Part 5 of 6 in our 6 part baseball preview. Today we look at the NL West.
The West appears to be, and pretty much is, the toughest division in the National League. Last season 4 of its' teams were above .500, 2 of which, Colorado and San Diego, even decided to play an extra game in '07, because 162 wasn't enough to decide who should go to the playoffs. Even that game went into extra innings. Bottom Line, the NL West is tough top to almost bottom. There was also some movement that makes this one of the more anticipated seasons for the NL West.
The New York Football Giants are the best in their sport. The San Francisco Baseball Giants don't look to follow up on their fellow G-Men's success. Last year they were one of the worst in the National League, and not much has changed to move them up in the standings. Even with the best DH in all of the NL, Barry "*" Bonds, they were at or near the bottom of the NL in almost all offensive categories (they were 4th in Stolen Bases). Bruce Bochy will be back again but the results don't look to change much. No Bonds, No Pedro Feliz. The addition of Aaron Rowand should add some pop to their line-up, but not enough to overcome otherwise quiet bats. Their 2007 pitching was pretty mediocre and in 2008 potential is the key word. All of their pitchers, including Barry Zito, are under 30. Matt Cain, Zito, and Tim Lincecum look to keep the Giants in close games, but without any run support things look bleak in San Francisco's 50th year with the Giants.
I said earlier that the NL West was the top division and this is the proof right here between 1-4 I don't see more than a couple game difference. The only reason the Dodgers are 4 is that their offseason wasn't as impressive as others. The addition of Joe Torre may pan out but it has been awhile since he was in the NL. The last few years he's usually taking his in-game nap in the final 3 innings of a ball-game and unfortunately that's where NL managers make their money. The addition of Andruw Jones has potential but he has been declining as of recent and his .222 last season is pretty much the reason he's no longer in Atlanta. Dodgers pitching was good last year (Penny, Lowe, Billingsley is a top 1-2-3 in all of baseball) but the offense was lackluster. Having Rafael Furcal at 100% and leading off should bode well for LA and Matt Kemp has the potential of another outstanding offensive year hitting for both power and average. Their a young team, the definitive one year away. Let Torre get re-acquainted with the NL and expected a few hot streaks this season.
Everyone remembers the Rockies 2007 Campaign for that magical season ending run where they looked invincible. Here's the thing, while this is pretty much the same team that was in the World Series last year, they clearly ran out of gas in the World Series. This is also the same team that had the slow season start. Marcus Giles' addition could prove to be a great pick-up as could Kata, Vizcaino, and Posednik. All of them have had off years of recent. Resurgence is the key for this Colorado team. They were a top offensive team last season behind the likes of Holliday, Taveras, Helton, and Tulowitzki but pitching was mediocre. That coupled with the losses of Fogg, Matsui, Hawkins, and Julio leaves their already light staff even lighter. Unless they can somehow find that spark that led them to an incredible September and October, they will be the latest in World Series teams unable to return.
The Fathers were one questionable call at home away from a chance at the post-season, and this year is the year they come out with the Wild Card. Close to the leaders all-season the Dads just couldn't hold onto their dominance against the late season surging Rockies. Losing Milton Bradley will hurt in 2008 but his numbers and abilities can be made up elsewhere. Losing Marcus Giles could come back to bite them if he succeeds in Coors Canaveral for the Rockies, but it made no financial sense to pick up his $4 M dollar option when Geoff Blum looked to take over his spot. Runs are the name of the game in SD. They have arguably the best pitching staff in the NL and possibly baseball, and are one of the few teams that were able to sign Mark Prior and wait on his mid-season return. Peavy, Young, and Maddux can take leads into late ballgames and surrender only a few runs and Former Wildcat Trevor Hoffman, the All-Time Saves leader, can usually shut the game down. The Padres made a lot of moves that should pan out for them and send them to the post season this year.
The D-Backs are young, and that young talent surprised many people last year landing the DBacks with the best record in the National League. Pitching was above mediocre last season and they look to be getting Randy Johnson back for at least part of the season and the addition of Dan Haren will definitely pay off. That only means good things in Phoenix. Now for the downside of the pitching, the Backs lost Jose Valverde, they got a lot in return but they will be testing out a new closer this season. Something abnormal for a team that had the league leader in saves a year before. As for offense, they were rather anemic at times. Stephen Drew and Chad Tracy look to rebound for Arizona to have a shot. If they need a bat off the bench they always have Micah Owings there to swing away. The Pitcher had a .683 Slg% in 60 AB, he was on pace for about 20 HR if he were an everyday player. The next Rick Ankiel? Bottom line is the Backs were the team to beat last year in the competitve NL West and not much has changed. They surprised everyone last year, but have managed to stick with most of the same players in the same places.
As a Disclaimer I should point out that the NL West is anyone's guess between the Dodgers, Rockies, Padres, and Diamondbacks. They are all going to beat up on one another all season long. By late July one of those 4 teams should have a relatively significant lead in the division and the other three will go into August fighting for the Wild Card.