National League West Predictions

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As per the request of our Editor Justin Hunter, I have prepared my own 2012 NL West predictions and forecast for the upcoming season.  The teams are listed in the order that I believe they will finish with a record next to the name indicating how many wins and losses I believe they will accumulate during the 2012 campaign.  So hit that “Continue Reading” button and let’s get started:

San Francisco Giants (90-72)

Pitching will win the N.L. West in 2012, and I picked the Giants to finish first because they have the best Starting Staff in the Division and a Bullpen that can be trusted to finish games.  Top to bottom, San Francisco’s Starters are superb.  Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Vogelsong make up a solid 1-4 rotation which should carry the Giants to a division title.  And this rotation is minus lefty Jonathan Sanchez who is now in Kansas City.  If the long relievers and nutty Closer Brian Wilson can nail down the victories started by the Giants “Big Four,”

While the Giants’ Offense was almost as dreadful as San Diego’s in 2011 (Ranked 29th in Runs, 28th in Batting Average, 29th in OBP, and 26th in Slugging), San Francisco should be helped in 2012 by the return of a healthy Buster Posey who missed most of last season after getting walloped at the plate by Scott Cousins.  The Giants’ Offense suffered after Posey went down, and the Giants success at the plate in 2012 greatly hinges on Posey’s health and effectiveness.

It shouldn’t take many runs for San Francisco to win the West due to their pitching, but if the Offense can improve, San Francisco will be waving the Division flag come October.  Newly acquired OF’s Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan must get on base for Posey, Aubrey Huff, and Panda Sandoval if San Francisco wants to avoid a 2-1 game every night.  Furthermore, Infielders Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Freddy Sanchez, and Brandon Crawford need to chip in as well.

It’s not that the Giants need loads of runs to win every night, but having a knack for manufacturing them like they did in 2010 can take them not only into the Postseason, but deep into the Postseason as well.

Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78)

The Dodgers are a freaking mystery to me as I write this preview.  I’m not sure how to project this team, because while they are extremely talented at some positions, they are lacking in others.  Yet despite constant off-field/front office distractions, the Dodgers put together a decent season.  Regardless, let me start with Los Angeles’ best Offensive player: Matt Kemp.

Matt Kemp came within an eye-lash of winning the N.L.’s first triple crown since Joe Medwick in the late 1930’s.  And if it wasn’t for Ryan Braun, Kemp would have likely won the M.V.P..  Last season Kemp exhibited all of his potential and treated us baseball fans to a five-tool-player enjoying the best season of his career.

1B James Loney and RF Andre Ethier are the Dodgers best two Offensive weapons after Kemp, and did manage to put together nice complementary seasons in 2011.  However, one or both must really step up their games in 2012 and make teams pay that decide to pitch around him and pick on the rest of the Dodgers’ lineup.

Dee Gordon is an exciting young player at SS, and showed flashes last season after being called up at midseason.  2B will be hotly contested as newly acquired Mark Ellis will look to hold off both Jerry Hariston Jr. and Adam Kennedy for the most reps at the position this Spring.  And Juan Uribe had a down season after coming from San Francisco in the wake of a successful post-season run.

The Dodgers, like every NL West team not named Colorado, do have a solid Starting Staff.  Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, is the sure-fire #1, but Chad Billingsley, veterans Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang (who enjoyed a rebound season at spacious Petco in 2011), and Chris Capuano should keep L.A. not only afloat, but winning games this season.  The bullpen is so-so heading into the season, and the Dodgers must get some sort of production out of Blake Hawksworth, Kenley Jansen, Mike MacDougal, and Javy Guerra to stay competitive amongst the likes of the Giants.

Personally, I’m not sure what to expect from the Dodgers in 2012.  They have talent, and it’s just a matter of them playing together and putting it all together that is stopping them.  In a winnable Division like the N.L. West, it wouldn’t surprise me if L.A. was competitive at the All-Star Break, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they overtook San Francisco.  But as of right now, I have them finishing just a shade under the Giants to their spotty Offensive production outside of Kemp, Loney, and Ethier, and the uneasiness at the back end of their bullpen.

Arizona Diamondbacks (83-79)

The Diamondbacks came withing a game of playing in the NLCS last season after starting the year in absolute obscurity.  They came out of nowhere in 2011, much like the Padres did in 2010, and surprised a lot of teams with their heart and overall talent.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if they will be able to upstage San Francisco and Colorado this season.

Justin Upton and Chris Young will be leading the D-Backs’ Offense yet again in 2012.  Both had a combined 51 Home Runs and 159 RBI’s and will be the focal point of many opposing pitchers’ game plans.  If both were able to cut down on their high Strikeout totals, they could be even better than they already are.

To their credit, the D-Backs improved their Offense during the offseason and acquired LF Jason Kubel from Minnesota.  Kubel will be looking to improve upon his successful 2011 campaign, and he will have the luxury of batting in a line-up with three guys that can hit bombs in the form of Upton, Young, and Paul Goldschmidt.  Goldschmidt, who spent most of last season in the minors, supplied quite a bit of power near the end of last season, and he will be given every opportunity to start at 1B when Spring Training begins.

As for the rest of the Infield, 3B Ryan Roberts and C Miguel Montero both enjoyed career seasons in 2011 and should be looking to improve after their first seasons as regular, everyday starters.  Mid-season acquisition, 2B Aaron Hill. had himself a nice half-season with the D-Backs after coming over from Toronto, and him and a healthy SS Stephen Drew should form the Double-Play combination for Arizona in 2012.  While nothing to write home about, if these two can play up to par offensively and defensively, Arizona should have themselves quite the formidable lineup.

The Diamondbacks’ Starting Staf is solid from guys 1-5.  Not as talented as the Giants’ starters as a whole by any means, but from top to bottom they are still a formidable bunch that get the job done.  Ian Kennedy enjoyed a career year in 2011, and was in the talks for the N.L. Cy Young award.  Seeing whether or not he can duplicate his phenomenal season will be on many D-Backs’ fans minds.  And after a dreadful 2010 season, the D-backs bullpen got back on track in 2011 thanks to the efforts of Closer J.J. Putz and the rest of this bullpen mates.

Seeing whether or not Arizona can duplicate their 2011 success should be a big story in the N.L. West.  Personally I feel that Kirk Gibson has this team headed in the right direction, but I don’t believe that they can usurp San Francisco and Colorado in 2012.  There are too many “one-year wonders” outside of Upton and Young in their lineup, and the bullpen needs to show it can succeed over the course of more than one year.  That being said, Arizona can stay competitive and give San Francisco and Los Angeles all they can handle in 2012.

Colorado Rockies (81-81)

Leading the way yet again for the Rockies will be the high-powered duo of SS Troy Tulowitzki and LF Carlos Gonzalez.  In 2011, Tulowitzki led the Rockies in every Offensive category (Hits, Batting Average, Home Runs, RBI’s, OBP, and Total Bases).  When healthy, Tulowitzki is one of the best SS in the game and has become the most dangerous hitter in Colorado’s lineup.  After an incredible 2010 season, Gonzalez came back to earth in 2011.  Even though his numbers dipped, Gonzalez hit 26 Home Runs, hit for a .295 average, and drove in 92 runs.  If Gonzalez can stay healthy, him and Tulowitzki could power the Rockies to the top of the Division.  That is, if some of Colorado’s new faces can get on base and do some raking of their own.

New guys in the form of: 3B Casey Blake, 2B Marco Scutaro, RF Michael Cuddyer, and C Ramon Hernandez will join CF Dexter Fowler and 1B Todd Helton to round out Colorado’s lineup and give the Rockies arguably the best Offense top to bottom in the entire Division.  However, Colorado’s pitching staff might be their Achilles heel in 2012.

Colorado’s starting rotation has a lot to be desired to say the least.  Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel must rebound from poor 2011 seasons and go deep into games if the Rockies want to stay competitive and not tire out their bullpen.  The Rockies do have a stockpile of young starters in the form of Drew Pomeranz, Guillermo Moscoso, Tyler Chatwood, and Josh Outman to go along with Juan Nicasio and Esmil Rogers, but to hedge their bets on all of them contributing and picking up the slack this season will be difficult.

Matt Belisle is a solid Relief Pitcher and has done a fine job for the Rockies, but the Rockies lost their Closer from last season.  Losing Huston Street to San Diego was tough, but the Rockies will hope that the 36 year old Rafael Betancourt can step in and fill Street’s shoes for the time being.

Colorado will go as far as their Offense takes them.  If they can get any sort of help from their Starting Staff then they could emerge as a surprise contender for the Division Title.  They have the talent to succeed on Offense, but I can’t help but forsee their pitching staff and bullpen holding them back yet again.

San Diego Padres (77-85)

San Diego will begin yet another rebuilding process this season, and 2012 will have the Padres ultimately finish with yet a losing record.  While the Padres’ Minor League pitching staff is loaded, their big club rotation is made up of adequate #3 and #4 guys (Tim Stauffer, Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Cory Luebke, and Dustin Moseley) who can get the job done, but should not be forced to/cannot carry the load over a 162 game season.  Yet with Petco’s spacious dimensions and Cameron Maybin patrolling CF, you never know which Pitcher could take advantage.  Take Aaron Harang last season for a not-too-distant example.

In spite of losing Heath Bell, the Padres’ bullpen is well stocked and the newly acquired Huston Street should take Bell’s place as the Closer.  Luke Gregerson should be the 7th inning stopper/setup man with Andrew Cashner (acquired for Anthony Rizzo), and possibly even Brad Boxberger (acquired in the Latos trade) maybe even getting some reps as well in relief.

As for the Offense, the lineup has to at least improve over last season’s dreadful hitting display.  I give G.M. Josh Byrnes credit for getting LF Carlos Quentin and 1B Yonder Alonso, but the Padres are still a couple of bats away from doing any offensive damage.

3B Chase Headley and CF Cameron Maybin (who was the team’s best player last season) should do fine at the plate and both are fantastic with the leather.  However, San Diego is still looking for answers at 2B and SS with Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson coming off of down years, eating a large chunk of the payroll, and rumors swirling that they could have moved during the offseason.  Furthermore, it’s yet to be seen what will happen with the RF position with Will Venable, Kyle Blanks, and Chris Denorfia in the mix there.  Luckily, Nick Hundley and Jon Baker should provide a solid yet unspectacular duo behind the plate until Yasmani Grandal gets the call up from the minors in 2013-2014.

As I stated before, the Padres are in a rebuilding process.  There is talent on the team now, but not enough to be a contender as early as this season.  However, with a well stocked Minor League system, San Diego might be contending as early as 2013 and as late as 2014-2015.  While their record might not indicate a huge improvement, the moves that Byrnes and Co. have made have the Padres at least going in the right direction.  I’ll be stoked to see how some of the youngsters do as the season progresses and September call-ups start.