Big League Stew - MLB

Rejoice, rejoice, the baseball season is almost here! In an attempt to quickly get some of you slackers up to speed on the year ahead, Big League Stewards Kevin Kaduk and David Brown will look at a division each day this week and hold a conversation about the issues therein. Up next is the NL West, home of Manny Ramirez and his supporting cast.

'Duk: OK Dave, so in Tuesday's AL West preview, you caused a bit of a stir when you said that several of MLB's top superstars resided among the division's four teams. It seems that one commenter took issue with that and didn't agree with some of your crown'em classifications.

But when it comes to the NL West, I don't think we're going to have that problem simply because it's Manny Ramirez's division and the rest of us not named Tim Lincecum are just living in it. Am I wrong here?  Would you care to disagree with that assessment?

DB: Absolutely wrong! This ain't no AL West, 'Duk. Despite the cruddy records up and down the coast in '08, this division has two very good teams in it — the Dodger Dogs and the Deebax — both of which should be in the playoff hunt right down to game No. 162. And the better team of the two doesn't even have Manny Ramirez on it. What do you think of that?

'Duk: Strong words from the Answer Man! I'll admit that Dodgers-D'Backs pennant race was pretty fun for awhile there last season, so long as you forgot that Arizona was busy frittering away its great start to the season and didn't mind that L.A. ended up winning the division with only 84 victories. It's going to again come down to those two teams, and there's no way this Dodgers' lineup is going to be denied. Rafael Furcal-Orlando Hudson-Ramirez and James Loney before you even get to Andre Ethier-Russell Martin-Matt Kemp and Casey Blake? Gives me shivers, son!

DB: Yeah, but I ain't crazy about the Dodgers pitchers. They lack an ace and trustworthy bullpen depth. I love Andre Ethier, probably too much, and Matt Kemp looks like the next Reggie Smith. But there's a certain brittle nature to this Dodgers lineup. Furcal is moments from breaking something. Does anyone think Manny's gonna get in 150 games? How about 125? Something — an imagined injury or odd behavior — is going to bench him for a while and that's good news for my D'backs. Yes, I said it.

'Duk: YOUR Diamondbacks? Are you wearing sedona red-and-black undies right now, Dave? Look, I can understand that you see Brandon Webb and Dan Haren atop that order, followed by youngster Max Scherzer and then you feel like you're a part of the team. But that offense is going to disappoint you again. Chris Young's OBP (.315 in '08) is absolutely maddening for someone who's supposed to be a star someday and it looks like Justin Upton is still going through the growing pains his brother B.J. took awhile to escape. Plus: Felipe Lopez leading off? Conor Jackson cleaning up? Pffft.

Going back to the rotation, I would have preferred that 'Zona would have done right by franchise icon Randy Johnson and resigned him instead of bringing in Jon Garland, a pitcher who's going to give a third fanbase many opportunities to call him "Judy" while thinking they're extremely clever.  Speaking of leaving the pasture door open and not caring, why didn't Arizona try to bring back Hudson, either? You think Webb and Garland — both groundball pitchers — are going to enjoy that up-the-middle combo of Lopez and Drew?

DB: Hey, 'Duk, you forgot to make a smart-aleck comment about their closer, Chad Qualls. The D'backs played like world-beaters for six weeks to start the season but slumped for, oh, most of the rest of the season because they didn't score runs. So what you say is true — or was.

Drew is positively average on defense and Felipe Lopez, well, there's no defending/understanding why he's starting on this team. Augie Ojeda would at least be funny. But Drew is a major force offensively, and Justin Upton did pretty darned well (.816 OPS) for a 20-year-old. I'm saying Upton boosts that to .900 this season. I'm saying Drew is the .930 OPS guy he was in he second half. I'm saying Joshn and Eric Byrnes revert to their 2007 forms. I'm saying Chris Young gets his OBP up to .350, which is not a stretch. These guys will hit better. Eighteen of their 21 first games are at home, too. 

'Duk: I feel ashamed. Look how many words we've already typed with nary a mention of our boy Tim Lincecum. This is clearly a violation of Big League Stew protocol. 

DB: Well, this is a division preview, not a Timmah! preview. One Timmah! does not a team make, though let's be clear: his 2K9 commercial makes me even more eager to see what he can do to top 2008. The kid's just a natural. But our expectations for him might be way too high, especially considering the rest of the G'ints aren't as good as our little knit-capped guy.

I do like the depth of the Giants rotation; you mentioned the Unit, and Barry Zito has to bounce somewhat back after his offseason of dating and other workouts. Jonathan Sanchez as a fifth starter? That's not-a-too-bad. But your guy Pablo Sandoval, Travis Ishikawa and Manny Burriss are all going to have to be  contenders for these guys to score a decent amount of runs. Timmah! can't shut everyone out 1-0, know what I'm sayin'?

'Duk: Oh, mos def. That lineup is still absolutely brutal and GM Brian Sabean did nothing to improve it. The funniest part of San Fran's offseason was watching $18 million burn a hole through Sabean's pocket and then seeing him immediately spend it all on washed-up Edgar Renteria. I mean, I was under the impression that no one paid retail at the Gap, but Sabean might've proven that there ARE people who don't wait for all the merchandise to be marked down. Every other GM not named Ned Colletti won their patience game this offseason, why couldn't Sabean?

I'll give Sabean props on that Big Unit signing though. Randy was absolutely solid down the stretch for Arizona last season and his chase for 300 wins (he's at 295 right now) will give us one more reason apart from Tiny Tim to watch the Giants this year.

DB: We're talking about a third-place team too much! Without another word, let's drop to fourth place, where the Rockies will live. Do they make the players live in the humidor, too? Because something has happened to Todd Helton, Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Troy T. Tulowitzki. They're shells of their former selves. These guys went back to being inert offensively on the road and while it's great that OK pitching is possible in Colorado, if the Rox can't bludgeon you with offense, what's the point of having a team 5,280 feet up in the air?

'Duk: You know, for some reason, this team just depresses me. I mean, the Rockies had that great run to end the 2007 season, they made a World Series appearance (albeit a brief one) and they had two great young stars in Matt Holliday and Troy T. It looked like Denver might be in for a good few years of baseball.

But less than two years later, Mattie's gone, pitcher Jeff Francis is dunzo and the Rockies are back below sea level. Only way I'm getting excited about Colorado baseball this year is if they schedule a Jay Cutler-Josh McDaniels UFC octagon bout at Coors Field after a game.

DB: If Clint Hurdle does anything this April, I hope it's that he plays Dexter Fowler somewhere in the outfield. He's the kind of prospect that should get you excited about the Rox again. If I was 'dem, I'd be dealing Hawpe and Atkins early and complete the rebuilding project started with the Holliday deal.

Meanwhile, the Rockies might have some problems, but they are small ones when compared with the Padres. Poor Kevin Towers. He's been the GM there for, oh, 40 years, and now he's had a civil war going on above his head and nothing but carnage on the field. Some of it is his fault — nobody made him draft Matt Bush — but I don't know if he's got enough will to stick around for another Padres makeover. And, yeesh, do they need one.

'Duk: Do they ever. Over the offseason, I was a little bit hesitant to post on every Jake Peavy trade rumor because I knew there was going to be another coming down the pike soon after. I kind of get the feeling it's going to be the same way during the season and it's probably going to make up the majority of Padres news on the Stew.

I'm interested to see, though, how Jeffrey Moorad's new ownership impacts the direction of the franchise. He's never struck me as a guy who doesn't mind losing and he (presumably) won't have a wife meddling in his affairs either. Perhaps San Diego can start building a blueprint around Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Headley and, if San Diegans are lucky, Peavy.

DB: On that note, I'd like for Edgar Gonzalez to start at second base. How many brother combos started on the right side of the infield in history? I mean, you've got the Ripkens up the middle, and who at 1B and 2B? I'm bereft!

'Duk: An encyclopedia of baseball brothers, I am not.

DB: And you'll be bereft at the end of the year when my, or someone's, D'backs claim the NL West trophy. Hoist that sucker, ConJack!

'Duk: Not going to happen, friend. Like I said up top, this is the Dodgers' division to lose and even you'll be wearing one of those Manny wigs they sell out at Chavez Ravine by the end of August. Dodgertown, USA! 

* * *

NL West predicted order of finish

'Duk: 1. Dodgers, 2. D'backs, 3. Giants, 4. Rockies, 5. Padres

DB: 1. D'backs, 2. Dodgers, 3. Giants, 4. Rockies, 5. Padres

NL West MVP

'Duk: Manny Ramirez, Dodgers

DB: Stephen Drew, D'backs

NL West Cy Young

'Duk: Tim Lincecum, Giants

DB: Brandon Webb, D'backs

NL West Rookie of the Year

'Duk: Dexter Fowler, Rockies

DB: Dexter Fowler, Rockies

* * *

Coming Thursday: The AL East

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