It’s a new day, folks. Last season’s anguish and dispair has gone by the wayside and teams have regained the most important aspect for any ball club: hope. Every team is even in the standings and players are beginning to pack for the long road ahead. At TSHQ Coley Michalik and Ben Handler will be breaking down the MLB division by division weekly bringing you to one of the best days of the year, Opening Day. We’re going to start with the division that still holds last season’s crown: the NL West.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (2010: 92-70, 1st in NL West)
BH: Pitching led the Giants to a World Championship last season and they hope they can duplicate that achievement this season. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain make up one of the most solid 1-2 punches in the entire league. Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner emerged as great back end starters last season. Barry Zito is a capable 5th starter. Despite his up and down career, he can deliver quality starts when needed. Brian Wilson became a cult hero last year for his quirky behavior and great closing, and Jeremy Affeldt should supply solid relief.
CM: Any rotation with Big Time Timmy Jim is solid from the get, but the defending Champs have one of the best pitching staffs top to bottom. After Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner make it tough for any opposing team during a three game series no matter who they are matched up against. Affeldt is a quality set up man for Brian “The Sea Captain” Wilson, who has averaged 43 saves over the past 3 seasons. Barry Zito still has not done enough to warrant that big contract, but that’s neither here nor there.
BH: Two heroes from last season — Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe — are in the rearview mirror, but the young stars remain. Buster Posey looks to become one of the best catchers in baseball this season and Pablo Sandoval provides pop in the middle. Mark DeRosa, Freddy Sanchez, and Aubrey Huff provide great veteran leadership, plus hit while fielding their positions well. Miguel Tejada will take over at shortstop this season and hopes to regain his old form in a new home.
CM: Pablo Sandoval reported to camp 20 pounds slimmer and needs to have a bounce back year in order for this offense to sustain itself. If Aubrey Huff can somehow repeat his 26 homer, 86 RBI, 100 run season, that would also help greatly because outside of sophomore catcher Buster Posey, the Giants offense stretches thin and they will need the majority of their production to come from the middle of their lineup.
BH: Top of the rotation is as good as they come. Lincecum is a Cy Young candidate every season and Matt Cain is not far behind. If the young guns continue to improve they could be vying with the Phillies for the best rotation in the National League.
CM: Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson. Simple as that. Lincecum is going to give you a quality start every time he steps on the hill and Wilson is going to shut the door nine times out of 10. Also, when the shit hits the fan during the season, Wilson’s antics are enough to keep clubhouse morale high which is an asset that is a must for any team looking to make a playoff run.
BH: As is the case with most of the teams in this division, the Giants are lacking pure power hitters in the middle of the order. It was not a major hindrance last season, but if the pitching strays they could have trouble scoring enough runs to stay in games. They are relying on Tejada to make up for the pivotal offense Uribe provided last season.
CM: This team hit in October, but majority of those hits came from Edgar Rentaria and Juan Uribe. Considering they’re not walking through that door any time soon, run production is going to have to come from a new source. Posey will only be able to do so much in the middle of that order, luckily they still play in the NL West.
BH: The Giants should keep their stranglehold on the division this year barring a major injury. The pitching is simply too strong and the pieces are in place for this lineup to develop. If Posey or Sandoval can become a true power threat, this team will be scary. (90-95 wins)
CM: Pitching in baseball is like defense in football, it brings championships. Although this held true last season for the Giants, it would be quite the feat for a second year in a row. I expect a minor drop off as the Giants look to reinvent themselves offensively but they should still finish towards the top of the division. (85-90 wins)
SAN DIEGO PADRES (2010: 90-72, 2nd in NL West)
CM: Mat Latos flourished during his first full year as a starter posting a 14-10 record with a 2.92 ERA and a 3:1 strike out to walk (K:BB) ratio. Behind Latos, Clayton Richard and Wade LeBlanc are a decent 2-3 and the offseason addition of veteran Aaron Harang is a stretch for GM Jed Hoyer, who is basically hoping he can return to his 2007 form. The Padres find themselves in one of the largest ballparks in the majors and find themselves in many low scoring games so their bullpen will look to carry them again behind closer Heath Bell and relievers: Tim Stauffer, Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson, and Chad Qualls. (Yeah, they have a quality bullpen).
BH: The Padres hang their hat on pitching and defense and the rotation looks to be solid again this season. Pitching carried the team last year and that trend should continue. Matt Latos and Clayton Richard emerged as great top-of-the-rotation starters a year ago and they are capable of carrying the staff. Aaron Harang and Dustin Moseley were acquired in the offseason to shore up the back of the rotation. The bullpen figures to be one of the best in the majors. Heath Bell is a top notch closer, and with Mike Adams and Joe Thatcher setting him up, the Padres feel very confident in the late innings of close games.
CM: Any time you trade away your main source of offense, the lineup is going to seem a little lack luster. The departure of Adrian Gonzalez means the rebirth of small ball in San Diego. Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson are huge pickups for this offense and will need to carry the load for this team, at least this season. If Will Venable can continue to grow and recently acquired Cameron Maybin can develop into the player the Florida Marlins hoped he could be, this team could be tough to pitch to with men on the bases.
BH: Top to bottom this lineup may be better than a year ago, but they have no replacement for Adrian Gonzalez. Cameron Maybin and Will Venable are great athletes and defenders, and Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson provide great leadership and stability in the middle of the infield. However, there are no true run producers in this lineup. They will have to rely on speed and small ball to score runs and hope to win a lot of close ball games.
CM: Heath Bell. In his two seasons as a closer, Bell has recorded 42 and 47 saves with a 12-5 record to boot. As long as Los Fathers can keep games within striking distance they will be able to pull out some late game magic, especially with Bell closing the door.
BH: The Bullpen is the strength of this organization yet again. It could be the strongest bullpen in the league and they will need them to be if there is any hope of competing for the division. Heath Bell is arguably as valuable to this team as any player in baseball is for their team. Surely the pen will be spectacular all season, but will it be enough to make up for a lack of scoring?
CM: Adrian Gonzalez is wearing a different team’s uniform. Without him in the lineup their is zero pop unless Venable decides that he will be the 2011 version of Jose Bautista and jack 50 homers. I don’t see that happening. Their offense needs some help and it doesn’t look like it’s coming any time soon.
BH: There is no threat in the middle of the lineup whatsoever. Chase Headley and Ryan Ludwick are slated to bat 3-4 on opening day and those two combined for only 28 homers a season ago. The Padres will likely be at the bottom of the league in runs scored and many of the offensive statistical categories, but they are built to win with pitching and defense.
CM: If the Padres come as close to the playoffs as they did last season I’ll be shocked. There is light at the end of the tunnel and the future is bright but this season seems like a bridge year. (60-70 wins)
BH: Expect the Padres to take a major step back this season. They were very luck last season with health and the amazing play of the bullpen as well as emergence of the starters. It is only reasonable to think those players will fall off a little bit and without Gonzalez to pick up the offense this could be a long season in San Diego. (65-70 wins)
COLORADO ROCKIES (2010: 83-79, 3rd in NL West)
BH: The Rockies have a certified ace with Ubaldo Jiminez and Jorge De La Rosa is a solid left-handed compliment but true starters are lacking after that. There will be heavy reliance on unproven players and pitchers rebounding from injury. Plus, pitching in Colorado is always a question mark for newly acquired players. Huston Street is a proven solid closer and Rafael Betancourt is trying to bounce back from injury to set up Street.
CM: Ubaldo Jiminez had his breakout season last year posting a 19-8 record with a 2.88 ERA. Along with Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin the Rockies have a serviceable three man rotation. Houston Street, Rafael Betancourt, and Matt Lindstrom provide stability in the bullpen, which is necessary for the mile high club at Coors Field.
BH: Perhaps the best 3-4 combination in baseball with Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Those two guys are legitimate superstars and the Rockies did well to shore up both to long term deals in the offseason. The problem is the inconsistency with the rest of the lineup. Chris Iannetta, Seth Smith, and Ian Stewart showed flashes of brilliance but also disappeared for stretches last season. Dexter Fowler provides great speed at the top of the order, and Todd Helton is one of the most respected players in the game.
CM: Troy Tulowitzki had one of the greatest Septembers, ever, last season. In order for the Rockies to make the playoffs, however, Tulo needs to stretch his production over the entirety of a season and not just the waning days of an already lost season. Carlos Gonzalez was arguably the best offensive player in the Bigs last season posting a .336 BA with 34 HR’s, 117 RBI, 111 runs, and 26 stolen bases. Somehow, Todd Helton remains a major league player, but after his worst offensive seasons (statistically) last year he may find himself on the pine more often than not as the Rockies brought in Ty Wigginton via free agency.
BH: Gonzalez and Tulowitzki are two of the brightest young stars in the league and they both finished the season strong in 2010. They carried the team at times, and both provide stellar defense as well. If the Rockies can get solid starting pitching they will be in the division race until the end as long as these two can stay healthy.
CM: Tulo and CarGo, both offensively and defensively. In Colorado, they could be the most potent 3-4 in all of the National League, especially at home. For the team to do well they must have their cornerstone pieces play up to their potential.
BH: The back of the rotation will be a huge issue for the Rockies. Jhoulys Chacin is young and unproven while Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel have yet to show they are capable major league starters. Although Jeff Francis has struggled the last few years, his absence may really hurt. If Jiminez or De La Rosa struggle or face injuries that could be this team’s undoing.
CM: Pitching. It’s hard enough to prevent runs at Coors field, but even on the road this team is going to have to win by out-slugging their opponents. After Jiminez, the rest of the rotation leaves much to be desired. De La Rosa battled injuries last season and Chacin is still young, so if they can be a semi-reliable 2-3 combo they will be able to compete throughout the season. However, if Jiminez goes down they’re screwed.
BH: The Rockies could have one of the best offensive teams in baseball but the pitching will betray them again as it did last year. Gonzo and Tulo can only carry them so far. (85-90 wins)
CM: I like this team as the anti-Giants. They’re pitching is suspect but their offense packs a mean punch. In the NL, I believe a formidable offense can do wonders and carry a team as long as their consistent. Tulo or CarGo could play themselves into NL MVP depending on how this team finishes. (85-95 wins).
LA DODGERS (2010: 80-82, 4th in NL West)
CM: Jon Garland and Ted Lilly are two of baseballs most consistent pitchers (seriously). Garland has won at least 10 games every season since 2002, and Lilly has won at least 10 games every season since ’03. Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsly remain one of the better young pitching duo’s in all of baseball. If these four can get it together this season they may be able to carry this squad.
BH: Depth in the rotation was the main offseason focus and it should pay off. Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lily, and Jon Garland, and Vicente Padilla are all quality starters with experience. If Kershaw and Billingsley continue to improve this could be one of the best rotations in the league, if not the deepest. Jonathan Broxton is a solid closer and Matt Guerrier and Hong-Chih Kuo are both more than capable relievers.
CM: Matt Kemp had an off year last season, yet he still put up 28 HR, 89 RBI, and scored 82 runs. Andre Ethier was an early MVP candidate last season until he broke one of his fingers and rushed back from injury. James Loney does not bring much power out of first but his average is what keeps him around. These three are the keys to the Dodger offense especially in the post-Ramirez era.
BH: The only notable improvement to the lineup is the acquisition of second baseman—and World Series hero—Juan Uribe. This will create a solid middle infield with Rafael Furcal. The biggest issue for this lineup is the drop off last season by the key young players. Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and James Loney all had disappointing seasons last year and those three will be relied on again to supply the majority of the offense. The team can only go as far as those guys take them. If they can regain their level of play from two seasons ago the Dodgers will be a force to reckon with.
CM: Pitching, pitching, pitching. You can never have enough of it, and the Dodgers have six starters who can give you a quality outing on any given night. Billingsly, Kershaw, Garland, Lilly, Hiroki Kurouda, and Vincente Padilla doesn’t seem like murderers row, but during the long haul of an MLB season pitching becomes a premium and will be needed in order to keep this team afloat.
BH: Again, the depth of the rotation is the strongest point of the team. Every guy who takes the ball will be able to offer a quality outing and work deep into the game. If Padilla can rebound from injury they will have six quality starters, whereas most other teams in the division are struggling to find two or three.
CM: Infield. I look at this roster and the infield is sickening. Casey Blake. Rafael Furcal (who is the bright spot). Juan Uribe. James Loney. Individually, they’re not terrible. But as a unit? Gross. Uribe has proved he can be an above average utility player and Rafael Furcal has been a top short stop in seasons pasts, but for an entire season this is not a threatening middle of the infield. Forget about the corner’s of the infield where there is zero power. First baseman and third baseman usually do not have as putrid stat lines as these two do which is why this team struggled as mightily as they did last year.
BH: Middle of the order is a major question mark going into the season. Loney and Kemp really fell off last season and neither one is a very strong cleanup hitter. Ethier even took a step back last year. Uribe will provide some pop, but if those big three can’t get going they will struggle to score runs.
CM: The Dodgers need to find a way to score runs. Their pitching will only do so much for so long. The NL West is stronger than seasons past and the Dodgers didn’t do much in the offseason to assert themselves. (70-75 wins).
BH:Pitching and defense can take them a long way, but they will have trouble scoring at times. Without another bat stepping up in the middle of the lineup the Dodgers will be right in the middle of the NL West pack again. (80-85 wins).
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS (2010: 65-97, 5th in NL West)
BH: Brandon Webb is finally gone, yet the top of the rotation looks pretty stable with Joe Saunders, Daniel Hudson, and Ian Kennedy. The back of the rotation could be shaky, and the lack of a true ace could hurt them. J.J. Putz was a big off-season acquisition to shore up the bullpen, but long relief is still a question mark.
CM: Webb is gone. Haren is gone. I’m not worried. Daniel Hudson came over from Chicago last season and proved he could be a valuable, young arm for years to come. Joe Saunders had some good years in Anaheim and Ian Kennedy wasn’t awful last season. Zach Duke comes over from the Pirates in hopes for a fresh start. Outside of Putz in the back end, the bullpen is thin to say the least.
BH: The big issue the last few years has been run production and that remains to be true. Adam Laroche and Mark Reynolds are gone from last year’s team. Those two provided great power numbers, but also struck out frequently. Melvin Mora was brought in to replace Reynolds, but there is no clear cut first baseman. This season will come down to the young players continuing to improve and starting to produce. Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, and Chris Young have all shown a lot of promise, but need to improve for the D-backs to make any noise.
CM: Losing Mark Reynolds means there are going to be far less K’s hung on the D’Backs. Justin Upton took a small step back last season but still remains one of the best young outfielders in baseball. Chris Young had a solid second half, and Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson provide quality offense up the middle. If Miguel Montero can stay healthy behind the dish, this lineup could give opposing teams some serious trouble.
BH: The biggest strength will be the depth of the bench this season. Xavier Nady, Willie Bloomquist, Geoff Blum, and Henry Blanco were all signed in the offseason. That group will provide solid depth as well as quality veteran leadership. They will all play in a lot of games and get many key at bats down the stretch.
CM: Youth. I don’t know if that bodes well for this season but the fact that this team is still young means that there is plenty of room for growth and expectations still have time to be met. As long as there are improvements shown throughout the course of the season, Arizona fans have plenty to be positive about.
BH: The glaring hole for Arizona remains to be the offense. There is no proven, consistent power bat in the lineup. Great potential is in place but the main source of power from last season is gone without any substantial replacement.
CM: Youth. Their strength is their weakness this season. Although it bodes well for them for upcoming seasons, this year it will be their demise. This team does not have enough experience or continuity to make a solid push this season.
BH: Arizona can definitely improve on last season’s performance, but they are still a few years away from competing for a division title. (70-75 wins)
CM: The Diamondbacks will be battling with the Padres this season for fifth place in the NL West. Their pitching is decent, but with no ace. Their offense is decent, with no premier slugger. Opposing teams wont fear them nor will they underestimate them. The D’Backs have a long 162 games ahead of them. (60-65 wins).