MLB Picks 2009 National League Previews
LAST YEAR: 82-80
Does April matter? Last year the Diamondbacks became the first teams since division play began, not to win the division after having a five-game lead in April. The Diamondbacks return basically the same team, strong starting pitching led by Brandon Webb, but a few possible entries into the mix. Stephen Drew matured into a good player, and if they see a similar rise in Justin Upton, and/or Max Scherzer, then they can only get better, and perhaps reclaim the NL West. Chad Qualls will be the closer, and he converted seven straight down the stretch, for the now departed Brandon Lyons. The D-Backs are a pitching first team, and over the last two years have turned in 179 quality starts, tops in the NL. A healthy Eric Byrnes could mean the difference as well.
ON THE RISE: CESAR VALDEZ RHP – He wasn’t drafted, but signed out of the Dominican and is fast tracking his way to Arizona and could be heard from this year.
LAST YEAR: 74-88
After a torrid finish in ’07 that catapulted them right into the World Series, Colorado fell hard last year. Jeff Francis is key, as he suffered from shoulder problems last year and won just four times and threw just 143 innings. Aaron Cook became an All-Star last year and earned 16 wins. Ubaldo Jimenez is the wildcard. He had a good second half, has electric stuff, and if he continues to make strides, the top three in the rotation for the Rockies will be solid. The signing of Jason Marquis gives them an innings eater in the No. 4 spot, and someone with enough experience to find a way to win. Greg Smith, acquired from Oakland in the Matt Holiday deal, may be the fifth starter. A healthy Todd Helton would go a long way in replacing the loss of Holiday. The Rockies need a few breaks and have to keep the top of the rotation healthy, as the alternatives and margin for error is slim.
ON THE RISE: DEXTER FOWLER CF – He will likely find his way to Coors Field before the
season gets long.
LAST YEAR: 84-78
The Dodgers seemed to solidify their chances last year when Manny Ramierez came over from the Red Sox. They will have him the full season this year, and hopefully a healthy Rafael Furcal to supply a catalyst at the top of the order. Brad Penny who appears to be on the decline is gone, as is Derek Lowe, who will be missed the most. Chad Billingsley is an emerging star at the top of the rotation. There are a lot of question marks after that, and what they get out of the remainder of the rotation will determine if the Dodgers will be playing in October again this season.
ON THE RISE: CLAYTON KERSHAW LHP – The 2006 first-round pick was already in the majors last year, but he will be the most important man on the team as they need him to have a big year.
LAST YEAR: 63-99
While the Padres avoided 100 losses last year, they may not this year. Owner John Moore is going through a divorce, and the salary dump continues, and the Padres will be down to about $40 million. Jake Peavy remains, but don’t expect him to stay. A few good starts could have the big money teams drooling. Even with $63 million and four years left on his contract, he won’t make a difference in San Diego, but could elsewhere. Chris Young will hope for better luck, after missing two months after being struck by a line drive off the bat of Albert Pujols. The rest of the rotation could be ever-changing, and they will hope that someone steps up. What might sum it all up, is 11 Padres hit their first big-league homer last year, so it will likely be a long summer in San Diego.
ON THE RISE: KYLE BLANKS 1B: He was the organization Minor League Player of the Year after a .325 20 HR 107 RBI season in AA. May get a look as the Padres are going nowhere fast.
LAST YEAR: 72-90
The Giants’ gloom continues as they have now had four losing seasons in a row, and the
lineup is lacking anyone that can produce clean-up hitter numbers. The good news is at the top of the staff where Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain reside. They are both potential 20-game winners, but without much punch in the lineup, both will be hard pressed to top 15. Then there is Barry Zito, who promised to come to spring training in the best shape of his life, and then they went out and spent $8 million for Randy Johnson, who was washed-up six years ago. The lineup will have Pablo Sandoval batting third, who has all of 41 major league games under his belt. So the Giants, unless they get a miracle aren’t scoring many runs this season.
ON THE RISE: BUSTER POSEY C – The Giants were glad to get him with the fifth pick last year, and his time in the minors will be short.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
2. LOS ANGELES
4. SAN FRANCISCO
5. SAN DIEGO