Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 Predictions: NL West

Up tomorrow: postseason, awards, and opening day!

1. San Francisco Giants
Last year’s World Series champions are still very good, and will make a serious run at repeating.  Led by Buster Posey, the team’s offense is a bit lacking, but still good enough to compete.  Pablo Sandoval had a bad year in 2010, but should rebound this season.  Aubrey Huff was a nice surprise last year, and although he won’t replicate his 138 OPS+ he should still put up very good numbers.  I’m a bit wary of Andres Torres in the leadoff spot, but I guess they have no real choice.  This team is built to slug.  The pitching, though, is very clearly this team’s proudest and strongest spot.  The ZiPS projections have all five members of the rotation putting in better-than-average seasons, something about which the Giants have to be positively giddy.  Tim Lincecum is one of the best pitchers in the league, Matt Cain would be an ace on almost any other team, Jonathan Sanchez is wild but has great stuff, Madison Bumgarner is only 21 and very good (though beware his arm wearing down), and Barry Zito has shown that he’s perfectly fine for the back of the rotation.
Bottom line: A return trip to the October Classic is not out of the question for this team.

2. Colorado Rockies
If there’s one thing that could get in between San Francisco and another title it’s this team.  The Rockies have a great offense, built around the newly-extended Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.  The multi-year, multi-million dollar deals that these two players received this past offseason won’t look foolish if these two can avoid the DL and hit like they did last year.  Even if they tail off a bit, as can be expected, the spare parts of this team are plenty decent.  Seth Smith regressed last year after a very good 2009, but even if he puts up numbers in between those two seasons—.270/.350/.480, say—he’ll be a good complement to Tulo and CarGo.  Nobody else in the lineup stands out, but they’re all decent enough.  The pitching has a lot of potential as well, as Ubaldo Jimenez looks to return to his pre-All-Star Game form.  Everything else kind of rests on that.  Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are very good, but this team would still be a lot better if Aaron Cook were not injured.  If Jimenez, de la Rosa, and Chacin are lights out through early May, when Cook figures to return, the Rockies could make a quite serious October push.
Bottom line: It will be a very close division race, and an even closer Wild Card race.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are good, but clearly not as good as the two teams ahead of them in this division.  Still, they could surprise.  Andre Ethier has established himself as one of the premier outfielders in the game, though he needs his slugging partner Matt Kemp to have a good year.  Without those two at the top of their game, this offense won’t be able to compete with the Giants and the Rockies.  The pitching, meanwhile, is plenty decent.  Clayton Kershaw has very quietly put up two consecutive excellent seasons in a row.  Chad Billingsley is also very good, and these two make a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.  The rest of it is pretty good as well, with the ever-reliable Ted Lilly very capably playing the part of #3 starter.
Bottom line: This Dodgers are not quite as good as the Giants or the Rockies, but could make a run for the playoffs if those teams slump and peripheral players like James Loney and Hiroki Kuroda have good years.

4. San Diego Padres
It’s kind of difficult to understand just how important Adrian Gonzalez was to the Padres, but it won’t be in a few months when you realize just how few runs they are scoring.  Ryan Ludwick is good, but he can’t carry this team.  It’ll be up to players like Brad Hawpe and Chase Headley (among others) to all cobble together above average seasons.  If not, this team just won’t score enough runs to be competitive.  The pitching will be fine, but it’s shaky to rely on Mat Latos and Clayton Richard to carry the rotation.  If both of them, plus Tim Stauffer, turn in solid seasons, this team might be fine.  But I don’t expect that to happen, and neither should you.
Bottom line: Without a top slugger or ace, this team can consider itself in rebuilding mode.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks
This team actually might be decent.  I was very down on them a few weeks ago, but made a re-appraisal and realized that they can actually hit and pitch.  They almost certainly won’t contend this year, but they could pull off 70-75 wins.  Justin Upton is still very young and should rebound from his disappointing 2010 (though it was still good enough).  Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew form a pretty good middle infield combination.  If Chris Young can play to his potential, the Diamondbacks should be pretty set in the hitting department this year.  The pitching, however, is a bit lacking, though Daniel Hudson flashed his potential with a 7-1 record and a 1.85 ERA over the course of eleven starts at the end of last season.  I don’t think he’ll be remotely that good this year, but should be able to get 13 wins with an ERA south of 3.70.  Ian Kennedy also shows promise, and could match Hudson’s predicted numbers.  Besides them the situation is pretty dire, but there’s a glimmer of hope—if not this year, then for 2012 or 2013.
Bottom line: The Diamondbacks, in typical fashion, have a number of promising young players who probably won’t play to their potential.  Even if they do, the Diamondbacks can’t contend in the NL West.

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