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NL West Preview

NL West Preview

NL West Preview
By Josh Jacobs

In one of the most surprising and under publicized advancements in MLB history, the Colorado Rockies reached to 2007 World Series only to become fodder for Boston. Registering 90 wins last season, Colorado defied the odds with youth when it advanced to the big game after sweeping past Philadelphia and Arizona.

We’re still not even a year removed from that event. The problem seems to be that the Rockies great progression when largely unnoticed by the masses. Whether it was a lack of marketability or just the Red Sox’s national appeal, there’s no getting around the lack of support that Colorado received.

It’s now a new season and the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres and Giants are all back for another year of competition. Once again, Colorado isn’t getting any respect with most books installing them as a 7/2 player to take the West. has installed Arizona as the clear cut favorite to take the division, currently resting comfortably at 2/1 odds.

NL West

Arizona (90-72, +1822)

Out with starter Livan Hernandez and in with Dan Haren, the Diamondbacks are looking to score big with the 3.82 career ERA slinger.

As a 2/1 favorite to take the NL West, Arizona will enter the new season with question marks mainly surrounding offensive production. Ranked 14th in NL runs scored with 712 in 2007, a squad hovering around 26.9 years of age must rely on players like Eric Byrnes, Orlando Hudson and Chris Young for big RBIs.

The bullpen will be without key closer Jose Valverde, who was responsible for notching 47 saves last season. That leaves righty Brandon Lyon as the prime candidate for the closing job. With Chad Qualls looking more like the setup man and Tony Pena Jr. lacking consistency but supplying the cannon, there’s no doubt that manager Bob Melvin will have a major decision to make come opening day.

Another gamble that Arizona will be throwing out on the mound is 44-year-old Randy Johnson. In his 21st season in the bigs, Johnson is coming off his third back surgery. Given his awkward delivery and lanky six-foot-10 frame, management and coaching staff must be concerned about the No. 3 spot and how long Johnson can survive in the rotation.

At third base, Chad Tracy continues to recover from knee surgery with a return date still sketchy through the middle of Spring Training. Filling in will be Mark Reynolds, a 24-year-old youngster who proved that a .279 BA with 62 RBIs and 17 homers from last season could reveal a bright future ahead.

Looking to go ‘over’ 87 ½-wins this season (the ‘over/under’), Arizona has another season of battling to do. With a lackluster crew at the plate (in relation to batting leaders in the NL), the D-Backs will be applying plenty of pressure to a pitching crew who ranked fourth in the NL with a 4.13 ERA.

Colorado (90-73, +2466)

Finishing last season with the eighth best NL ERA (4.32), eighth best in quality starts (79) and, again, eighth best in bating average allowed (.266), Colorado’s pitching staff remained a strong element of the team throughout the year. Even playing inside the batter friendly park that is Coors Field, the Rockies pitching staff was the core that carried the squad all the way to the World Series.

Heading into the new season, starting pitchers Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez will once again be the foundation. However, losing right-hand slinger Josh Fogg to free agency created a void in the No. 3 spot. The answer to losing an effective starter; plug in more homegrown talent. That’s where Franklin Morales and Jason Hirsh come in.

A bullpen constructed of Brian Fuentes, Taylor Buchholz, Ryan Speier and shutdown closer Manny Corpas should once again be vital in holding down leads, with the ultimate goal of closing the door quick and easy in the ninth inning.

Heavy swingers Brad Hawpe and Matt Holliday will need to repeat 2007 numbers for an effective offensive attack. Both Hawpe and Holliday combined for 65 homers and 253 RBIs.

As difficult as it was to make the push through October, doing it in back-to-back seasons will be one of the most difficult tasks Colorado has faced. The team is relatively intact, with the major change coming after second baseman Kazuo Matsui left enroute to the Astros. Marcus Giles, Ian Stewart and Jayson Nix are the front runners for the job, so stay tuned for the latest developments.

At the very least, Colorado is expected to be a wild card runner up. Most books expect the Rockies to stay close to the NL pack, but at 83 ½ total wins on the season, the consensus for a repeat performance isn’t of the highest predictions.

L.A. Dodgers (82-80, -587)

The first of three teams who logged financial losses in the NL West last season, L.A. has a new manager in Joe Torre but a similar squad taking the field.

Batting a .275 average and scoring 706 RBIs was a pleasant surprise for the Dodgers in ’07. However, questionable pickups on the off-season and a farm system rarely used are two concerns for any analyst looking under a microscope.

The addition of center fielder Andruw Jones highlighted the problem of free agency signings. In Jones’ worst season, hands down, a .222 BA, with then Atlanta, raised eyebrows. Then signing a two-year, $36.2 million deal with L.A. was the icing on the cake. Not to say that Jones doesn’t have anything left in the tank, but how typical for the Dodgers to skip out of town on younger talent.

Then there’s the Jason Schmidt project.

With full knowledge of the 13-year vets nagging shoulder problems, L.A. didn’t hesitate to ink a three-year, $47 million deal. Heading into his second year with the club, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that after six starts last season, Schmidt would go under the knife for shoulder surgery. What will the outcome look like in ’08?

With all of the commotion aside, the Dodgers look to have a very balanced attack coming from the hill to the batters box. Starters Brad Penny, Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley are all solid hurlers who should be able to go deep into games, while Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel and Scott Proctor should be set pieces for the bullpen.

One player that has the organization and fans in a positive mood is catcher Russell Martin. In two years of play, Martin has logged a .288 BA with a total of 152 RBIs. He’s set to become one of baseball’s catching elite.

Moving Juan Pierre to left field could have dire consequences down the road. With a throwing arm rated at below average, singles to his part of the field can become costly at some point. It’s just how much patience manager Torre has until the outfield is stretched beyond repair.

San Diego Padres (89-74, -68)

Talking about a team aging with time, the Padres will be working with a roster one and a half years short of averaging 30 years of age.

Once again we turn to the rotation where Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Greg Maddux equal a solid one, two, three punch. Closer Trevor Hoffman remains the exclamation point for the defense, but an aging fastball is beginning to nullify the power of the shutdown changeup.

A good reason for San Diego to rank in the bottom order of almost every offensive category last season can be directly attributed to PETCO Park. A pitcher’s dream and a hitter’s nightmare, Brian Giles, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Adrian Gonzalez will have there work cutout for them for yet another year.

Another move deemed questionable was picking up one time slugger Jim Edmonds. The main problem with Edmonds will solely rest on his bat and the not so friendly confines of PETCO. Just ask Brian Giles. Hitting .296 before moving out to the bay, Giles is now a .283 career hitter with the Pads. In the past five years with San Diego, the southpaw swinger hit for 23 homers in 2004, a long way off his high of 37 (which he hit in three consecutive years as a Pirate).

Pitchers Mark Prior and Randy Wolf where purchased for a cheap price in the off-season, but at what cost on the mound will these two slingers charge given their history of injuries. There’s no question that San Diego will live and die with the performances of the starting three.

In a year which looks to be split between rebuilding and signing retread pitchers, San Diego could find itself out of the playoff hunt for the first time in a long time. Best suited to comeback in ’09, the Padres might need convincing that the roster isn’t looking its best.

San Diego is currently a 4/1 player to take the NL West, and is at 28/1 odds to take the World Series.

San Francisco Giants (71-91, -2067)

It’s a new era for San Francisco without Barry Bonds, but the blueprint being followed hasn’t deviated from plans drawn up several years ago. The team remains old in terms of average roster age (28.3 years old), patience for minor leaguers to pan out is short and spending money in the wrong places seems to be a habit.

On a downward slope since making the playoffs in 2003, the Giants find themselves the outsiders in a demanding division. The likes of Randy Winn, Ray Durham, Dave Roberts, Rich Aurilia, Bengie Molina and Omar Vizquel may pack plenty of experience but the end result continues to follow status quo.

Starting pitcher Barry Zito will continue leading the charge on the mound, with youngsters Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum looking to take the No. 2 and 3 spots respectively.

The biggest acquisition of the off-season was grabbing Aaron Rowand for a five-year, $60 million contract! The biggest problem that can be foreseen is Rowand’s work in the expansive center field that makes up AT&T Park. There’s no doubting that the .286 career hitter can play the game of baseball, but his fit in pitcher friendly AT&T is far from perfect.

Swinging for a putrid .254 BA last year (14th worst in the NL) and brining in a skimp 641 RBIs (16th worst in NL), it doesn’t seem likely that offensive generated numbers will change for the better.

Getting back to the arms on this team, the bullpen is a major question mark. With reliever turned closer, Brian Wilson getting his first shot to take down the 27th out, manager Bruce Bochy will surely have Tyler Walker and Brad Hennessey on emergency standby incase Wilson gets hammered early on in the season.

Bottom line; San Francisco is an aging dinosaur when compared to youthful teams, Arizona and Colorado. The days of Bonds carrying this team on one swing is well over and sitting around with a club tethering on the 30-year-old mark isn’t a safe bet in the long run.

Most books have installed the Giants as 18/1 long shots to take the division. An underachieving total of 71 ½ wins has been set for the season.

Handicapper Predictions:

Kevin Rogers - The NL West surprised most of us with the tightness down the stretch and Colorado's amazing run at the pennant. I see the Rockies taking a step back, not a major one, but don't forget that they won 21 of 22 down the stretch, coming from nowhere to sneak into the playoffs. The Rockies lineup is still strong, but the question is with that team, who can anchor the rotation past Jeff Francis? The Diamondbacks made a terrific move by acquiring Dan Haren from the A's, but I don't buy into a team that was outscored by 20 runs and still went to the NLCS. My surprise team who I think may actually win the division is the Dodgers, largely in part to Joe Torre's arrival in Los Angeles. With the addition of Andruw Jones in center field, along with solid pitching, the Dodgers can be the team that represents the NL West.

Jamie Tursini - The N.L.West has to be the toughest division in all of baseball heading into the 2008 season. We have 4 teams all capable of winning this division; the Rockies, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Padres. They all feature starting pitching staffs that go 4 deep, but I give the edge to Manager Joe Torre's Dodgers.

The Rockies may have the best hitting ball club, and the Diamondbacks may have the best starting pitching, but the Dodgers aren't far behind and offer the best combination of the two in this division.

L.A. Dodgers to win the West.

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