Friday, February 29, 2008

2008 Previews: NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks
2007: 90-72 1st Place; lost in NLCS 0-4

The Diamondbacks had the best record in the NL last year led by Cy Young candidate Brandon Webb. This year a heathly Randy Johnson and former A's ace Dan Haren join him. That's a big three that not many teams in the majors can compete with. Arizona's downfall was an offense that was one of the worst in the NL. Not one member of the team hit above .300 last season, and only two hit more than 20 HRs (Chris Young and Eric Byrnes). The upside to this is that a majority of the team was playing in their first full season in the MLB. Looking at this years line-up only Byrnes and Orlando Hudson have played more than two full seasons. This team can only get better offensively as they mature. Even if there is some regression the pitching staff can still keep them in ballgames. Arizona is so confident in their bullpen that they even traded away the MLB leader in saves. It helps that the guy they got, Chad Qualls, is one of the best set-up men in the majors. Qualls will join Tony Pena and Juan Cruz in an excellent bullpen to set up newly appointed closer Brandon Lyon. The Diamondbacks should be in the running for the best team in the NL yet again this year.

Pivotal Player: Brandon Lyon. The DBacks made a gamble in that the bullpen makes the closer and not vice versa. Arizona will likely be involved in a number of close games. If Lyon can't cut it as a closer then Arizona chance might go down with him

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Trot Nixon. A veteran who has World Series experience, could teach the Baby Backs a thing or two

Colorado Rockies
2007: 90-73 2nd Place; Won Wild Card lost in World Series 0-4

The Rockies won 15 out of 16 of their final 16 games to get into the playoffs, then didn't lose a playoff game until they dropped 4 straight in the World Series. The NL's number one offense was the main reason behind that late season surge. That offense is unchanged and will be one of the top 3 in the NL. The key to Colorado's success will be the pitching staff not squandering the leads the offense gives them. Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook are good enough to do that.
New closer Manny Corpas earned the job this year by saving a number of those games on that year-end streak. Former closer Brian Fuentes will still be around in the set-up role. Other then those previously mentioned guys, the rest of the staff is a toss up. Keep in mind that this team is basically the same one that was 69-65 team when last September began. Barring some surprise pitching talent, the Rockies will be watching the playoff on TV.

Pivotal Players: Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. These young starters need to produce. The other options at starters are Kip Wells and Mark Redman, which aren't good options at sea level, let alone in Denver's elevation

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Victor Zambrano. The main player the Mets received for Scott Kazmir, is still trying to make it back to the majors.

Los Angeles Dodgers
2007: 82-80 4th Place

Joe Torre is a smart man. If you're going to take over the reins of a team, it's best to take over a team with all the parts in place. The Dodger team he inherits has, top to bottom, one of the best staffs in the NL. Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, and Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda are as solid a foursome as any in the Majors. The Bullpen adds Torre favorite Scott Proctor to closer Takashi Saito, future closer Jonathan Broxton, Rudy Seanez, Joe Beimel and the loser of the 5 spot battle between Estaban Loaiza and Jason Schmidt. There's also prospect Clayton Kershaw who could be up to fill holes that arise during the season. The offense doesn't have a lot of power, ranking ahead of only the Washington Nationals in HRs last year. But they were 2nd in the NL in batting average. Adding Andruw Jones, and full seasons out of the young bats of James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andy LaRoche will only help the offense. LaRoche for some reason is still battling with Nomar Garciaparra for the start at 3B. The sooner Torre realizes LaRoche is the better option the better the Dodgers will be.

Pivotal Player: Andruw Jones. Coming off the worst offensive season of his career, he needs to bounce back. The Dodgers already have one under-producing OF in Juan Pierre.

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Chan Ho Park. Was blown up for 7 runs on 6 hits in 4 innings in his only appearance in the Majors in 2007. Looking to make a comeback with the team that brought him into the league.

San Diego Padres
2007: 89-74 3rd Place

They were 3 outs away from the playoffs, then the All-Time Saves Leader Trevor Hoffman couldn't get save 525. The starting pitching is still there with Jake Peavy, Chris Young, and Greg Maddux. You don't become the All-time saves leader without being able to bounce back, so I expect Hoffman and the rest of the bullpen to be fine. They even have a low risk, huge reward player in the signing of Mark Prior. My question for the Padres is, how are you going to score runs? The offense is basically Adrian Gonzalez and Khalil Greene. The signings of Jim Edmonds and Tadahito Iguchi don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. Especially in a deep division like the NL West. To complete San Diego might have to ship some of their extra bullpen arms for a outfielder who can hit.

Pivotal Player: Kevin Kouzmanoff. The 3B of the future disappointed in his first year. He needs to put up big numbers at a power position to make the Padres a contender.

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Robert Fick. Jeff Weaver's BFF from his Tiger days gets another shot at the big leagues

San Fransisco Giants

2007: 71-91 5th Place

In my fantasy football league there's a guy who when you look at his team after the draft you think: "That's a good 2001." The San Fransisco Giants are the baseball version of that. Granted they have some young, exciting arms in Tim Lincecum and Noah Lowry; but they still have 5 (Winn, Aurillia, Durham, Roberts, and Visquel) of the guys I made fun of for being too old in last season's preview still on the team. The team is going to be bad, time to play the kids and see what they've got.

Pivotal Players: Tim Lincecum and Noah Lowry. If there is any hope of success for the Giants in the near future, these guys' seasons should be an indicator

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Scott Williamson. The Reds closer from 2003. Playing for his 5th team since then.

Final Standings:

This will be one of the hardest fought divisions in baseball with 4 legitimate contenders. I think they'll have 4 teams above .500 again this year. I don't think the Padres have enough bats to get them to the top. I also don't think the Rockies have another 20 win September in them. That leaves the Dodgers and Arizona, I give the Diamondbacks young bats' the edge over the Dodgers.

1) Arizona Diamondbacks
2) Los Angeles Dodgers
3) Colorado Rockies
4) San Diego Padres
5) San Fransisco Giants

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