PhillyPhanatics.com’s Major League Baseball previews continue with the National League West
In 2010, the San Diego Padres led the NL West for the majority of the season – in fact, they were in first place all but four days from April 20-September 15. When it counted most, the San Francisco Giants slipped past the Padres to win the NL West and rode that opportunity all the way to a World Series championship. Will the same two teams fight it out again?
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Link to MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL OPENING DAY PREVIEW SHOW, recorded March 31, 2011 at 12:30pm.
San Francisco Giants
2010 record: 92-70, 1st place
Key departures: Juan Uribe
Key additions: Miguel Tejada
CL Brian Wilson
Season outlook: The 2011 Giants are essentially the same team that won the 2010 World Seres. The only major change is Miguel Tejada‘s arrival via free agency to replace Juan Uribe at shortstop, who left for the Dodgers via free agency. This will decrease the power in the lineup, but improve the contact rate. While Tejada’s range has declined, he still makes the routine play very steadily – unlike his predecessor, who is more comfortable at second base – which is where he’ll play in L.A.. Another possible newcomer is top first base prospect Brandon Belt. If Belt does get the call, Aubrey Huff would shift to left field and Pat Burrell‘s playing time would drop. The Giants logged 15 extra postseason games en route to their title – it’s always a question how players react to that, as well as the increased demands on their time in the off-season because they are champs. Many players have been known to say that they felt like they never got a break when the following season starts. If the Giants don’t wear down, they are still the most talented team in the division.
Projected finish: 1st place
San Diego Padres
2010 record: 90-72, 2nd place
CL Heath Bell
Season outlook: As mentioned, the Padres were a surprise contender in 2010 and spent a large part of their season in first place, only to let it slip away over the last 2 weeks of the season. It must have been heartbreaking not only to be sitting at home, but also to watch the team that beat you out end up going all the way. Financial concerns led to a mass talent exodus in the off-season. While the Padres did get significant talent in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez – who would have entered the last year of a well below market contract – those players are 2-3 years away from the major leagues. The strength of the San Diego team – the bullpen – is pretty much intact, so run prevention will still be a strong suit.
Projected finish: 4th place
2010 record: 83-79, 3rd place
Season outlook: The Rockies were in contention for the NL West crown, and then sealed their fate by going 1-9 over their last 10 games as they limped through September, a month where they usually catch fire. Ubaldo Jimenez looked human in the second half, which allowed Roy Halladay to claim the NL Cy Young award. Carlos Gonzalez went from a breakout player in 2009 to a legitimate MVP candidate in 2010. Along with Troy Tulowitzki, they are as potent a 3-4 combo as any in the National League. Beyond those two positions, however, the Rockies will likely platoon and shuttle as many as 6 positions in and out of the lineup. That approach worked for the Giants in 2010, so it’s hard to argue with success when you have a deep bench and some positions with no clear-cut starter. Colorado is an above-average team all around – definitely a contender, but also capable of repeating a barely over .500 finish.
Projected finish: 2nd place
Los Angeles Dodgers
2010 record: 80-82, 4th place
Season outlook: The Dodgers are pretty much the same team as they were in 2010, with new faces at second base and catcher. Juan Uribe provides some power at second for the first time since Jeff Kent retired. Considering that James Loney is not a power hitter at first base, this was an important move. Despite the minor tinkering, the lineup will not click unless Matt Kemp bounces back from an inexplicably putrid 2010. Another big issue is whether Jonathan Broxton can regain his form after losing his closer’s job late in 2010. Broxton’s struggles are being downplayed, but he weighs well over 300 pounds and seems to wear down late in the season and in the postseason. He also struggles against lefties (not unlike Brad Lidge). Expect Hong-Chih Kuo to get some situational saves and potentially claim the job. Kenley Jansen is almost ready to take over as closer if the team scraps the season in August or September. Also keep an eye on former Twin Matt Guerrier, who has the stuff to close, but s better suited to be a set-up man (not unlike Ryan Madson) Among the starters, solid seasons are expected of Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda, while Clayton Kershaw is expected to take further strides as the staff ace at age 23.
Projected finish: 3rd place
2010 record: 65-97, 5th place
CL J.J. Putz
Season outlook: The best thing about 2010 for the Arizona Diamondbacks is that it’s over. When you fire your GM mid-season, something is woefully wrong with the organization. Josh Byrnes did make a bunch of questionable moves, such as Eric Byrnes‘ (no relation, though there might as well have been) huge contract that was an all-time bust, but the last straw was drafting Barret Loux with the 6th pick overall and finding out he was damaged goods, new GM Jerry DiPoto refuseed to sign him, and the Diamondbacks will get the #7 pick in this June’s draft as compensation. The soap opera was nearly the most interesting thing going on with the Diamondbacks in 2010. I said “nearly” because there were two players in particular to emerge who are expected to play significant roles in 2011 and are worth watching. One is starting pitcher Daniel Hudson, acquired from the White Sox in the Edwin Jackson deal. Hudson had a 6.32 ERA in 3 spot starts for the White Sox in 2010, then was immediately inserted into the D-Backs’ rotation and unfurled a 7-1 record with a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts. The other player to watch is centerfielder Chris Young, who bounced back from a 15-42-.212 11 SB’s (in 433 AB’s) 2009 season – with a minor league demotion – to 27-91-.257 with 28 SB’s in 2010. Young is expected to bat cleanup for Arizona in 2011.
Projected finish: 5th place