Season Preview: NL West

San Francisco Giants

Expectations: What else is there to say other than expectations are high for the former World Series Champions. The Giant’s 2010 playoff run was extremely similar to the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Series explosion. Both the Phillies and the Giants stampeded their competition, somewhat unexpectedly, and took home the hardware as the league’s best.

Key Addition: Miguel Tejada – Replacing shortstops Edgar Renteria and Philly-killer Juan Uribe, Tejada will bring some more veteran experience to the world champs. With Baltimore and San Diego in 2010, Tejada posted 15 home runs and 71 RBI’s, while batting .269. The acquisition is not earth-shattering, but sometimes the small, solid moves end up paying dividends in October.

Key Loss: Juan Uribe – The loss of Juan Uribe has been silenced by the addition of veteran, Miguel Tejada, but surely, fans will miss one of their many 2010 heroes. Playing two seasons for the Giants, Uribe drove in a total of 140 RBI’s and 40 home runs in 2009 and 2010. For post-season pitchers, Uribe’s bat was big and loud, resulting in clutch hits and runs batted in. Uribe landed in Los Angeles (Dodgers) during the off season.

Projected Record: 88-74

2010 proved that momentum is a dominant force leading into the post season. Getting hot at the right time will lead to wins, and lost sleep for the opposing teams. Smashing through the post-season like a bowling ball through helpless, white pins, the Giants flexed their muscles and exhibited the importance of excellent pitching, as well as impressive facial hair.

Although the Philadelphia Phillies acquired one of the league’s nastiest pitchers, Cliff Lee, to go along with H2O, the Giants’ rotation is not far behind. Going into the post-season in 2010, all the talk was about how the Giants didn’t have enough bats to make enough noise. Clearly, great pitching can make mediocre offense look highly above average. Look for Lincecum to have another strong year.

A question mark is beside Matt Cain, due to injury, but if he can gain his health and 2010 dominance, expect another strong season. Also, Madison Bumgarner and his promising, young left arm may throw a coming-out party. Similar to Cain Cain, if Brian Wilson can stay healthy throughout the season, then continue to fear the beard.

Colorado Rockies

Expectations: For the Colorado Rockies, the biggest news over the off season wasn’t a hot stove blockbuster, or the departure of an all-star, but the fact that they were able to lock up two of their top offensive pieces to long-term deals. Both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki headlined the Winter news for Colorado (with the exception of Melo trade rumors). This coming season could be another playoff run in the making. The main ingredient for the Rockies team, notorious for streaky play, is their team chemistry. If Colorado can buckle down, and jell as a unit, then the San Francisco Giants may be in for a battle.

Key Addition: Ty Wigginton – The addition of veteran Ty Wigginton isn’t a splash, heard around the majors, but it is a move that could quietly help the Rockies in 2011. Coming off a down season with the Baltimore Orioles, Wigginton only batted .248, but he knocked in 76 RBI’s and smashed 22 home runs. Imagine his impact if he batted for a better average. Collecting 143 home runs over his long career in the majors, watch out for his 14th season. It may be a difference maker.

Key Loss: Jeff Francis – Jeff Francis spent seven years with the Colorado Rockies, playing in six of them, due to an injury, which kept him out of the rotation in 2009. To some people, Francis is a walking one-hit wonder. His strong 2007 season, where he won 17 games and lost only nine, has given hope to the Royals for the coming season, with hopes that the 30-year-old lefty can regain his 2007 form. Along with the loss of Francis, the departure of catcher, Miguel Olivo will be another key loss for the mountain-high sluggers.

Projected Record: 85-77

Thanks to the splendid play of outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez, the Colorado Rockies threatened to make the playoffs in 2010, but failed to grab a spot. They finished the season on a roll, which could have made it scary for other teams throughout the entire playoffs. We learned with the Phillies (2008) and Giants (2010) that it isn’t always the most talented teams that win the World Series, but the hottest.

Troy Tulowitzki, who missed almost a third of the 2010 season, will be a huge impact player, along with his fellow offseason signee, Carlos Gonzalez. If they can stay healthy and the pitching staff can win a heaping handful of games of offensive off days, then we may see the Rockies sneak in with a wildcard birth. 85 wins seems reasonable for the Rockies, being that they are slightly improved, compared to last season, where they finished with 83 wins.

San Diego Padres

Expectations: Last year’s 90-win season was a giant step forward for the usually boring and predictable San Diego Padres. Unfortunately for the Fathers, they lost their franchise player, Adrian Gonzalez, who signed with the Boston Red Sox during this Winter’s boiling, hot stove. Although Gonzalez and his big bat left southern California to play in Fenway, the Padres filled in some offensive holes in their lineup. Cameron Mayben, Jason Bartlett, and Orlando Hudson were all acquired, with hope that their presence is capable of scaring away the ghost of first baseman’s past.

Key Addition: Cameron Maybin – At the beginning of Maybin’s career, he was seen as one of the brightest youngsters in all of baseball. Living up to the hype can be difficult for some ball players, but fortunately for the Padres and Maybin, he is still a child. At 23-years-old, Maybin has only hit 46-points above the Mendoza line, along with a mere 13 home runs and 45 RBI’s through four seasons. Although he has a suspect arm, he can field with the best, due to gazelle-like speed. A glaring confusion about Maybin that stands out like Mike Tyson’s tattoo is the fact he has only stolen 19 bases in 4 years. With speed like Maybin’s, unacceptable would be a good way to describe that number. Don’t expect him to hit his way into hero-status, but who knows. He has plenty of time to grow.

Key Loss: Adrian Gonzalez – Lifetime .286-hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, packed his five seasons as a Padre up, and jetted to Beantown, with hopes of much deserved success. Over the past 4 seasons with the Padres, Gonzalez didn’t once dip below 30 homeruns in a season, (30, 36, 40, 31) and is only 100 hits away from reaching 1,000 for his career. Losing Gonzalez is much more than fantastic numbers vanishing in thin air, but it is also a burden for the fans. The Padres finally reached 90 wins for what seems like the first time since the creation of oxygen, and a second later, their star player is gone.

Projected Record: 83-79

To me, the San Diego Padres’ 2011 season is a huge question mark. I estimated 83 wins, generously, because of the ripple effect of losing their best player. It is just so hard for teams to bounce back from a letdown of this magnitude, after a 90-win season, resulting in no playoffs. Who knows what damage they could have done in the playoffs. Something like that could have been huge for the franchise, and maybe it could have kept Gonzalez with San Diego, but more than likely not.

Players will need to step up for the Padres if they hope to make a run at the playoffs for a second straight season. The X-factor for the Padres’ offense in 2011 will be outfielder, Ryan Ludwick. When he gets hot, it is nearly impossible to strike this guy out. He will wear the base-path out. My favorite on their pitching staff is not a starter, but it is their closer, Heath Bell. Expect the Padres to play in many close games this season. Bell’s performance will determine the outcome of more than enough games to impact their position in the standings come October.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Expectations: I’m just not feeling the Dodgers in 2011. They seem to be one or two players shy of noise making status. They finished 2010 with 80 wins, falling way short of the NL wildcard. A few players here and there swapped around during the offseason, but not nearly enough to put this team back towards the top, competitive enough to make another legitimate run at the National League Championship Series.

Key Addition: Ted Lilly – This was a tough decision, but in this case the importance of pitching is what tilted the balance beam towards Ted. Throughout the years, Lilly has proven to be a reliable pitcher; not great, but reasonably trustworthy. Alongside Billingsley, Kershaw, Garland, and Kuo, (I believe this is their projected lineup) Lilly fills out one of the more solid rotations in the NL.

Key Loss: Russell Martin – Things just didn’t work out for Martin in the city of angels. Ending up on the New York Yankees during the offseason, Martin brings a bat with him that has caused a few moans and groans through the past few seasons. After Martin’s solid first three years with the Dodgers, where he batter over .280 in each season, (.282, .293, .280) he dipped down to .250 and .248 in 2009 and 2010. Whether or not those numbers are misleading, none of us will know until he puts on the pinstripes and swings away for New York’s approval, which can be quite difficult.

Projected Record: 81-81

If the Dodgers want to even think about winning 81 games this season, they are going to have to help their pitchers out a little bit. Without their starting rotation, I would see Los Angeles as a sub-500 team, but I feel that an even split is a realistic ending. If the Dodgers have dreamt about the post-season yet this year, the names Billingsley, Kershaw, and Broxton would most likely come to mind first; Billingsley and Kershaw for all the right reason’s, and the opposite for Broxton.

Not many teams have a player that an throw heat like Broxton, but his reputation of choking in the clutch still gives Dodgers fans a headache, while Matt Stairs smiles in the background. L.A. basically has the same offense as last year, and if they can get it into gear, then big things may be popping in Hollywood. The biggest change on their offense is most likely the acquisition of Rod Barajas, who has replaced the plummeted, Russell Martin.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Expectations: Coming off a 65-win season, and a record-breaking strikeout fiasco, it will be hard for the Diamondbacks to dip any lower. A few polishes and shift later, Arizona looks to clean up their act, and make something happen in 2011.

Key addition: J.J. Putz – In 2010, the Diamondback’s bullpen ERA was a dismal 5.74, which was last in the NL. (1.02 higher than 15th place, Chicago Cubs) The addition of Putz will most likely decrease the noise of late-inning leather poppers, resulting in runs for the opposition. Putz posted a 2.83 ERA for the White Sox in 2010, along with 7 wins and 3 saves.

Key loss: Mark Reynolds – Although Reynolds has a horrible reputation of swinging and missing, there are some bright spots to his game that will be missed by Arizona. In his 4 years with the Diamondbacks, Reynolds has tallied 121 home runs and 346 RBI’s. Unfortunately, those solid numbers are anchored down to the deep end due to a repulsive 767 strikeouts in 4 years. His whiffs are the reason Reynolds was dealt to Baltimore, and Adam LaRoche’s option was declined due to the exact reason. Overall, anyone would miss production that Reynolds is capable of providing.

Projected Record: 72-90

Some teams just have a bad season here and there. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, 2010 was merely a symbol that the Luis Gonzalez’s gum-dropping legacy is far faded in the rear-view mirror. Collecting only 65 wins, Arizona made a few changes this off season to wipe up the mess left behind by last year’s overall raunchy performance.

Hoping to cut down team strikeouts, the D-Backs sent team strikeout leaders, Adam LaRoche and Mark Reynolds packing, along with their whiff-a-ball bats. Coming off a team record-breaking strikeout total, it is safe to say that change was necessary. Along with their horrid offensive output, Arizona’s bullpen equaled the offense’s ineptitude. Hoping to make a few swing-and-misses go down for the opposing team, the Diamondbacks added pitchers J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, and Kam Mickolio. 72 wins seems realistic, but unfortunate for Arizona fans.

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