Tuesday, March 26, 2013

MLB Preview 2013: NL West

     The defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants have quietly become a force in Major League Baseball. After sweeping the Detroit Tigers in last year's Fall Classic to win just their second World Series title in three years, San Francisco has turned into a baseball powerhouse due to excellent pitching and timely hitting. But their California rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, have stocked their team full of superstar players. Will L.A.'s star-studded team be able to topple the defending World Series champs? In the NL West, it's all about the pitching.

  1. San Francisco Giants: Plus: It appears as if the G-Men have developed an identity as a pitching juggernaut. Ace Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA, 193 SO, two complete games, two shutouts, one perfect game) headlines the staff, while Ryan Vogelsong (14-9, 3.37 ERA, 158 SOs) and Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 191 SO) will provide the Giants with plenty of young unhittable arms. Hell, Barry Zito went 15-8 last year. If Tim Lincecum can return to his former Cy Young self, then watch out for San Francisco's rotation. I also like their bullpen, which has the likes of Sergio Romo (14 saves, 23 holds, 10.25 K/9, 0.85 WHIP) and Santiago Casilla (25 saves, 12 holds, 2.84 ERA). Minus: Catcher and NL MVP Buster Posey (.336, 24 HR, 103 RBI, .408 OBP, 178 hits) is going to need more help now that Melky Cabrera is a Blue Jay. Right fielder Hunter Pence (24 HR, 104 RBI) will help, but only if he cuts those 145 strikeouts that he had last season in half. Same goes for second baseman Marco Scutaro (.306, 74 RBI), but only if he stays healthy. The Giants also commit a lot of fielding errors, for they had the fourth-most errors in the MLB with 115 and they were tied for 25th in fielding percentage at .981.
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Plus: Last year was business as usual for former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. In 2012, he posted a 14-9 record, 2.53 ERA, 229 SO, and a 1.02 WHIP. Now, he has a pitching sidekick in Zach Greinke (15-5, 3.48 ERA, 200 SO). And who knows? If Hyun-Jin Ryu can live up to the hype, then this overcrowded rotation will be a force to be reckoned with. Minus: The lineup is also packed with star power, but here's the thing about the Dodgers' batters: They must stay healthy. Center fielder Matt Kemp must rebound from the many hamstring injuries that tormented him throughout the majority of last season. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez must be Hanley Ramirez once he returns from a torn ligament in his right thumb. Left fielder Carl Crawford must not let his elbow bother him and return to form in the process. Adrian Gonzalez should be no problem, but the rest of the lineup worries me in terms of health. 
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks: Plus: Getting Brandon McCarthy was a good pickup for the D-Backs. It gives them a staff that's not as good as the 2001 D-Backs, but they're still good. Still, this isn't the strongest point of the team. Arizona's got a good set-up/closer combo with Brad Ziegler or David Hernandez and J.J. Putz. Combined with the rotation which has Ian Kennedy, McCarthy, and Trevor Cahill, this staff could possibly be playing October baseball. Minus: Gone are key players from their lineup in Justin Upton and Chris Young. I'm not saying that Arizona will completely miss them (after all, Justin Upton does strike out a lot). But they were key pieces in the D-Backs lineup that provided speed on the basepaths for Arizona. It'll be interesting to see how the D-Backs go about replacing these two.
  4. San Diego Padres: Plus: Third baseman Chase Headley led the NL in RBI last year with 115. He also hit 31 home runs in spacious Petco Park, a feat that isn't easy to accomplish. If left fielder Carlos Quentin returns to driving in runs and first baseman Yadier Alonso continues to develop into a great hitter, this Padres' lineup can catapult close to the top of the NL West. San Diego's bullpen (524 SO's in 2012, fourth-most in the MLB) is also a shut-down squad. Minus:  Clayton Richard (14-14, 3.99 ERA, 107 SO) and Edinson Volquez (11-11, 4.14 ERA, 174 SO) are both enigmatic pitchers and both have either washed-up arms or inexperienced following them in the rotation. Luckily for them, Petco Park is a pitcher-friendly park. Therefore, they should have an easier time pitching for the Padres.
  5. Colorado Rockies: Plus: Which team scored the third-most runs in the National League? Anyone? The Colorado Rockies. Not only do they have guys like left fielder Carlos Gonzalez (.303, 22 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB), center fielder Dexter Fowler (.300, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 11 triples), catcher Wilin Rosario (.270, 28 HR, 71 RBI), and right fielder Michael Cuddyer (16 HR, 58 RBI), but they benefit from playing in the Mile High City. The thin air at Coors Field allows for the ball to carry more when hit, resulting in more home runs. Now just imagine if Troy Tulowitzki could actually play like a $157 million player. Minus: Ladies and gentlemen, MLB's worst rotation in 2012 (5.81 ERA!!). Jon Garland and Jeff Francis are past their primes and the rest of the rotation has no experience pitching in the major leagues. Also, don't forget that the thin air in Denver allows for the ball to carry more and this also hurts the pitching for the Rockies. It won't matter how many runs the Rockies' lineup can score in a game because Colorado's pitching staff will allow even more.

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