NL West 2012

Monday, March 19 2012 @ 12:01 AM EDT

Contributed by: John Northey

The good ol' wild west. One never knows what to expect. Since 2002 we've seen the Padres win twice, Diamondbacks three times, Dodgers three times (+1 WC), and Giants twice (+1 WC) while the Rockies claimed the wild card twice. So who will pull it off this year and will the 2nd & 3rd placers get a wild card?

I've enjoyed digging into this crazy division the past few years, one where anyone can win (well, except Colorado but they can claim a wild card). Lets go through the teams in the order of finish from 2011.

Arizona Diamondbacks: 94-68 1st place after a 65-97 record in 2010.

Removals... Trades: Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill and Jarrod Parker to the Oakland Athletics for Craig Breslow, Trevor Cahill and cash.

Lots of 'so whats' in that list but one big trade. Lets try to see how it affects things.

Rotation: Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders, Josh Collmenter were a killer top 4 last year (ERA+'s of 137/113/107/117). The 5th slot (probably earlier, more like #3) will be Trevor Cahill (107 ERA+ lifetime, just 24 years old). Boy that could be a scary good rotation.

Bullpen: J.J. Putz closing, David Hernandez, Joe Paterson (loogy), Micah Owings (gone), Sam Demel, Bryan Shaw, Aaron Heilman and Esmerling Vasquez had 30+ innings in the pen last year. They needed help here so they traded for Craig Breslow who should be helpful (138 ERA+ lifetime), free agent Takashi Saito should be a big help (199 ERA+ lifetime but just 30 games last year). So their pen won't be a strength but also not a weakness. More help would be good though.

Lineup... A solid team but last year every dice roll came up 7. This year a few will come up craps and they'll have to adjust. I'd expect a drop despite the great rotation and other upgrades. Obvious holes throughout the infield are plugged with 1/2 decent guys but trades will occur and prospects will have shots.

San Francisco Giants: 86-76 8 games back after winning it all the year before.
Additions... Removals... Trades: Phew, a lot of talent heading out. Adds of Pagan is a CF around 100 OPS+ level, Cabrera is coming off a career year in CF with a 121 OPS+ after being an 85 lifetime over 2657 PA beforehand.

Rotation: The biggest strength with Cain, Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong all over 120 ERA+, [edit]Madison Bumgarner at 111. Barry Zito is still kicking (2 years, $46 mil guaranteed) but with a 61 ERA+ shouldn't be starting anymore. Eric Surkamp is a LHP who showed a lot in the minors (2.02 ERA in AA) but didn't do well in the majors (63 ERA+) but just 63 IP so should get a full shot in 2012. I suspect they'd like more depth, but that is just such a strong top 4 that they can get away with growing pains in the 5th slot.

Bullpen: Brian Wilson has been great, but last year was WILD with 5.1 BB/9. Still saved 36 but I'd be nervous if I ran that team. Jeremy Affeldt & Javier Lopez are wild but effective. Sergio Romo looks like a closer in waiting (13 K/9, 0.9 BB/9). Guillermo Mota is a bit HR prone but effective. Santiago Casilla was very effective last year but 4.4 BB/9 is scary. Many other candidates are there as well such as Dan Runzler who can K them but, again, is very wild. A decent pen but the wildness could blow up on them.

Lineup: So some improvements, but Cabrera & Pagan are just likely to be mediocre while Huff should be a backup while Belt is given an everyday job imo. This team needs to find real offense for 1B/LF/RF and the most likely source (Belt) could be in AAA again or in a backup role depending on how the manager decides to handle things. If I was AA I'd be seeing if SF could be conned into a 'proven ML' player like Lind for Belt if AA's scouts like his potential.

Overall I'd say the Giants are up there again. This division could see a ton of 1-0, 2-1 games.

LA Dodgers: 82-79 11 1/2 back after a 80-82 season the year before (Jays west?)
Additions... Removals... Trades: Rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano
The loss of Hiroki Kuroda to the Yankees is significant (121 ERA+). The two new guys (Harang & Capuano) are no more than 100 ERA+ guys and Lilly & Billingsley realistically are the same this year. This is a very top heavy rotation, much like the Jays of the Halladay era. You have a super-ace and then a stack of #3/4 starters. Billingsley could be more but to expect it is to be taking a risk. Rubby De La Rosa had a nice rookie season as a 22 year old but isn't in the mix due to having his right shoulder undergoing surgery. Nathan Eovaldi, just 22 this year, had a fine rookie season (103 ERA+ mixed between rotation & pen) but is expected to be in AAA to start.

Bullpen: Javy Guerra is the closer, Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal, Kenley Jansen, Blake Hawksworth, Scott Elbert, Josh Lindblom are the likely pen. A wild group (most with 3+ BB/9 with 2 in the 4+ range) but Jansen & Elbert are the only 9+ K guys (Jansen at 16 K/9). Expect Jansen to slip into the closers role at some point in the not too distant future.

Lineup: These Dodgers should be giving kids playing time and moving into the future but seem determined to stick with the vets and fight for a division title. Reminds me of the Ash years near the end where there were a couple of stars and tons of mediocrity. If the kids get a shot and play well they should win, if not they will be in a dogfight for the title if Kemp & Kershaw stay at the top of their game.

Colorado Rockies: 73-89 21 back after a 83-79 season the year before
Additions... Removals... Trades: Give the Rockies credit for not sitting still. 11 trades and tons of free agents shifting around. Will it help though?

Rotation: Jeremy Guthrie, Jhoulys Chacin, Drew Pomeranz, Juan Nicasio, Guillermo Moscoso
Guthrie & Chacin are a nice 1-2 punch assuming Guthrie can get back to ace level. Pomeranz shot through the minors in one season with a 1.78 ERA in A+/AA then an 84 ERA+ in Colorado over 18 IP. Juan Nicasio is just 25 after a 108 ERA+ last year. Moscoso was an old rookie (27) who had a 120 ERA+ for Oakland. Tyler Chatwood could be there but is just 22 and had a 80 ERA+ for the Angels last year. Alex White is just 23 and in his 2nd ML season and could be there too. Tons of kids and if a few come through watch out.

Bullpen: Rafael Betancourt is promoted to ace (1.2 BB/9 and 10.5 K/9 will do that), Matt Belisle (1.8 BB/9), Matt Reynolds, Rex Brothers, Edgmer Escalona, Josh Roenicke, and others fill in a nice looking bullpen.

Lineup: This is a team that could surprise. They are very young, talented, and have lots of depth in the rotation of the type the Jays do (young and good). Decent offense with some really, really good talent. I wouldn't be shocked to see them win this division this year.

San Diego Padres: 71-91 23 back after a 90-72 season the year before (ouch)
Removals... Trades: Rotation: Tim Stauffer, Cory Luebke, Edinson Vólquez, Clayton Richard, Dustin Moseley
Very weak rotation with no one likely to crack 110 ERA+. They'll look good due to the stadium but you need a 3.25 or better ERA here to actually BE good.

Bullpen: Huston Street, Andrew Cashner, Luke Gregerson, Ernesto Frieri, Joe Thatcher, Josh Spence, ...
Like the rotation, they will look better than they are. Street is good but the rest...

Lineup: Not a lot of offense and mediocre pitching suggests the Padres will stay at the bottom for awhile.

Final thoughts: The most variable division in baseball looks like it'll have some shuffling again with Arizona likely to drop off (hard to climb that fast and not slide the next year), San Francisco still strong, the Dodgers desperate to stay up there but likely to drop if the kids are benched, the Rockies climbing quickly with strong kids, and the Padres...well...every division needs someone to beat up on. My prediction? Rockies-SF-Arizona-Dodgers-San Diego. I wouldn't be surprised to see SF claim one wild card while the other comes from the NL East but it also wouldn't shock to see SF & Arizona & Colorado in the playoffs with the Dodgers & Padres collapsing.