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National League West race preview

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POSTED March 25, 2012 8:49 p.m.

Capsules of National League West teams, listed in order of finish last year:

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

2011: 94-68, 1st place (lost to Milwaukee in division series).

Manager: Kirk Gibson (2nd season)

He’s Here: LF Jason Kubel, RHP Trevor Cahill, LHP Craig Breslow, RHP Takashi Saito.

He’s Outta There: RHP Micah Owings, OF Colin Cowgill, RHP Jarrod Parker.

Projected Lineup: SS Willie Bloomquist (.266, 4 HRs, 26 RBIs, 20 SB), 2B Aaron Hill (.315, 2, 16 in 33 games with Arizona; .225, 45, 6 in 104 games with Toronto), RF Justin Upton (.289, 88, 31, 21 SB), C Miguel Montero (.282, 86, 18), 1B Paul Goldschmidt (.250, 26, 8 in 48 games), LF Jason Kubel (.273, 58, 12 in 99 games for Minnesota), CF Chris Young (.236, 71, 20, 21 SB), 3B Ryan Roberts (.249, 65, 19).

Rotation: RH Ian Kennedy (21-4, 2.88 ERA, 198 Ks), RH Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.41), RH Trevor Cahill (12-14, 4.16 with Oakland), RH Josh Collmenter (10-10, 3.38), LH Joe Saunders (12-13, 3.69).

Key Relievers: RH J.J. Putz (2-2, 2.17, 45 saves in 49 chances), RH David Hernandez (5-3, 3.38, 11/14), RH Bryan Shaw (1-0, 2.54), RH Brad Zeigler (0-0, 1.74 in 23 games for Arizona; 3-2, 2.39 in 43 games for Oakland), LH Craig Breslow (0-2, 3.79 for Oakland), LH Joe Paterson (0-3, 2.91), RH Takashi Saito (4-2, 2.03 for Milwaukee).

Hot Spots: Shortstop Stephen Drew’s return to the lineup has no timetable as he recovers from a brutal injury. Drew broke his right ankle and ripped the tendons around it when his foot got caught beneath him as he slid into home plate in late July. Drew was able to take some ground balls and hit some in the spring but was a long way from being ready. Still, Arizona thrived after Drew was injured with Bloomquist filling in as the regular starter. The acquisition of John McDonald, a defensive specialist, along with Hill from Toronto gave the team some depth at the position.

Outlook: A whole lot different than it was a year ago, when they were expected to be headed for the cellar again but instead succeeded behind strong young pitching, a vastly improved bullpen and timely hitting. The team only tinkered with the roster. The addition of Cahill from Oakland could further strengthen the rotation, and Breslow, who also came from the A’s, puts another lefty in the bullpen. Arizona, in a somewhat curious move, signed Kubel, a free agent left fielder. The deal added a big left-handed bat to the lineup but sent Gold Glover Gerardo Parra to the bench. Gibson insists that Parra will get plenty of playing time backing up all three outfield positions. Kennedy will be hard-pressed to repeat his 21-4 season and Collmenter’s unorthodox overhand delivery might not fool so many in his second season, but Arizona has two top prospects just about ready for the big time in LHP Tyler Skaggs and RHP Trevor Bauer. Gibson, the NL manager of the year, successfully instilled a winning culture in the desert. The challenge is to keep it there.

San Francisco Giants

2011: 86-76, 2nd place.

Manager: Bruce Bochy (6th season).

He’s Here: OF Melky Cabrera, OF Angel Pagan, INF Ryan Theriot, RHP Clay Hensley.

He’s Outta There: RF Carlos Beltran, CF Andres Torres, RHP Ramon Ramirez, OF Cody Ross, OF Pat Burrell, SS Orlando Cabrera, INF Mark DeRosa, LHP Jonathan Sanchez.

Projected Lineup: CF Angel Pagan (.262, 7, 56, 32 SB with New York Mets), 2B Freddy Sanchez (.289, 3, 24 in 60 games), 3B Pablo Sandoval (.315, 23, 70), C Buster Posey (.284, 4, 21 in 45 games), LF Melky Cabrera (.305, 18, 87, 44 2Bs, 20 SB with Kansas City), 1B Aubrey Huff (.246, 12, 59), RF Nate Schierholtz (.278, 9, 41), SS Brandon Crawford (.204, 3, 21).

Rotation: RH Tim Lincecum (13-14, 2.74, 220 Ks), LH Madison Bumgarner (13-13, 3.21), RH Matt Cain (12-11, 2.88), LH Barry Zito (3-4, 5.87), RH Ryan Vogelsong (13-7, 2.71).

Key Relievers: RH Brian Wilson (6-4, 3.11, 36/41), LH Javier Lopez (5-2, 2.72), RH Sergio Romo (3-1, 1.50, 14 K/BB), LH Jeremy Affeldt (3-2, 2.63).

Hot Spots: First base. Huff played a major part in the Giants’ run to the World Series title in 2010, when he hit 26 homers and drove in 86 runs. His problems at the plate last year were emblematic of the team, which scored 572 runs — the second fewest ever for the franchise in a 162-game season. If Huff slumps again, youngster Brandon Belt could start taking some of his at-bats.

Outlook: The Giants’ quest for a repeat came crashing to a halt when star catcher Posey tore three ligaments in his left ankle and fractured a bone in his lower leg in a frightening home plate collision with Florida’s Scott Cousins on May 25. The Giants are counting on a healthy Posey and Sanchez, whose season was cut short by shoulder surgery, to spark the offense and give enough support to one of the game’s best pitching staffs. The window for that stellar staff could be closing as Cain is in the final year of his contract and eligible for free agency after the season.

Los Angeles Dodgers

2011: 82-79, 3rd place.

Manager: Don Mattingly (2nd season).

He’s Here: 2B Mark Ellis, LF Juan Rivera, 2B Adam Kennedy, LHP Chris Capuano, INF-OF Jerry Hairston Jr., RHP Aaron Harang, RHP Mike MacDougal, C Matt Treanor, RHP Todd Coffey.

He’s Outta There: RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP Jonathan Broxton, RHP Vicente Padilla, 3B Casey Blake, SS Jamey Carroll, C Rod Barajas, LHP Hong-Chih Kuo, LHP Dana Eveland.

Projected Lineup: CF Matt Kemp (.324, 39, 126), SS Dee Gordon (.325, 0, 11 in 56 games), RF Andre Ethier (.292, 11, 62 in 135 games), C A.J. Ellis (.271, 2, 11 in 31 games), 2B Mark Ellis (.248, 7, 41 with Colorado and Oakland), 1B James Loney (.288, 12, 65), 3B Juan Uribe (.204, 4, 28 in 77 games), LF Juan Rivera (.258, 11, 74 in 132 games with Dodgers and Toronto).

Rotation: LH Clayton Kershaw (21-5, 2.28), RH Chad Billingsley (11-11, 4.21), LH Ted Lilly (12-14, 3.97), RH Aaron Harang (14-7, 3.64 with San Diego), LH Chris Capuano (11-12, 4.55 in 31 starts with New York Mets).

Key Relievers: Javy Guerra (2-2, 2.31, 21/23), RH Kenley Jansen (2-1, 2.85, 5/6), RH Matt Guerrier (4-3, 4.07), LH Scott Elbert (0-1, 2.43), RH Josh Lindblom (1-0, 2.73), RH Ramon Troncoso (0-0, 6.75), RH Todd Coffey (5-1, 3.62), RH Mike MacDougal (3-1, 2.05).

Hot Spots: GM Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly were hired by previous regimes, so they will have to prove themselves to new ownership. The team lacks a proven closer, although Guerra and Jansen showed potential last season. Jansen, however, missed a month last season with an irregular heartbeat and he had heart palpitations in spring training. Ethier tailed off with knee problems in the second half and needs a solid season to set himself up for a lucrative free-agent deal. The rotation drops off after Kershaw. The club will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium this season. Attendance declined sharply last year when headlines off the field dominated anything the Dodgers did on it.

Outlook: The Dodgers are in the middle of a bankruptcy auction as the season begins, and the team’s finances will be decided by the new ownership. Current owner Frank McCourt gets to select the winner of the auction, with the sale due to be closed by April 30. That date coincides with the deadline for McCourt to make a $131 million divorce settlement payment to former wife Jamie. Colletti had a limited budget in the offseason, and signed Capuano and Harang with the money he saved by letting Kuroda go. But until the ownership issue is resolved, the Dodgers will be relegated to signing affordable veterans. NL Cy Young Award winner Kershaw and NL MVP runner-up Kemp are arguably the best pitcher and position player in the league. They led the team to a third-place finish last year and will try to keep the club in contention until new money arrives.

Colorado Rockies

2011: 73-89, 4th place.

Manager: Jim Tracy (fourth season).

He’s Here: RHP Jeremy Guthrie, OF Michael Cuddyer, 2B Marco Scutaro, C Ramon Hernandez, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Guillermo Moscoso, LHP Josh Outman, OF Tyler Colvin, LHP Jamie Moyer.

He’s Outta There: RHP Huston Street, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Matt Lindstrom, OF Seth Smith, C Chris Iannetta, 3B Ian Stewart, RHP Casey Weathers, RHP Clayton Mortensen.

Projected Lineup: CF Dexter Fowler (.266, 5, 45, 15 triples), 2B Marco Scutaro (.299, 7, 54 in 113 games), LF Carlos Gonzalez (.295, 26, 92 in 127 games), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.302, 30, 105), 1B Todd Helton (.302, 14, 69 in 124 games), RF Michael Cuddyer (.284, 20, 70), 3B Chris Nelson (.250, 4, 16 in 63 games), C Ramon Hernandez (.282, 12, 36 in 91 games with Cincinnati).

Starting rotation: RH Jeremy Guthrie (9-17, 4.33 ERA with Baltimore), RH Jhoulys Chacin (11-14, 3.62), LH Drew Pomeranz (2-1, 5.40), RH Juan Nicasio (4-4, 4.14), RH Guillermo Moscoso (8-10, 3.38), LH Jamie Moyer (9-9, 4.48 in 2010) or RH Tyler Chatwood (6-11, 4.75).

Key Relievers: RH Rafael Betancourt (2-0, 2.89, 8/12), RH Matt Belisle (10-4, 3.25), LH Rex Brothers (1-2, 2.88).

Hot spots: Nolan Arenado is waiting in the wings for his chance to play third base. But it probably won’t be to start the season. Arenado, a Tulowitzki-type player, will more than likely start the season at Double-A Tulsa. For now, the starting spot belongs to Nelson, especially with Casey Blake bothered by a balky neck. But if Nelson struggles, the Rockies could promote the promising Arenado.

Outlook: As one of the favorites to win the NL West last season, the Rockies faltered under the pressure. They started out well, only to tumble back to the pack. This season, the spotlight isn’t shining as brightly on them — and that just may be for the better. Still, the Rockies could be a sleeper team, especially after GM Dan O’Dowd brought in more veterans to help with leadership inside the clubhouse. Cuddyer, Guthrie, Hernandez and Scutaro will all be voices the team listens to, along with Tulowitzki and Helton. The lineup will be — surprise, surprise — centered on Gonzalez and Tulowitzki. Gonzalez spent more of the offseason focusing on baseball and not getting caught up in his celebrity status as he did a year earlier, which he now realizes led to his sluggish start in 2011. Tulowitzki rededicated himself as well, working out in Las Vegas over the winter with 1B Jason Giambi and Fowler, whom Tulowitzki thinks will have a breakout season. The rotation is definitely deep, led by innings eater Guthrie. If Chacin, Pomeranz and Nicasio can take the next step in their development, it could be a solid assembly of arms. The bullpen will be led by Betancourt, who will step in again as the closer. Betancourt takes his sweet time on the mound and can drive hitters bonkers in the box, but he had a sensational second half of 2011, turning in a 0.33 ERA with eight saves after the All-Star break.

San Diego Padres

2011: 71-91, 5th place.

Manager: Bud Black (6th season).

He’s Here: LF Carlos Quentin, 1B Yonder Alonso, RHP Huston Street, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Micah Owings, RHP Andrew Cashner, C John Baker, OF Mark Kotsay.

He’s Outta There: RHP Heath Bell, RHP Mat Latos, 1B Anthony Rizzo.

Projected Lineup: CF Cameron Maybin (.264, 9, 40, 40 SB), 2B Orlando Hudson (.246, 7, 43), 1B Yonder Alonso (.330, 5, 15 in 88 ABs with Cincinnati), LF Carlos Quentin (.254, 24, 77 with Chicago White Sox), C Nick Hundley (.288, 9, 29), 3B Chase Headley (.289, 4, 44, 92 Ks in 381 A-Bs), RF Will Venable (.246, 9, 44, 92 Ks in 370 A-Bs), SS Jason Bartlett (.245, 2, 40, 98 Ks).

Rotation: RH Tim Stauffer (9-12, 3.73), LH Cory Luebke (6-10, 3.29, 154 Ks), RH Edinson Volquez (5-7, 5.71, 104 Ks in 20 starts with Cincinnati), LH Clayton Richard (5-9, 3.88), RH Dustin Moseley (3-10, 3.30).

Key Relievers: RH Huston Street, (1-4, 3.86, 29 saves with Colorado), RH Andrew Cashner (0-0, 1.69 in 7 appearances with Chicago Cubs), Luke Gregerson (3-3, 2.75), Ernesto Frieri (1-2, 2.71), LH Joe Thatcher (0-0, 4.50 in 18 appearances), RH Micah Owings (8-0, 3.57 in 33 games with Arizona), Anthony Bass (2-0, 1.68).

Hot Spots: The Padres need to hit better, particularly at Petco Park. Randy Ready was fired as hitting coach after the Padres had the lowest batting average in the NL (.237); the second-highest strikeout total in the majors (1,320); and scored only 593 runs, second-lowest in the NL. He was replaced by Phil Plantier, the sixth person to hold the job since cavernous Petco Park opened. The Padres hired Alonzo Powell to serve as Plantier’s assistant, although he won’t be allowed to sit in the dugout during games. The Padres are expected to be without cleanup hitter Quentin for the first two weeks of the regular season after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on March 19.

Outlook: While the Padres aren’t expected to be serious contenders for the division crown, they should at least be better than last year thanks to three big trades by new general manager Josh Byrnes in late December and early January. Byrnes traded Latos to Cincinnati for four players, including starter Volquez and two top prospects, Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Byrnes acquired Quentin from the Chicago White Sox two weeks later, and then dealt slugger Anthony Rizzo to the Chicago Cubs for Cashner. He also traded for Street after allowing All-Star closer Heath Bell to leave as a free agent. Maybin was given a $25 million, five-year contract during spring training. Still, the Padres have a lot to prove offensively and their rotation, while solid, isn’t dazzling. It was telling that one of Byrnes’ first moves was to sign veteran outfielder Mark Kotsay to provide clubhouse leadership. The Padres had little chemistry in 2011 after declining to re-sign David Eckstein and Jerry Hairston Jr. There are also questions with the ownership group. Jeff Moorad, the CEO and minority owner, recently withdrew his application to MLB to finalize his purchase of the club in order to focus on getting approval for the team’s new TV deal with Fox. Moorad, who owns 49 percent of the Padres, stepped down on Wednesday. He and a group of investors were set to buy the remainder from majority owner John Moores in January, but fellow owners deferred a vote on the proposed transfer, saying they needed clarification on financial information.

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