As the Dodgers saw in 2013 with Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe, established big-leaguers putting up huge bounce-back seasons can help propel a team to the top of its division and into postseason success. Several other players in the National League West fit that mold last season, from Hunter Pence in San Francisco to Michael Cuddyer in Colorado, and many others in between.
Who is a candidate for major improvement from each team within the division in 2014? Let's take a look.
Martin Prado. After arriving in Phoenix in a trade that sent Justin Upton to the Braves, Prado started very slowly but finished strong and was actually slightly above average in terms of OPS+, even though he finished with his second-lowest batting average and second-lowest on-base percentage of his career.
He's only 30, and another season in the terrific offensive environment known as Chase Field should yield better results. A .300 AVG and .350 OBP shouldn't be out of reach for Prado.
Justin Morneau. It has been a few years since he was truly productive, but Morneau is heading to a ballpark that, while not the home run paradise it once was, is still a hitter's haven for left-handers.
If he can stay on the field, Morneau should hit for more power and a higher average by default, and it's entirely plausible that the 33-year-old Canadian could be the Rockies' 2014 version of Cuddyer from last season.
Dan Haren. Nationals Park, which slightly favors hitters, was not kind to Haren in 2013. His ERA there was a run and a half higher than it was on the road, suggesting a move to a better pitcher's park might be beneficial.
That's exactly what Haren will see with Dodger Stadium, which suppresses offense by about five percent. Haren has one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios of any active pitcher and that ability, combined with experiencing some better batted-ball luck, should go a long way toward improving his overall numbers.
Josh Johnson. The 30-year-old right-hander struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings for the Blue Jays in an injury-plagued 2013 season, but he ended up with an awful ERA due in part to the career-high 15 home runs he allowed.
Eleven of those home runs came at the tater-happy Rogers Centre, but Johnson won't have that problem with his home park in 2014. Petco Park, despite having its fences moved in, is still one of the best pitcher's parks in the game and will likely suit Johnson well if he can avoid the injury bug.
Matt Cain. For only the second time in his career, and first time since 2006, Cain failed to keep his ERA under 4.00. Part of the reason for that is Cain reverted to his pre-2010 walk numbers, but elevated line drive and HR/FB rates certainly didn't help, either.
Cain is only 29 years old and has retained his fastball velocity for three years running, so its unlikely that wear on his treads caused the subpar season. It's much more possible that 2013 was an outlier, and that Cain will return to terrorizing opposing hitters this season.