The National League West in 2012


The question here is based on pitching…

Can San Francisco’s carry a limited offense?

Can Arizona’s match last season? (Plus, carry what appears to be a limited offense?)

Does Colorado have any?

What happened to Los Angeles?

Why did San Diego trade theirs?

You get the idea… pitching of all types and considerations.

San Francisco Giants
What I expect in 2012: 88-74

What they did in 2011: 86-76

Key personnel changes: Brought in Melky Cabrera. Also traded for Angel Pagan. New look to the outfield… not really too exciting.

My expectations: Pitching. It’s all pitching.

I know people are looking at the lineup, and players like Cabrera and Pagan, and saying that there is a bit of speed suddenly on the bases, and maybe even a bit of pop in the order.

Don’t buy into it.

The improvements are there. Things are still so bad offensively for San Francisco that even with one of the best rotations in baseball they still will struggle to approach 90-wins.

It should still be enough to win the division.

So far, so good for Buster Posey… returning from last year’s horrible injury.

The NL West is a division based on pitching, and the top four starters for San Francisco are about as good as it gets.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): The player to watch is the Panda… Pablo Sandoval. He struggled in 2010, but had very good years in 2009 and 2011. If he stays healthy (only played in 117 games in 2011 after 150-plus in both 2009 and 2010), and produces like he did last year, the Giants should be fine even with little else around him offensively.

Personally I like Freddy Sanchez, and I think San Francisco is hurt by his start on the disabled list as he continues to recover from last season’s surgery. That said… in spring training it looks like they might have a few pieces to put together and get past his loss while he’s out. (Of course… every player comes to spring training in the best shape ever, and by late April and early May we’ve already learned never to trust the stats in games that don’t count. So those pieces could be wishful thinking.)

By the way… Aubrey Huff in the outfield. (You heard me. It’s a possibility in April. So you keep telling me about that speed and improved offense folks. Go on. Tell me. (The good news there is youngster Brandon Belt getting playing time. So if you want an argument to throw back at me… there you go.))

Arizona Diamondbacks
What I expect in 2012: 86-76

What they did in 2011: 94-68

Key personnel changes: Several moves to keep players… so not really additions or losses. Joe Saunders… Miguel Montero… these could be important to 2012 success and long-term team development. And I mention them because the organization seems to be making some quality decisions lately.

My expectations: I’ve been down this road with Arizona before. They look good… make the playoffs… I predict good things… and…

Folks… don’t forget this 94-wins in 2011 club won 70 games in 2009 and 65 in 2010.

The big move this club made in recent years was not making one… in short, keeping Justin Upton.

My problem is that I’m still wondering where Ian Kennedy came from in 2011. Can he do that in 2012? And how is this club going to score runs?

Check out the debate in left field. We have Jason Kubel and Gerardo Parra. One can hit (Kubel)… the other can field (Parra). And when you see roster spots being taken up by players like John McDonald (great guy… makes it for his glove, not his bat), you notice that the decisions being made for offense or defense are all over the place.

Still, the Diamondbacks look good. They should have a winning record. But they should also come back to reality.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): It could go wrong.

Kennedy is only 27, and was long considered a top prospect that would be one of the building blocks for a good rotation in New York. So maybe we can look at two good years in Arizona… factor in the switch of locations and leagues… and assume big things in 2012 for him. But 21-4, 2.88 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP? That was a huge part of the 94-wins for Arizona last season. It also featured him throwing a career-high 222 innings.

If you look over his career numbers, you’ll find that Kennedy actually pitching well should not be a surprise. And I think he’ll have a good year in 2012. But replicating the performance that was so strongly a part with Arizona taking the division is asking a lot. I expect him to drop off a bit.

Gold Glove winner Parra could be a trade possibility… though I don’t see the Diamondbacks letting him go. His presence though adds to the drama in Arizona, where I think a lot of things have to go right for them to win the division. And I think it’s too many things to ask.

Colorado Rockies
What I expect in 2012: 84-78

What they did in 2011: 73-89

Key personnel changes: Hard not to like the Michael Cuddyear signing… I understand he may not be perfect in the field… this is still going to pay off very nicely for them. And Marco Scutaro won’t dazzle anyone, but he’ll be solid and reliable every day of the season… plus a move to second base should work in his favor.

The rest of the moves, from my perspective, were tinkering and fine tuning. Ty Wigginton… a runner on Jamie Moyer… you get the idea. Nothing too incredible.

Oh yeah… we did have a Royce Ring contract sighting back in early March.

My expectations: Wow… umm… I’m a little torn here.

I don’t see tremendous defense, especially in the outfield. And I don’t see pitching that can win a lot of games without help.

Still… I like this club… and I think they could make a run for this division.

The everyday lineup is based around Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez… two players you wish you had on your team. And we’re adding Marco Scutaro and Michael Cuddyer to that.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): The question… quite honestly as it always seems to be in Colorado, and as I’ve said all along about this division… involves pitching. If they can get some starting pitching at a decent level, they could be very good.

Funny thing… Jamie Moyer is likely to make the starting rotation. And when you start looking over this club, it’s kind of funny that they don’t have as much youth as you’d think. Want to see what I mean? Ok…

Jeremy Gutherie.

Now when I tell you Gutherie used to pitch for the Orioles, all sorts of bells of recognition should start ringing. Yes… yes… that talented youngster that fought as hard as he could but simply was outmatched pitching for Baltimore… a struggling team in a brutal division.

And that initial impression would be pretty close to accurate. Granted, 2009 doesn’t look awesome on his resume (with a 5.04 ERA), but he still throws twice as many strikeouts as he does walks, and has cleared 190-innings the past four seasons (going over 200 in the past three).

Still… dig deeper. He’s 32 and Baltimore didn’t want to keep him.

On top of all of that… in addition to Moyer making the rotation, Gutherie is scheduled to be the day one starter.

So let’s make Gutherie our celebrity worth watching in Colorado… and we’ll say that as the fortunes of Gutherie develop, so will the fortunes of Colorado.

If he can pitch 200+ innings, and pitch the way he has more often than not in the American League… things could be unexpectedly good.

If he falters… things could get very bad.

Los Angeles Dodgers
What I expect in 2012: 76-86

What they did in 2011: 82-79

Key personnel changes: Hey… is that Mike MacDougal? Yes… yes it is. And that’s about it for the off-season.

My expectations: When you have Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp, things can’t be all that bad.


Well… not so fast.

As the Dodgers put a new ownership group in place, Matt Cain and Joey Votto agreed to new contracts. In short… if people thought LA was going to stabilize things with new owners, and then jump into free agency spending for next year, there are reasons to wonder… because teams are spending money now, and it’s not the usual suspects.

But that is for 2013 and beyond. Right now we’re looking at 2012.

Back to Kershaw and Kemp.

Right there you have two award-level players. And they are not completely alone on this roster.

Billingsley, Lilly and Harang put together a steady… though admittedly unspectacular… rotation. (Word is Lilly will beging 2012 on the disabled list.)

Andre Ethier and James Loney are still on the younger side of 30, and decent players.

So things may not be hideous in Los Angeles. Make no mistake though… there is no power in the lineup... there is no depth of pitching talent… and there is no reason to suspect support is on the way through trades of next year’s signings. This is… at best… and I mean at best… twenty-average players with a few solid players.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): We again visit Kershaw and Kemp. Because after that, it could be applause, and it could be a yawn. If those two don’t put up major numbers, there is no way this club even sniffs at 80-wins.

Let’s consider Loney.

A first baseman that plays 158 or more games four years in a row? That’s pretty good.

A first baseman playing that often hitting .288 for his career with a .346 on-base percentage? Again… I’m listening.

A first baseman that maxes out at 90 RBIs and 13 home runs? You just lost me.

And yet that isn’t giving Loney a completely fair evaluation. The guy doesn’t count as a strikeout threat, hits ok, and stays in the lineup. Normally you’d like that.

The problem is that there are so many holes in Los Angeles right now that Loney can’t be a piece of the puzzle… he’s supposed to be a leader. And a 15-homer-at-most first baseman doesn’t scream leader, if you follow my basic reading of the numbers.

San Diego Padres
What I expect in 2012: 68-94

What they did in 2011: 71-91

Key personnel changes: Traded Mat Latos. Added Edison Volquez from that trade.

My expectations: Not much.

You don’t trade a starter like Latos without waving a white flag on your season.

Still… Petco is a park made for pitchers… and the Padres biggest troubles often seem to be scoring runs and playing defense. So Volquez might just recapture some of that magic that made him a name not too long ago… and don’t be surprised if he does.

But this is clearly a team in development… for the future.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Maybe part of it is the park… but I still think their bullpen will be ok. Seems like the names change, but the results don’t in San Diego when it comes to relievers.

They do have some talented youth coming up, and some of it will be on display in the big leagues this year. Yonder Alonso also came over in the Latos trade… and he is young (24), potentially really good (47 games last year for Cincinnati… hit .330 with a .398 on-base), and a very likeable candidate if you are looking for Rookie of the Year consideration.

Cameron Maybin is 25… and heading into his sixth major league season. And since he’s never played even 140 in a season… there’s a good example of San Diego. Young… unproven… has potential… needs time.

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