With opening day mere days away, the Big League Stew crew is here to get you up to speed on the baseball season ahead. David Brown and Mike Oz will examine some of the big questions in each division, point out a few critical players and predict the final standings, division award-winners and break-out stars. We finish our preview series with: The National League West.
Home of the bitter-rival San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, the need-a-boost San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies and the
gritty re-tooling Arizona Diamondbacks, this is the NL West. It's gonna be a fight between two teams, that's for sure.
1. Is this really just the Giants/Dodgers show? We could be nice and lie and say that the Rockies, Padres and the Diamondbacks matter as much in the NL West as the Dodgers and Giants. But we all know the truth. This is one of baseball's best rivalries, amplified by the Giants winning two of the last three World Series and the Dodgers spending all that money to go a World Series of their own. Each side is stacked: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp vs. Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Hunter Pence. This is the West Coast version of Yankees-Red Sox and this year looks to be one of the best for this storied rivalry.
2. How many days until we tire of hearing the "chemistry vs. money" thing? Negative 10 days? No? Then how about next Thursday? The Dodgers detractors will knock them for not being able to "buy chemistry" all season. Unless they have a Lakers-level implosion, it'll get old fast. It's funny, of course, because the Giants got the same criticism a few years ago from the Padres' Mat Latos when they were piecing together a winner.
3. Can the Rockies keep their ERA under five this year? That's gonna be tough. The Rockies had a league high 5.22 ERA last season, the only team higher than 5.00 and the highest of any team since the Rangers in 2008. You can't place that all on altitude, either. The Rockies pitching staff wasn't great last year and it isn't great this year. Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Jeff Francis, Juan Nicasio and Jon Garland — the All-J staff — win points for alliteration, but that doesn't help on the stat sheet.
4. With Chase Headley injured, what do Padres fans have to look forward to? The same thing they will once Headley gets traded. Oh! Went there! But seriously, the Padres have some players to watch, even if they're not going to be contenders in the NL West. Jedd Gyorko is a break-out candidate (see below). Pitcher Tyson Ross (acquired from Oakland this offseason) has looked pretty good this spring. And Yonder Alonso could have a big year.
5. Let's try to talk about the Diamondbacks without using the word "gritty." How's their pitching staff looking? It could be good. Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy and Wade Miley could help the Dbacks surprise some folks. Tyler Skaggs is waiting in Triple-A and Trevor Bauer is ... in Cleveland. But the Dbacks pitchers would have to exceed expectations by a lot to vault Arizona into the Giants' or Dodgers' stratosphere.
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FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Zack Greinke: Of all the acquisitions the big-spending Dodgers have made in the past year, signing Greinke to a $147 million deal might prove to have been the most risky — or most rewarding. Greinke already had elbow issues this spring, but appears to be OK. He's hard to predict. So he could be great, and a daunting complement to Clayton Kershaw. Or he could be a bust.
Tim Lincecum: The Giants don't NEED Lincecum to win. They showed that last year. But it sure would be nice if he returned to winning form. Not even Cy Young form, just being a good third starter.
Jedd Gyorko: Gyorko (pronounced like Jerko) is a heralded Padres prospect who gained the inside track to the starting second base job this spring. Now with Chase Headley hurt, Gyorko could also see time back at third base (his native position).
Paul Goldschmidt: The Diamondbacks aren't the money-spenders in this division, but they wisely locked up their slugger of the future Goldschmidt with a five-year extension. He hit .286/.359/.490 in 2013 with 20 homers. Expectations are now big for 2013. Let's see if he can match them.
Yasiel Puig: For now, watch him in the minors. But Cuban defector Puig — he of the monster spring and Bo Jackson hype — could make a big impact on the Dodgers this year if Carl Crawford doesn't rebound or one of their outfielders goes down to injury. Or if he continues to destroy the ball like he did during spring training.
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Order of Finish
NL West MVP
Oz: Buster Posey
DB: Clayton Kershaw
NL West Cy Young
Oz: Clayton Kershaw
DB: Clayton Kershaw
NL West Rookie of the Year:
Oz: Jedd Gyorko
DB: Hyun-Jin Ryu
NL West Break-Through Star
Oz: Brandon Belt
DB: Brandon Belt
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