NL West Is The Best - for now

Monday, March 21 2011 @ 06:46 AM EDT

Contributed by: John Northey

The NL West finally produced a winner as the Giants won it all for the first time since they moved to San Francisco. But what to expect in 2011 from a division that seems to shuffle leaders annually?

San Francisco
After a long hard fight they won the NL West over the surprising (to all but me) Padres. But can they repeat? Last year their strength was pitching (121 team ERA+) but offense was not (95 OPS+).

The Big Question To Be Answered: Can this staff both stay healthy and stay good? Tim Lincecum (119 ERA+) [why could JP keep quiet], Matt Cain (130 ERA+), Barry Zito (98 ERA+), and Jonathan Sanchez (133 ERA+) all started 33 games in 2010. Madison Bumgarner emerged as a solid 5th member with 18 starts of 136 ERA+ quality in his age 20 season. When your #5 in ERA+ is just shy of 100 for ERA+ you know you are in good shape. The big challenge will be staying this healthy again. I know I fear for Bumgarner's arm after 111 regular season ML innings and 20 post season and 83 in the minors = 214 innings at age 20 - yikes.

The Big Problem: Offense - 3 guys around the 130+ mark, another at 119 then...ugh. Very top heavy leading to a team OPS+ of 95. They added Miguel Tejada, cut Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe - ugly for defense but might be an offensive upgrade. Still, I sure wouldn't want to count on it.

Note: Their pen is deep and good with Brian Wilson had a closers dream year with 48 saves and a 226 ERA+ - potential wildness could cost him (over 3 BB/9 each of the past 3 years) but it is improving and his 11.2 K/9 last year is sweet. Sergio Romo is a closer in waiting (ala the old Henke-Ward combo) with 2 BB/9 vs 10 K/9. Santiago Casilla is a nice 3rd string with his k per inning rate but over 4 BB/9 has to scare SF a bit as does his 99 lifetime ERA+. Javier Lopez was a midseason addition last year and did great, like he did for 3 years in Boston before flopping in 2009 but his low K/9, high BB/9 and low HR/9 combo is a frightening one. Still, this should also be a strength for SF in 2011.

San Diego Padres
The surprise (to all but me) as they almost pulled it off. Although a 93 OPS+ and 108 ERA+ sure doesn't fill one with hope for 2011.

The Big Question To Be Answered: Was last year an illusion or reality? The pen did it all in 2010 (3 guys over 200 for ERA+) with a weak rotation (2 with over 100 for ERA+ over 10+ starts) and horrid offense outside of Gonzalez.

The Big Problem: Adrian Gonzalez is gone, the only guy who had a 120+ OPS+ last year. Nice to have Orlando Hudson here now, Cameron Maybin won't help much, Brad Hawpe at 1B will be a massive downgrade even if he has a career year (130 his best OPS+ done in Colorado). Jason Bartlett could be great, or he could be horrid at SS for offense (96 lifetime OPS+, but a 132 in 2009). So many possible hitters, but will any make a comeback?

Note: The rotation is the next issue - Mat Latos looked darn good at 22, Jon Garland is solid [edit: oops, not here anymore], Tim Stauffer was an ace in September but his lifetime 94 ERA+ suggests that was an illusion. Clayton Richard is young but again a sub-100 ERA+ guy. Aaron Harang and Dustin Moseley were added too, but neither are game changers. This is a team that could either suck big time and lose 90, or surprise again and win 90 if everything goes right. The variability here is crazy.

Colorado Rockies
A solid year, much like many Blue Jay years (83 wins) but a disappointment for a wild card team in '09. Playoffs/missed/playoffs/missed are their past 4 years. Can they keep up the pattern? Or will the horrid end of last year linger (lost 13 of 14 to end the year).

The Big Question To Be Answered: Can they get any offense (what a weird question for Colorado). Last year they had a poor 92 OPS+ with only 3 guys having over 100 PA and a 100+ OPS+. Their rotation was great with 3 110+ ERA+ guys with the next 3 being in the 90's (so not horrid).

The Big Problem: Offense. Jose Lopez was added at 2B (86 OPS+ lifetime but an improvement over Barnes who hit a 67), Ty Wigginton as a utility man (102, good as a super-utility) but overall they are hoping (praying) for current guys to improve.

Note: Matt Lindstrom was added to the pen as backup for Street so expect the pen to be strong again.

LA Dodgers
Expected to win, but flopped instead with tons of drama on the side.

The Big Question To Be Answered: With sub-100's for both team ERA+ and OPS+, mixed with the drama off-field it is hard to choose one big question. Don Mattingly becoming manager will be a bit of an issue, new guys Marcus Thames and Tony Gwynn Jr. are nothing special. Juan Uribe is interesting but his lifetime 85 OPS+ suggests not much. Jon Garland will help the rotation but again, not by much (solid 100 ERA+ guy).

The Big Problem: Tempted to say off field, but really this is a mediocre team that is spending way too much for way too little. Much like the end of the Gord Ash years in Toronto - a team that if all breaks right could approach 90 wins but I wouldn't bet on it.

Note: Last years offense was an average age of 30.3, pitchers were 28.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Ugly, ugly, ugly. Just 65 wins, the 3rd straight year they dropped at least 5 games in the standings. A trend they are hoping to stop.

The Big Question To Be Answered: Can Kevin Towers take this last place team and pull off a miracle? He brought in J.J. Putz to close, Russell Branyan to take over 1B (125 OPS+ last year), Melvin Mora at 3B (98 OPS+ last year but very old), got rid of K king Mark Reynolds (98 OPS+), and dumped Adam LaRoche (106 OPS+ at 1B). Overall should be an improvement.

The Big Problem: Last year the regulars had OPS+ of 98+ except for one guy but the team OPS+ was just 95. The staff ERA+ was 89 thanks in large part to an inability to find anyone outside of the core rotation who could pitch - the pen was horrid with the only guy over 100 for ERA+ having just 22 2/3 IP. Ugh.

Note: Big time improvement possible

Conclusion: My surprise team for this year is Arizona - I think they could shoot over 500 with luck. I fully expect the Dodgers to be dogs, and the Giants to repeat.