West Side Story: The 2012 NL West

The wild wild west ended with a surprise victor last season: the Arizona

The DBacks went from worst to first in 2011. Who will challenge them for the division crown this season?

Diamondbacks. The defending World Champions, the San Francisco Giants, had their hopes of a repeat hindered when their rising star catcher, Buster Posey, went down with an ankle injury on May 25. The Dodgers had their ups and downs both on and off the field; Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young and the pitching Triple Crown and outfielder Matt Kemp finished just one homer short of what would have been the fifth 40-homer, 40-stolen base season in baseball’s history. Off the field however, the team’s owners, the McCourts, continued their divorce proceedings and dispute over ownership of the team. The Rockies’ pitching struggled and they just couldn’t catch fire late in the season, as they’ve become notorious for doing in the past few years. The Padres, well, their fans may have been better off trying out for the team themselves — okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but 20 games below .500 is never good. For a team that lost the division on the last day of the season in 2010, the Padres let fans down by fading early on in the ’11 campaign.

Will the Dback’s youth be enough to stop a healthy, revamped Giants team? Is there a sleeper out West? Let’s find out:It’s no surprise that I’m picking the Padres to stay the cellar of the NL West again this season, still stinging from the trade that sent perennial All-Star Adrian Gonzalez to Boston last offseason — everyone knew it was coming, but no one knew it’d have such a crippling effect on the Padres’ 2011 season. Without Gonzalez, the Padres finished dead last in home runs and were just one total base short of finishing last in that category as well. The team also finished second-to-last in slugging percentage — by .001. Clearly, the void left by Gonzalez will take a long time to fill. Highly-touted prospect Anthony Rizzo was the man to replace Gonzalez, but he just couldn’t handle the big leagues, batting a poor .141 in 49 games. Rizzo was dealt to the Cubs this offseason. The team also lost its All-Star closer, Heath Bell, to the Miami Marlins. During the offseason, San Diego inked 24-year-old outfielder Cameron Maybin to a 5-year, $25 million deal in addition to trading their ace, Mat Latos, to the Reds. Although they received great prospects in return, this team seems hell-bent on trading every superstar it has. The Padres won’t be in contention for a number of years.

A Cy Young award for Clayton Kershaw. A second-place finish in the NL MVP for Matt Kemp. What’s next for the Dodgers? Not much, unfortunately. The team ensured that their bright stars will remain in Dodger blue for now, signing Kershaw to a two-year deal and Kemp to an astounding eight-year, $160 million contract. It’s really a shame that these two and the allure of playing at Chavez Ravine couldn’t attract big name free agents to Hollywood, most notably missing out on the Prince Fielder sweepstakes. This squad is virtually unchanged from last year’s, with one exception: Dee Gordon will play his first full season. In just 56 games last year, the speedster stole 24 bases. Other than Gordon, though, this team is almost identical to the 2011 team that struggled to stay above .500, and barely finishing that way at 82-79. An improved Rockies roster pushes the Dodgers farther out of prominence and into fourth place in the West.

The Rockies made some questionable moves and will pretty much take third place by default in the NL West — however, that is not to say that the team isn’t talented, it’s just stuck in the middle of two poor teams and two above average, very talented teams. Colorado’s infield looks strong, with Troy Tulowitzki, Marco Scutaro and the first-base platoon of veterans Todd Helton and Jason Giambi. Its rotation, however, is a shadow of its former self. A group that recently included Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Jorge de la Rosa will now rely on newcomers to the Mile High City; just one starter for 2012 — Jhoulys Chacin — has more than one season of experience with the Rockies. Lastly, Jamie Moyer has a “shot” at making the team’s opening day rotation — he turns 50 this November. With a talented lineup and a shaky rotation, it will be tough for Colorado to finish anywhere higher than third in this division.

In second, but not far behind the eventual division champs at all, will be the San Francisco Giants. Despite how great they look this spring, it is really hard to pick a team that was 29th in runs scored and dead last in RBI last year to win a division title. The return of Buster Posey coupled with additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan make the lineup a force to be reckoned with. Also, there just aren’t enough great things to say about San Fran’s pitching staff — young, electric stuff, freaky¬†stuff. The rotation is led by none other than “The Freak,” Tim Lincecum, who is followed by Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito. Each of the teams five starters — with the exception of Bumgarner — has played on an All-Star team and Bumgarner will join that group this season or in the very near future. The team shocked the world with their pitching in 2010 and won the World Series. If San Francisco captures a Wild Card berth, look out for them in October.

And now, the 2012 NL West champs, the Arizona Diamondbacks. I really really like how this team looks for the upcoming season. Success awaits at every position — led by Justin Upton’s hope for a 30-30 season and Chris Young’s power and arm strength, the Dbacks will find themselves atop the National League in most offensive categories. The Diamondbacks pitching staff also improved from last season. The team traded for Trevor Cahill (12-14, 4.16 ERA last season) and staff ace Ian Kennedy garnered a first-place Cy Young vote last season. Kennedy and Cahill are joined by Daniel Hudson This team has a lot of promise for the foreseeable future, and more importantly a trip to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

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