Not many people are picking the Rockies to do well this year, as they are overrating the importance of the departed Matt Holliday, who could only hit in Coors Field. They must also be forgetting that the Rockies won 90 games just two years ago and played very well in the second half of 2008. While they did not add any superstars this offseason, they did enhance their depth through the acquisitions of Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, Jason Marquis, Jason Hammel, and Alan Embree. More importantly, they get some key performers from their great 2007 season back fully healthy in Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe, and Jason Hirsh. They could also see big gains from the development of their young players, such as Franklin Morales, Ian Stewart, Chris Iannetta, Dexter Fowler, and Seth Smith.
The Rockies do not have any single pitcher that can match a Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, or Brandon Webb. Nor do they possess a hitter that can match the likes of Adrian Gonzalez or Manny Ramirez. But they do have a superstar in Troy Tulowitzki that makes his pitching staff and the hitters surrounding him better. More importantly, they are the deepest team in the division, and can afford to have some players not live up to expectations or miss time with injury more so than the diamondbacks or Dodgers can.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The drama begins. Manny Ramirez complained that he wasn't ready to begin the season last week - as though his lack of training time weren't his own fault for holding out for a contract for so long - and then promptly re-aggravated his hamstring. He will miss at least the first week of the season. The Dodgers' first 12 games and 25 of their first 28 games come against rival NL West teams, so if Manny is out for a prolonged period of time, the Dodgers could be out of it before he even takes the field.
Even if Manny comes back strong and has a typical Manny season, the Dodgers must rely upon several questionable starting pitchers providing good performances in order to have a shot at a winning record. In the end, the Dodgers lost too many good players this offseason (Derek Lowe, Takashi Saito, Jeff Kent, Joe Beimel, and more) and no longer have the depth to overcome the "Manny" injuries that the club seems to endure every season.
The Arizona Diamondbacks' unfortunate financial situation handcuffed general manager Josh Byrnes into making some unwise decisions with the little money that he did have to spend this offseason. The players they lost were far better than the players that they brought in, effectively negating any gains that the solid, young core of the team might make. Of particular concern is a porous infield defense behind what figures to be one of he most extreme groundball pitching staffs in baseball.
Most of the Diamondbacks' minor league help is at least a year away, which means that if the team suffers through injuries, it will have few good options remaining. The team simply does not have the resources to add an Adam Dunn or a Livan Hernandez as it has in recent seasons. In contrast, the Dodgers always seem to have the money to fill holes at the trading deadline and the Rockies are stocked with major league ready youngsters that could either bring in help via trade or help down the stretch themselves. If anything should happen to star players Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, or Stephen Drew, the Diamondbacks could be in for a disastrous season.
San Diego Padres
The Padres aren't nearly as bad as everyone seems to think that they are. Adrian Gonzalez, Jake Peavy, and Chris Young are some of the best players in all of baseball, not just the league or the division. The depth behind them isn't as great as it could be, but if they get one more big year from Brian Giles (who was 6th in the NL in OBP last year) and see modest gains from highly-touted position player prospects such as Kevin Kouzmanoff, Chase Headley, and Matt Antonelli, they will win their fair share of games.
Heath Bell figures to more or less pick up where the past-his-prime-yet-still-effective Trevor Hoffman left off, but who will get the game to him when Young or Peavy isn't pitching? The favorable pitching dimensions of Petco Park will truly be put to the test this season, particularly with #3 starter Cha Seung Baek beginning the year on the disabled list. But the Padres weren't as bad as their record indicated last year, and if nothing else, they will perform better than that 208 squad did.
San Francisco Giants
Everyone wants to talk about how great the Giants' pitching staff is. If Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Randy Johnson are each healthy all year, it will indeed be great. But that's just not going to happen. Tim Lincecum endured the most abusive workload in the majors last season, and pointlessly, as the Giants were never in contention. Any 24-year old with that kind of wear would be hard pressed to stay healthy the following season, much less an undersized starter with a violent delivery. Matt Cain has shown the ability to pitch a lot of innings in his young career, but you have to wonder about what throwing in the mid-90s for over 650 major league innings does to a pitcher that hadn't turned 24 until this offseason. The 45-year old Randy Johnson is as likely to match his 2007 innings total of 56.2 as he is his 208 total of 184. Even #4 starter Jonathan Sanchez was injured in the second half of 2008.
On offense, Pablo Sandoval should be a great hitter someday and Randy Winn is an underrated performer, but if these are the cornerstones of your offense, you won't score many runs. Swapping out Edgar Renteria for Omar Vizquel only makes the defense worse and doesn't give the offense nearly enough of an upgrade. Expect Lincecum, Cain, and Johnson to combine for fewer than 400 innings this year, leading to one of the most disappointing team performances of the 2009 season.
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