2011 National League West Preview
Strengths: While the Diamondbacks welcome back the power numbers of 1B Adam LaRoche (25 HR, 100 RBI) and OF Chris Young (27 HR, 91 RBI), they will need to improve their sub .265 AVGs. Closer J.J. Putz is a great addition to the bullpen, and SP Armando Galarraga, along with youngster SP Daniel Hudson, look to improve a starting rotation that struggled last year.
Weaknesses: 3B Mark Reynolds is gone. He took with him his 32 HRs from last season but also a .198 AVG. Veteran Melvin Mora will try to fill Reynolds’s shoes, but his career has been in decline for a few years now. This young team needs a leader and will remain at the bottom of the NL until someone emerges.
Analysis: Manager Kirk Gibson will begin his first year as a manager and will need to take control from the start. It’s going to be another long year in Arizona for a team that has a lot of talent but are not too sure how to use it.
Prediction: 5th in NL West
San Diego Padres
Strengths: SP Mat Latos and SP Clayton Richard return along with ace closer Heath Bell for the Padres. It was a busy off-season filling the void left by slugger 1B Adrian Gonzalez. Free agent signings SS Jason Bartlett, IF Jorge Cantu, and OF Brad Hawpe hope to add some pop to a power-drained lineup.
Weaknesses: The Padres will be playing more small ball without the 31 HRs of Adrian Gonzalez from last season. OF Will Venable, who had 13 HR last year, will need to step up his game and help out the offense. The back end of the starting rotation, Tim Stauffer and rookie Cory Luebke, have little experience as starters and could falter in their new roles.
Analysis: A lot of new faces will be roaming around Petco Park in 2011, many with names that you have probably heard. The Padres were able to barely miss the playoffs last season, but losing Gonzalez will be a big setback for them this year.
Prediction: 4th in NL West
Los Angeles Dodgers
Strengths: OF Matt Kemp and OF Andre Ethier both return to the Dodgers and are prepared to bring their big bats for new manager Don Mattingly. Last year’s late season addition, SP Ted Lilly, looks to solidify a pitching staff that features youngsters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. SP Jon Garland also joins the deep Dodgers staff.
Weaknesses: Closer Jonathan Broxton struggled last season and was replaced by RP Hong-Chih Kuo. Broxton appears to have recaptured his closing role, but he may be on a short rope. Controversial OF Jay Gibbons will take over in left field, and it’s hard to say what direction his future is headed after being out of the majors since steroid allegations in 2006. But at least the quirky Manny Ramirez is gone.
Analysis: New manager Don Mattingly has some big shoes to fill, replacing the legendary Joe Torre. The Dodgers’s pitching staff is going to be deep this year, and they added a big bat in 2B Juan Uribe. A nice combination of speed and power could help vault the Dodgers into contention in the NL West.
Prediction: 3rd in NL West
Strengths: SS Troy Tulowitzki ended last season with a bang, pounding out 15 HR and 40 RBI in the last month of the season, staking his claim as the best hitting shortstop in the NL. He was rewarded with a contract extension that will keep him in Colorado through 2020. Add young OF Carlos Gonzalez to the mix and the Rockies will be putting up big number for years to come. Don’t forget SP Ubaldo Jimenez who won 19 games last season while playing half of his games in the thin air in hitter-friendly Denver.
Weaknesses: It seems too easy to pick on pitching in Colorado, but their closer situation will be interesting in 2011. Huston Street could not shake the injury bug for much of last season, and Manuel Corpas is gone. If Street can’t stay healthy, the offense is going to have to get some pretty big leads for the bullpen.
Analysis: Hitting has never been a problem in Colorado, and now they finally have a dominant pitcher in Jimenez. SP Jhoulys Chacin is a nice complement, but their rotation gets a little cloudy after that. 1B Todd Helton, who is making over $19 million this year, could be a weak link in the lineup, since his numbers have been decreasing with age. The Rockies should make a push for the division like they do every year due to their potent hitting.
Prediction: 2nd in NL West
San Francisco Giants
Strengths: From Tim Lincecum at the top of the starting rotation to closer Brian Wilson, the Giants are stacked. It led them to a World Series title last season, and they can do it again. Rookie of the Year C Buster Posey returns and has the talent to be an elite major league catcher. OF Andres Torres looks to improve on his stellar 2010 numbers (16 HR, 63 RBI, 26 SB).
Weaknesses: The Giants lost some big bats in IF Juan Uribe and World Series MVP SS Edgar Renteria, but they hope that some young guys like OF Cody Ross and minor leaguer 1B Brandon Belt can step up when they need them. 2B Freddy Sanchez is hoping to return from shoulder surgery, but could start the season on the DL.
Analysis: Repeating as World Series champs is hard to do. The Giants have a great pitching staff led by the strikeout king Tim Lincecum. If their hitting can produce four or five runs a game, they will win a lot of games. Manager Bruce Bochy knows how to win and hopes to be the first repeat champion in the NL since the Big Red Machine did it in the 1970s.
Prediction: 1st in NL West