Finally, my NL West preview. I think the Dodgers won the backpage, offseason headlines with their acquisitions of Greinke and Hyun-Jin, but the Giants remain the class of the division for now. After winning two championships in three seasons, we must ask: are we witnessing a new dynasty? Possibly. Another deep October run and there’ll be no doubt about it.
1st place: San Francisco Giants
With San Fran, it’s all about the pitching. In Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants have a dynamic duo fronting the rotation that rivals just about any team. Cain has truly become the ace of the staff in the wake of Tim Lincecum’s head scratching descent into mediocrity. Can Lincecum bounce back? I’m not so sure. He piled up a lot of innings on that arm at a young age (Carlos Zambrano, anyone?) and even his posh makeover can’t make up for diminished fastball velocity and control. Offensively, Buster Posey is smooth. Hard to believe this kid is only in his 4th MLB season. That means — with a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, and two championships under his belt — he can still get better. Sandoval and Pence provide the only other deep threats, but this lineup is sprinkled with veterans who rarely give away at bats. If Sergio Romo continues his late inning dominance, I see the Giants being in the discussion as the best team in the National League.
2nd place: Los Angeles Dodgers
I love their pitching depth. Kershaw, Greinke, Hyun-Jin, Billingsley, Beckett, Capuano, Lilly, Harang…the list just goes on and on. I think Greinke could contend for the Cy Young award once he proves healthy and we all know what Clayton Kershaw is capable of doing. He’s still young enough to elevate his game some more. The lineup looks like your brother’s fantasy squad. The question: can these guys translate their career numbers into a full season together? As usual, it’ll all come down to health. Kemp, Crawford, Ramirez, Ethier, and Gonzalez have all dealt with injury issues the past few seasons. But you have to think that even if one or two of them are nicked up, the others can carry the club in the meantime. In the bullpen, Don Mattingly seems committed to Brandon League as closer, but the most skilled arm belongs to Kenley Jansen. This guy throws BBs. Watch out if he inherits the 9th inning; he likely won’t give it back for quite some time.
3rd place: Arizona Diamondbacks
I think this is the only team that could possibly challenge San Fran or L.A. in this division. That being said, I have no clue what they’re doing. In the offseason, they traded their premiere offensive player (Justin Upton) as well as the prize arm in their farm system (Trevor Bauer). And I’m not sure they’ll like the return on those deals in just a few short years. As it stands, they’re left with a solid rotation fronted by Ian Kennedy. I really like Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill, too, but they may be relying too much on Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin. We’ll see. The offense has a lot of veteran bats: Aaron Hill, Martin Prado, Cody Ross, Jason Kubel. And Paul Goldschmidt looks like the real deal. Expect him to take the next step. Tyler Skaggs, Randall Delgado and Didi Gregorius will continue to season in the minors, but they might need to be ready to log some time at the big league level. This club has loads of talent, but in the end, I think they’ll fall short of the top two spots.
4th place: Colorado Rockies
This pitching staff is atrocious and pitching in Denver won’t help matters. It says something when your “ace” is Jorge De La Rosa, fresh off TJ surgery. Offensively, Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez will keep them in a fair number of ball games. And if Dexter Fowler continues to develop into a force at the top of the lineup, then they could make some hay in the division. But the rotation is so suspect, I can’t see that happening. On the basis of their offense, I think they finish ahead of the Padres, but only barely.
5th place: San Diego Padres
Here’s another head-scratcher: why in the world would the offensively-challenged Padres shop their one offensive force (Chase Headley) in the offseason? I don’t get it. I guess Headley’s value is at an all-time high, but the Padres weren’t going to get an Upton-esque return for a player with less of a proven track record. Truthfully, you should expect plenty of growing pains with this club as the youngsters continue to mature. Can Yonder Alonso turn into a productive first baseman? Will Jedd Gyorko’s minor league numbers translate at the big league level? Will Evereth Cabrera develop into more than simply a speedster? The pitching isn’t much to look at either. Did you know Jason Marquis was still drawing a major league paycheck? Me, neither.