Better Know a Division: The 2013 NL West

Whereas its sister division went down to the wire, the 2012 National League West wrapped up with fairly little drama. The Giants won the division comfortably, holding onto first place from August 20 through the end of the season and wrapping things up with an eight game lead on the second place Dodgers. At times, the Dodgers did seem poised to strike, as folks swore up and down that things would eventually click for new acquisitions Beckett and Gonzalez ... but that time never really came. To wit, it seems as if much of what little drama existed was a product of renewed expectations for the Dodgers, as opposed to what was actually happening on the field for the last five or six weeks of the season. Entering the 2012 season, the NL West had the look of a division that was readily up for grabs, with the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Giants all having very real shots at the crown. Slow and steady won the race, and yet the story remains more focused on the bad luck of the Diamondbacks and the newly minted West Coast branch of the Evil Empire than the Giants consistency and balance. In many ways, analysts were explaining why the Diamondbacks and Dodgers failed to make the playoffs, rather than praising the Giants for outlasting the somewhat sexier picks.

In 2013, I am fairly confident that it will be much more cut and dry, regardless of what others may say to the contrary.

Arizona Diamondbacks Notable Additions - Cliff Pennington; Heath Bell; Cody Ross; Didi Gregorious; Martin Prado; Randall Delgado; Eric Chavez Notable Subtractions - Chris Young; Trevor Bauer; Justin Upton

Projected Lineup C. Miguel Montero 1B. Paul Goldschmidt 2B. Aaron Hill 3B. Martin Prado SS. Cliff Pennington LF. Jason Kubel CF. Gerardo Parra (Adam Eaton) RF. Cody Ross

Projected Rotation 1. Ian Kennedy 2. Trevor Cahill 3. Wade Miley 4. Brandon McCarthy 5. Pat Corbin/Randall Delgado (6. Daniel Hudson)

As I alluded to above, the Diamondbacks were quite a bit better than their record suggested. The team's expected record (based on Pythagorean W-L) was 86-76, or five games better than their actual record. Beyond that, the team dealt with replacement-level production from SS and 3B, two-thirds of a season from Chris Young, and nagging injuries to Justin Upton, only a year removed from an MVP-quality season. In most circumstances, a team would chalk such a season up to bad luck, rally the troops, and start fresh in 2013 - particularly when the coaching staff and front office remain intact. The Diamondbacks, however, rebuilt on the fly a bit, emerging with a team predicated on "grit" in the image of Kirk Gibson.

Gone from the underachieving Diamondbacks are Upton, Young, Stephen Drew, and mercurial top prospect Trevor Bauer - all of which clashed with management to some degree. In their stead the Diamondbacks brought in defense-first SS Cliff Pennington (with defense-first SS prospect Didi Gregorious next in line), Marin Prado (lauded for his leadership in the clubhouse in Atlanta), Cody Ross (the ostensible face of the 2010 Giants), and, once healthy, Adam Eaton (who is 5'8", and thereby scrappy and/or gritty). All of this leaves the Diamondbacks with a still-strong offense, albeit with less upside, and shaky outfield defense.

GM Kevin Towers' machinations leave a great deal of weight on the shoulders of the rotation, in my mind, as the offense is less likely to put up big numbers, and the outfield defense could cause some serious issues. Luckily, the top-three are all quite young and quite good, with a bit of room for growth all around, and McCarthy has been excellent when healthy. Behind those four, the Diamondbacks have a great deal of young depth with Corbin, Delgado, and top prospect Tyler Skaggs. This is a very, very strong rotation, with more upside than most realize.

Questionable decisions aside, the Diamondbacks seem poised to break .500 this season - the rest is dependent upon the competition.

Colorado Rockies Notable Additions - Wilton Lopez Notable Subtractions - ... Jason Giambi?

Projected Lineup C. Wilin Rosario 1B. Todd Helton 2B. Josh Rutledge 3B. Chris Nelson SS. Troy Tulowitzki LF. Carlos Gonzalez CF. Dexter Fowler RF. Michael Cuddyer

Projected Rotation 1. Jhoulys Chacin 2. Jorge De La Rosa 3. Juan Nicasio 4. Jeff Francis 5. Jon Garland/Drew Pomeranz

As has been said multiple times by others, you know a team is in bad shape when you cannot say with certainty who the team's General Manager is ... and such is the case with the Rockies. The official website lists Dan O'Dowd in such a capacity, and yet we are only a scant few months away from his being 'promoted' away from that title. It seems only appropriate that the team on the field is a similarly nightmarish mess of moving parts.

The Rockies have a legitimate franchise player in Troy Tulowitzki (injuries be damned), and Carlos Gonzalez is a stud, despite some disconcerting numbers away from Coors Field. Dexter Fowler has also emerged as a very good center fielder, with the same caveat as Mr. Gonzalez. Beyond that ... this team is bad. Perhaps not Houston Astros bad, after the dust has settled, but that may be a product of the divisions and leagues that they play in, respectively.

On the bright side, Tulowitzki is really freaking good, and a joy to watch in the field and at the plate.

Los Angeles Dodgers Notable Additions - Zack Greinke; Hyun-Jin Ryu Notable Subtractions - Shane Victorino; Joe Blanton

Projected Lineup C. A.J. Ellis 1B. Adrian Gonzalez 2B. Mark Ellis 3B. Nick Punto SS. Luis Cruz (Hanley Ramirez) LF. Skip Schumaker (Carl Crawford) CF. Matt Kemp RF. Andre Ethier

Projected Rotation 1. Clayton Kershaw 2. Zack Greinke 3. Chad Billingsley 4. Josh Beckett 5. Hyun-Jin Ryu

It was a relatively quiet off-season for the Dodgers, at least in terms of actual player movement. The team that we watched in August and September is essentially the team we will see on Opening Day, with the exception of Ramirez, who will miss the first month or two with a thumb injury. Despite the $220+ MM payroll, that may not be a good thing.

Kemp is an incredible, MVP-quality player, and Gonzalez is only a season removed from doing Adrian Gonzalez things (e.g., knocking the snot out of the baseball). Kershaw might be the best pitcher in the National League, and Greinke (if his elbow holds up) might not be too far behind. And, yes, Josh Beckett looked a hell of a lot like the Josh Beckett that Yankees fans know and loathe after the deal. After that admittedly strong foundation, however, it is difficult to get excited about this team. Are Billingsley and Ryu much more than average starters? Is it reasonable to count on Crawford and Ramirez coming back and playing to their baselines of a few years ago? Is anyone else on the offense more than 'ok?' And is the bullpen any good at all?

I hazard towards the more pessimistic side of the equation, as it is difficult to deal in uncertainties. The rotation has the look of a strength ... but is it strong enough to propel a poor defensive team with shoddy bullpen and decidedly mediocre offense into the playoffs? I don't believe so.

San Diego Padres "Notable" Additions - Tyson Ross; Cody Ransom "Notable" Subtractions - Dustin Moseley

Projected Lineup C. Nick Hundley (Yasmani Grandal) 1B. Yonder Alonso 2B. Jedd Gyorko 3B. Logan Forsythe (Chase Headley) SS. Everth Cabrera LF. Carlos Quentin CF. Cameron Maybin RF. Will Venable/Chris Denorfia

Projected Rotation 1. Edinson Volquez 2. Clayton Richard 3. Jason Marquis 4. Eric Stults 5. Tyson Ross (6. Cory Luebke) (7. Andrew Cashner)

The San Diego Padres have been suggested by some to be the 2013 version of last year's Athletics or Orioles, on the backs of a very young offense and a fantastic farm system. Neither of those sentiments are false per se - Grandal, Alonso, Gyorko (a Rookie of the Year frontrunner), Headley, and Maybin are all fairly young, and have shown the potential to be very good, and most publications are enamored with the team's deep system. However, Grandal and Headley will not be with the team for at least the first month of the season, and most of the team's top prospects are at least a couple of years away. And then there's the issue with the rotation...

As was the case with the Mariners, the Padres are moving in the fences in Petco with the hopes of propping up a shaky offense. And once more, the question must be asked - what will this do to the pitching staff? Where the Mariners have Hernandez to take the ball every fifth day and a few average starters, the Padres have ... Volquez, who managed to post a reasonable 4.14 ERA in 2012, despite issuing 5.2 BB/9. And Clayton Richard, who allowed 1.3 HR/9 and struck out 4.4 K/9 ... and posted a 3.99 ERA. This staff could challenge the Rockies for the worst in the division if Petco plays more neutral this year.

I am skeptical that this team can contend, barring some rapid promotions through the system and some serious injuries and/or regression for the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Giants - and I think it is difficult to argue otherwise. However, this team should be fun to watch, and it could be a contender fairly soon, should GM Josh Byrnes begin to cash in some prospects for proven big leaguers.

San Francisco Giants Notable Additions - Andres Torres Notable Subtractions - Melky Cabrera; Brian Wilson

Projected Lineup C. Buster Posey 1B. Brandon Belt 2B. Marco Scutaro 3B. Pablo Sandoval SS. Brandon Crawford LF. Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres CF. Angel Pagan RF. Hunter Pence

Projected Rotation 1. Matt Cain 2. Madison Bumgarner 3. Tim Lincecum 4. Ryan Vogelson 5. Barry Zito

While the Diamondbacks and Dodgers overhauled their rosters over the past nine months or so, the Giants elected to pursue the most dreaded of policies - staying the course. Aside from re-signing Scutaro and Pagan, the most noteworthy move of the off-season may well have been signing Torres to platoon with Blanco, testing the limits of the definition of "noteworthy." What does this add up to? In my mind, the clear favorite for the National League West crown.

The Giants lineup may not be very formidable beyond Posey and Sandoval, yet it is the deepest in the division. Posey, Belt, Scutaro, Sandoval, Pagan, and Pence all figure to be at least average offensive contributors, relative to their position, with reasonable upside for much more (with the probable exception of Scutaro). Brandon Crawford may not be more than an empty .250 BA type, but he might also be the best defensive shortstop in the league - a fair tradeoff. The real weakness is in the Blanco and Torres platoon in what is traditionally an offense-heavy LF ... yet I could see their base-running and defense bridging that gap at least a bit.

Beyond the offense, this is still the Giants, which means a very strong rotation and well-managed, strong bullpen. There is nothing to suggest that either will be weaker this season, and a few reasons to suspect that Lincecum could bounce back somewhat and give the team an even scarier rotation. The team's weakness is likely depth, on all accounts, and yet that seems like a non-factor when compared to the faults of the Diamondbacks and Dodgers.

Buster Posey's smile aside, the Giants are the least sexy contender in the division ... and yet it has very clear strengths, and very minimized weaknesses. So for perhaps the first time in recent memory, staying the course should be proffered as the ideal, rather than a point of mockery.

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