TMS Baseball Preview: NL West

In the weeks preceding Opening Day, we here at the Saloon will be previewing each major league division and giving a brief rundown of the in's and out's of each team heading into the 2007 season. This week we look at the National League West.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

1. LOS ANGELES DODGERS
2006: 88-74 (2nd)

So Long: OF Jose Cruz Jr., C Einar Diaz, OF J.D. Drew, P Eric Gagne, C Toby Hall, OF Kenny Lofton, SS Julio Lugo, P Greg Maddux, 3B Bill Mueller, P Aaron Sele, OF Jayson Werth

Welcome: OF Larry Bigbie, OF Luis Gonzalez, C Mike Lieberthal, P Joe Mays, OF Juan Pierre, P Jason Schmidt, P Rudy Seanez, 3B Fernando Tatis, P Randy Wolf

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - Russell Martin
1B - Nomar Garciaparra
2B - Jeff Kent
SS - Rafael Furcal
3B - Wilson Betemit
LF - Luis Gonzalez
CF - Juan Pierre
RF - Andre Ethier

Starting Rotation - Jason Schmidt, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf, Hong-Chih Kuo
Setup - Yhency Brazoban, Jonathan Broxton
Closer - Takashi Saito

Just as we picked the Cubs #1 in the Central, we had to be a homer here as well for the sake of the Governor and take the Dodgers. I don't think it's really much of a stretch though. LA comes back with a solid core of veterans with Nomar, Kent, Furcal and new additions, Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez. Plenty of leadership there to compliment the up and coming players, such as Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, and James Loney.

Their pitching staff received a boost this offseason with the arrival of former Giants ace, Jason Schmidt. Brad Penny and Derek Lowe further solidify the rotation and Randy Wolf appears ready to play his first full season again, since returning from Tommy John surgery. The #5 spot currently looks to be held by Hong-Chi Kuo, but you can expect youngster Chad Billingsley to get a chance to start later this season. The bullpen looks good, with Yhency Brazoban and Jonathan Broxton setting up Takashi Saito.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: RP Jonathan Broxton - With Eric Gagne gone, Takashi Saito has become a stop-gap between their old beefy closer, and their beefy closer of the future, and the hulking 6'4" fireballing manchild Broxton, is most certainly the future. Last season in 76.1 innings of relief, Jonathan boasted a 2.59 ERA and an 11.44 K/9 ratio. If Saito falters in any way, the calls for Broxton won't be far behind. Speaking of Saito....

Yeah Baby, My Muscles are All Natural: RP Takashi Saito - This season, the Dodgers officially replace the broken, roid ravaged body of Eric Gagne with a 75 pound 37-year old Japanese man. In 2006, when he wasn't playing the role of Chairman Kaga on Iron Chef, he was busy converting 24 of 26 save opportunities for the Dodgers.

One Shake For Breakfast: Tommy Lasorda - Tommy has threatened to sue, but whether its true or not, this excerpt from a Hollywood Madam's tell all book might render your junk useless for the rest of your life. Its like walking in on your grandparents humping.

FOR MORE READING
Dodger Blues
Sons of Steve Garvey
Dodger Thoughts


2. SAN DIEGO PADRES
2006: 88-74 (1st)

SO LONG: P Alan Embree, OF Ryan Klesko, OF Jon Knott, C Mike Piazza, P Rudy Seanez, P Woody Williams, P Scott Williamson

WELCOME: OF Jose Cruz Jr., P Shawn Estes, 2B Marcus Giles, C Todd Greene, P Greg Maddux

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - Josh Bard
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
2B - Marcus Giles
SS - Khalil Greene
3B - Kevin Kouzmanoff
LF - Terrmel Sledge/Jose Cruz Jr.
CF - Mike Cameron
RF - Brian Giles

Starting Rotation - Jake Peavy, Greg Maddux, Chris Young, Clay Hensley, David Wells
Setup - Doug Brocail, Scott Linebrink
Closer - Trevor Hoffman

Blah, I just don't care for the Padres at all. Never have. But looking at this squad you can't deny that they'll definitely be in the thick of things as the season winds down. At first glance their offense doesn't seem that impressive, but you have to consider Adrian Gonzalez should continue to improve, Mike Cameron can hit and steal when he stays healthy, youngster Kevin Kouzmanoff will have a chance to develop, while hitting low in the order, and the Giles brothers really aren't as bad as their '06 stats make them seem.

What really makes this Padres squad stand out though is their pitching. A great looking rotation and even better bullpen will keep the team in games quite often. Jake Peavy is coming into his own as the staff ace and Chris Young and Clay Hensley have become decent middle of the rotation guys. Then you have Maddux who should impart some knowledge on the young guys, and David Wells can still pitch effective enough as a #5 starter when he's not hobbled with gout or rickets or whatever the hell he gets stricken with.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: RP Trevor Hoffman - In this day and age, where a closer's shelf-life can be measured in months rather than years, someone like Hoffman becomes that much more amazing. Not only has the all-time saves leader been closing games regularly since 1994, he's been doing it for the same team the entire time. This season, Hoffman looks to build on his record and become the first pitcher to eclipse the 500 saves mark.

So This Is Where You Want to End Your Storied Career?: SP Greg Maddux - Eh, we just wish it would've been in Cubbie pinstripes or in the Gov's case, Dodger Blue. Either way, can you blame Mad Dog? It's sunny San Diego, he'll get to pitch in Petco Canyon, the Padres should contend, and did I mention it's sunny San Diego?

You Sir are No Rob Deer: 3B Russ Branyan - Answer: .228, .216, .234, .257, .228. Question: What are Branyan's batting averages the last five seasons? Yeesh, at least Deer sported some sweet big-league hair.

FOR MORE READING
Gaslamp Ball
Ducksnorts
San Diego Spotlight


3. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
2006: 76-86 (4th)

SO LONG: P Miguel Batista, SS Craig Counsell, SS Damion Easley, C Johnny Estrada, OF Luis Gonzalez, 1B Brian Jordan, P Luis Vizcaino

WELCOME: P Doug Davis, P Randy Johnson

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - Miguel Montero
1B - Conor Jackson
2B - Orlando Hudson
SS - Stephen Drew
3B - Chad Tracy
LF - Eric Byrnes
CF - Chris Young
RF - Carlos Quentin

Starting Rotation - Brandon Webb, Randy Johnson, Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis, Juan Cruz
Setup - Jorge Julio, Brandon Lyon
Closer - Jose Valverde

I had a hard time not putting the D-backs second. But with all the early hype being spewed about them from the writers and analysts, something left me remembering the Cleveland Indians from last year and how they went from savvy sleeper pick to major disappointment.

Be that as it may, there's good reason to be excited about this team. A potentially potent young lineup with Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Miguel Montero, Chris Young, and Carlos Quentin ready to make a splash, should keep things interesting in the West.

The rotation however has some question marks. After Brandon Webb, Doug Davis may be their most reliable pitcher this year. It remains to be seen whether Randy Johnson's back will hold up, and Livan Hernandez has been decomposing since 2004 (his strikeouts have dramatically decreased the last couple seasons while his walks have remained relatively unchanged). Juan Cruz is slated as the fifth starter, but the guy has never even pitched 100 innings in a major league season, let alone handled the rigors of being a starter full-time. We'll see how things shape up.

Oh yeah, kudos for ditching the heinous purple uniforms, and God help us if they ever come back as a "throwback".

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: SP Brandon Webb - It's funny how things change sometimes. In 2003, Webb was just another young guy in the rotation, stuck in the shadow of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Fast forward four years later and suddenly he's the star of this pitching staff with the Big Unit playing second fiddle to him.

Alex Gonzalez Award: OF Chris Young - Just when we were finally getting this "Which Alex Gonzalez is which?" shit straightened out, along comes Arizona outfielder Chris Young. At least the Chris Youngs play entirely different positions. So you can refer to one as Chris Young the pitcher and such. Although when referring to the Gonzalezes I just ask, "Is it the one who botched Game 6 for the Cubs?"

*Learn to Spell: Conor Jackson's Parents - God dammit, this shit has been going on long enough. Stop naming your kids regular names but spelling them slightly different (i.e. Jasen). You're just setting them up for a lifetime of frustration when they constantly have to correct people's spelling error. The only parents worse than them are the ones naming their kids some form of Caden or Jaden. Those folks need to be locked in a gulag.

*Yeah I couldn't think of anything else to write about with Arizona.

FOR MORE READING
Diary of a Diehard
Down the Left Field Line
AZ Snakepit


4. COLORADO ROCKIES
2006: 76-86 (5th)

SO LONG: 3B Vinny Castilla, P Jason Jennings, P Ray King, P Jose Mesa

WELCOME: OF Steve Finley, OF Alexis Gomez, P LaTroy Hawkins, P Matt Herges, P Jason Hirsh, 1B John Mabry, OF Willy Taveras

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - Chris Iannetta
1B - Todd Helton
2B - Kazuo Matsui
SS - Troy Tulowitzki
3B - Garrett Atkins
LF - Matt Holliday
CF - Willy Taveras
RF - Brad Hawpe

Starting Rotation - Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Rodrigo Lopez, Josh Fogg, Byung Hyun Kim
Setup - LaTroy Hawkins, Jeremy Affeldt
Closer - Brian Fuentes

On paper, Colorado's offense looks like it could be just as good as any in this division. While Todd Helton's career has slowed down considerably, the Rockies have a trio of good young sluggers in Matt Holliday, Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe. All took big strides last season and look to continue their success. Also, rookies Chris Iannetta and Troy Tulowitzki look to factor into the mix as they will be starting at catcher and shortstop respectively. Then there's newly acquired CF Willy Taveras, who should provide them some great speed in the leadoff spot.

Unfortunately, on paper, the pitching staff looks like an absolute train wreck. Never mind the Coors factor and whether or not the humidor matters or not, I wouldn't be comfortable with these pitchers in a regular ballpark. While Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook aren't too bad, Josh Fogg, Rodrigo Lopez, and Byung Hyun Kim all had ERA's above 5.00 and WHIP's above 1.50 last season. Yikes.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: OF Matt Holliday - Aside from Rockies fans, and fantasy baseball geeks, there are a lot of casual fans out there that are not overly familiar with Matt Holliday. Well now is a good time to get yourself acquainted. Matt busted out last year with a monster season, finishing as one of the NL's ten best in AVG (5th), SLG (5th), OPS (7th), Runs (5th), Hits (5th), Total Bases (4th), Doubles (9th), RBI (9th), and Extra Base Hits (2nd).

Most Likely To Put Fans to Sleep: RP Matt Herges - The length of a Matt Herges inning can be measured in geological time. With all that thought going into each pitch, you think he'd be better.

NL West Whore: OF Steve Finley - When he suits up for Colorado, the 42 year old Finley will have played for every National League West team. He could eventually be joined by Jose Cruz Jr., who's latest stint in San Diego leaves Colorado as the only team in the West he hasn't played for.

FOR MORE READING
Purple Row
Up in the Rockies
Rockies Locker

5. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
2006: 76-85 (3rd)

SO LONG: OF Moises Alou, P Jeff Fassero, OF Steve Finley, C Todd Greene, 1B Shea Hillenbrand, C Mike Matheny, P Jason Schmidt, 1B J.T. Snow, P Mike Stanton, P Tim Worrell, P Jamey Wright

WELCOME: 3B Rich Aurilia, OF Ryan Klesko, C Bengie Molina, P Russ Ortiz, OF Dave Roberts, P Barry Zito

PROJECTED LINEUP
C - Bengie Molina (32 years old)
1B - Rich Aurilia (35)
2B - Ray Durham (35)
SS - Omar Vizquel (39)
3B - Pedro Feliz (31)
LF - Barry Bonds (42)
CF - Dave Roberts (34)
RF - Randy Winn (32)

Starting Rotation - Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Matt Morris, Noah Lowry, Russ Ortiz
Setup - Steve Kline, Vinny Chulk
Closer - Armando Benitez

Don't get me wrong, if everything goes right, the Giants could, sorta, maybe, possibly contend, but when you look at that lineup, I can't see them staying overly healthy, or being consistently productive offensively. While the acquisition of Barry Zito made a splash, the remainder of signings have people scratching their heads a bit. Aurilia? Klesko? Ortiz? It seems to me that Giants management is hoping Bonds' home run chase will fill the stands, because without him, they have little to be desired.

What? Say something positive? OK, fine. This pitching rotation isn't bad. Sure, they lost Jason Schmidt, but Matt Cain looks promising, and Noah Lowry has potential. Barry Zito is a little overrated in my mind, but he's put up 6 straight seasons of 200+ innings. However that's a lot of miles on that arm already, so you never know. The corpse of Matt Morris is still throwing but he hasn't looked that great in a long while. Meanwhile Russ Ortiz is the #5. The same Russ Ortiz who won 21 games 4 years ago and has declined ever since. Hey I didn't say this rotation was good, they're just not bad.

PRESEASON AWARDS
Mr. Sexy Time: Matlock - To accomodate the personal tastes of the team, the clubhouse televisions will be tuned into non-stop episodes of Matlock, with the occasional Murder, She Wrote and Diagnosis: Murder thrown in.

You Sir, Are No Henry Aaron: Barry Bonds - It couldn't happen to a less likeable guy.

You Can Only Start Russ Ortiz for So Long: SP Tim Lincecum - There's a lot of buzz surrounding this kid. Keep an eye on his emergence sometime later this year.

FOR MORE READING
McCovey Chronicles
Giants Cove
El Lefty Malo