I apologize for this coming out a little later than it should have... been a bit busy these last few days.
The National League West has fluctuated between being a joke and being loaded in recent years. Last season we saw three contenders emerge from this division and that number could actually increase to four in 2010. Colorado remains the most complete team, with a vastly underrated pitching staff, strong lineup and the deepest bench in all of baseball. Nipping at their heels are the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks, all with legitimate playoff hopes this season. San Diego remains a distant fifth team in the division and should have a rough year competing against a very talented group.
1. Colorado Rockies 88-74
The Rockies late charge last season caught the league off-guard but the reality is that they were a sleeping giant all along. This is largely the same team as last year, the only real changes are the departure of Jason Marquis (hardly a loss because of the presence of Jeff Francis and Jhoulys Chacin) and a different backup catcher. The root of the Rockies success is a pitching staff that gets a ton of ground balls and a defense that is among the best at converting batted-balls into outs. Other than team leader Troy Tulowitzki the lineup does not have a star player, but everyone can hit, including the bench. Colorado probably epitomizes the term "team" more than any other club in baseball; they can beat you so many ways and with so many different players, Colorado has to be the favorite in the division.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers 87-75
The Dodgers won 95 games last year and return with a very similar roster this season. Randy Wolf was, in my opinion, their best pitcher last year and his departure leaves a significant hole that Los Angeles will struggle to fill. Chad Billingsley was a mess at the end of last season, but if he can straighten himself out, he and Clayton Kershaw will be one of the most dynamic 1-2 starters in the league. The Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier outfield could be the most productive offensively in baseball, but it will have to be in order to cover for a deceptively weak infield. Russ Martin and Rafael Furcal have seen their numbers going in the wrong direction while James Loney and Blake DeWitt offer limited offensive upside. Although Los Angeles has more star-power than Colorado, it is a lack of depth that will be their undoing over the course of the season, leaving them just short of another division title.
3. San Francisco Giants 84-78
The disparity between San Francisco's pitching and hitting was nothing short of staggering last season. Their team OPS+ was 81 while their ERA+ was 123. With two potential Cy Young candidates, a couple other solid mid-rotation starters and a deceptively good pen, the Giants can pitch with anyone. However, they remain on the outside of the playoff picture because they simply cannot score enough runs. New additions Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa will help a little bit but Pablo Sandoval remains the only real threat in their lineup. The Giants' best hope for a playoff run would be monster performances from soon-to-be-called-up Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner. As good as their rotation is, their pen might be even more intimidating as they feature three guys that can touch the upper-90s in Brian Wilson, Dan Runzler and Waldis Joaquin to compliment breaking-ball experts Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt. Expect to see many low scoring games in the bay area this year.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks 80-82
Arizona was one of the most disappointing teams in baseball last year as they could never recover from a series of major injuries, the worst of which sidelined ace Brandon Webb for the entire season. The silver lining was the emergence of three building blocks that should be key figures in the Diamondbacks' lineup for many years to come. Third baseman Mark Reynolds hit 44 home runs, catcher Miguel Montero put up a .294/355/.478 slash line while budding superstar Justin Upton had his first of probably many 20/20 seasons. With Brandon Webb likely to return at some point this season and Dan Haren cementing himself as one of the game's best starters, Arizona might just have enough pitching to make a run this year. Newly acquired Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy both have more upside than most middle of the rotation starters but the fifth spot and relievers may hold Arizona back this year. They also remain a very shallow team and if the injury bug strikes again their record could plummet quickly.
5. San Diego Padres 64-98
San Diego has been in limbo the last few seasons, desperately needing to rebuild but never fully committing to the process. Beyond superstar Adrian Gonzalez and possibly some of their relievers, it is difficult to find a plus player on the entire roster. Youngsters Kyle Blanks and Chase Headley have some nice potential but San Diego really needs a lot more help if they want to compete for a division title. Playing in the most pitcher-friendly park around has masked an awful rotation, a fact only reinforced by their starting of Jon Garland on opening day. It seems inevitable that they will trade Gonzalez (hopefully for some young starting pitchers) and finally commit to purging their roster of all veterans and hope to be competitive down the road.