Under no circumstances do I expect my predictions to come true. Why? Because of the very nature of predictions. We are determining the outcome of a season before a game has ever been played. We are predicting division standings based on pitching and lineups on paper. However, we all love to do it. While the season is still a couple months away, February really kicks off the introduction to baseball, and division predictions are the best way to capture that spirit.
So let’s start with my division winner and work down.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
I honestly don’t think this is as big a stretch as many people do. In the midst of ownership and television rights chaos, the Dodgers still managed an 82-79 record. Their pythagorean record actually had them a bit better at 84-77.
The Dodgers have the Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw barely approaching the prime of his career. They have Matt Kemp, an MVP candidate every season going forward as far as I’m concerned. They’ve got Andre Ethier, who save for some injury issues last season put up impressive numbers. The Dodgers didn’t make many splashes in the off-season, but they did enough to help improve the club.
Gone is Jon Garland who started just nine games. He is replaced by Aaron Harang. Harang won 14 games with the Padres and figures to win about 12 in a Dodgers uniform at very least. The team also went out and picked up Chris Capuano. Capuano is getting another shot after struggling with injuries and poor performance the last few years. Overall, though, Capuano has a 97 ERA+, strikes out 7.5 batters per nine innings and walks just 2.9.
Aside from any unforeseen injuries, the Dodgers should be able to improve upon last season’s record. The clubhouse should be a little more loose. The team should be less in the spotlight for off-field issues, and more in the spot-light for their performance. Considering they won 82 games (and by Pythagorean standards should have won 84), it’s not unlikely to see this team beak the 90-win plateau and win the division.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
I’m still not sure what to make of Arizona. They came out of nowhere and won the division last year when everyone thought they’d be battling San Diego for last place. Kirk Gibson’s intensity and leadership obviously helped the team get the most out of its players. However, the pitching seemed to have performed above their level.
Ian Kennedy‘s Cy Young-like performance last season is not something many expect him to duplicate. Joe Saunders was average at best. Daniel Hudson was the one player most expected to succeed, and he did. Because the team has Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson at the top of the rotation, they should be able to compete all year long.
However, the Diamondbacks benefited from some luck last season. Their pythagorean record was 88-74. Their offense was solid but not over-powering (as seen in the division series last season). Justin Upton finally put everything together and had a break out season. He hit .289/.369/.529 with 31 home runs. The Double-A bomber (a nickname I’m still trying to get to catch on for Paul Goldshmidt) surprised everyone and hit .250/.333/.474 with eight home runs in 177 plate appearances. On the flip side, the team had 14 players who had an OPS below league average.
The Diamondbacks will be competitive, but they should fall off a bit from last season’s run.
3. San Diego Padres
That’s right Padres fans, your team, sans Anthony Rizzo, is set to improve. The bullpen has improved contrary to popular belief. The Padres made a one-for-one type move when they let Heath Bell leave for free agency and traded from Huston Street. Andrew Cashner figures to provide a nice boost. The final few innings of a game should belong to a Padres bullpen that looks to duplicate the success of the 2010 season.
Offensively, the Padres have improved as well. In my article the other day about projected offense for each player, I showed how many more runs the Padres may score over last season’s team. The addition of Carlos Quentin should give the team slightly more power, but the key is really going to be in Yonder Alonso and Jesus Guzman‘s production. How they are used in the lineup and in the field will ultimately decide how well this offense performs. Chase Headley, Nick Hundley, and Cameron Maybin are a proven commodity, so we should expect more of the same from them. Just simply playing the odds, we can hope Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett improve upon their near replacement-level performances. But moving outside the 25-man roster, the Padres have some exciting young players looking to move up to the show.
Players like Robbie Erlin and Joe Weiland may make their Major League debuts this season. Yasmani Grandal has a chance to earn some platoon time behind the plate. And we are getting ever so close to the debuts of Cory Spangenburg and Jedd Gyorko.
The Padres won’t win the division next season, but they are poised to put themselves in a position to win in 2013. In 2012, expect a return to above-.500 play. A record of 82-79 seems in line.
4. San Francisco Giants
The Giants are hanging their hats on Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They expect Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez to boost an offense worse than San Diego’s. They’ve made very few moves in the offseason that seem like they will improve the club. For the most part the moves seem to be just plugging holes.
With all that considered, the Giants may have run out of steam on this incredible ride that saw them win the World Series in 2010 and compete for most of last season. Last season’s team probably shouldn’t have even been in the thick of things. Their pythagorean record was actually below .500 at 80-82.
The addition of Ryan Theriot should do little to improve an offense that ranked dead last is most categories last season. Aubrey Huff‘s weight loss and Pablo Sandoval‘s lack thereof will do little to help the Giants improve upon an offense that combined for a .671 OPS (89 OPS+).
Pitching can get a team far (see the San Diego Padres), but without an offense to score runs, the pitching staff will lose confidence, lose motivation, and ultimately stop winning (again, see the San Diego Padres). San Francisco is in for not only a drop, but a losing season.
5. Colorado Rockies
Finally, the last place team in the division will be the Rockies. This is the only team I feel confident in picking. The Rockies have done nothing but shed payroll, beginning what looks to be a long, painful rebuilding process. The process actually began last season when they traded away Ubaldo Jimenez with years of team control ahead of them.
Once feared, Jason Giambi and Todd Helton are nothing more than aging players who can still flash a hot bat. From the looks of their roster, the Rockies have actually gotten worse compared to last season. They combined for just a 90 OPS+ last season and should drop below that this year.
Their stud closer is now residing in San Diego’s bullpen. Their pitching staff as a whole looks like it comes from a minor league roster. The Rockies could surprise people, but they don’t even seem like they are trying to compete next season. The team is clearly rebuilding and is stockpiling young talent.
While I predict a last place finish for the Rockies, it shouldn’t be long before their young talent develops and starts contributing at the Major League level.