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National League West Preview
National League West Preview
NL West Preview
By Matt Zylbert
Los Angeles Dodgers
Serving as the Vegas favorite to win the National League, the Dodgers come into 2014 with some pretty lofty expectations. After coming up just short of a National League pennant a year ago, there’s good reason for that, as Los Angeles sports a stacked squad on both sides of the ball that should have enough ammo to make some sort of deep run come October. Within their pitching rotation, the Dodgers boast an immensely-talented group, led by arguably the best pitcher in the game, Clayton Kershaw, who just won his second NL Cy Young award last year. Zack Greinke follows right behind him coming off an excellent campaign of his own, and the same can be said for the No. 3 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was everything the club had hoped for in his debut season when they pried him away from Korea. Right there, that’s a very effective trifecta to be the meat of the rotation, and it’s still relatively strong going downward, as the Dodgers also got Dan Haren, who struggled a bit last year before returning to form in the second half. If he can pick up where he left off, Dodger opponents will be in serious trouble no matter where you catch them in any three-game series. The team also acquired Paul Maholm, who will battle with the returning-from-injury Josh Beckett, meaning there are really no holes on this pitching staff. The same can be said of their bullpen, which theoretically should be better with the addition of Chris Perez, a former all-star closer. On this team, though, he’ll be a set-up man with another former all-star closer in Brian Wilson, and along with J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez, they’ll work in unison in getting the ball to Kenley Jansen in the ninth. In other words, there are pretty much no holes anywhere in the pitching department.
What good is outstanding pitching if you can’t hit? Luckily, the Dodgers don’t have to worry about that, as they were in the top five in baseball a year ago in team batting average. That effort was largely spurred by the arrival of Cuban defector Yasiel Puig, whose animated personality and enormous talents were among the memorable takeaway storylines of the entire 2013 season. Above that, his presence sparked an incredible run by the Dodgers, who were actually in last place in the division at one point in June, before going on a remarkable run that led them all the way to the NLCS. It wasn’t just Puig, though, as the Dodgers have a whole assortment of other bats that make this lineup as terrific as it is. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez are still located on the Dodger infield, each widely considered as one of the best players at his respective position in both hitting and fielding. Aside from Puig, Los Angeles also boasts a very good outfield, featuring Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, who both are very dynamic players when at the top of their games. All is looking good in La-La Land, although this year, a berth in the league championship series simply won’t be enough to satisfy Dodger faithful. It looks like championship or bust for Don Mattingly’s squad.
Predicted Record: 91-71
If you really think about it, the Rockies are one of the few teams in baseball that actually have more than one centerpiece star, which is certainly the case when you boast the presence of both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, two of the most gifted players in the game. The problem, however, also sort of involves them, as injuries have been very prevalent through each player’s past few years, which ultimately would end up derailing the Rockies because of a lack of depth. Fortunately, Colorado might have more than enough now on their roster to spark some sort of resurgence for the franchise. Of course, the offense begins with Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, and if they can stay healthy for most of the season, this has the makings of a playoff team, but even if one or both goes down, the Rockies actually have their best supporting cast in years. Justin Morneau was signed to replace retired longtime first baseman Todd Helton, and he’s someone who has exceptional power potential in Colorado. Drew Stubbs was acquired, too, bringing over speed and pop to help fill the void left by the departed Dexter Fowler. One of the club’s secret weapons might be second-year man Nolan Arenado, who impressed in his rookie season last year, even winning a Gold Glove, but it’s his bat that might become the best part of his game. Wilin Rosario is another crucial youngster on this roster, as he’s already become one of the league’s top power-hitting catchers in just his first two seasons. Even someone like Corey Dickerson has potential to surprise people. Predictably, there will be no shortage offense in Colorado this year.
As always, though, it is the pitching that remains a huge question mark, a seemingly annual concern in Colorado. Last year, at least, the starting pitching did improve, thanks largely to the return of Jorge De La Rosa, who was fantastic. Perhaps most importantly, he managed to stay healthy the whole year after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Jhoulys Chacin was also a bright spot, although he’s slated to begin the 2014 campaign on the disabled list. The biggest shocker of all, however, may have been the performance of young Tyler Chatwood, who was remarkably consistent after being slotted into the rotation. With those three, the Rockies have a fine nucleus for a solid staff, and they made one significant upgrade by attaining Brett Anderson, who has displayed flashes of excellence during his time in Oakland when he was able to stay healthy. Additionally, back-end starter Juan Nicasio has been good in stretches and still has a lot of potential. The biggest obstacle might be in the bullpen, as Colorado relievers had the worst ERA in the NL last year, and they lost closer Rafael Betancourt during the offseason. Veteran journeyman LaTroy Hawkins was signed to take his place, while Rex Brothers and newly-acquired Boone Logan will be the set-up men, which is a decent pairing. If the relief corps improve, and everything else goes according to plan, the Rockies have enough to make the wild card play-in game - if not more.
Predicted Record: 85-77
San Francisco Giants
One year after winning the World Series, the Giants endured a harsh crash back down to earth in 2013, as not only did they miss the playoffs by a wide margin, they were also an embarrassing-by-their-standards ten games under .500. To add insult to injury, they barely finished ahead of Colorado to avoid the NL West cellar. So how exactly did San Francisco regress so quickly? Arguably the main reason for their success in recent years has been strong starting pitching, but it was also starting pitching that led to their downfall a season ago, as it ended up surprisingly being an area where the club struggled mightily. In fact, their starters produced the third-worst team ERA in the National League, which seemed unfathomable entering the campaign. If there was one positive, it was the continued progression of Madison Bumgarner, who excelled in contributing the best season of his four-year career. Unfortunately, everyone around him disappointed, especially Matt Cain. He began as the organization’s Opening Day starter, and with good reason, but really slumped, given his high expectations, for much of the campaign. Tim Lincecum, as usual, was an unpredictable enigma, although the club is still holding out he can finally return to the form that won him two NL Cy Young awards not too long ago. The Giants added Tim Hudson to help upgrade the staff, a smart move considering the right-hander’s superb consistency throughout his lengthy brilliant career. Meanwhile, the bullpen remains a strength, still having Sergio Romo as the closer, and a trey of Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez working as one of the best set-up crews in the National League.
Not only were the Giants held back by inconsistent pitching, but the same was the case within their lineup as well. Sure, Hunter Pence posted his usual solid season, and former MVP Buster Posey performed again like one of the best catchers in baseball, but they’re going to need more than that if they want to catch up to the competition in this feisty NL West. For instance, Pablo Sandoval has to provide steady production, which he has done in the past, rather than the up-and-down season he went through last year. Additionally, since the team has apparently settled on Brandon Crawford as their shortstop of the future, they need him to start recording significant numbers at the plate over a full season, rather than merely in stretches. The Giants also have to stay healthy, as notable injuries to Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro wrecked an early-season barrage that had them at the top of the division through the first two months of ’13. The offense should be better in the upcoming campaign, as Brandon Belt was one of the few bright spots after a very pleasant breakout season. San Francisco also acquired Michael Morse, a highly underrated middle-of-the-order-type slugger. It’s definitely realistic to envision a bounce-back effort for the Giants, but with how competitive this division is, it may not be enough.
Predicted Record: 82-80
The 2014 season will be a critical one for the Diamondbacks, as they enter coming off consecutive campaigns that saw them finish 81-81, so this year’s results more likely should be a very telling sign for which direction the organization is headed. They certainly have the potential to do something special, considering they have one of the most impactful players in all baseball, Paul Goldschmidt, who enjoyed a monstrous ’13 that rightfully saw him finish as the runner-up in the NL MVP voting. Despite coming up short in the balloting, if Goldschmidt continues to perform like he did a year ago, he’ll certainly be winning that honor at some point in the future, while being the face of the franchise. Arizona added an equally-as-intimidating bat in Mark Trumbo, who has been one of the best home run hitters in baseball since his first full season three years ago. Without question, that’ll be one of the top heart-of-the-order pairings anywhere, but the key will be if the D-backs have enough beyond them. Despite coming off a season where he registered a career-low batting average, Miguel Montero has always been a solid catcher and should bounce back. Furthermore, Martino Prado and Aaron Hill are two of the better hitters at their respective infield positions, while Gerardo Parra has really been coming into his own the past couple of years. At shortstop, the team will have either Chris Owings or Didi Gregorius (Who may have the best walk-up music in baseball), both youngsters with high potential. Overall, the offense certainly should be good enough to hang with most on any given night.
The Diamondbacks had pretty good starting pitching a year ago, but have a major void to fill after it was announced that ace Patrick Corbin will need to undergo Tommy John surgery, a crushing blow for the left-hander after he broke out in 2013. Luckily, Arizona does sport depth in their rotation, especially after adding the usually reliable innings-eater Bronson Arroyo, who was a last-minute pickup for the club. They also still have Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, and Brandon McCarthy, all three being established arms capable of picking up the slack in the absence of Corbin. Randall Delgado, meanwhile, had a pretty good showing in his first year with the Diamondbacks, something the club hopes he can build off of in the upcoming slate, being just 24-years old. Arguably the major weakness in Arizona last year was within the bullpen, which led the major leagues with 29 blown saves. Thus, they immediately addressed those woes, making a trade early in the offseason to acquire Addison Reed to be the new closer. His predecessors, Brad Ziegler and J.J. Putz, will be his set-up men, which is what they are better suited for anyway, and that should ensure an improved performance for the team in that department. If that is indeed what happens, it’ll be likely that the D-backs finally soar over .500 again.
Predicted Record: 79-83
San Diego Padres
Over the past couple of years, the Padres have been a very good team in the second half, posting one of the better records in baseball over that particular time period. The problem, unfortunately, is that they get out to lackluster starts in the first half, hence why they’ve finished 76-86 in consecutive seasons. If they are to improve upon that, they will need a better offense, which has held them back in the recent past, especially last year when they finished in the bottom four of the National League in team batting average and runs scored. The club only made one offseason adjustment, adding Seth Smith, a fine power hitter, but they’re confident that the foundation currently in place is enough to spark some sort of run. One key name part of that is Jedd Gyorko, who was very impressive in his freshman season last year, so much so that he led all rookies in home runs and was second amongst them in runs batted in. Chase Headley is another one from San Diego’s main core, and while he’s coming off a down performance that was plagued by injury, the fact remains that he led the NL in RBI only a couple of seasons ago. Carlos Quentin is a positive in this lineup as well, as he’s one of the more feared power bats when he’s healthy. Also featuring speedster Everth Cabrera, Will Venable, and the returning Yasmani Grandal, who actually has considerable potential in developing into one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, the offense has very notable pieces that could definitely have them surprise people overall.
Pitching has never really been a problem for the Padres, although a main reason for that is the fact that they play half their games at one of the most extreme pitcher’s parks in the game. Regardless, there’s a pretty good staff assembled in San Diego this year that could help them keep up with the other talented pitching rotations possessed by their fellow division residents. Andrew Cashner has made significant progress in converting from a reliever into a starter, and thus far, it’s a move initiated by the Padres that has paid off greatly. Now, he assumes the role of ace. San Diego also acquired a former ace in Josh Johnson, who is seeking to rebound from a nightmarish 2013. He’s healthy now so odds are that will happen, especially while making a lot of his starts at spacious Petco Park. With a respectable trio of Ian Kennedy, Eric Stults, and Tyson Ross located behind them, there’s all the reason to believe that the Padres will continue to get solid starting pitching in the upcoming campaign. Interestingly, the bullpen might be even better, as despite losing top set-up man Luke Gregerson, they were able to replace him with free agent Joaquin Benoit, who will assist in the effort with solid relievers Dale Thayer and Nick Vincent in getting the ball to Huston Street, one of the more underrated closers in the game. The Padres definitely have potential to make some noise in ’14, but the NL West is so competitive that it will be a real difficult challenge keeping up with their rivals.
Predicted Record: 72-90
Final Say on the NL West: Most people are pegging the Dodgers to win the NL West once again, and who could blame them? Their roster is pretty loaded everywhere. However, that’s not to say the other division residents have no chance, as some of the other teams here are pretty talented in their own right. Look at Colorado, for example. Offensively, they have the potential to be better than the Dodgers, let alone all of their other division rivals. It’s just a matter of staying healthy, and if their starting pitching can continue its improvement from 2013, the Rockies have to be considered potentially as one of the surprise teams for this season. Meanwhile, the Giants and Diamondbacks certainly shouldn’t be counted out. The Giants won the World Series as recent as two years ago with much of the same roster, so there’s every reason to believe they can bounce back from last season’s disappointing effort. A similar claim can be made for Arizona, which has hovered at exactly .500 the past two years, and won this division in 2011. And you can’t forget San Diego, who has played like a playoff team in the second half of each of the past two seasons. If they can just maintain that over a whole season, they’ll definitely be in the mix as well. The Dodgers are clearly the surest pick to repeat as division champs, but at -250, it’s probably not even worth it. If you’re looking for a futures bet from the NL West, you might want to invest in Rockies +1250, which is very salivating if they can just stay healthy.
Re: National League West Preview
National League West Preview
By Steve Marril
The National League West division is led by the Dodgers who have the highest Over/Under win total in the Majors and is the favorite to win the World Series. Their biggest competition within the division will likely come from the Giants and perhaps the Diamondbacks, while the Padres and Rockies will battle for the basement.
Arizona Diamondbacks (2013: 81-81, -495 units, 71-84-7 over/under)
Division odds: 12/1
Season win total: 81.5
Why bet the Diamondbacks: Mark Trumbo should feast on pitching at Chase Field and is a great hitter to put in the middle of the lineup. The pitching rotation has talent with Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley, while the bullpen is solid with Addison Reed at closer and J.J. Putz setting him up. This is a team that only needs six innings from their starters since the bullpen is so strong.
Why not bet the Diamondbacks: Arizona lost Patrick Corbin and they are hoping that Brandon McCarthy recovers from an awful season last year. The batting order features several inconsistent hitters with health issues. The bench is thin and the Diamondbacks lack depth, so injuries might become a factor.
Season win total pick: Under 81.5
Colorado Rockies (2013: 74-88, -1233 units, 76-77-9 over/under)
Division odds: 25/1
Season win total: 76.5
Why bet the Rockies: As usual, Colorado has a lineup that is built for Coor's Field with Michael Cuddyer and Troy Tulowitzki leading the way. Justin Morneau may be able to find his stroke in the rarified air as well. The pitching rotation is solid with Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin coming off strong seasons, while the bullpen was led by Rex Brothers who had 32 scoreless outings in a row last year.
Why not bet the Rockies: There are still some questions in this bullpen and they need a few more relief pitchers. Injuries are always a concern, plus this lineup often struggles to score runs on the road and away from the thin air and altitude.
Season win total pick: Over 76.5
Los Angeles Dodgers (2013: 92-70, +541 units, 73-82-7 over/under)
Division odds: 5/14
Season win total: 92.5
Why bet the Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw leads the best rotation in the division with Hyun Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett. Haren and Beckett are aging, but they will not have as much pressure on them now at the back of the rotation. The lineup features a lot of depth from Yasiel Puig to Matt Kemp. The bullpen has some power arms in Brian Wilson and Paco Rodriguez.
Why not bet the Dodgers: Greinke presents an uncertainty, both emotionally and physically, especially since he is coming off a broken collarbone. How will the Dodgers handle the outfield issues with Puig, Carl Crawford, Kemp and Andre Ethier all vying for spots? Will Puig have a sophomore slump? Haren and Beckett need to bounce back from past struggles.
Season win total pick: Over 92.5
San Diego Padres (2013: 76-86, +241 units, 75-82-5 over/under)
Division odds: 14/1
Season win total: 79
Why bet the Padres: The fences are changing in Petco Park and it should help this offense that features talented youngsters such as Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso. Relief pitcher Huston Street is in the final year of his contract which should lead to a motivated effort. Joaquin Benoit backs him up in a solid bullpen.
Why not bet the Padres: The starting rotation is up in the air with Andrew Cashner and Josh Johnson leading the way. Johnson needs to show his awful year in Toronto was a fluke. Ian Kennedy is the number three starter, but he had a poor 4.24 ERA with San Diego last season. This batting order lacks consistent punch.
Season win total pick: Under 79
San Francisco Giants (2013: 76-86, -2095 units, 73-80-9 over/under)
Division odds: 9/2
Season win total: 86.5
Why bet the Giants: The rotation gets better with the addition of veteran pitcher Tim Hudson. He will be a solid influence on Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain. Sergio Romo is a good closer who never threw more then 28 pitches in an outing last year. Buster Posey is one of the best catchers in the game and a solid cleanup hitter in the lineup.
Why not bet the Giants: San Francisco's left fielders hit just five home runs last year. Ryan Vogelsong needs to improve after an awful start last season which led to a poor 5.73 ERA overall. The bench is thin, so injuries could become a factor.
Season win total pick: Over 86.5
Re: National League West Preview
Win Total Bets - NL West
By Bruce Marshall
The Los Angeles Dodgers (92 1/2) have been throwing around more money than Mark Cuban and Kevin O'Leary on Shark Tank since the Guggenheim Partners scared away even middle-east oil barons with their overbid for the franchise two years ago. Money is thus no object in the Blue ever losing a key player in the foreseeable future. There are still some trip wires laid at the big league-level, however, mostly related to mercurial RF Yasiel Puig, who did light the fuse that would eventually trigger a stunning 42-8 summer hot streak (the best such MLB 50-game stretch in over 60 years) that allowed the Blue to run away with last year's NL West, but whose antics on and off the field are said to be wearing very thin in the clubhouse, especially with manager Don Mattingly. Fortuitously for the Dodgers, however, a potential logjam in the OF (and inevitable bruised feelings for whomever is out of the lineup) have been alleviated by Matt Kemp's ongoing injury concerns, meaning Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Puig should continue to get their at bats. Though too much attention is being paid to the undisciplined Puig (who reported overweight to spring training in Glendale and whose 2013 numbers in a half-season did not really translate to anything spectacular over a full year), not enough might be paid to the under-the-radar re-sign of 3B Juan Uribe, who delivered many key hits last season, or the league's dominant pitching staff, led by the modern-day Sandy Koufax, Clayton Kershaw, and the rejuvenated Zack Greinke. So effective was the pitching last summer that the Blue were able to survive an offensive downturn and win many 2-1 and 3-2 decisions during the July and August surge. Moreover, the Dodgers now seem to intimidate the rest of the West, a scary thought for the Giants, D-backs and the rest, with 24 of L.A.'s first 26 games within the division (and already a 2-0 start after the sweep of Australian pair of games vs. Arizona). By Cinco de Mayo, the Dodgers should be in firm control of the West, and unless injuries hit the pitching staff hard, the Vin Scullys might have the division clinched by Labor Day. Pull up a chair, and watch the Blue threaten 100 wins and an "over" at Chavez Ravine.
With the Dodgers intimidating all others and possibly trampling the division, the rest of the West is a bit hard to project. But if we're going to go out on a limb with any of the other entries, perhaps it will be the San Diego Padres (78 1/2), who have seemed to make enough upgrades to suggest they can improve several games from last year's 74-88 and maybe even emerge as a stealth wild-card contender. The reason is pitching and the expansive Petco Park dimensions that help make young lefty Andrew Cashner a potential All-Star and could greatly contribute to a couple of one-time aces at other locales, Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson, rediscovering their old form. Johnson, along with reliever Joaquin Benoit (a nice potential bridge to closer Huston Street) and OF Seth Smith, could be very useful off-season roster additions by GM Josh Byrnes, although there will be speculation that Byrnes will be tempted to move 3B Chase Headley and his expiring contract before the trade deadline, where San Diego has been a notorious "seller" in recent years. By June, however, the Padres should get CF Cameron Maybin back from his biceps tendon injury, and SS Everth Cabrera is in the fold from the outset after his 50-game Biogenesis scandal-related suspension last season. Byrnes also might have some added flexibility by summertime if prospects such as OF Rymer Liriano and RHP Matt Wisler make the jump from the minors. But the bottom line is that pitching and defense give San Diego a legit chance to make a move up the NL West table. So, we'll enjoy another year of the ageless Dick Enberg describing the action on Padres TV in what could be a breakthrough "over" summer at Petco Park.
While the Padres threaten to make a move with their pitching, the Colorado Rockies (76 1/2) will try to base their resurgence around hitting. Which might have a better chance of triggering a playoff push if skipper Walt Weiss had a bit more to rely upon with his staff. Which, unfortunately, he doesn't, as the only upgrades of note for a staff whose 2013 ERA among the starters was 4.57 (almost 11/2 runs worse than the Dodgers) was ex-A's lefty Brett Anderson, who has battled injury problems in recent years, plus journeyman LaTroy Hawkins, who inherits closer duties. Complicating matters further is the shoulder strain suffered at Talking Stick this spring by co-ace (such as they are labeled for the Rocks) Jhoulys Chacin, who likely opens the season on the DL. True, Colorado can outscore foes if SS Troy Tulowitzki can stay healthy, and if offseason additions 1B Justin Morneau (teamed again with an old pal from Twins days, RF Michael Cuddyer) and LF Drew Stubbs (acquired in trade from the Reds) can rehabilitate their careers at Coors Field, a proper place for hitters to get well. But without an upgrade from the staff, it's hard to see Colorado doing any better than last year's 74-88. It's an "under" for us in Denver.
A chic pick to re-emerge as a serious contender this season has been the San Francisco Giants (86 1/2) , who bounced back from the post-championship doldrums in 2011 to win the World Series again in 2012. A repeat scenario after last year's collapse to 76-86 might is a bit harder to project, however, because skipper Bruce Bochy will have far fewer cards to play if starters Tim Lincecum (re-signed after two very subpar seasons, with a 20-29 record and 4.76 in 2012-13, a far cry from his former Cy Young-winning form) and Ryan Vogelsong (who missed more than two months with a broken thumb last summer as his wins dropped form 14 to 4 and his ERA skyrocketed to 5.73 ERA), counted upon in the middle of the rotation, can't deliver. Bochy is also hoping that aging FA signee Tim Hudson (who long ago starred across San Francisco Bay with the A's) bounces back from his injury concerns of 2013. The offense could also use healthy years from 3B Pablo Sandoval (who is hopefully motivated to control his weight problems by his contract year), 2B Marco Scutaro, and a return to All-Star form of C Buster Posey, as well as a healthy Michael Morse, ex of the Nats and Mariners who could add some much-needed pop in LF if beyond his own injury woes that limited him to 88 games with Seattle last season. Given past successes from the core of the roster, and with Matt Cain (reportedly beyond some personal problems) and Madison Bumgarner two potential dominators at the top of the rotation, we cannot summarily dismiss the Giants. We're simply not convinced, so it's a no-call for us at AT&T Park as we enjoy another season of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow entertaining us on Giants TV, and Jon Miller and Dave Fleming doing the same on KNBR 680 AM, whose blowtorch signal can be heard throughout the West.
We're assuming the Arizona Diamondbacks (80 1/2) are second-guessing themselves like crazy for insisting upon the opening two-game series in Australia and sacrificing two home games with the Dodgers in the process. After losing both games down under last weekend, it made for a long flight back to Sky Harbor Airport. We're simply not sure what is going on in Phoenix after we were expecting a bounce-back to the 2011 playoff form a year ago when the D-backs could do no better than .500, and skipper Kirk Gibson, in a monument to instability, used a staggering 138 different lineup combinations. There might be more structure to the batting order this season now that LF Mark Trumbo (34 homers in 2013) has been added from the Angels to likely bat clean-up and provide some protection for All-Star 1B Paul Goldschmidt, who should be a fixture at the three spot. Maybe. "You guys fill in the rest," Gibby has suggested to the assembled media in March at Talking Stick regarding the rest of the lineup, hardly reassuring Phoenix-area fans that things are going to be much different in 2014. GM Kevin Towers did more than add Trumbo in the offseason, inking Bronson Arroyo as a late signee to bolster the starting pitching rotation. And ex-White Sox closer Addison Reed was a trade addition who should assume the same role at Chase Field. We still think there is plenty of upside with the D-backs (especially if C Miguel Montero bounces back after an injury-hampered 2013), but we're not sure, so we instead take a pass in Phoenix.