MLB Preview Bonanza: NL West

The Major League Baseball season may have already started, but it’s not too late for some long-term predictions from John S and Tim. Tim will cover the old-fashioned, baseball-the-way-it-was-meant-to-be-played National League while John handles the by-this-point-too-far-gone American League. To build suspense, we’re starting in the West and gradually moving to the Central and East divisions by Saturday.

In 2005, the San Diego Padres won the National League West with an 82-80 record–the worst to ever claim a division crown. The West was the laughingstock of the NL, which in turn was looked down upon by the Junior Circuit. In the four seasons since, however, the NL West has had a bit of a renaissance, winning the NL’s Wild Card in three of those seasons and placing four teams in the NLCS over that time. The West had three teams win at least 88 games last year–the first NL division to do that since, well, the West in 2007. It is Major League Baseball’s most fluctuating division–the only one to place all of its teams in the playoffs since 2002–even as the Dodgers have won the division each of the last two seasons. That will change in 2010.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Last Season: 92-70, NL Wild Card

This Season: 90-72, NLCS

The Rockies were 10 games under .500 in late May when they replaced Clint Hurdle with Jim Tracy as manager. Now usually, midseason managerial changes don’t make a huge difference (2003 Marlins the exception), but Tracy made the wise decision to establish roles for all his players. He didn’t jockey guys around like Hurdle did at times, instead making Clint Barmes his everyday second baseman and sticking with a regular lineup. It didn’t hurt that his pitching staff improved dramatically (almost suspiciously dramatically) and enters 2010 as the best five-man rotation in the league with Jeff Francis back in the fold (other teams are better at the top, or through four guys, but nobody is better one-through-five than Colorado). The Rockies’ lineup is firmly in the second tier of the NL (Philly solely occupies the first) along with a Dodgers’ team they almost chased down last year and will pass this time around. They are one of the only teams I can see beating the Phillies come October; they may have last year if Jorge de la Rosa didn’t get hurt.

SOMEONE’S HIGH ON COLORADO, EH? I got the chance to cover the Rockies for a four-game series last year. They had a great clubhouse, and better yet, Jim Tracy learned my name almost instantly.

INSTANTLY? Well, within two days.

HOW MUCH DID THAT CHANGE YOUR OPINION OF JIM TRACY? Being that I had little to no opinion of him beforehand, it pretty much shaped it. That and how he compliments most questions reporters ask him in the process of answering them.

EXAMPLE? Let’s say I ask Tracy something like, “How has Jorge de la Rosa turned his season around after that 0-6 start?” He would respond (and I’m paraphrasing), “Well, Tim, what you’re saying to me is that Jorge has really turned himself around from the beginning of the season, and that’s really a great point and illustrative I think of our entire team’s turnaround. He’s started to throw strikes and pitch ahead of hitters and understand what his strengths and weaknesses are, etc.”

THAT’S ALL IT TAKES TO WIN YOU OVER? I like it when people remember my name.

DO YOU REALLY THINK DE LA ROSA’S INJURY WAS THE KEY TO THAT SERIES LAST YEAR? Nah, the guy who went 16-3 the last four months couldn’t have helped much.

GO AHEAD AND CITE WINS AND LOSSES; HIS PERIPHERALS WERE IFFY AT BEST: Yeah, his ERA was a touch under 4.00 during that 16-3 run, but hey, he’s only the No. 4 starter.

CAN FRANCIS STEP IN AND BE A TOP OF THE ROTATION GUY? That will determine just how far this team can go. Ubaldo Jimenez is tremendous and, I think, one of those guys who will be in the Cy Young discussion at the end of the season. But if Francis can come in and be a 15-win, sub-4.00 ERA guy, they can get back to the World Series.

BUT IS THAT LIKELY? At this point, it’s less likely than Cole Hamels getting to that form, which is why I have the Phillies in the World Series.

WHAT ABOUT JASON GIAMBI AS A FULL-TIME PINCH-HITTER? I thought it was kind of weird they kept him on, given that Seth Smith is a better, cheaper lefty off the bench.

SPEAKING OF FORMER ATHLETICS…: My biggest concern with the Rox is Huston Street out of the bullpen. I worry he can’t repeat what he did last season as a shutdown closer, and Colorado doesn’t have anyone to step in for that role.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN ROCKIES HISTORY IS: Larry Walker! If for nothing else besides that at-bat against Randy Johnson in that All-Star Game, of which I cannot find video evidence.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Last Season: 95-67, NL West Champs

This Season: 86-76

YOU ARE SUCH A DODGER HATER: They’re a regular season team. Without a top-line starter, they can’t get past the Phillies or Rockies in the playoffs.

THEN WHY DON’T YOU HAVE THEM EVEN MAKING THE PLAYOFFS? It’s a better year for the National League. Colorado was 12 games better than the Dodgers from May 29 on—once Tracy took over. Arizona should be better than it was last season. And there are legitimate Wild Card contenders in the NL East and Central this time around.

BUT LA DIDN’T DO SO HOT AGAINST THE PADS AND D’BACKS LAST YEAR: ONLY 21-15 AGAINST THOSE TWO BOTTOMFEEDERS: You’re really going all out for these guys.

CHAVEZ RAVINE IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO CATCH A GAME: But if the Dodgers struggled against those teams last year, won’t they struggle even more this year when Arizona is better? (San Diego isn’t.)

LOOKING FORWARD TO HOW MUCH YOU’RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT PYTHAGOREANS LATER ON IN THIS DIVISION, HOW ABOUT LA’S 99-WIN PYTHAGOREAN LAST SEASON? EXPLAIN THAT ONE: Cheater.

THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO? Finishing below their Pythagorean last year surprised me, because I thought they won a lot of close games behind Jonathan Broxton and the ridiculous late-game heroics of Andre Ethier. What can I tell you? The Cubs’ 2008 Pythagorean was basically the same, they made few changes, and they plummeted last year.

WAY TO NOT BASE THIS ON A SMALL SAMPLE SIZE: Maybe it’s just that I don’t trust a team that starts Vicente Padilla on Opening Day.

ISN’T KERSHAW THE REAL NO. 1, THOUGH, AND TORRE JUST DOESN’T WANT TO HAND HIM THAT MUCH RESPONSIBILITY RIGHT AWAY? But why shouldn’t he? If Kershaw is the real No. 1, that wouldn’t be an issue. Can Joe hand him the ball in Game 1 against Roy Halladay if he can’t give it to him against Zach Duke?

YOU’RE TALKING PLAYOFFS AGAIN…: My bad.

OH, AND DID I MENTION MANNY DOESN’T MISS 50 GAMES THIS TIME AROUND? Was that only last year? Seems like longer ago.

SO NO LEGIT REASONS TO NOT HAVE LA IN THE PLAYOFFS? I’m a hater.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN DODGERS HISTORY IS: It takes a pretty crazy moment to overcome beating the Mets in my eyes: Kirk Gibson did just that.

WHY DID ECK WALK DAVIS? Well, I don’t think he meant to, but that’s as underrated an at-bat as Millar’s against Rivera in 2004.

AND DOES IT GET ANY BETTER THAN SCULLY’S CALL? It might be the best in the history of sports. From “Look who’s coming up” through “You talk about a roll of the dice” to “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!” And yet, Jack Buck’s call gets played more.

TO BE FAIR, BUCK’S WAS PRETTY GOOD, TOO: Yeah, Jack knew how to call the big moments. Wish we could say the same about his son.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Last Season: 88-74

This Season: 83-79

THE GIANTS WON 88 GAMES LAST YEAR? Crazy, right? I was like, “When did that happen?”

I WOULD SAY TIM LINCECUM HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THAT, NO? Obvs. He’s definitely the best player named Tim since…well, I don’t know.

HUDSON? Definitely better than Hudson. He’s done what we thought Hudson might do.

BEST TIM EVER? Seems a bit early to anoint him to that lofty pedestal. I don’t know who it is, though.

WHO IS THE BEST TIM EVER? Like of all-time? All history?

SURE! Tiny Tim?

HE’S FICTIONAL: No, I meant the quirky musician. My favorite fictional Tim is definitely Tim the Enchanter.

SERIOUSLY? Well, there is Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Internet. He’s pretty cool, I guess.

WITH LINCECUM AND MATT CAIN AND BARRY ZITO AND ANOTHER GUY WHO THREW A NO-HITTER (OL’ WHAT’S HIS NAME? JONATHAN SANCHEZ?), WHY DO YOU THINK THE GIANTS ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO LOSE MORE GAMES THIS SEASON? Have you seen this team’s offense? Aubrey Huff is batting cleanup ahead of Mark DeRosa.

BUT THOSE ARE GUYS THEY ADDED! BENGIE MOLINA HIT FOURTH LAST SEASON! Geez, cut me some slack. Pablo Sandoval isn’t hitting .330 with 25 long balls this year.

SO YOU’RE BASICALLY GOING TO SAY, “HERE’S A TEAM THAT WON 88 GAMES, DID NOTHING TO MAKE ITSELF WORSE, BUT WILL BE DEMONSTRABLY”—AND FIVE GAMES IS DEMONSTRABLY—“WORSE IN 2010”? A few things: 1. Five games is not demonstrably worse because San Fran’s Pythagorean was only 86-76 last year. Things go a little differently, and the Giants win 83 games in 2009. 2. Sure, on paper the Giants did nothing to make themselves worse. But even with Sandoval as their best everyday player, their core is really old. They’ll be relying heavily on DeRosa (35), Molina (35, and a catcher), Huff (33), Edgar Renteria (33), Aaron Rowand (32), and Freddy Sanchez (32). That’s 75 percent of their everyday eight.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN GIANTS HISTORY IS: Barry Bonds! Kidding. Kidding. Everyone goes with Willie Mays; I go with Christy Mathewson. We’ll never see a prominent athlete named Christy again.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Last Season: 70-92

This Season: 74-88

I SEE WE’VE REACHED THE YAWN SECTION OF THE DIVISION: You know, in May 2007, the Diamondbacks played an intense three-game series with the Mets, after which Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog, my primary source of Mets information at the time, wrote about how Arizona might be the second-best team in the NL behind New York and a possible foe in the NLCS. I laughed it off at the time; clearly the D’Backs were a year or two away from serious NL contention.

Later that season, you probably remember that the Mets collapsed and missed the playoffs; you probably forget that the Arizona Diamondbacks finished with the best record in the National League (a measly 90-72, but still), swept the Cubs, and had home-field advantage in the NLCS. Although the Diamondbacks were swept by a surging Rockies team, you couldn’t help but think that they would be a powerhouse in the NL for years to come, with a nucleus that included Orlando Hudson, Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin, Chris Young, Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, and Brandon Webb. They slipped to 82 wins in 2008 and 70 wins last year. And with Webb out at the start of this season, it’s hard to see them returning to October baseball again.

I don’t even want to talk about what’s happened to the Mets since then.

IS THERE ANY DISCERNIBLE REASON FOR THIS DECLINE? The main reason is that the 2007 Diamondbacks weren’t very good. In fact, you could make a very strong case they were the worst team in Major League history to finish with the best record in either league. They won 90 games while being outscored by 20 runs; their Pythagorean was 79-83. The 2008 D’Backs, who got off to a very hot start if you remember, were much closer to their real talent level.

AND 2009? Didn’t have Webb and Chris Young has regressed dramatically.

WHY NO HOPE FOR THIS YEAR? If I had to pick a team out of the blue to make the playoffs in the NL, it’d be Arizona. Upton is fantastic, Reynolds is Adam Dunn from the right side, Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra are very good players nobody knows about, and Dan Haren is terrific. But I don’t know how much they can count on Webb, on everyday production from guys like Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, and Young, on Chad Qualls as their closer, and on Edwin Jackson having the same kind of year he did in Detroit.

YOU’RE WRONG; THIS TEAM WINS THIS DIVISION: Way to go out on a limb!

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN DIAMONDBACKS HISTORY IS: Pierre piqued my interest with his questions regarding Craig Counsell’s thoughts upon being hit by that Mariano Rivera pitch in 2001. Plus, dude had a crazy stance!

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Last Season: 75-87

This Season: 64-98

TIME TO GET EXCITED! GONNA BE SOME FUN TIMES AT PETCO THIS SUMMER! Are you being sarcastic? Because I have some huge Padres news for you.

ARE YOU BEING SARCASTIC? IS THERE SUCH A THING AS “HUGE PADRES NEWS”? Like you didn’t already hear? San Diego is busting out throwback uniforms for every Thursday afternoon home game!

DID YOU SAY EVERY THURSDAY AFTERNOON HOME GAME? I know! Literally every Thursday afternoon home game!

AND THE PADRES PLAY A TOTAL OF SIX THURSDAY AFTERNOON HOME GAMES THIS SEASON! It’s a veritable bonanza of Thursday afternoon home games at Petco! And I didn’t even tell you the best part!

THERE’S A BETTER PART??? Padres fans get to vote on which throwback jersey the team will wear for each game! This is madness!!!

YOU GONNA DISCUSS ANYTHING ONFIELD WITH THE PADRES? And Dick Enberg is doing play-by-play!

OH, MY! Nice.

BUT SERIOUSLY, ABOUT THE GUYS ACTUALLY WEARING THE THROWBACKS AND MAKING THE PLAYS ENBERG WILL BE CALLING…: Kyle Blanks lost 15 pounds this off-season and is batting cleanup. Jon Garland was the Opening Day starter. Not much else to say.

TIM’S FAVORITE PLAYER IN PADRES HISTORY IS: My favorite non-Met of all-time: Tony Gwynn. Such a sweet swing, such a nice guy. The best No. 19 in any sport, with no apologies to Johnny U. and Stevie Y.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] Aught Lang Syne « MLB Preview Bonanza: NL West […]

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