Hey everyone! With Spring Training started, I'm gonna put up my division previews and predictions. I'm gonna do this at least once a week, starting tonight with the NL West and ending with the AL East. So, without further ado....
1. LA Dodgers: Officially getting Manny Ramirez back pushes the Dodgers over the edge. Though they lost Derek Lowe, they brought in the aforementioned Manny, along with Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf. Takashi Saito is also out, but young flamethrower Jonathan Broxton can easily fill his role as the closer. Chad Billingsley will anchor the rotation, along with youngster Clayton Kershaw. Though a pitching edge could be given to the Giants, the Dodgers will surely have the edge on offense with Manny, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin, and Andre Ethier.
Player to Watch: Clayton Kershaw. Despite giving up a few too many hits and walks (9.11 H/9 and 4.35 BB/9), the young lefty put up a very good 8.36 K/9. Kershaw was only twenty years old last year and those are pretty damn good numbers considering his age. The spotlight will be on him big time this year, as he'll have to be the team's #2 to Billingsley.
2. SF Giants: Coming in second place in the relatively weak NL West will be the Giants. The Giants are going to do this with pitching, not hitting. Their hitting is incredibly weak, but their pitching is surprisingly strong. They've got defending Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, the very solid Matt Cain, young Jonathan Sanchez, soon-to-be-300 game-winner Randy Johnson, and...Barry Zito. That's a great rotation and they would win this division if they had just a slightly better lineup.
Player to Watch: Jonathan Sanchez. Though he still didn't put up great numbers last year (5.01 ERA, 1.449 WHIP), Sanchez has 252 strikeouts in 250 innings of MLB ball and the ERA and WHIP tallies were improvements on his '07 numbers. With a high strikeout rate like that, I'd say this is the year Sanchez catches on and shows big time improvement.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks: The young up and comers will only mange to come up to third in 2009. After the overlooked Haren and the overrated Webb, I'm just not sure if their pitching can do it. Can Scherzer, Davis, and Garland complement them well enough? They've also got bullpen concerns after losing Juan Cruz, but Chad Qualls could pick up the slack. The lineup is powerful but they've got too many strikeouts without enough walks.
Player to Watch: Justin Upton. It's going to be fun to watch his continuing development at such a young age. He and I graduated high school in the same year ('05). Yikes.
4. Colorado Rockies: The team I thought would win the division in '08 will probably finish fourth this year. They lose their best player in Matt Holliday, Todd Helton is a year older, Garrett Atkins has been in a steady decline, and Jeff Francis is out for the year. However, giving Ryan Spilborghs a chance to have a full time job in center will help them, as it takes away PAs from the now gone Wily Taveras, and Brad Hawpe is usually reliable. On the pitching side, there isn't too much to get excited for. The Rockies will have to hope for improvement from Ubaldo Jimenez, who will now be the team ace. Getting Huston Street in the bullpen could help, along with more development from Manny Corpas.
Player to Watch: Dexter Fowler. A member of the US's bronze medal winning baseball team, Fowler is a bright spot for the Rockies' future as he could be a contender for NL Rookie of the Year.
5. San Diego Padres: Adrian Gonzalez is their lone bright spot offensively, now that Brian Giles has lost pretty much all of his power. Despite all the rumors of being traded, Jake Peavy should still produce at a high level and a healthy Chris Young will help the rotation, but it won't be nearly enough to make the Padres even decent. This last place thing could be a multi-year theme for the Padres.
Player to Watch: Adrian Gonzalez. If this guy played in an even halfway decent hitter's park, he'd be a household name. Sadly, he's stuck in the cavernous PETCO Park and could forever be underappreciated.
Well, that's my prediction for the NL West. We'll see come October, right?