This is the fifth installment of a six-part, in-depth view of each of Major League Baseball’s six divisions for the upcoming season.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 86-76, 2nd in NL West
Pitching: 3.34 ERA ranked 3rd in MLB
Hitting: .690 OPS ranked 26th in MLB
Lineup: Two years removed from a 39 home run-40 stolen base campaign, Matt Kemp will look for a healthy season to lead the Dodgers’ offense in 2013. Kemp had off-season surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, though there shouldn’t be any lingering problems. Los Angeles will get a full year from first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Look for him to bounce back after suffering a power drought in 2012. The first baseman’s home run total of 18 was by far the lowest of his seven-year career since his first season as a full-timer.
Right fielder Andre Ethier will return (20 home runs in 2012) to fill out the power in the middle of the order. Unfortunately, shortstop Hanley Ramirez will be sidelined through at least mid-May with a torn right thumb ligament. Both second baseman Mark Ellis and catcher A.J. Ellis had solid seasons last year and look to continue their success in 2013. Carl Crawford will play left field, though he represents a bit of a question mark in the lineup. If he’s able to muster his pre-Boston success, the Dodgers will receive a huge boost offensively.
Pitching: Zach Greinke, who signed a six-year deal with the Dodgers in the offseason, presents a striking 1-2 combo following ace Clayton Kershaw in the rotation. Josh Beckett will fall in the number three spot and will need to have one of his better seasons to match the rotation strength of the Giants. Figuring out what to expect from Beckett, whose career was up and down with the Red Sox, is a riddle. Beckett did pitch well in his limited time in Los Angeles last season. A 26-year old Korean pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu, will start off the year in the rotation. Ryu has a ton of potential and should be effective right away, though there’s sure to be a learning curve. Chad Billingsley will round out the rotation.
Brandon League will close out games for the Dodgers this season. Kenley Jansen (99 strikeouts, 22 walks in 65 innings last year) had a 2.35 earned-run average in 2012 and will fit perfectly in the set-up role. Ronald Belisario and Javy Guerra will have significant roles in what should be a great bullpen.
Outlook: I almost cried in frustration choosing between the Dodgers and Giants for the crown of the West. Ultimately, I chose the Dodgers because their rotation is arguably a touch better and features more depth. Los Angeles also boasts more power in the middle of their lineup, though Ramirez needs to come back healthy. A productive Crawford would work wonders for their chances at topping the Giants.
2. San Francisco Giants
|Cain is the ace|
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 94-68, 1st in NL West
Pitching: 3.68 ERA ranked 7th in MLB
Hitting: .724 OPS ranked 14th in MLB
Lineup: Most of their World Series champion offense from 2012 returns. They waved goodbye to Melky Cabrera, who hit .346 for them, though he missed the latter part of the season after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. San Francisco left him off their postseason roster and still won. 2012 National League Most Valuable Player Buster Posey will return to headline San Francisco’s offense.
The Giants would like to see Hunter Pence hit like he did in 2011 (.872 OPS) as opposed to his numbers in a Giants uniform last year (.671) to make up for the loss of Cabrera. Pablo Sandoval will once again man the hot corner. One player who could take a major step forward this season is first baseman Brandon Belt, who has pounded the ball in spring training. Spring stats are a fickle device used to measure future results, but Belt has utilized his power potential in Arizona. If he reaches his power potential, it would go a long way in improving San Francisco’s offense.
Pitching: We all know San Francisco returns a very solid rotation. Ace pitcher Matt Cain is a constant, as Madison Bumgarner continues to develop into one. Ryan Vogelsong, whose career has surged in two years with the Giants, will fit in the rotation next to lefty Barry Zito. Tim Lincecum will try to put his 2012 season in the rearview mirror as he saw his earned-run average balloon to 5.18 with decreased velocity and poor control. Whether he does is anybody’s guess. His velocity remains down along with his control, so it is a definite concern going into the season.
Sergio Romo made a seamless transition as closer last year and looks for a full season of success in that role. He is joined in the later innings by Santiago Casilla and a solid bullpen.
Outlook: Concerns surrounding Lincecum’s ability to bounce back is a reason why the Dodgers should finish just slightly ahead of the Giants this season. San Francisco returns most of the team that won the World Series last year, and that is good news for Giants fans. Look for San Francisco to fight for a great chance at the Wild Card, though they could easily repeat as NL West Champions if Lincecum returns to form.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
|Cahill: Future ace?|
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 81-81, 3rd in NL West
Pitching: 3.93 ERA ranked 15th in MLB
Hitting: .746 OPS ranked 9th in MLB
Lineup: Gone are outfielders Chris Young (Oakland) and Justin Upton (Atlanta). Unfortunately for Diamondbacks fans, centerfielder Adam Eaton will miss up to two months with a sprained left elbow. Capable of racking up a high batting average on the major league level, Eaton will have to wait until May or June to rope line drives all over the field.
Left fielder Jason Kubel (30 home runs in 2012), second baseman Aaron Hill (26), and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (20) will provide pop in the lineup. The latter could belt 30 or more this season. Catcher Miguel Montero is one of the better hitting catchers in the game and helps give Arizona a well-rounded lineup. Third baseman Martin Prado joins the Snakes after posting a batting average over .300 in four of his last five seasons in Atlanta.
Pitching: Arizona has an intriguing rotation. Trevor Cahill will return for his second season and could take a step forward this season to become the ace of the staff. Lefty Wade Miley, who had an excellent rookie year, will truly fortify their rotation if he is able to duplicate his 2012. Brandon McCarthy joins the starting five after two successful seasons in Oakland, though he dealt with some injuries. If the right-hander is healthy for the whole season, Arizona could capture a Wild Card spot. Ian Kennedy will be a constant in the rotation, while starters Randall Delgado, Pat Corbin, and Tyler Skaggs will receive plenty of starts. Skaggs has the potential to make the most impact if he pitches to his potential in his rookie season.
J.J. Putz has excelled in his time with the Diamondbacks, featuring plus control and strikeout quality pitches. He will return to close out the ninth, along with set-up man David Hernandez. Arizona brought along Heath Bell, who struggled in his brief time with Miami, though he should bounce back to have an effective season.
Outlook: Arizona features a solid lineup and rotation, complimented by a good bullpen. If they’re able to stay healthy and see progression among Cahill, Goldschmidt, and one of their fifth starters, they could fight for a playoff spot. Their biggest problem is sitting in a division among two stalwarts in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
4. San Diego Padres
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 76-86, 4th in NL West
Pitching: 3.24 ERA ranked 9th in MLB
Hitting: .699 OPS ranked 24th in MLB
Lineup: San Diego will be without talented catcher Yasmani Grandal at the beginning, as he sits out the first 50 games of the season for testing positive with a high testosterone level in November. Third baseman Chase Headley had a major breakout season last year after belting 31 home runs with a slash line of .286/.376/.498, though he will miss a month with a fractured thumb. The Padres will cross their fingers on the health of outfielder Carlos Quentin, since he would represent another constant power source.
Rookie Jedd Gyorko will fill in for Headley at third and will then shift to second when he returns. After amassing 55 home runs over the past two seasons in the minors, Gyorko hopes to elevate his plus power to the majors. Gyorko could compete for the Rookie of the Year title, though his defense leaves more to be desired. The rest of the lineup is not so impressive, though centerfielder Cameron Maybin and first baseman Yonder Alonso should have productive years.
Pitching: Starter Clayton Richard will return to lead a staff followed by Edinson Volquez, Jason Marquis, Eric Stultz, and a combination of Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. Though not a terrible staff, the Padres rotation fails to match the stout starters of the teams projected above them in the West.
The bullpen features Huston Street and Luke Gregerson, who will shut down offenses in the eighth and ninth inning. San Diego’s bullpen hosts stronger options than the rotation and should be as good as last year.
Outlook: San Diego will finish where they did last season. They simply don’t have the talent to compete with San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Arizona. Gyorko will be a fun player to watch in this season, among the progression of several others.
5. Colorado Rockies
Overall W-L Record in 2012: 64-98, 5th in NL West
Pitching: 5.22 ERA ranked 30th in MLB
Hitting: .766 OPS ranked 3rd in MLB
Lineup: Baseballs soar through the air in Denver, and it was no different in 2012, as evidenced by their polar rankings in both offense and pitching. Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez ripped 22 home runs and led the offense in 2012 with a slash line of .303/.371/.510. Gonzalez did not pace the team in home runs, as catcher Wilin Rosario lifted 28 long balls in 122 fewer at bats.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki accumulated just 203 plate appearances in 2012 while dealing with injuries, so his health would go a long way in positioning their offense as one of the best again this season. Centerfielder Dexter Fowler presented a pesky option at the top of the order last year and looks to have finally reached his potential.
Pitching: Colorado became so desperate last year to find a way to improve their pitching in the thin air of Denver that they employed a four-man rotation in June - with poor results. Though implementing the four-man rotation isn’t necessarily to blame, the rotation was a disaster. Starter Jhoulys Chacin boasted the lowest earned-run average in the rotation at 4.43. Left-hander Jeff Francis made a return to Colorado to lead the staff in starts at 24, though his earned-run average reached 5.58. The rest of Denver’s rotation will feature Jorge De La Rosa, Juan Nicasio, and a combination of Jon Garland and Drew Pomeranz. None project to have an earned-run average below 4.00.
The bullpen will be better than the rotation, though it won’t be enough to make up for the shortcomings. Rafael Betancourt will again close out games for Colorado.
Outlook: Colorado’s pitching staff will struggle as they did in 2012, though their offense will be fun to watch. Denver has several prospects who figure to make an impact offensively in the future, including Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and David Dahl.
Links to previous articles in this series:
2013 Major League previews: AL East
2013 Major League previews: AL Central
2013 Major League previews: AL West
2013 Major League previews: NL East
Pierce Jefferson can be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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