Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 MLB Preview: NL West

The final division preview for 2011 is the NL West.  Not many people predicted that the World Series winner would come from the NL West.  The Giants rode phenomenal all-around pitching to take the MLB crown after beating the Padres out right at the end of the season.  This season should turn out like an other in the NL West - tight play from almost every team in the division all the way until September.  Their are 4 teams that have a shot at this division, but pitching will once again decide who takes the West crown.

The Freak Tim Lincecum should return to his
Cy Young ways in 2011
The San Francisco Giants are the defending World Champs for the first time since arriving from New York.  It was a team that got very hot at the right time and drew life from their pitching.  Tim Lincecum has been all anyone could ask for so far in his career.  He already has 2 Cy Young's and was the ace of a World Series winning rotation, even though he was having a down year.  He will continue to be one of the best pitchers in baseball and lead a very talented staff.  Matt Cain and Jonathon Sanchez are a formidable pair at 2 and 3, while youngster Madison Bumgarner looks to build on a great rookie season and postseason performance. Barry Zito is their 5th starter, and though his is vastly overpaid, he is able to lock down that spot and eat innings for the Giants.  Brian Wilson proved himself one of the top closers in the league last year and should be in 2011 as well, although he will start the season on the DL.  Wilson is not alone, as San Fran returns with a deep bullpen again this year.  Offensively, the Giants will look to do the same as last year; provide timely hitting to compliment their grade A pitching.  Rookie of the year catcher Buster Posey will be looked on to carry the lineup, so he cannot afford a sophomore slump.  Slugger Aubrey Huff will be there to help him out, as will Freddy Sanchez, Andres Torres, and Pablo Sandoval.  It was announced today that top prospect Brandon Belt will start the year at first base and will look to keep the NL rookie of the year in San Francisco.   The Giants didn't lose any key pieces from their championship squad and actually got better.  As long as the bullpen can stay healthy, the Giants have a great chance of defending their title.

The Colorado Rockies started of their 2010 very hot, with ace Ubaldo Jimenez and his sub-1.00 ERA looking like a Cy Young lock.  However, that's why they play the whole season, as the pitching struggled int he second half.  The Rockies had a quiet offseason and weren't able to get the middle of the rotation starter that they could probably use. They do have a very nice offense, in the right park to have a good offense in. The lineup is centered around shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, although outfield Carlos Gonzalez stormed in the NL MVP race last year with a .334 average and 34 home runs. These two will provide nice pop for a lineup that also includes the speedy Dexter Fowler, the ageless Todd Helton, and third baseman Ian Stewart. On the pitching side, Jimenez is joined by Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel, and Jhoulys Chacin.  This is not the best rotation in the NL, but can be effective when paired with their above average offense.  In order for the Rockies to be contenders in the West this year, the offense will have to come to play every day and the pitching must be consistent all the way through game 162.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the most talented teams in the league.  This talent just has not lived up to its potential in the past few years.  The Dodgers no longer have Manny Ramirez, who took the team on his back when he was acquired from the Red Sox in 2008.  LA also has had to deal with a messy off the field issue, as the owners of the team, the McCourts, fought over the team in a nasty divorce.  In order for the Dodgers to return to the top of the division, all their stars will have to play like they are able to.  This starts with centerfielder Matt Kemp, who can be a top 10 talent when he wants to be.  He should bounce back this season, especially with Don Mattingly stepping in as the new manager for the retired Joe Torre.  Kemp is joined by Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, and James Loney in the lineup.  Ethier hopes to play like he did in early 2010, putting up MVP numbers before a hand injury derailed his season.  The rotation is led by Clayton Kershaw, a young strikeout pitcher who hopes to grow on his previous 2 seasons.  Chad Billingsly, Hideki Kuroda, and Ted Lilly are all very capable pitchers, but will need to show consistency to help out the offense.    They will also need to eat lots of innings, as the bullpen is fairly week outside of closer Jonathon Broxton.  The Dodgers certainly have the talent to take the NL West this year, but they may fall into an out of control downward spiral by midseason.
Ace Mat Latos will be relied on to build on his
fantastic 2010 season

The San Diego Padres surprised pretty much everyone last year, including yours truly.  No one really predicted that the Padres would be battling the Giants all the way through September.  They keep with the "year of the pitcher" that took over the MLB last year.  San Diego rode stellar pitching from opening day, with young starters Mat Latos and Clayton Richard leading the way. The Friars did lose Jon Garland, Kevin Correia and Chris Young in the offseason, but did pick up effective starter in Aaron Harang.  Tim Stauffer and Will LeBlanc close out the Padres strong rotation.  The bullpen will once again be very deep, and closer Bell should have another great season.  Offensively, the Padres will focus in developing their young talent.  They traded their best offense player, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, to the Red Sox for some of their top prospects, like prize pitcher Chris Kelly.  In order to make up that hole in the lineup, the Padres will need young players like Chase Headley, Kyle Blanks, and Cameron Maybin to step their game up and fulfill their potential.  The Padres will also lean on Ryan Ludwick and Brad Hawpe to provide some offense for San Diego.  The Padres are a very hard team to predict.  Although I am putting them fourth, they have the potential to push the Giants to the finish once again.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have not been able to get back on track since the 2001 World Series.  They have suffered through a number of unfortunate injuries, notably to Cy Young starter Brandon Webb.  Webb is gone, as is Dan Haren.  It looked like their young talent was going to take them back to the top of the West, but they either dealt will injuries or couldn't perform at their promised talent level.  The D-backs top of the lineup is very nice and could probably compete with any other team in the league.  The 1-4 is SS Stephen Drew, 2B Kelly Johnon, and outfielders Chris B. Young and Justin Upton, the latter being an uber-prospect who has yet to hit his stride.  However, the offense drops off sharply, with names like Russel Branyan and Melvin Mora.  The rotation is also pretty weak, led by Joe Saunders and Ian Kennedy.  An name to keep your eye on is Daniel Hudson, who was acquired from the White Sox last year.  He was fantastic (1.69 ERA) for the D-backs at the end of last season and will most likely end up being their best pitcher in 2011.  Arizona's closer is J.J. Putz, who is looking to put his career back on track since suffering a myriad of injuries.  The Diamondback do have a nice core of young players, but the surrounding cast is very poor and will keep them in the NL West basement for most of the year.

As for the finish, I am keeping with my theme of "pitching is really really really important."  Going with that, I think the Giants will take command of the West by May and will not give it up for the rest of the season.  The Padres, Dodgers, and Rockies have the pieces to dethrone the G-men, but they will need to overcome the second best rotation in the NL.  A NLCS of the the Giants versus the Phillies is a very exciting prospect for many baseball fans.  My pick for the 2011 NL West: The San Francisco Giants.

No comments:

Post a Comment