Spring Training Primer - Early Edition: The NL West
in baseball having started the year 28-16. Then they started losing -
a lot. By the time the All Star Break rolled around they were actually
Not that they were alone in the NL West. The Dodgers won that division
last year with 84 wins, 2 games ahead of Arizona — and both teams
achieved their winning records after making trades for offensive forces
(and defensive inanimate objects) like Manny Ramirez and Adam Dunn.
One long winter later, and the division has seen its shares of changes
– not that any team has leaped to the forefront of being the obvious
favorite. Here’s how it’s going to break down:
Manny’s team: The Dodgers managed to hold onto some important
free agents. They pulled Raffy Furcal from the clutches of the Braves
moments before he would’ve been lost to them, they held onto third
baseman Casey Blake, and most importantly they were dumb enough to
succomb to the demands of Scott Boras in order to retain Manny Ramirez,
despite the fact that Man-Ram couldn’t possibly have had a Plan B. The
one area where they’re going to hurt is in the rotation. LA lost Derek
Lowe to the Braves and only replaced him with Randy Wolf. They also
signed a defensively overrated Gold Glove winner in Orlando Hudson. In
other words, if the Dodgers win the West again it will be because no
other team improved enough to exploit LA’s weaknesses, which are
primarily centered around their extremely young and unproven pitching
Barry’s team: The Giants won only 72 games last year while
trying to recover from building around an aged, injected superstar. To
win 72 one year and to be projected to finish second the next might be
a huge accomplishment, except the Giants are playing in a division
where 8 more wins last year would’ve put them in the mix for the
playoffs, they’ve mostly only added pitching help, specifically the
arm of Randy Johnson. The Big Unit is 5 away from winning 300 on his
career, but at 45 and with no cartilage it’d be hard to predict how
we’ll he’ll throw. Overall, the Giants probably have the potential to
win more than they lose, but they are an extremely young team with a
handful of big, failed contracts and old, unproductive veterans.
Arizonmeh: The Diamondbacks are a team of extremely young and
talented players, but they lack the offensive punch that some of the
other teams in the West have. However they also have probably the last
concerning rotation in the division, and if some of their younger
players can close the holes in their swings then they might run away
with the division title. Who knows - maybe they’ll trade for another
Dunn-like bat minus the Dunn-like glove. Or maybe their young hitters
will explode. Or maybe they’ll finish over .500 again, but around 5
games out of first place. Maybe that’s the most likely scenario, but
for them it may also be the worst case scenario, too.
Rocky Mountain Low: A few years ago this team was in the World
Series. Then they learned that it’s not easy getting back (just ask
the Cubs). They have since seen a ton of turnover in their rotation
and they’ve dealt their best offensive force to Oakland. Their problem
is that, while they still have some good offensive capability, their
rotation is in shambles. Aaron Cook won 16 games last year, the only
time in his career he’s won double digits. Ubaldo Jiminez has the
talent to play well, but he’s yet to prove that he can. And Jason
Marquis? Let’s just move on from Jason Marquis while pitying the
Rockies for having him. Colorado might be able to quickly build their
way back into competitiveness, but ‘09 is not their year.
San Diego: You know things aren’t good for your team when your
first-ballot Hall of Famer, life-long closer (except for 28 games in
Florida in 1993) splits from the team and your ace pitcher demands to
be traded to the Cubs. Most of their offense lacks pop. Their
rotation is either unproven or just bad. In fact, if the Padres played
in a tougher division like the East, they’d probably lose more than 100
games. Instead, they’re in the West and are just bad enough to ensure
that Jake Peavy will be dealt before August.
Conclusions: The NL West is a division of haves and have-nots.
The first three teams have a chance to compete. The latter two …
well, they have not. The Dodgers very well could reach the playoffs
again, depending on how well the pitching can hold up behind their
mostly young and uniformly talented offense, or they could fall to
third behind resurgent teams like Arizona and Los Angeles. Regardless,
there probably won’t be more than a half dozen games separating the
first and third place teams.
On Wednesday, I’ll take a gander at how the playoff scene may unfold.
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