2011 MLB Preview: NL West

I think this is a really strong division. There aren’t any perfect teams here, but anyone other than Arizona could contend, I think. Here’s my best guess at trying to handicap this division:

1st place: San Francisco Giants

I know, I know: trendy pick, going with the defending champs. But I really think they’re the most complete team. We all know about the pitching: Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson. But the insertion of rookie Brandon Belt into the lineup gives the Giants a little more thunder. With Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez, and Miguel Tejada, the Giants are loaded with veteran bats. And Buster Posey seems ready to assert himself as a premiere offensive player for the next decade. If Pablo Sandoval hits like he did in 2009, this team could win the division by 5 games.

2nd place: Colorado Rockies

I really like the team Colorado will field in 2010. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki form as formidable a 1-2 punch as any in the league. Ubaldo Jimenez probably pitched over his head last season, but Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are there to pick him up this season. And this spring, Huston Street is throwing like the fireman the Rox thought they were getting when they traded for him a few years ago. CF Dexter Fowler is primed for a breakout; with regular at-bats, he’ll steal 50 bases. I expect Colorado to battle San Fran for the division; they’ll also be fighting with Atlanta and Milwaukee for the wild card.

3rd place: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers stepped up in the offseason to re-sign three members of the starting rotation and IF Juan Uribe. Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly and Kuroda give the Dodgers a foursome to match the Giants’ hurlers. But one has to wonder where the offense comes from. Andre Ethier was off to a great start last season, but he wasn’t the same after suffering a broken pinkie in May. Matt Kemp looked lost at the dish at times. Casey Blake is currently hurt. Rafael Furcal is ALWAYS hurt. And LF is an absolute abyss. Expect the Dodgers to float around at .500 for most of the year.

4th place: San Diego Padres

I nearly picked the Friars to finish 3rd on the strength of their bullpen alone. But San Diego’s offense is worse than LA’s. Still, this is hands down the best ‘pen in the majors. If the starters can work 6, this club will have a chance to win each night. But losing Adrian Gonzalez totally deflates this team’s chances. Brad Hawpe should provide some nice numbers for the cost. But you’re not going to contend with Orlando Hudson as your #3 hitter.

5th place: Arizona Diamondbacks

This is the one divisional pick I feel the best about. I just don’t see Arizona rising above any of the other clubs in the West. Best case scenario: Kirk Gibson wrings every ounce of energy out of his players and gets his players to mimic his all-out style. Players like Stephen Drew and Justin Upton would probably benefit from that kind of motivation. But this young pitching staff should struggle. And the bullpen is a mess. Everything has to break just right for this team to have any shot at contention.

All-Division Team

C Buster Posey

1B James Loney

2B Freddy Sanchez

SS Troy Tulowitzki

3B Pablo Sandoval

OF Carlos Gonzalez

OF Andre Ethier

OF Matt Kemp

SP Tim Lincecum

SP Clayton Kershaw

SP Matt Cain

SP Ubaldo Jimenez

SP Mat Latos

RP Brian Wilson

Manager Bruce Bochy

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