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2013 National League West Preview

Alexa Girkout |
March 24, 2013 | 3:05 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Out with the old and in with the new.  

This seems to be the strategy of an NL West, with its wallet open and eyes on the division title. It also may be baseball’s biggest headline this year; the often overlooked and underrated west coast is threatening the AL East for the powerhouse name. Though the teams look different, the end result remains largely the same.

1. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS, 93-69 (2012 Record: 94-68)

Key Acquisitions: IF Tony Abreu, OF Andres Torres, RP Sandy Rosario

 Key Departures: RP Brian Wilson, IF Aubrey Huff, OF Melky Cabrera

NL MVP Buster Posey will lead the Giants to their second-consecutive division title (Dirk Hansen/Creative Commons).
NL MVP Buster Posey will lead the Giants to their second-consecutive division title (Dirk Hansen/Creative Commons).
It’s no fluke, folks. The San Francisco Giants have two World Series titles in three years, and although fans may still be trying to dissect how it happened, it cannot be denied that the team knows how to get the job done—and that’s exactly why they’ll prevail again this season.

“You can’t buy chemistry,” first baseman Brandon Belt said about the Dodgers’ activity this offseason. He’s got a point. Breaking down the last two two postseason rosters, there isn’t much to gawk at. There are plenty of good pitchers and clutch hitters, but few have ever garnered national attention before. They’re a bunch of normal guys who quite simply know how to play well. 

If that’s the secret to a winning formula, then the Giants have a promising season ahead. They’re losing, most notably, outfielder Melky Cabrera, embroiled in scandal after testing positive for testosterone and his website ruse, and the notoriously-bearded, flame-hurling closer Brian Wilson. However, considering what the Giants were able to achieve in Wilson’s absence and during Cabrera’s suspension, those losses aren’t hard to swallow at all. 

Perhaps most significant to the chemistry argument is the fact that the Giants are looking at a relatively unchanged team. Sergio Romo was explosive in the postseason as a closer, and he rejoins fellow knockout relievers in the bullpen. 

San Francisco also has MVP catcher Buster Posey, Pablo “Panda” Sandoval, the Reverend Hunter Pence, postseason star Marco Scutaro, Angel Pagan and young talent in Belt, Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco. Not to mention that stellar starting rotation: Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong along with comeback kids Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito (although, you may want to keep your eye on the latter two).

San Francisco has a history of winning, so expect them to do the same this season.

2. LOS ANGELES DODGERS, 90-72 (NL Wild Card) (2012 Season: 86-76) 

Key Additions: SP Zach Greinke, SP Josh Beckett, OF Carl Crawford, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SS Hanley Ramirez

Key Departures: OF Shane Victorino, OF Juan Rivera, OF Bobby Abreu, SP Joe Blanton

“A Whole New Blue” is right. That’s the new slogan that the Los Angeles Dodgers are promoting to underscore their slew of offseason transactions.

For the record, the Dodgers have acquired: Hanley Ramirez from Miami, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from Boston, picked up J.P. Howell for their bullpen, signed Brandon League as their likely closer and signed Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Their combined accolades: one Rookie of the Year, four Silver Slugger awards, one All-Star MVP, four Golden Gloves, one ALCS MVP, one World Series MVP and a Cy Young. Not too shabby, but it cost Los Angeles quite a few pretty pennies, including $147 million alone to Greinke and a quarter billion dollars in their deal with Boston.

The Dodgers are hoping for a big payoff after their big paying-off and they might just get it. With slugging outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier along with utility men like Skip Schumaker, there are plenty of options that balance defensive and offensive performance. Just remember that the Dodgers still have to juggle a bunch of last year’s guys (Juan Uribe, Luis Cruz and Mark Ellis, to name a few).

Starting pitcher Zack Greinke dons Dodger blue in Spring Training (Feelin' Kinda Blue/Creative Commons).
Starting pitcher Zack Greinke dons Dodger blue in Spring Training (Feelin' Kinda Blue/Creative Commons).
The Dodgers also have eight starters vying for five spots (though Greinke, Beckett and ace Clayton Kershaw are likely locked in). The final two positions are open for the rehabbing Chad Billingsly and Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano, Derek Lowe, Aaron Harang, or the $36 million Ryu. 

Ultimately, a ginormous payroll and household names don’t guarantee a crown. Schlepping in top players from around the league is a lot like any purchase from IKEA, you have all the pieces, but there’s a lot of assembly required. There will be a lot of pressure on a loaded team and perhaps some growing pains too, but talent does ultimately produce.

3. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS, 86-76 (2012 Season: 81-81)

Key Acquisitions: OF Cody Ross, IF Martin Prado, SP Brandon McCarthy

Key Departures: OF Justin Upton, IF Chris Johnson, OF Chris Young

Remember the 2011 Diamondbacks? They were the team that won the NL West. It’s not easy to recall considering how much they slipped just a year later. In 2013, expect to see Arizona’s attempt to relive their fleeting glory, but again, they’ll settle for the middle of the pack in a strong division.

Just like the other teams in the NL West, the Diamondbacks are flaunting a relatively dangerous  (and young) rotation. Starters Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley will return to the mound and signing Brandon McCarthy (returning after a nasty line drive to the head) adds a little punch.  Arizona also has multiple options to fill the fifth slot, including Randall Delgado, picked up in the Justin Upton trade.

Compared to what the Dodgers did this offseason, the Diamondbacks’ acquisitions aren’t as awesome. But they did a lot of work to revamp a struggling lineup. Still, is slightly-past-his-prime outfielder Cody Ross really worth $26 million over three years? (Note: he’s likely going to start the season on the DL). Arizona also landed third baseman Martin Prado, a pretty sufficient player across the board that can pick up the team offensively. 

As for Upton… this one stings a little, and it’s a gaping hole that’s not so easily filled. Prado will help, but outfielders Jason Kubel and Adam Eaton can make up for Upton’s absence. Will it work? Maybe, but this outfield will need to be consistent to keep the team afloat. 

Despite the favored Dodgers and Giants, you can count on an NL West team to play spoiler, even if it doesn’t end up making the playoffs. This snake-bitten team seems to have a lot to prove, and if there’s venom in their veins, they could end being a major player in the division race.

4. SAN DIEGO PADRES, 80-82 (2012 Season: 76-86)

Key Acquisitions: SS Cody Ransom, SP Freddy Garcia

Key Departures: None

The Padres are a divison sleeper. Thanks to very few changes made in the offseason, this looks like it will carry over into the 2013 season. That doesn’t mean, however, that they won’t wake up—just don’t count on them to do anything too astonishing.

The pitcher-friendly Petco Park is getting a little smaller this season. (Jay Buffington/Creative Commons).
The pitcher-friendly Petco Park is getting a little smaller this season. (Jay Buffington/Creative Commons).
The good news: Petco Park is about to get a little more intimate. The stadium is inching in its fences, likely in attempt to generate a little more offense in the famed pitcher-friendly ballpark. It’s a weird adjustment, especially since it’s always fun to watch players and announcers moan about their plummeting batting averages, the ensuing pitchers' duels and occasionally, the really long ball.

Unfortunately, the move isn’t going to help the starting rotation, which, as of now, is completely undecided. The one-time Cincinnati phenom Edinson Volquez returns with his inconsistent control, along with the rest of a pitching staff that specializes in mediocrity. At least they have closer Huston Street and the newly acquired Freddy Garcia could be good, if healthy.

On offense, the lineup features the same guys that are always underestimated but are accountable for the occasional pop. Young guns with quick legs like Everth Cabrera and Will Venable are back, but still lack consistency at the plate and third baseman Chase Headley usually defies expectations, notably tallying 31 homers last year. Outfielder Carlos Quentin, on the other hand, is on thinner ice. He usually has the numbers, but he has a lot of trouble staying healthy. 

In short, pitching hardly lives up to what the rest of the division brings to the table and offense has yet to define itself. Speed, youthful tenacity and being the eternal underdog can only do so much for a team.

Be warned though: this scrappy team has been known to exploit weaknesses in better teams and steal a couple of wins.

5. COLORADO ROCKIES, 72-90 (2012 Season: 64-98)

Key Acquisitions: C Yorvit Torrealba, 1B Ryan Garko

Key Departures: 1B Jason Giambi, SP Matt Reynolds, SP Miguesl Bautista

For a team that was down and out of the running last season, not much has changed to fully restore optimism to a team that lacks direction. That being said, Colorado will be sending a plethora of injured players from the DL to the field.

The key to winning this division is pitching and that’s what Colorado desperately needs to work out. The ERAs of the starting rotation ballooned to abysmal rates (maybe someone needs to double-check those humidifiers). 

Still, Jorge De La Rosa returns after elbow surgery, Juan Nicasio hopes to make a comeback after breaking his neck after a line drive struck him in the temple and Jhoulys Chacin will also appear on the mound. There’s hope, but counting on 60 percent of your starting rotation to fall seamlessly back into place isn’t the best strategy.

At least Rockies fans can look forward to chanting catchy nicknames “CarGo” and “Tulo” from the stands again this season. Colorado brings back fan-favorites Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, the latter hoping to bring some snap back into the lineup after missing a portion of the season due to a groin injury.

Also taking the field, Michael Cuddyer returns for his second season after an oblique injury and could join fellow veteran Todd Helton as a dugout presence. Certainly promising, eager talents Dexter Fowler and third baseman Chris Nelson could use a mentor.

This is a rebuilding year for the Rockies, but one that leans heavily on the promise that players will live up to or surpass their expectations as they fall back into the lineup. But being healthy might provide that spark. The Rockies certainly have a lot of valuable pieces, but the real gamble is whether or not they will amount to much as a whole.

Reach Staff Writer Alexa Girkout here. Follow her here.



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