It seems like forever that the National League West was the butt of every baseball fan and baseball writer’s jokes. One of the biggest stories of September 2005 was whether or not the team that won the West division would end the season with a winning record. The San Diego Padres ended up with NL West title after finishing 82-80 (a .506 percentage).
Flash forward to last season, and the NL West was MLB’s most competitive division (and in a good way). 1.5 games separated the division winner Arizona Diamondbacks, the second place Colorado Rockies (wild card winner), and the third place San Diego Padres. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers remained in the race until its second half collapse. I won’t mention the San Francisco Giants; I’m too embarrassed to. The next closest competitive division was the NL East with only 5 games separating the top three teams.
The NL West looks to match, if not surpass, the competitiveness for this upcoming season. Each team (yes, Giants included) feature talented young players who have the ability to improve, which makes preseason predictions hard and pointless.
But I’ll try.
1. San Diego Padres
The Padres will finish second (as the team should have done last season) based on their pitching staff. The starting rotation sports reigning Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, Chris Young (who should be fully healthy), the “professor” Greg Maddux, and dark horses Mark Prior and Randy Wolf. Take into account MLB’s best bullpen and future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman closing and I don’t think it’s much of a contest.
Surprisingly, the Padres don’t have too much of a problem scoring runs, but replacing former Gold Glove Mark Cameron with an aging and recently surgically repaired Jim Edmonds doesn’t help in spacious Petco Park. Tadahito Iguchi is an instant upgrade at second base over Marcus Giles, but it’s hard to imagine RF Brian Giles not getting worse at the plate. But Giles’ production woes will probably be offset by bigger years (if you can imagine) from SS Khalil Greene and 1B Adrian Gonzalez.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks won’t repeat as NL West champions, even after their trade for Oakland Athletics ace Dan Haren, who despite a second half slump still ended up with a 3.07 ERA. What’s scary about the trade is that Haren won’t be Arizona’s ace. That distinction belongs to former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb. Add the possibility of 150 Randy Johnson innings, and you have a pretty formidable big three. The starting rotation ends there unless someone thinks Doug Davis can pitch better.
This doesn’t include the impact that the infectious playing style of Eric Byrnes will further have on potential 30-30 man Chris Young and former No. 1 overall pick Justin Upton. SS Stephen Drew and 1B Conor Jackson should have better years, but I imagine by midseason Arizona would want a more established closer than Brandon Lyon.