Well, here I am crawling to the finish line of MLB predictions and this series ends with a division the will be as competitive from top to bottom as any in sports. One analyst’s favorite to win the division could be another’s prediction to be fourth; it is that competitive. That being said, here is my breakdown of the final five teams in baseball.
The Colorado Rockies have a lineup that will be the best small-ball team you will ever see. Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler are lightning quick at the top of the order and right behind them is Todd Helton, one of the most consistent hitters in baseball. As if that wasn’t threatening, Troy Tulowitzki provides the most power on the team in the clean-up spot. They have a great combination of contact, power and speed and could surprise people with their ability to manufacture runs.
In addition to the offense, the pitching staff is made up of some of the best pitchers you have never heard of. Ubaldo Jimenez has quietly become an ace for the Rockies and he has Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, and Jason Hammel behind him bringing ERA’s all hovering around 4.00. The x-factor is Jeff Francis. Francis was this team’s ace before suffering a serious injury in 2008. Even if he isn’t everything he used to be, having him back is an invaluable addition.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
Before you argue the Dodgers won’t be good because Manny Ramirez is in decline, let me say that this has very little to do with ManRam. While he is still an above average hitter, it is the other two outfielders that are scaring every pitcher in baseball. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are two of the best young talents in baseball and made Ramirez’s suspension insignificant last year.
Pitching is the strength in LA though. Clayton Kershaw is one of the best lefties in all of baseball, and I believe Chad Billingsley’s 4.03 ERA last season was more of a fluke rather than sign of things to come. Hiroki Kuroda is solid when healthy and having a veteran like Vincente Padilla as a fourth starter is a valuable asset.
The Dodgers biggest concern will be at the catcher position. Russell Martin burst onto the scene two years ago as an all star, but was terrible last year. To try something different, Martin put on 25 pounds in the offseason, but it has already resulted in injuries. Even if he is healthy, gaining weight is a risky move.
San Francisco Giants
No one will argue that this staff isn’t loaded. Even if you believe that Tim Lincecum won’t be as dominant this year (his velocity has dropped this spring), Matt Cain, Barry Zito, and Jonathan Sanchez are all top-tier pitchers. Scoring runs on the Giants will be difficult on any given day because of their ability to start these guys for any game.
That being said, it is the offense that keeps them from making it to that next level. While Pablo Sandoval was a pleasant surprise last year, I don’t think that he has they power you would what from your 3-hitter. In addition, Aubrey Huff’s numbers declined significantly last season and he spent most of the season in Baltimore, where the left field fence is much shorter than that in AT&T Park. The lack of power is also supplemented with a lack of speed. Speed is crucial in a spacious park, but the Giants management has done a poor job building a team to fit the field they play on.
For the last few years, we have seen how dominant Brandon Webb is when healthy. However, after making just one start in 2009, what kind of health will he be in this year?
Even without Webb, Arizona features a good rotation with Dan Haren leading the way. Edwin Jackson is an interesting story to follow this year because of how his 2009 went. After a dominant first half, Jackson had a 5.07 ERA after the break. Some say that hitters just figured him out, while others offer obscure reasons like he was tipping his pitches. Either way, what he brings to the table will be a big key to this team’s success.
Just like the Giants though, the D-backs struggles will be run production. Other than Justin Upton (who has surpassed his older brother BJ as the best Upton), who could be ready for a breakout season, there is no one to fear. Adam LaRoche is a solid hitter, but not a clean-up worthy power hitter, and Mark Reynolds has as much late discipline as Scooby Doo at an all you can eat buffet. Overall, I just don’t see the Diamondbacks scoring enough runs to contend with the Rockies or Dodgers.
San Diego Padres:
The Padres are the one team that I don’t see posing much of a threat. While the other teams have either a dominating pitching staff or a potent lineup, the Padres are pretty mediocre in all categories.
On offense, the only names anyone would know are Tony Gwynn Jr. and Adrian Gonzalez and they aren’t dominant enough to do much on their own. Gonzalez is by far the best player here, but if the Padres aren’t contending at the All Star Break, he will most likely be shipped somewhere else.
The rotation isn’t much better either. While Jon Garland will be a solid presence when on the mound, there isn’t much experience with success behind him. Clayton Richard and Mat Latos could be on their way to being very competent pitchers in this organization, but this is just Richard’s second season as a full year starter, while Matos is entering the season with just 10 career starts.