Predicted Order of Finish
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
5. San Diego Padres
Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68 in 2011) – In the wild west of 2011, Arizona came out of nowhere under manager Kirk Gibson and won the division, a remarkable turnaround for a franchise that as recently as 2004 was 51-111. The offense was an aggressive young unit, like their manager, that was No. 9 in the league in runs scored and No. 8 in slugging. Three players stole 20+ bases and the team looks similar to last year, which is a good thing.
The outfield is the strength of the offense with 28-year-old CF Chris Young (22 steals, 20 HRs), who needs to improve on a .228 batting average and a .244 OBP. Newcomer LF Jason Kubel hit 21 doubles and 12 homers with the Twins, while 24-year-old RF Justin Upton belted 31 homers, with 39 doubles, 21 steals and a .289 average.
SS Stephen Drew (.252, 21 doubles) continues to improve, 2B Aaron Hill hit .315 in only 124 at bats, and 3B Ryan Roberts can do it all with 19 homers and 18 steals. Gibson loves to run at opponents to disrupt pitchers and put more guys in scoring position. 1B Paul Goldschmidt (.250, 8 HRs) will play first after getting just 156 at bats and 28-year-old Catcher Miguel Montero busted out with 18 homers, 86 RBI and a .282 average.
While the offense is good, the pitching was good enough, No. 9 in the NL in team ERA (3.80) with a deep pen. 27-year-old Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88) is off a career season with 222 innings and 198 strikeouts, while 25-year-old Daniel Hudson (16-8) pitched the same number of innings and had a 3.38 ERA for a dynamite, young, one-two punch.
Arizona bolstered the starting staff by getting 24-year-old Trevor Cahill from the A’s, where he went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA in 207 innings. Cahill is a sinkerballer who generates a high rate of ground balls, which should help in his new park. Junkball lefty Joe Saunders (12-13, 3.69, 212 innings) knows how to pitch, while Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38 ERA) was solid.
The bullpen has David Hernandez (5-3, 3.38 ERA), who is strong, Joe Paterson (2.91) is a lefty specialist and they get Craig Breslow from the Oakland A’s for depth. Then there’s ace closer J.J. Putz (2.17), who was dominating with 45 saves, fanning 61 in 58 innings. Many young teams catch lightening in a bottle and can come back to earth the next season after a surprising division title, but Gibson is such a serious, focused disciplinarian it’s unlikely that the D-Backs will get complacent. They also have the kind of balance and depth to make another postseason appearance, so look for 90+ wins again.
San Francisco Giants (86-76 in 2011) – The Giants went from defending champs to 86 wins and a second-place finish with the same weakness the 2010 title team had: little offense. They got away with it while winning the title, but it proved a problem last summer, No. 29 in runs scored, No. 28 in batting average, No. 29 in OBP and No. 26 in slugging. Up and down the lineup, they couldn’t hit, which is too bad as the pitching was dominant again, trailing only the Phillies with a team ERA of 3.20. They were great at home, but a below .500 road team (40-41).
So is the offense improved? The Giants scored the fewest runs in the National League last season. The outfield has new looks that they hope will upgrade the attack. RF Nate Schierholtz returns after hitting .278 with 9 homers, but the offense adds 27-year-old LF Melky Cabrera and CF Angel Pagan. Cabrera had 44 doubles and 18 homers with the Royals while hitting .305, and the 30-year-old Pagan hit .262 with the Mets while stealing 32 bases. Both are important acquisitions.
The defense should be very good in the outfield, but otherwise the Giants aren’t exactly world-beaters with the gloves. The infield has 2B Freddy Sanchez (.289) and SS Brandon Crawford (.204), with 3B Pablo Sandoval (23 homers, .315) providing some pop along with 1B Aubrey Huff (12 HRs, .240) and catcher Buster Posey (.284). Posey didn’t play much because of a severe leg injury and is in bounce-back mode.
While the offense looks improved, the pitching really can’t get any better – one of the top rotations in baseball. 27-year-old Tim Lincecum (13-14, 2.74 ERA) didn’t get a lot of wins, but fanned 220 in 217 innings, while 27-year-old Matt Cain (12-11, 2.88) threw 221 innings and fanned 179. 22-year-old Madison Bumgarner (13-13, 3.21) is the latest great young arm. He fanned 191 in 204 innings and 34-year-old veteran Ryan Vogelsong (13-7, 2.71) was a big surprise.
In order to improve the offense the Giants had to trade lefty Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals. Barry Zito (3-4, 5.87) is in the mix somewhere, while the bullpen is deep with Jeremy Affeldt (2.63), Javier Lopez (2.72), Guillermo Mota, Sergio Romo (1.50) and Santiago Casilla setting up closer Brian Wilson (36 saves, 3.11). They are a threat to improve on 86 wins and make a run to the postseason again – and no one wants to face this pitching in October.
Colorado Rockies (73-89 in 2011) – That miraculous late-season run to the 2007 World Series turned out to be exactly a fluke. The Rockies haven’t been able to catch that lightening in a bottle since. Last season they had a losing record both home and away, despite an offense that was No. 7 in the majors in runs scored and on-base percentage, No. 9 in batting average and No. in slugging. Pretty good. But what was not pretty was the pitching, second to last in the NL in team ERA (4.43).
For this season the offense looks just as good. SS Troy Tulowitski (30 homers, 105 RBI, .302) and 1B Todd Helton (14 homers, 69 RBI, .302) are the anchors of a solid all around infield. 36-year-old veteran 2B Marco Scutaro (7 homers, .299) come over from Boston where he played shortstop and was productive offensively, though is a below-average fielder.
3B Casey Blake was brought in but then cut, so the Rockies are looking at Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco as options – both 26-years-old. Nelson was the Rockies first-round pick in 2004 while Pacheco is a converted catcher. 35-year-old catcher Ramon Hernandez was picked up from the Reds where he hit 12 homers and a fine .282 average. The outfield has LF Carlos Gonzalez (26 homers, .295), who stole 26 bases, CF Dexter Fowler (.266, 5 HRs) and RF Michael Cuddyer (20 homers, .284). Cuddyer was the big offseason acquisition by the Rockies from the Twins, but Fowler has struggled in spring training.
The pitching has some key changes, which was needed. 32-year-old Jeremy Guthrie comes over from the Orioles where he didn’t win games (9-17), but pitched fairly well, with a 4.33 ERA in 208 innings with few walks (66) and a respectable 213 hits allowed. He’s the type of sinkerball pitcher that is a plus in a park like this. Jhoulys Chacin (11-14) was decent for Colorado with a 3.62 ERA and in 194 innings allowed just 168 hits.
Beyond those two there is 23-year-old lefty Drew Pomeranz (18 IP), and newcomers Guillermo Moscoso (8-10, 3.38) and 22-year-old Tyler Chatwood (4.75). Moscoso comes over from Oakland, but his 55.6% fly ball rate was tops in the majors, not a good fit for Coors Field, while Chatwood was rocked often last year with the Angels (166 hits, 71 walks in 142 innings) and is clearly a long-term project.
There will be a ton of competition for the Rockies rotation and bullpen with Juan Nicasio (4.14), Josh Outman, Matt Belisle and Alez White. The Rockies dealt Huston Street to the Padres, but Rafael Betancourt (2.89, 73 Ks, 8 walks, 63 IP) has outstanding stuff. Newly acquired Zach Putnam is a promising prospect. All in all this team appears to have moved sideways, but they had to shake-up the pitching staff with some new pieces and they did, hoping to catch lightening in a bottle again. But a .500 season is more likely than approaching 90 wins.
Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79 in 2011) – The good news for the Dodgers is that disastrous owner Frank McCourt sold the team. Now they can rebuild, despite a slight winning record last season. This is a top-heavy team, with two stars (NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and NL MVP runner-up Matt Kemp) and little alongside them for manager Don Mattingly.
The offense has always been hampered by playing in cavernous Dodger stadium and last year’s group finished No. 21 in runs scored, No. 23 in slugging and No. 14 in OBP. The Dodgers brought in a lot of players this offseason, but not many that will upgrade the attack. 34-year-old 2B Mark Ellis comes over from Colorado where he had a .317 on-base percentage with 6 homers.
Speedy 23-year-old SS Dee Gordon steps in after hitting .304 in 224 at bats last season and stole 24 bases. 33-year-old 3B Juan Uribe (.204) is a weak spot at the hot corner. Gordon doesn’t yet walk much (.325 OBP), something he will have to improve to be a strong leadoff hitter. 30-year-old catcher A.J. Ellis returns (.262), who has no power, but has a very strong on-base percentage (.360). 1B James Loney (.288, 12 homers) hasn’t developed into a power hitter, so this infield is below average.
The outfield carries the offense with newcomer LF Juan Rivera (.274) and RF Andre Ethier (.292, 11 HRs, 62 RBI) flanking star CF 27-year-old Matt Kemp (33 doubles, 39 homers, .324, 126 RBI, 40 steals). That came on the heels of Kemp’s 2010 campaign, when he batted .249, was 19-for-34 attempting steals and fanned 170 times. The Dodgers had better hope that the 2011 Kemp was the real deal because this offense needs his awesome all-around offensive skills.
While the offense is thin, the pitching staff is the backbone of the team – fifth in the NL in team ERA (3.54). 24-year-old lefty Clayton Kershaw (21-5) is an ace, throwing 233 innings with 248 strikeouts and a sizzling 2.28 ERA. 27-year-old Chad Billingsley (11-11, 4.15) and veteran lefty Ted Lilly (12-14, 3.97) are reliable, though not outstanding.
The Dodgers signed a pair of veterans to fill out the back of their rotation in Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. Harang may be about done, as he had a 3.05 ERA in San Diego’s Petco Park, but a 4.70 ERA in 11 road starts. The 33-year-old Capuano is a big question mark, off Tommy John surgeries in 2002 and 2008. He had a 4.55 ERA with the Mets last season and he cost them $10 million, so someone in the LA organization is staking a lot on him.
The bullpen is thin with veteran reliever Todd Coffey, adding to Matt Guerrier and Jamey Wright. A guy to watch is young Kenley Jansen, a prospect who throws hard and they have high hopes for him. They all set-up ace closer Javy Guerra (2.31, 21 saves).
This offense doesn’t look any better and the pitching staff has one dominant ace and a lot of holes, so another winning season will be tough to find.
San Diego Padres (71-91 in 2011) – The Padres were a last place mess with no offense and they traded away young ace Mat Latos. That’s not the way a bad team rebuilds – or gets better. San Diego was No. 28 in baseball in runs and scored and on-base percentage, plus No. 29 in batting average and slugging – awful across the board.
San Diego adds 29-year-old LF Carlos Quentin to try and upgrade the offense and he hit 24 homers and .254 with 77 RBIs for the White Sox. Spacious Petco Park won’t help those numbers, however. In addition, Quentin had minor knee surgery and will miss the first few weeks of the season. Beyon Quinton there is little power – or experience.
CF Cameron Maybin adds speed for defense in this big outfield, and had 40 steals, 9 homers while hitting .264 for San Diego last season. RF Will Venable (9 HRs, .246) mans right field and is a better defensive player than offensive one. Chris Denorfia (.277), Mark Kotsay and Kyle Blanks are below average backup outfielders with not much offensive punch.
The infield has a gem with 2B Orlando Hudson, who hit .246 with 19 steals for the Paders, a multiple Gold Glove winner, though at 34-years-old his best years are behind him. Shortstop Jason Bartlett his .245 with 23 stolen bases, coming over from Tampa Bay, while 3B Chase Headley puts the bat on the ball and hit .289 with no power (4 HRs).
Can first base provide some power? They hope so with young 24-year-old Cuban 1B Yonder Alonso, a talent who cost them pitcher Mat Latos. Catcher Nick Hundley is very good, hitting .288 with a.374 OBP in 281 at bats and even 13 steals. There are a few interesting pieces, but far too many dead bats in a lineup devoid of average and power.
Without Latos, the onus falls on newcomer 28-year-old Edinson Volquez to anchor the rotation. Last season, he went 5-7 with a 5.71 ERA for the Reds. He’s a good strikeout pitcher, but walks far too many batters to be a workhorse. Even in the spring he walked 11 in his first 20 innings, so he doesn’t appear to be the ace this club needs. Righty Tim Stauffer (9-12, 3.73 ERA) has marginal stuff and last season had a 2.57 ERA at home, but was 3-7 with a 4.95 ERA on the road.
Clayton Richard (5-9, 3.88, 99 IP) and Dustin Moseley (3-10, 3.33 ERA) saw their 2011 seasons cut short with injuries and will get thrown into the rotation, along with Cory Leubke (6-10, 3.29). Veterans Luke Gregerson, Mitch Owings and Joe Thatcher anchor a below-average middle relief staff while hoping young Andrew Cashner can step up. They lose ace closer Heath Bell, but signed Huston Street who saved 29 games for Colorado last year, but had a 3.86 ERA. A huge plus is that he walked only nine in 58 innings with 55 strikeouts, so he should be terrific in this park – if he gets any leads to hold! This is a perfect park to pitch in, but this offense is anemic and should be the worst in baseball. If you like to play games UNDER the total, the Padres are a team to look at, especially at home.