LOS ANGELES DODGERS
The whole fifth starter fiasco may still be a bit unnerving for Dodger fans, but for now, Ramon Ortiz has claimed the role. He’s played great in spring training striking out 19 batters in 14 innings while having a microscopic 1.29 ERA. The question is will he be able to maintain this during the regular season? Ortiz hasn’t thrown in the big leagues since 2007 because of his immense struggles, but if he can just eat up innings and keep the bullpen rested, that may be all that’s asked of him. The Dodgers return the best pitching staff statistically from 2009. They were first in team ERA (3.41) and opponent’s BA. (.233)
With the departure of Orlando Hudson, another spot to be claimed is the second base job. The Dodgers signed Jamey Carroll in the offseason, resigned Ronnie Belliard, but it’s the youthful Blake DeWitt who Joe Torre most wants to see in his Opening Day lineup. DeWitt has excelled with the bat going .371 in spring training, but it’s his defense that looks a bit rusty. He hasn’t played second base in a while and it seems it’s taking him a little bit of time to re-teach himself the position he’s only played sparingly the past few years. Otherwise, the lineup looks great. Andre Eithier, Matt Kemp and James Loney combined to hit 297 RBI last season, and with a refocused Manny Ramirez, there’s no telling how many RBI’s this team will belt in 2010.
Prediction: 1st NL West – This is virtually the same exact team that made it to the NLCS last season. Even though they haven’t added anything, they still have one of the best two lineups in the NL and more than adequate pitching. The McCourt’s divorce will have no effect on how the players play. Do you think Manny cares about McCourt’s divorce?
The Rockies will be forced to cope without their closer Huston Street for the beginning of the season, but if any team can overcome adversity, it’s the Rockies. The Rockies were nine games under .500 after May last year, plus Manager Clint Hurdle was fired, but they finished an amazing 72-41 to claim the wildcard spot.
Colorado will welcome back Jeff Francis, who was really stepping up into their ace before his shoulder injury. Francis will be joined by the reliable veteran workhorse Aaron Cook and his nasty sinker, along with Ubaldo Jimenez, who has become a certifiable ace. He ranked sixth in the NL with 198 strikeouts and 218 IP, and tied for fourth in quality starts with 24.
The offense is always stereotypically a long ball offense due in part to their high altitude, but the Rockies underrated speed and base running also allows them to put up huge offensive numbers. Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Clint Barmes and even Troy Tulowitzki are all capable base stealers who helped contribute to their 804 runs in 2009, which was 2nd in the NL.
Prediction: 2nd NL West – Rocktober should be sweeping the nation for the third time in four seasons. The team shows youthful exuberance and can manufacture runs as well as anyone in the league with the perfect blend of power and speed. Another added bonus for the next few years is Todd Helton’s decision to restructure his contract. He will defer $13.1 million until 2014 so that the Rockies can try to resign their younger talent to multi-year deals.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum leads the Giants with a much larger paycheck this season. His 261 strikeouts led the NL last season and helped contribute to an MLB best 1,302 team strikeouts. Barry Zito will look to build upon his solid second half in 2009. Even though he had a 2.83 ERA in the second half, he may never be able to live down that ridiculous $126 million contract considering how poorly he’s played for the Giants (4.56 ERA, 31-43).
The offense was clearly the weak part of the team last season, and the Giants tried to upgrade it a bit in the offseason. They added Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa to aid Kung Fu Panda. Even with these additions, catching up to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies may prove to be too difficult a task.
Prediction: 3rd NL West – I’ve seen many people predicting the Giants to make the playoffs and Bruce Bochy as manager of the year, but I don’t see them finishing any better than the 88 wins they posted last season. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are great, but the rest of the staff is inconsistent.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Here’s the exciting news: the Friars are the youngest team in baseball averaging only 26 years of age. This could be the team of the future, and last season they showed some signs of life. The Friars went 12 games over .500 (37-25) from July 27 until the end of the season. During the streak, Padre pitching stepped up including 22-year-old Mat Latos, Kevin Correia (who had a 1.25 ERA and 3-0 record in September) and Clayton Richard who had his best month in September too, going 2-1 with a 3.12 ERA. Joining the staff will be veteran Jon Garland along with Chris Young who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. This is a team that legitimately has a chance to surprise people although it may be hard in an absolutely loaded NL West that has three teams coming off 88 win seasons or better.
Here’s the troubling news: Will Venable, Kyle Blanks, Nick Hundley and Everth Cabrera have all played fewer than 140 career games. The team is very inexperienced, and all signs point to Adrian Gonzalez becoming trade bait in an attempt to get even younger. Padre hitters will be excited for a new season because the 09 campaign was absolutely dreadful. The influx of talented young pitchers can only do so much especially if the team hits .242 again, which was the worst in the majors. These terrible batting woes could actually create major confidence troubles for pitchers who would be forced to pitch near flawless gems every time they take the hill.
Prediction: 4th NL West – The Padres will be getting experience on the fly. If they trade Gonzalez, and potentially Heath Bell, the Friars could develop their identity into something like the O’s in the AL – a quick upcoming team on the rise. The fact that Dick Enberg will be calling the games is amazing! Oh my!
Ace Brandon Webb feeling “stagnant” is not exactly the news Diamondback fans wanted to hear entering the 2010 season. Webb will start the season on the DL and the Dbacks will have to try to bring him back slowly. Webb is naturally a workhorse who logs 200 innings at ease when healthy, but he hasn’t been healthy since 2008. The Dbacks will have to monitor his rehab closely and keep him on a pitch count when he returns so they can protect his arm for the future.
Dan Haren will have to carry the load for the second consecutive season. He did an admirable job last year with a 1.00 WHIP (best in MLB), 229.1 IP (7th in MLB), 223 strikeouts (6th in MLB) and a 3.14 ERA (16th in MLB). At least this year he has an iota of help, while he eagerly awaits the return of Webb. Edwin Jackson, who effortlessly reaches 95 mph on the gun, was acquired from the Tigers. Jackson also eclipsed 200 innings last season with a solid 3.62 ERA. Another pitcher who is slated to start for the Dbacks is…shh don’t tell Red Sox fans… Billy Buckner. (no relation to Bill Buckner)
Justin Upton will be making $51.25 million over the next six years. The 22-year-old, who draws similarities to a young Vladimir Guerrero, has already become the face of a franchise. That will happen when you hit .300 with 26 homers and 86 RBI. The addition of Adam LaRoche should protect Upton and especially help Conor Jackson, not just in the lineup but also in the field. Jackson will be allowed to relocate from first base to his more natural left field position.
Prediction: 5th NL West – The NL West will be as tough as any division and the Dbacks just don’t have enough.
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