the NL East, where most of us are pretty sure there will be four strong teams, the NL West is kind of uncertain and up for grabs:
- Can the Diamondbacks repeat their amazing 94-win 2011 season?
- This being an even-numbered year, maybe it's the Rockies' turn to have a rebound from an 89-loss season.
- Will anyone buy the Dodgers?
- The Padres had the same record as the Cubs last year. Are they on the way back?
- Can Buster Posey's return to the Giants get them any offense... at all?
Tune in tomorrow for another episode of "As The NL West Turns". Or, just follow me past the jump.
Arizona Diamondbacks. 2011: first place, 94-68. Note that I am not saying the Cubs can or will do the same, but you need look no further back than last year's Diamondbacks to see an example of a team that came out of nowhere to make the playoffs. One year ago, did you see anyone picking the D'backs to win 94 games?
::: crickets :::
I thought not. The 29-game improvement was one of the largest in recent history, and is credited in large part to a change in management -- Kirk Gibson, helped by former Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell, created an atmosphere that was a sea change from the clueless A.J. Hinch, who had no business managing a major league team. Sound familiar?
Of course, it helped that Ian Kennedy became a solid major league pitcher and that J.J. Putz solidified a bullpen that was the worst in baseball the year before. Combine that with a pretty good offense led by Justin Upton, Chris Young, Ryan Roberts and others and you have an Arizona team that could easily repeat. They'll have Stephen Drew back for a full season and also have acquired Trevor Cahill from the A's to round out their rotation.
If Paul Goldschmidt didn't impress you enough in the playoffs, keep an eye on him during the season. He played too many games to be Rookie of the Year in 2012, but in his first full year, he could turn into one of the top 1B in the National League, particularly with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder no longer NL first basemen.
Colorado Rockies. 2011: fourth place, 73-89. The Rockies' season was really ruined by their almost complete lack of starting pitching. While they scored a decent number of runs, finishing second in the NL (tied with the Reds) with 735, they gave up even more runs than the Cubs' staff did -- 774, to the Cubs' 756.
We all know how awful the Cubs' staff was last year. That ought to give you a good idea of why the Rockies lost 89 games. 13 different pitchers started games for Colorado last year and only one of them -- Jhoulys Chacin -- was really any good; he posted a 3.62 ERA and an ERA+ of 124.
So the Rox spent the winter accumulating starting pitching bodies, much as the Cubs have. Guess they figure, like Theo & Jed, that quantity might deliver quality. 49-year-old Jamie Moyer is trying to make the staff as a starter. Given the number of "who's he?" guys in camp, Moyer just might make it.
Their biggest changes offensively will be in right field, where you'll find former Twin Michael Cuddyer, and at third base, where Casey Blake attempts to be a real Blake Street Bomber.
The world's slowest-working pitcher, Rafael Betancourt, will replace Huston Street at closer. You'll have plenty of time for bathroom breaks during Rockies ninth-inning leads.
Los Angeles Dodgers. 2011: third place, 82-79. The Dodgers floundered around for much of 2011, until a 34-20 mark after August 1 gave them a winning record. They accomplished this primarily via the bat of Matt Kemp, who many thought should have been NL MVP. LA rewarded Kemp with a megadollar contract in the offseason; he'll be patrolling center field in Los Angeles for some time to come.
It's not just Kemp's offense that has Dodger fans excited. They have a solid rotation anchored by Clayton Kershaw, the league's Cy Young winner in 2011. Chad Billingsley is a good No. 2 and Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang are inning-eaters.
LA's bullpen could be a question mark, though many think Kenley Jansen will take over at closer and be as good or better than Jonathan Broxton was in his prime.
If things break right for the Dodgers, they could contend. If not, it's likely to be another .500 season in LA. The uncertainty surrounding the McCourts and the sale of the team didn't seem to affect the players; if anything, they rallied together for that good finish.
San Diego Padres. 2011: 71-91, fifth place. The Padres beat the Cubs on the season's final day of 2011 to wind up with an identical record to the North Siders. Then the fun began between the two teams. SD's general manager Jed Hoyer now occupies an identical spot at Wrigley Field. Former Cub No. 1 pick Andrew Cashner is now a Padre. The Padres shipped away a whole bunch of prospects and young talent to various teams, and acquired some young talent in return. Yonder Alonso, who might have been pounding balls out of the launching pad that is Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, will instead get to see how Petco Park depresses power numbers for lefthanded bats.
The Pads sent Mat Latos to the Reds for Alonso (and others), and their rotation is a bit thin. If Edinson Volquez (another of the acquisitions for Latos) can come back from injury, they won't miss Latos too much.
Former Rockies closer Huston Street will replace Heath Bell at closer in San Diego. It seems likely that Street will be the subject of trade rumors in July.
San Francisco Giants. 2011: second place, 86-76. The Giants lost Buster Posey to a gruesome injury in June, and that essentially sucked all the air out of their offense. The Giants finished last in the NL in runs scored -- by 23 -- and scored almost 200 fewer runs than the league-leading Cardinals.
Their outstanding pitching staff kept them in the NL West race until the season's final week. That staff returns almost completely intact. Closer Brian Wilson, who had some injury issues last year, is reportedly 100% again.
And Posey will also be back; even if he has to take breaks from catching from time to time, his bat will be back in the lineup. Considering that his replacements, Eli Whiteside (.197/.264/.310) and Chris Stewart (.204/.283/.309) were just north of horrific offensively, this should give the Giants a real boost. They should have an excellent chance of returning to the postseason.
As you might have heard, the Cajun Connection -- Mike Fontenot and Ryan Theriot -- is being reunited by the Bay this year. Both will be backups, which will probably lead to incessant whining by Theriot that he should be starting. Former Cub Angel Pagan is slated to be the Giants' starting center fielder. The Giants will need him to better his 2011 numbers of .262/.322/.372.