Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: NL West

It's very, very early in the year to be talking about predictions for the 2008 MLB season, and there are still a lot of things for teams to work out before rosters are set and whatnot - position battles to be fought out in Spring Training, late signings, emerging rookies, a trade or two. Nevertheless, a substantial amount of the work has been done already this off-season, and we know the basic shape of each MLB team (although the looming trade of Johan Santana would obviously change the outlook for the Twins and the receiving team pretty substantially).

Over the next six Mondays (leading up to the Twins first pitchers & catchers workout on Monday, Feb. 18), I'll be posting my predictions for each division in baseball, starting in the National League and culminating with the AL Central on February 18. Ten months from now, when my predictions are woefully wrong, you can all make fun of me mercilessly. The actual predictions are at the bottom of this post, beneath the capsule summaries of each team.

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected Rotation
1.) Brandon Webb
2.) Dan Haren
3.) Doug Davis
4.) Micah Owings
5.) Randy Johnson

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Brandon Lyon
2.) Tony Pena
3.) Chad Qualls
4.) Juan Cruz
5.) Doug Slaten

Position Players
C - Chris Snyder
1B - Conor Jackson
2B - Orlando Hudson
3B - Mark Reynolds
SS - Stephen Drew
LF - Eric Byrnes
CF - Chris Young
RF - Justin Upton

Prior to last season, the big addition to the D'Backs rotation was supposed to be Randy Johnson, who was acquired from the Yankees. Unfortunately, things didn't turn out as anyone hoped, as Johnson's bad back acted up and limited him to just 10 starts. This season, the Diamondbacks made another big trade involving a starter when they swung a deal for A's ace Dan Haren, who joins with Brandon Webb to form a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. If the snakes can get anything at all out of Johnson this season it will be a plus -- but the top 4 should be as consistent as just about any rotation in the game this season. In the bullpen, Arizona traded closer Jose Valverde to the Astros, and will probably hand over closing duties to Brandon Lyon, who had a very solid 2.68 ERA last season in 74 innings of work. The other top relievers in this bullpen all had ERA's between 2.72 (Slaten) and 3.27 (Pena) last season, so this is a pretty solid crew that should help nail down games when the starters leave.

The lineup is still very young, but with a year of experience under their belts, players like Mark Reynolds, Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, and Connor Jackson could start to flourish this year. The spark plug on this team is Eric Byrnes, who received a 3-year/$30 million extension in August. The dynamic left- and center-fielder is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the entire league simply due to his unfailing energy. Really, though, all this lineup has to do is score enough runs to support the outstanding pitching staff -- if they do, the D'Backs have a very good chance to repeat as NL West champions in 2008.


Colorado Rockies
Projected Rotation
1.) Jeff Francis
2.) Aaron Cook
3.) Ubaldo Jimenez
4.) Franklin Morales
5.) Jason Hirsh

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Manny Corpas
2.) Brian Fuentes
3.) Ryan Speier
4.) Luis Vizcaino
5.) Taylor Buchholz

Position Players
C - Yorvit Torrealba
1B - Todd Helton
2B - Jayson Nix/Ian Stewart/Marcus Giles?
3B - Garrett Atkins
SS - Troy Tulowitzki
LF - Matt Holliday
CF - Willy Taveras
RF - Brad Hawpe

Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook are solid veteran starters. Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales, and Jason Hirsh are all solid pitchers in that mysterious borderland between being prospects and being legitimate Major League players. If Jimenez and Morales, at least, can pitch as they did down the stretch last season, the Rockies starters should keep them in most games. The bullpen is a little more patched together, although the club has two legitimate closers in Manny Corpas and Brian Fuentes (Corpas will get the nod this season, although if he falters Fuentes could be returned to that role). Speier, Vizcaino, and Buchholz could all contribute, but if I were a Rockies fan I wouldn't be particularly confident when the ball was handed off to the 'pen. Still, the Rockies pitching was good enough last season to get them to the World Series, and the only significant loss was LaTroy Hawkins -- so I guess I wouldn't bet against this crew.

The lineup is almost unchanged from last season, with the only departure being 2B Kaz Matsui. There are several players who will compete for the starting second base job this spring, but veteran Marcus Giles will probably get the nod if he performs reasonably well in exhibition games. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba returned to the club after flirting with the Mets (and having the Mets inexplicably go back on what seemed a done deal). That should help the Rockies, because he's more of a contributor than his .255 average might indicate. The core group of Matt Holliday, Todd Helton, and Troy Tulowitzki will be especially important to watch this season -- especially Holliday, who hit .340 with 36 HR's and 137 RBI last year.


Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Rotation

1.) Brad Penny
2.) Derek Lowe
3.) Chad Billingsley
4.) Hiroki Kuroda
5.) Esteban Loaiza

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Takashi Saito
2.) Joe Beimel
3.) Jonathan Broxton
4.) Scott Proctor
5.) Yhency Brazoban

Position Players
C - Russell Martin
1B - James Loney
2B - Jeff Kent
3B - Nomar Garciaparra
SS - Rafael Furcal
LF - Juan Pierre
CF - Andruw Jones
RF - Matt Kemp

While the Diamondbacks have arguably the best 1-2 punch in the National League, the Dodgers could prove to have the deepest starting 5 top to bottom this season. Brad Penny, who finished 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA in 208 innings, is the ace of the staff, and Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, and Esteban Loaiza are all solid major league pitchers. The question mark is Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda -- will he be Hideo Nomo or Kei Igawa? Meanwhile, the Dodger bullpen starts off solid, behind Saito, Beimel, Broxton, and Proctor -- but who will be the fifth (and for that matter, sixth) man out of the 'pen? Yhency Brazoban has a chance to come back from seemingly endless injuries, and D.J. Houlton could get some solid use as well.

The lineup is interesting -- Andruw Jones should re-emerge from wandering in the offensive desert he was in last year, and Juan Pierre is better used as a left-fielder/leadoff man than in center. James Loney and Matt Kemp have the potential to be stars. The biggest question for me is whether older veterans like Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent can hold on for another year without getting injured. If they do, the Dodgers could put up some runs, and should be in the running for the division crown.


San Diego Padres
Projected Rotation

1.) Jake Peavy
2.) Chris Young
3.) Greg Maddux
4.) Randy Wolf
5.) Mark Prior

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Trevor Hoffman
2.) Heath Bell
3.) Cla Meredith
4.) Kevin Cameron
5.) Justin Hampson

Position Players
C - Josh Bard
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
2B - Tadahito Iguchi
3B - Kevin Kouzmanoff
SS - Khalil Greene
LF - Scott Hairston
CF - Jim Edmonds
RF - Brian Giles

I don't think I realized until putting together this post quite how loaded the teams in the NL West are with pitching. The Peavy/Young duo that tops the Padres rotation is quite possibly just as good, if not better, than the Webb/Haren duo in Arizona. Greg Maddux is . . . well . . . Greg Maddux -- and he keeps finding ways to win by continuing to improve in the art of pitching. That's pretty impressive considering he's already a first ballot Hall of Famer. Randy Wolf and Mark Prior are interesting reconstruction projects that, if they pay off, could give the Padres an incredibly deep squad. The bullpen is also solid, although at some point you have to think that Trevor Hoffman's run is going to come to a sudden end. Former Twin prospect (and Rule 5 selection last year) Kevin Cameron established himself quickly as an important part of this bullpen in 2007, but Heath Bell and Cla Meredith are the main attractions (Meredith posted a 1.07 ERA in 50.2 innings in 2006, so even though he had a 3.50 ERA in 2007 I still count him as a potential bullpen star for the Padres).

The lineup is a concern for me -- Jim Edmonds and Brian Giles are old, and Scott Hairston is, well, Scott Hairston, so I'm not particularly impressed by the outfield. Adrian Gonzalez is clearly a star at 1B, but there are questions about the bats of Khalil Greene and Tad Iguchi up the middle in the infield. Kevin Kouzmanoff had a solid if unspectacular rookie season and should improve on it in 2008. Honestly, though, how many runs can this team expect to score with only Gonzalez as a major offensive threat?


San Francisco Giants
Projected Rotation

1.) Barry Zito
2.) Matt Cain
3.) Tim Lincecum
4.) Noah Lowry
5.) Kevin Correia

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Brian Wilson
2.) Vinnie Chulk
3.) Randy Messenger
4.) Brad Hennessey
5.) Steve Kline

Position Players
C - Bengie Molina
1B - Dan Ortmeier
2B - Ray Durham
3B - Rich Aurilia
SS - Omar Vizquel
LF - Dave Roberts
CF - Aaron Rowand
RF - Randy Winn

I'll give the Giants this -- Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Noah Lowry are interesting young pitchers who have the potential to be very solid young pitchers for years to come. Barry Zito? It certainly appears that that's a "not-so-much." The ship was already sailing on Zito when he was with the A's, as his K rate went down pretty precipitously in his last year in Oakland. Despite that, the Giants spent $126 million on him, only to see him post his worst career ERA and worst career K-9 numbers. Remember, that's in the consensus easier league. Granted, the transition can still be difficult -- but Zito doesn't appear to be headed in the right direction. While parts of this rotation are interesting, then, it doesn't really hold a candle to the other rotations in this division -- even the Rockies'. The bullpen is fitted together with some so-so parts, but there's no real closer at this point and no one that strikes me as a can't-miss setup man either.

The lineup is a bit of a mess. Bengie Molina is an above-average offensive catcher, but beyond that the Giants will struggle. Aaron Rowand was brought in to anchor the offense, but I doubt that he can do that -- he's coming off of a career year, and is unlikely to duplicate it. Historically, he's a middling player who churns out a really good year once every 3 years or so. Ray Durham, once one of my favorite players, fell off a cliff offensively last year, and at 36 the possibility that he's done has to be considered. And as much praise as he received for his defense last year, the soon-to-be 41-year-old Omar Vizquel is a disaster waiting to happen. The fact that Rich Aurilia and Dave Roberts are also set to be full-time players is still more bad news for Giants fans.


Predictions
1.) Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)
2.) San Diego Padres (91-71)
3.) Colorado Rockies (88-74)
4.) Arizona Diamondbacks (85-77)
5.) San Francisco Giants (68-94)

This should prove to be one of the most exciting races in baseball in 2008, and I legitimately think that any of the top 4 teams could win the division or sneak into the playoffs as the Wild Card. I'm picking the Dodgers because I like the combination of pitching and hitting that they should bring to the table if everyone stays healthy. I'm picking the Diamondbacks fourth because I don't think the hitting is going to come together this year, and despite their solid starting rotation I don't think they'll be able to beat the other Western Division teams often enough. Still, I would be legitimately hopeful if I were a fan of any team other than the Giants in this division, and expect a lot of really great baseball out West this season.

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