UCB Project: National League West

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week at Redbird Dugout and other UCB sites will be preview week. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I’m going to skip that this week as I head around baseball. Over the last four days I have done the AL East, Central, and West along with the NL East. Tomorrow I will look at postseason predictions.

Last season it was the San Francisco Giants that rode their pitching to the World Series, despite being overlooked at nearly every angle. I thought they had a pretty good chance to get past the Braves in the first round, but I doubt anybody really foresaw them beating both Philadelphia and Texas. However, it was the San Diego Padres that collapsed down the stretch that allowed the Giants to get back into the division race and ultimately win the division.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks (75-87)
The Diamondbacks have been a seller as of late, but I like the direction that the team is heading in. They’ve dealt a lot of their talent away in exchange for young pitching, attempting to stock pile pitching talent, much like their divisional rivals in San Francisco. Their new manager, Dodgers legend Kirk Gibson should be a great leader for the team after they’ve struggled in the past few years.

While their direction is good, there are many questions surrounding the Diamondbacks this season. How are they going to fill the gaps on offense? Will their rotation hold up? They have a solid group of pitchers led by Daniel Hudson, who was incredible last season for the Diamondbacks after coming over in a trade. Why Chicago was willing to deal him was a little surprising. The guy who pitched the almost perfect game, Armando Galarraga is also in the rotation.

There is still a long way to go for the Diamondbacks, but they have a good core of talent and have made several steps in the right direction.

4. San Diego Padres (78-84)
The Padres have also been sellers lately. There is a big turnover in San Diego this year too as they’ve slashed payroll. The Padres surprised everyone last season with their 90 wins, but I don’t see them being able to repeat that at all.

They improved up the middle with the additions of Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett. They brought Ryan Ludwick back to hit cleanup behind Chase Headley. Other than that, they are pinning their hopes on a couple players who haven’t played well recently in Brad Hawpe and Cameron Maybin. If they break through, then it’d be very easy to win a few more games.

The question for the Padres is whether or not the bullpen can be the same form as they were in 2010 when they were one of the best bullpens in the majors. Also, can that offense provide enough runs to support the pitching staff. Petco is a pitcher friendly ballpark, so pitching can turn the tide, but it will be even more difficult for that offense to score runs because of that.

3. Colorado Rockies (81-81)
The Rockies made big moves in the offseason, locking up both Troy Tulowizki and Carlos Gonzalez to big deals. It’s a good move that locks up two of the best young offensive talents in the National League and recognizes their place as the core of the team. While Todd Helton might be the godfather of the team, he’s not the leader much any more. He’s not the go-to guy in the lineup.

A small amount of turnover for the Rockies, but I don’t see much improvement on the field. Obviously the young players should improve, but the question remains whether Tulowizki and Gonzalez can continue to give 110% knowing that they are locked into big money for years to come. To me, that’s always a question when you give guys a ton of money.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78)
The Dodgers’ ownership is having financial issues as well. When your owners go through a divorce, it’s tough for either to spend money on the team. There was the potential for the team to receive a loan to help it operate through this season, but that was turned down by Bud Selig. That put the Dodgers in rough territory this offseason as they had to be smart with the way they spent their money.

Their biggest move may have been the addition of Juan Uribe. Uribe was a critical part of the Giants’ 2010 World Series team. Jon Garland was another solid move to solidify that bullpen, especially with some of the success that Garland has had in a Dodgers uniform.

Their core remains mostly unchanged, but I feel that that does help them. These guys will know that it’s all on them to get the job done and that reinforcements aren’t likely to come. I expect them to rise to the challenge and compete for the division crown this season.

1. San Francisco Giants (89-73)
Magic is about the only word you can use to describe the Giants’ postseason run. Their team also remained mostly unchanged, but unfortunately they lost two of their biggest pieces. Juan Uribe and Edgar Renteria both left to play for other teams after playing instrumental roles in the Giants’ run to the playoffs. They added Miguel Tejada who should help a little bit and hopefully they will get Mark DeRosa back from his injury as well, helping absorb some of that loss.

Their rotation, with Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner cannot be questioned. It is right up there as one of the best top-4 in the league. Also quite cheaper than the Phillies’ top-4. Brian Wilson has had some muscle issues in spring training, but hopefully that won’t nag on into the season. Even if it does, San Francisco is very deep in pitching.

The Giants are a team that relies on great pitching and timely hitting. The pitching is almost a guarantee as long as everyone stays healthy. Can the Buster Posey led offense continue to get timely hits? That will determine their outcome in 2011.