Wednesday, February 07, 2007

MLB Preview 1: NL West

San Diego Padres

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

Jake Peavy
Chris Young
Greg Maddux
Clay Hensley
David Wells
Mike Thompson

San Diego's lineup has a few new faces, and it should only make the returing defending champs stronger. Marcus Giles may no longer be able to hit leadoff - if he ever was able to - but he appears to be their best option. After Giles and last year's #2 and 3 hitters - Cameron and Brian Giles - the lineup is filled with emerging young hitters. Adrian Gonzalez is starting to live up to the hype he earned as a former Rangers #1 prospect. After Gonzalez is one of the best college hitters of all time in Khalil Greene, and three Indians "castoffs." Kevin Kouzmanoff, who hit close to .400 in the minors last year and hit a grand slam off the first pitch he saw in the majors, was acquired a few months ago in a trade for Josh Barfield. Josh Bard is emerging as an above average hitter for a catcher. Russ Branyan is still Russ Branyan, but the Pads still have Jose Cruz, Jr., and Terrmel Sledge if he doesn't work out. The bench features Todd Walker and Jack Cust - who for Notre Dame fans is Brian Stavisky plus an insane amount of hype.
The Padres decided to support top young starters Jake Peavy and Chris Young by adding veteran Greg Maddux and, for the heck of it, David Wells. The bullpen still features Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman will be set up by the Gammonsesque Cla Meredith, and by the other piece of the Barfield-Kouzmanoff deal, Andrew Brown.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Juan PierreCF
Rafael Furcal SS
Nomar Garciaparra 1B
Luis Gonzalez LF
Jeff Kent 2B
Andre Ethier RF
Wilson Betemit 3B
Russell Martin C

Jason Schmidt
Derek Lowe
Brad Penny
Randy Wolf
Hong-Chih Kuo
Chad Billingsley
Brett Tomko
Mark Hendrickson

Is Juan Pierre better than Kenny Lofton? Is Luis Gonzalez better than Luis Gonzalez? Those are LA's two main questions on offense, as those are LA's two main acquisitions. For everyone else, it's just a question of being a year older. For Furcal, Garciaparra, and Kent, that may be a negative, but for Ethier, Betemit, and Martin, that should be a positive. The bench will once again feature Olmedo Saenz. If they break camp, it will also feature super prospects Andy LaRoche, who is said to be a better hitter than older brother Adam, and James Loney.
The Dodgers won the 2006 NL Wild Card by having the same record as the Padres; this year it looks like LA's going for the automatic bid. The Dodgers added Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf to a rotation that already featured Derek Lowe and Brad Penny. Of that group, the 3rd and 4th starters (Penny and Wolf) may actually be the best pitchers on the team. Meanwhile, the bullpen isn't what it used to be, but it's still pretty good. Takashi Saito is predicted to have a breakout year at closer, and he'll be set up by Yhency Brazoban and Chin-hui Tsao.

San Francisco Giants

Dave Roberts CF
Omar Vizquel SS
Randy Winn RF
Barry Bonds LF
Ray Durham 2B
Bengie Molina C
Pedro Feliz 3B
Rich Aurilia/Ryan Klesko/Lance Niekro 1B

Barry Zito
Matt Morris
Matt Cain
Noah Lowry
Brad Hennessey
Jonathan Sanchez
Russ Ortiz

You may want to bat Barry Bonds 3rd just to get him more at bats, but with 3 guys who are essentially #2 hitters at the top of the lineup, Bonds has no choice but to bat fourth once again. That is, unless Molina, Aurilia, or Klesko can handle the cleanup spot for this team. As always, I like Durham in the 5th spot, as the #5 hitter has the second most leadoff opportunities over the course of the season. Once again, this is a very old lineup. Dave Roberts hasn't played center for a few years, and Pac Bell (or whatever it is now) has a rather large outfield. Then again, Winn does have the ability to play center as well. The question is, who will play left when Bonds is hurt? Klesko has played outfield in the past, but that may be an "adventure" now. That leaves Mark Sweeney and... Mark Sweeney.
The big offseason move was signing Barry Zito. But is he even the best starter on the team? Matt Cain is a player on the rise, and Noah Lowry can definitely hold his own as a 4th starter.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Stephen Drew SS
Orlando Hudson 2B
Chad Tracy 3B
Conor Jackson 1B
Chris Snyder C
Carlos Quentin RF
Eric Byrnes LF
Chris B. Young CF

Brandon Webb
Randy Johnson
Livan Hernandez
Doug Davis
Enrique Gonzalez
Juan Cruz
Edgar Gonzalez
Dustin Nippert

I'll be honest: I have no idea what this lineup will look like. I believe that Drew, JD's younger brother and one of the best shortstop prospects in the game, hit leadoff at the end of last year. Hudson, Tracy, Jackson, and Snyder all put up rather good numbers and deserve to be in the heart of this lineup. After that, it's anyone's guess. Of course, there's a good chance that Eric Byrnes will end up at the top of the lineup instead of Drew or Hudson. Whether that's justified or not is debatable. The bench features several familiar (or at least somewhat familiar) names: Robby Hammock, Tony Clark, Jeff DaVanon, and Jerry Hairston's brother Scott.
The linup looks promising, but it's the pitching staff that will lead to this team's success. (After all, this team did challenge for the division in 2005.) Top starter Brandon Webb and veteran Livan Hernandez is joined by Arizona native Randy Johnson and emerging former Brewer Doug Davis. The bullpen has no less than four players with closer experience. A combination of injuries caused a movement from Brandon Lyon to Luis Vizcaino to Jose Valverde at closer over the past few years; Valverde will retain the job this season. Lyon, Vizcaino, and Valverde will also be joined by Jorge Julio. I would be surprised if the Diamondbacks finished any lower than third in the division this season.

Colorado Rockies

Willy Taveras/Cory Sullivan CF
Troy Tulowitzki/Clint Barmes SS
Matt Holliday LF
Todd Helton 1B
Garrett Adkins 3B
Bradley Hawpe RF
Yorvit Torrealba C
Jamey Carroll/Kaz Matsui 2B

Aaron Cook
Jeff Francis
Josh Fogg
Byung-Hyun Kim
Rodrigo Lopez
Brian Lawrence
Taylor Buchholz
Jason Hirsh

It looks like Clint Barmes' moment in the sun is over, as Troy Tulowitzki is projected to take over as the stating shortstop. I'll be honest, I've never heard of the guy either. The core of this lineup is very good, with Holliday, Helton, Adkins, and Hawpe. Adkins is actually projected to be one of the best third basemen in the league this summer. But the supporting cast leads something to be desired. Willy Taveras and Cory Sullivan put up very similar numbers last year, so it will be interesting to see if the job will go to the new acquisition (Taveras, from Houston) or the incumbent. Yorvit Torrealba is Yorvit Torrealba. And when you're fighting Kaz Matsui for your job, well.... The bench features C/1B/DH Javy Lopez.
The top of the Colorado rotation features two players who pitch well regardless of the altitude in Cook and Francis. Byung-Hyun Kim returns for another season with the Rockies, and he will be joined this year by Fogg, Lopez, and Lawrence. If nothing else, the Rockies have decent depth in their rotation. Brian Fuentes returns as the Rockies closer, and he's a good one. He'll be joined by AL Central castoffs Jeremy Affeldt (another potential starter) and Denny Bautista from the Royals, LaTroy Hawkins from the Twins, and Tom Martin - who surprisingly has played every year since a two year stint in Cleveland at the end of the century.