Major League Baseball – NL West Preview: Bring on Rocktober

by Tim Ivins

With spring training underway it is time to turn our minds to the upcoming MLB season. Over the coming weeks I will preview each division for the coming season. We start with the division the National League West.

Colorado Rockies

2009 Season: Wild card winners
2010 Prediction: NL West Winners

This is just a wonderfully balanced and underrated team. Gone are the days of the Coors Field band box, the humidor is keeping balls in the park and all but eliminating the 12-10 games. This means that for the first time, the Rockies are developing a quality rotation to support a monstrous batting line up.
The team is a mix of young and old. Gone are the big boppers Holliday and Atkins, but Hawpe and Helton remain, supported by a stable of future household names. Ian Stewart can launch the ball and is a stud defender, Troy Tulotwitzki likewise, whilst Dexter Fowler will be better in his second season. Ubaldo Jiminez and Jorge De la Rosa are outstanding pitching prospects, my only concern is the depth of the rotation. As Jason Marquis departs for the Nationals I will be intrigued to see if Hammel can fill his shoes.

Player to watch
So many prospects to keep an eye on. The biggest improvers for me are likely to be Stewart and Fowler. Stewart can post a .280 batting average, 30 home runs and potentially gold glove defence. Fowler has to be better with a season under his belt.

Biggest by-line
Can Jim Tracy continue the good work of last season? Clint Hurdle was fired at the end of May last season as the team spluttered to a 14-28 start, 14 games behind the Dodgers. Of course the rest is history, Tracy was a breath of fresh air and lead the team to a 76-42 record for the rest of the season. That’s a .644 winning percentage and when extrapolated across a full season would result in a 104-58 record. I don’t foresee the Rockies breaking 100 this season but that winning percentage combined with an offseason without any back breaking losses is good enough for first place in my eyes.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2009 Season: National League Championship Finalists
2010 Prediction: Runners-up NL West

The Dodgers have a solid nucleus of players as the team searches for their first World Series since a hobbled Jim Gibson launched a miraculous home run in the 1988 World Series. Last season they fell just short of making the World Series. Sadly for Dodgers fans, the chances of taking this next step are slim at best. As the owner goes through divorce proceedings there is a real chance that the team will be gutted as the owners go their separate ways. The team in 2009 had the best pitching staff and defence in terms of run prevention and was supported by young stars in Kemp and Ethier but you have to ask yourself, come mid season, or even September, just how much of the team you see now will be left? And how much will have been sold off?

Player to watch
Manny Ramirez is on the decline but, given that it is a contract year, you would have to think that he’ll be primed to put up some big offensive numbers.

Biggest by-line
Joe Torre arguably faces his biggest challenge of his coaching career. With the McCourts going through divorce and a fire sale looming over the club it will be fascinating to see if he can get the team to play for each other rather than padding their own stats in an effort to secure a better deal later in the season.

San Francisco Giants

2009 Season: Third
2010 Prediction: Third

Lincecum , Cain, Zito and Sanchez are four quality starters that would slot into any team whilst Madison Bumgarner is one of the more hyped pitching prospects in the major league. It is hard to believe that the team with the best rotation in the National League can only finish third in the West. Yet this is what happens when an organisation fails to attract any form of offence. This is the same problem that Giants fans endured last year and history is destined to repeat. If a strong offensive weapon can be picked up midseason then the Giants are a wildcard chance and a potentially terrifying October opponent but given the ineptitude of their front office I won’t be holding my breath.

Player to watch
The aforementioned rotation will be a pleasure to watch but it is their cult first baseman Pablo Sandoval aka Kung-fu Panda who will be worth watching. Portly is a polite way to describe the slugger and if he stays fit he may just be the only offensive force on this team.
Biggest by-line
The treatment of the prospects: Bumgarner may just be, well, a bum. Feted as a future all star, arm issues and a fading velocity suggest that he may just be the next Mark Prior. Bad news for the Giants considering he would have made an excellent trade piece last season. Buster Posey is an upcoming catcher that can swing the bat. The Giants faithful are living a real life Oliver Twist ‘Please sir, more’ they plead to the manager, yet he refuses to acknowledge Posey’s talent, sticking with Bengie Molina. The question is, will the Giants feed their fans? Or will it be another season of starvation?

Arizona Diamondbacks

2009 Season: Last
Prediction: 4th

This is a team that has had some bad luck, recruiting guys that have not lived up to their potential. With Webb likely to start the season on the disabled list there is a substantial chance that the team may struggle again this season. The team has done well to look up two offensive stars in Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds – a 35 homer guy but unfortunately the depth across the field just isn’t there. If the Diamondbacks are going to make a run then they need to get the best out of their young guys, most notably their bullpen, which is high in talent but for the most part, raw in experience. October is a possibility, but they need a lot to fall their way.

Player to watch
Adam La Roche turned down a 2 year $17 million dollar deal with the Giants for an $11 million pay cut to play with the Diamondbacks. With his family based in Arizona and a hitters park at his disposal there is real hope for the fans that this will be a breakout year for him. If so, the twin threat of Reynolds and La Roche may be enough to push them higher up the standings.

Biggest by-line
Kenny Rogers may have been the gambler but GM Josh Byrnes is doing a passable impression. Last season Byrnes traded fireball pitcher Max Scherzer for Edwin Jackson a proven number 3 starter. On paper the D-Backs have picked up a solid starter who had a 13-9 record and 3.62 ERA last season, but if you dig a little deeper you discover that Jackson was 7-4 with a 2.52 ERA prior to the all star break and 6-5 with a 5.07 ERA after the all star break. The question is, which Jackson will show up? And just how good is Scherzer going to be?

San Diego Padres

2009 Season: 4th
Prediction: Last

The Padres have entered a period of rebuilding and when I say rebuilding the honest answer is that the team has been gutted like a fish. Jake Peavy is now with the White Sox whilst Kevin Kouzmanoff and Scott Hairston have taken their bats and defence to the Oakland Athletics. New GM and former Red Sox understudy Jed Hoyer received a bountiful number of players in exchange and the Padres will be all the better for it. The only problem for the fans is, they’ll have to suffer a few lean seasons before they reap their reward.

Player to watch
Kyle Blanks. Petco Park is cavernous and arguably the toughest park in Baseball to hit a home run. This young man though doesn’t carry a bat, he carries a cannon and when he hits it they stay hit. It’s going to be a tough season for the fans, but at least they know that every time this man comes to the plate, there’s a real chance the ball will be leaving the park.

Biggest by-line
Adrian Gonzalez is the undisputed star of the Padres and arguably one of, if not the best batsmen in MLB. Come midseason he will likely be traded, the question is where? And just what will the Padres get in return? If they play their cards right, they may just get a haul of young players that will allow them to compete again in 2011.

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