One if by strikeout, two if by ground out, three if by fly out. The San Diego Padres might not have righty/lefty balance in their starting rotation, but they do have several different types of pitchers. Don't let his 4.07 ERA last year fool you; Jake Peavy might be the best power pitcher in the National League. Greg Maddux showed that he still has some life in his sinker with the Dodgers, and Chris Young took full advantage of spacious PetCo park by inducing tons of fly balls.
But the losses of Dave Roberts and Josh Barfield hurt the Padres outfield and infield defenses, respectively. Moreover, the fifth starter's spot looks like real trouble. San Diego is currently negotiating with Jeff Weaver, David Wells, and Chan Ho Park to fill that void. Until one of them signs, we have to view this rotation as one of the thinnest and most susceptible to injury in the division despite a potentially excellent front four.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are the one team in the NL West that can afford to shop one of their starters for help on offense. Brad Penny has been the subject of trade rumors all year. Truthfully, even if he were traded, this would still be the deepest rotation in the National League. Schmidt and Lowe might be the best 1-2 punch around. They eat innings and can dominate in any given game. Randy Wolf can put up some terrific numbers when healthy, and provides some left handed balance to the rotation.
The Dodgers don't even need to rely on a breakout year by Chad Billingsley, as they have several other young prospects and experienced veterans are ready to step in if Billingsley needs more seasoning. The former first round pick showed flashes of brilliance last year, though. If he can consistently throw strikes, the Dodgers would have five pitchers who could potentially be #1 or #2 starters for any team in baseball.
If everything goes right for the Giants rotation, it could be formidable indeed. Matt Morris and Barry Zito could each return to their 2003 forms, Matt Cain could pitch all year like he did in the second half of his rookie season, and Noah Lowry could be healthy enough to become effective once again. Unfortunately for them, it is probably more likely that Morris and Zito continue to decline, Matt Cain suffers a sophomore slump, and Lowry returns to the disabled list. Considering that Russ Ortiz is their main insurance policy, the Giants had better hope that all five of their starters are at least adequate.
The entire staff should be aided by the acquisition of Dave Roberts, who along with Randy Winn give the Giants two quick outfielders able to pick up Barry Bonds' slack. That's a pretty significant upgrade from last year's roster, which sometimes had Bonds, Moises Alou, and Steve Finley all hobbling around the same outfield. But even an improved defense doesn't boost up the Giants' front five from the lower echelon of NL West rotations.
Secondary Options - Byung-Hyung Kim, Rodrigo Lopez
Thanks to the trade of Jason Jennings to the Houston Astros, the Rockies probably have the deepest pitching staff in franchise history, as well as one of the fastest center fielders in the game to flag down most of their fly balls. Indeed, Willy Taveras should help out this young and improving staff, although Aaron Cook allows so few balls in the air to really benefit. Brian Lawrence appears poised to join the cast of veterans ready to step in in case any of their four primary youngsters has trouble.
The biggest problem with the Rockies' staff is that it lacks a true ace to match up against the Brandon Webbs, Jason Schmidts, and Jake Peavys of the division. Either Francis or Cook could develop into one this year, but even then the Rockies' #3 starter likely wouldn't match up too well against the other #3's in the division. Taylor Buchholtz's reliance on the curve ball does not suit his new environment, possibly stunting his growth as a pitcher. Jason Hirsh is going to be great, but should struggle in his rookie season. The Rockies are taking their ballclub in the right direction, but they are likely to struggle for one more year before their potential is realized.
Costly though he was, Randy Johnson gives the Arizona Diamondbacks some possible veteran upside in their starting rotation to go along with the guaranteed upside of Brandon Webb. No one is looking at Doug Davis or Livan Hernandez to be a Cy Young candidate, but they should be valuable workhorses, especially if Johnson isn't able to start the season in the majors. They combine with Brandon Webb to give Arizona three likely 200+ inning pitchers.
The D'Backs also have a lot of potential upside in their battle for the #5 starter. Both of the Gonzalezes have shown flashes of brilliance at the big league level, but even they do not have the kind of upside that Nippert or Owings has. Dustin Nippert probably has the best curveball in the entire organization and Owings has gone 17-3 since being drafted. Either one of them has the potential to make a major impact. If one of them does break out and Randy Johnson returns to even his 2005 form, this staff could potentially challenge the Dodgers' for best in the West.
Read more from Keith Glab at BaseballEvolution.com