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Baseball Nation previews the N.L. West


Grant Brisbee: The NL West has produced two out of the last three World Series winners. Has anyone mentioned that lately? It's a neat factoid. I bring it up often at cocktail parties. I'm very popular because of it. But will the NL West produce another one this year?

Rob Neyer: Hold on there, Red Rider. Put Thunder back in the stable, etc. Seems like we might be getting just a little bit ahead of ourselves! But I guess when you win two out of there, that's just the first place your championship-addled mind goes ...

First let's talk about the Colorado Rockies, because just now I had the oddest thought: the Rockies' new manager is Troy Tulowitzki!

Yes, I know it's not. But for just the splittest of seconds there, I thought he was. Probably because I think about pre-World War II baseball too much. But in the olden days, Tulowitzki would have been a managerial candidate while still starring at shortstop. Just like Bucky Harris and Joe Cronin and Lou Boudreau. But of course it's really Walt Weiss, another hey-let's-see-if-this-guy-can-manage experiment. Those have worked out pretty well lately, although I'm still not completely sold on them. Anyway, Weiss will look a lot smarter if Tulowitzki's all healed up from last season's g-g-g-g-groin injury. Hey, did you know the Rockies still owe Tulo $144 million? That's pretty cool. If he keeps getting hurt, they'll have to hire him to manage the club, just to save some money.

Grant: Say, you know what people love? When other people talk about their fantasy teams. I've been in the same NL-only league with the same guys since Vlad Guerrero was a prospect. I had Tulowitzki last year -- first pick. I swore I would never pick him again. Then he came around in the second round ... and I had a moment of weakness. I still think he's going to be good, and I think he's going to be healthy. Bonds help me, I think he's going to be healthy.

Also of note: I literally used the money earned from writing a freelance Rotoworld column to pay off my last-place fantasy finish last year. Thanks, Tulowitzki!

Apart from Tulo, though, and Carlos Gonzalez ... yeech, right? I guess you can make the argument that all of the starters on the staff should be in a rotation somewhere, so last year's injury-riddled nightmare shouldn't repeat itself. But Wilin Rosario can't catch, Todd Helton can't hit anymore, and Michael Cuddyer can't hit or field. I see a lot of people vacillating between the Rockies and Padres for last, but I think the Rockies are #5 with a silver bullet.

(Beer joke!)

Rob: Can't really argue with you. But the question isn't whether or not the Rockies will finish last, because there's a decent chance they won't. The question is whether or not they'll still be relevant in August, and there's almost no chance they will.

In fact, the Vegas odds have the Rocks as third-least likely to win the World Series, well ahead of the Marlins and Astros but well behind the next three teams. And yeah, the Padres are better. Not hey-these-guys-will-be-a-lot-better-than-people-think better. But they're a damned good bet for fourth place, with a legitimate shot at third. I'm not sure why, considering their best player (Chase Headley) is slated for a month on the DL and nobody in the lineup scares anybody. And that pitching rotation ... Man, I worry about those guys, with the outfield dimensions more hitter-friendly this season. But I guess the numbers don't lie, and the numbers say the Padres are better than the Rockies.

Grant: The problem I have with the Padres is that I think of them with their best-case-scenario rotation in play. Andrew Cashner! Joe Wieland! Cory Luebke! Maybe Casey Kelly mid-season! And combined all with an offense that will surprise. Good work, good effort.

Except, uh, that's not the rotation they're going to have. All of those pitchers are broken, and instead you get a heapin' helpin' of Edinson Volquez as the Opening Day starter, and things escalate quickly from there. I think Tyson Ross stabbed a guy with a trident. He should probably lay low for a while. But I really like the lineup they've put together. More so if Yonder Alonso starts hitting or if Cameron Maybin reclaims his stroke.

Rob: Yeah. Volquez. Yikes.

Next, a team that really might surprise a lot of people: your Arizona Diamondbacks. They're just 60-to-1 to win the World Series, but were I in Las Vegas -- I mean, at this exact moment -- I would happily wager a sawbuck on the D-backs. Their starting rotation runs six or seven deep, and last season their run differential was +46. That's pretty good! Not that they're flawless, especially with the object of your March Man Crush out for a couple of months with a stupid elbow injury. But for anyone looking for a dark horse among the long shots, the Snakes seem like the super-obvious choice.

Grant: Adam Eaton ... sigh.

I've been touting the Diamondbacks for a while. I started before they started pokemoning outfielders, and even though I'm not wild about the permutation they settled on, it's still a mighty fine team. My only complaint with them is that they have Jason Kubel lumbering about in left with Parra on the bench when Eaton comes back. It ... it makes zero sense.

Maybe the plan is to platoon Kubel and Ross, which makes a fair amount of sense, but if Kubel is the guy, that's a weird outcome to an offseason filled with different possibilities. Did you notice how awful he was in the second half last year? It was like Requiem for a Dream: You kept thinking things couldn't get worse, and the next thing you know, he was going "K to K" for money in front of a bunch of people who paid to watch for some reason.

But now we're picking nits. Complete lineup, complete rotation (along with maybe the most pitching depth of any team in the NL).

Rob: I play in a little prediction contest that Jim Baker puts together, and I'm picking the Diamondbacks for second place. Just because you have to mix things up some. Well, also because I think the Giants might actually be in some real trouble. Exhibit 1: Barry Zito's still in the rotation. Exhibit 2: Tim Lincecum walked a bunch of guys in Arizona. Exhibit 3: Panda's balky elbow.

Now, the counter-argument is that ALL OF THOSE THINGS HAPPENED LAST YEAR AND THEY WON THE WHOLE DANG THING. I do remember that. But I look at what the Giants are counting on this season, and it just seems like a lot of things that won't have happy endings. I think they'll be good and maybe great again, but part of this predicting business is considering realistic worst-case scenarios. Which I just did!

Grant: Barry Zito is a World Series hero. You can never take that away from him.

The only thing that makes me feel better about Lincecum is that he's always awful in the Cactus League. His ERA has never been under 4.00, and it's usually not even close. He's a herky-jerky pitcher with a herky-jerky motion, and that takes a while to wrangle in the early part of the season.

That written, I'm not exactly predicting great things for him. Decent things, though. Decent-to-good. Better than last year, which was still good enough to win a division and ...

/checks 3x5 index card

… the World Series or whatever. My biggest concern with the Giants is with left field, where Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres are a Voltron of minor-league-free-agent-turned-good platooning. They should help in the field and on the bases, so maybe I shouldn't be too hard on them, but I'd be surprised if they combined for an OBP over .320.

Rob: Honestly, I would love to pick someone other than the Dodgers to win the West, just because it's no fun going for teams that don't have actual budgets. But Zack Greinke's solid tuneup against the Angels Saturday night makes me think there's probably no stopping this team, at least until October. Their pitching is just ridiculously deep -- maybe the deepest staff we've ever seen, at least rotation-wise? -- and the good hitters should cover up the holes in the lineup. Granted, they're counting on Carl Crawford ... but Crawford did hit reasonably well this spring. I'm not saying he ever gets back to where he was with the Rays, but the Dodgers are probably just hoping for useful.

One thing that annoys me is when people say, with a sneer, that you can't buy a pennant. Oh, but you most certainly can. Or you can buy 90 wins, anyway. Assuming decent health, fair luck, and all that jazz. And I think the Dodgers are a great bet for 90 wins, if only because of all those damned starting pitchers they can throw at you.

Grant: I'm not that sold on the Dodgers' rotation, just because Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano are a little sketchy, and Hyun-jin Ryu is an unknown, but Ryu did have a nifty spring. Yeah, my eyes drift toward the gaping holes like Luis Cruz and the one occupying the dark void that used to be Crawford's elbow, but that's probably fanboy bias. It's a good team, and the thing that scares me is Adrian Gonzalez. What if he's the elite hitter we thought he was 365 days ago? Seems like he's been swept under the rug a bit, but it's way, way, way too early to write him off. I'd have a tough time accepting him drifting off into Lyle Overbay land this quickly.

Rob: Yeah, me too. Great? Maybe not. Better than Loney? Uh-huh.

For anybody not paying close attention, my N.L. West (and you can book this one, because I'm super-smart) ...

1. Dodgers
2. Diamondbacks
3. Giants
4. Padres
5. Rockies

Grant:Oh, man you didn't pick the Giants for ... hold on ...

/looks at Rob Neyer's predictions for the 2010 and 2012 regular season and playoffs

Cool, cool.

1. Giants
2. Diamondbacks
3. Dodgers
4. Padres
5. Astros
6. Rockies