Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2012 MLB Season Preview Part 4: NL West

More baseball talk...

NL West

1. San Francisco Giants
PECOTA: 86 wins
My take: Under

On July 18th last year (my birthday), the Giants were in first place with a better run differential than the Diamondbacks, an admirable follow-up performance thus far in the season that followed their World Series campaign. From that point on they collapsed (though it was overshadowed by the even louder falls of the Braves and Red Sox) and the Diamonbacks took a stranglehold upon first place that they would not relinquish.

The Giants' third ace, Madison Bumgarner
They boast one of the best pitching staffs in a league that is seemingly loaded with great pitching staffs. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner form a devastating trio. While Lincecum & Cain have been doing this for years, Bumgarner came in and had a 2.64 FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching ERA) in over 200 innings at the age of 21 last year. He's good.

The pitching will be great again but the question with this team remains whether or not they'll get enough offense to win. Pablo Sandoval is one of the most exhilarating hitters in the game but he hasn't had much help over the years. With Buster Posey and Brandon Belt in the lineup all year long, though, this team should pick up the division crown in what promises to be a close race.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks
PECOTA:  84 wins
My take: Even

This is a thoroughly combustible team. They won 94 games last year with a roster led entirely by young players. All their top performers were under 28, they're all returning, and now they've added sinkerballer Trevor Cahill who has just turned 24.

Justin Upton has hit nearly 100 home runs in his career already and he's only 24. His best years are only now just starting to kick in. In Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, they've got two potential aces atop the rotation, both of whom threw exactly 222 innings last year and neither of whom is 28 yet.

All in all they look like a good bet to compete in the NL again but I think they'll slip down a few notches after such a huge year last season. They're also probably the best bet of any team to prove me wrong and blow everybody away in a league that doesn't have a clear favorite.

3. San Diego Padres
PECOTA: 79 wins
My take: Over

As I've prepared to write this Season Preview I've been immersed in analysts' predictions while also reading some of my own posts from the past couple years (many of which were written while living in the heart of San Diego) and one thing has become extremely clear to me: the Padres have been one of the most misunderstood teams in baseball for almost three years now.

Did you know that, away from their offense-suffocating home park, the 2011 Padres had a better offense than the Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Braves? They were an above-average offensive team on the road in the previous year as well (they've been that way dating back to the midpoint of 2009).

Did you know that, despite losing by far their best player and getting disappointing performances from the expected replacements (Brad Hawpe, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson), they finished with the run differential of a 79-win team? 

I'll have much more to say about the entire Padres roster in an upcoming post but for now, it bears mentioning that this is a team without any gaping holes in the lineup or even the excoriated rotation. The bullpen looks terrific once again, the defense is strong, and they've added undoubtedly the best hitter the organization has seen since Adrian Gonzalez in fellow San Diego native Carlos Quentin. They've also brought in a young first baseman, Yonder Alonso, who actually profiles as a good hitter for Petco Park. Alonso is my Rookie of the Year pick and, despite my picking them to finish third here, the Padres are my sleeper pick in the National League. I think they'll be in the mix for both the Wild Card and division title all season long.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers
PECOTA: 78 wins
My take: Under

One of the most epic failures of last season, the Dodgers somehow managed to finish with just 82 wins despite having the best hitter (Matt Kemp) and best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) in the league. Because of some inexplicable aversion to putting together a good team, GM Ned Colleti once again opted to bring in only dried up veterans this past offseason.

They'll be giving regular at-bats to Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy, Jerry Hairston, Juan Rivera, and probably Aaron Miles if Don Mattingly can find a way to retrieve his favorite toy. Kershaw and Kemp are good bets to have huge years again and the bullpen has a couple of really hard throwers but other than that, this team has nothing going for it.

What fans can be excited about, though, is the new ownership situation. After Frank McCourt ran the franchise into the ground, losing lots of fans in the process, the new group (led by Magic Johnson) has to regain goodwill with the city and so massive changes are likely on the horizon. Still, they could finish in last place this year.

5. Colorado Rockies
PECOTA: 80 wins
My take: Under

What a strange-looking team they've thrown together. The rotation features 49-year-old southpaw Jamie Moyer (one of the best stories in baseball) alongside three pitchers who weren't even born yet when Moyer had his first major league start.

The offense is a similar mix of young and old. Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, and Dexter Fowler are a nice young core but they're surrounded by a bunch of guys in their mid-to-late 30s. While the young part of this team certainly looks impressive (Jhoulys Chacin is one of the top young staring pitchers in baseball and has a distinctly euphonious appellation), there are just far too many crusty old ballplayers here for this team to go anywhere. It's a shame because the core is awesome but the team stinks overall.

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