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Division tour: NL West

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

Yahoo! Sports is taking an early look at each division in the days leading up to Feb. 15, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Today, the National League West.

It's coming around again.

In the past six years, each of baseball's six divisions has produced a World Series champion, beginning with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 and ending with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.

Now, if we've trended this out properly, we're back to the NL West, which is 3-15 in the postseason since the San Francisco Giants went to Game 7 against the Angels four years ago.

Seeking the studs that might turn those dismal Octobers, the division has drawn or relocated Barry Zito (to San Francisco), Randy Johnson (to Arizona), Jason Schmidt (to L.A.) and Greg Maddux and David Wells (to San Diego).

Three of those guys – Johnson, Maddux and Wells – are in their 40's and on their careers' downsides, so keeping them upright and getting them to October will be at least some of the battle.

Arizona Diamondbacks

First impression: Twenty wins from 300 and having found a 34-19 record in New York is not nearly good enough, Randy Johnson is back in the desert, where he once won a World Series and four Cy Young awards in a row. He's also coming off back surgery, which the Diamondbacks consider a good thing. There is a prevailing opinion that less back pain and more flexibility will return the bite to Johnson's once devastating slider. His signature pitch had flattened out, leading to a statistical spike in, notably, ERA, WHIP and balls in play. There is a chance Johnson could be ready by opening day (April 2 at Colorado), but the Diamondbacks won't rush him.

Competition: They have only two days off in the first 5½ weeks, so the Diamondbacks will need five starters right away. Assuming Johnson's rehab bleeds into the season, the early rotation sets up as Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and then two of Micah Owings, Dana Eveland, Dustin Nippert and the two Gonzalezes, Edgar and Enrique. Owings is the 24-year-old right-hander the Diamondbacks refused to include in the Johnson trade. He was 16-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 27 starts in Double-A and Triple-A in 2006.

Healing: Fourth outfielder Jeff DaVanon, who lost the final two months of last season to an ankle injury and subsequent surgery, and backup first baseman/pinch hitter Tony Clark, who had shoulder surgery, are healthy for spring training.

Next: Chris Young, 23, had a six-week run at the end of 2006, did nothing to dissuade the Diamondbacks of his five-tool potential, and probably opens 2007 in center field. He'll have company, too, at shortstop and in right field, where Stephen Drew and Carlos Quentin also have less than a half-season's experience. Rookie catcher Miguel Montero also is expected to make the opening day roster.

Colorado Rockies

First impression: General manager Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle go into the final years of their contracts lugging implied win-or-else ultimatums from ownership, with or-else holding a slight advantage. The Rockies will score runs with anyone in the division. The starting rotation is suspect, however, and their big winter move was to trade Jason Jennings, whose 3.78 ERA was best among their starters. They received promising right-handers Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz in return – along with center fielder Willy Taveras – which could work out in the long run, if not necessarily in time for O'Dowd and Hurdle. The organization also passed on a chance to clear out Todd Helton's contract in a trade with the Boston Red Sox. Helton is less likely to approve an in-season trade.

Competition: Like most teams, the Rockies are sorting out the back end of their rotation. Rodrigo Lopez will follow Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, and Byung-Hyun Kim, Josh Fogg, Hirsh and Buchholz will pitch for the final two spots. Brian Lawrence (shoulder surgery) probably won't be ready to pitch until mid-May. The Rockies are unlikely to carry three catchers, meaning veteran Javy Lopez and Yorvit Torrealba are probably fighting for the job of splitting time with Chris Iannetta.

Healing: Lawrence missed all of 2006 after surgery to repair a shoulder that had gradually weakened, forcing his arm angle lower and lower. The result was three inconsistent seasons in San Diego, then a lost one in Washington. Fogg had bone chips removed from his elbow in November.

Next: Buchholz was 6-10 in 19 starts and three relief appearances for the Houston Astros last season. He will compete for a place in the rotation, but the Rockies view his stuff as better suited for the bullpen. In terms of top-of-the-rotation potential, the big, strong Hirsh is the centerpiece of the trade.

Los Angeles Dodgers

First impression: While everyone assumed they'd get younger, the Dodgers held off for another season, signing Luis Gonzalez for left field and Jason Schmidt for the front of their rotation. Juan Pierre is an upgrade over Kenny Lofton in center field and, at 29, is in his prime. But, the additions of Gonzalez and Pierre, along with the re-signing of first baseman Nomar Garciaparra and the early 2006 extension for Jeff Kent, served to bunch three prospects – Andre Ethier, James Loney and Matt Kemp – into right field, which J.D. Drew abandoned. Ethier was a very pleasant surprise from May to August, but hit his 11th – and last – home run on Aug. 10 and had two RBI after Aug. 28, in part because Marlon Anderson had taken over in left. Ethier is the favorite going into camp. Assuming the old guys stay healthy, Kemp and Loney probably return to Triple-A.

Competition: Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson have a shot at the fifth starter, behind Schmidt, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf. Those who don't make the rotation could find jobs in the bullpen, though Kuo, who pitched well in the rotation and reasonably well in his division series start against the New York Mets, has been most effective as a starter. Andy LaRoche, Adam's little brother, conceivably could push Wilson Betemit at third base.

Healing: Garciaparra is healthy for the moment, but always worth keeping an eye on. He missed long periods in early April and in mid-summer, then limped down the stretch. Despite a significant fall-off after the All-Star break, Garciaparra had some huge hits. Once considered Eric Gagne's understudy to the closer role, Yhency Brazoban is recovering from Tommy John surgery. He could return in May or June.

Next: The Dodgers haven't forgotten about Kemp, the 22-year-old outfielder whose first three weeks in the majors saw seven home runs, 18 RBI and a .339 batting average. A month later he was back in Triple-A, working on plate patience and breaking-ball recognition, and made progress in the Dominican winter league.

San Diego Padres

First impression: The Padres count on good things from their starting rotation, which added veterans Maddux and Wells to an already solid core of Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Clay Hensley. And their bullpen, from Trevor Hoffman down, was one of the best in the game. Most of the questions lie with their offense, which scored the fewest runs in the division last season, then lost Mike Piazza (22 home runs, 68 RBI in 399 at-bats) and Dave Roberts (.293 average, 80 runs) in free agency. But, Adrian Gonzalez, at 24, is emerging as a consistent run producer and rookie Kevin Kouzmanoff, acquired from the Cleveland Indians in the Josh Barfield trade, is a home-run threat, even at Petco Park. He is weak defensively, however, and will work with coach Glenn Hoffman throughout spring.

Competition: Marcus Giles is a lock at second base over Todd Walker, who will serve in a utility role at first, second and third. The only real competition in camp will be in left field between Terrmel Sledge, Jose Cruz Jr. and Paul McAnulty. Most likely, left will become a platoon, with Sledge playing against most right-handers and Cruz against all lefties. Cruz, a switch-hitter, has consistently hit about 100 points higher from the right side, though he's got much more power from the left.

Healing: The Padres go to camp healthy. Peavy, a possible WBC casualty, pitched with chronic soreness in his right shoulder last season. As a result, his ERA jumped more than a run over 2005 and he lost 14 games. Still, he threw 202 1/3 innings and had 215 strikeouts.

Next: Right-hander Cesar Carrillo, a 2005 first-rounder out of Miami, had a 3.21 ERA in 10 Double-A and Triple-A starts in 2006. Elbow trouble cost him the final month of the season. If he is healthy, Carrillo has a chance to surface with the Padres this season.

San Francisco Giants

First impression: There's no getting around it in the Bay Area, the Giants are all about the Barrys, Bonds and Zito. It'll start at AT&T Park on April 3, when Zito presumably will get the ball for opening day and 15 minutes later Bonds will stand at the plate, 21 home runs separating him from Hank Aaron. Their opponents that afternoon will be the Padres, whose manager for the past 12 seasons – Bruce Bochy – will be managing his first game for the Giants. From there on, anything can happen, unless it already did during spring training, and then it could happen again.

Competition: Bochy's plan is to give Rich Aurilia most of the at-bats at first base, though Ryan Klesko and Mark Sweeney will be worked in there and – on Bonds' days off – in left field. The Giants believe Russ Ortiz, who washed out of Arizona and Baltimore but still has friends in San Francisco, has corrected his mechanical flaws and can be effective for them again. He'll compete with Brad Hennessey and 24-year-old left-hander Jonathan Sanchez for the fifth place in the rotation, behind Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and a healthy, they hope, Matt Morris.

Healing: The good news is Armando Benitez is in Scottsdale early, throwing and tending to his ailing knee. The bad news is Benitez is "a couple, a few pounds overweight," Bochy told radio station KNBR this week, which won't be a big deal until the first time the knee puffs up again.

Next: Right-hander Brian Wilson, 24, made 30 appearances for the Giants last season, did not allow a run in the Puerto Rico winter league, and arrives this spring with a chance to become the closer. Benitez's knee could go. Heck, if Sabean can work a trade, all of Benitez could go.