MLB: NL West Preview capsules
Capsules of National League West teams, listed in order of finish last year:
Los Angeles Dodgers
2009:95-67, first place.
Manager: Joe Torre (third season).
He's Here: RH Russ Ortiz, RH Ramon Ortiz, RH Luis Ayala, RH Justin Miller, INF Jamey Carroll, OF Reed Johnson.
He's Outta Here: LH Randy Wolf, RH Guillermo Mota, RH Jon Garland, LH Will Ohman, LF Juan Pierre, 1B Jim Thome, INF Mark Loretta, INF Juan Castro, 2B Orlando Hudson.
Projected Lineup: SS Rafael Furcal (.269, 9, 47, 12 stolen bases), CF Matt Kemp (.297, 26, 101, 34 SB), RF Andre Ethier (.272, 31, 106), LF Manny Ramirez (.290, 19, 63), 1B James Loney (.281, 13, 90), 3B Casey Blake (.280, 18, 79), C Russell Martin (.250, 7, 53), 2B Blake DeWitt (.204, 2, 4).
Rotation: RH Vicente Padilla (4-0, 3.20), LH Clayton Kershaw (8-8, 2.79 ERA, 185 Ks), RH Chad Billingsley (12-11, 4.03, 179 Ks, 191 1-3 IP), RH Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.76), RH Charlie Haeger (1-1, 3.32 in six games, including three starts with Dodgers; 11-6 3.55 with Triple-A Albuquerque).
Key Relievers: RH Jonathan Broxton (7-2, 2.61, 114 Ks in 76 IP, 36/42 saves), LH George Sherrill (1-0, 0.65 after trade from Baltimore), LH Hong-Chih Kuo (2-0, 3.00), RH Ramon Troncoso (5-4, 2.72, 6/7 saves).
Hot Spots: Once considered a strength, the Dodgers' bullpen is facing all sorts of issues. RH Ronald Belisario missed most of spring training because of visa issues in his native Venezuela and was placed on the restricted list on March 26, where he can be kept for up to 30 days. He went 4-3 with a 2.04 ERA in 69 games as a rookie last year, and was expected to be a key contributor. RH Cory Wade is expected to miss at least three months after right shoulder surgery. He was the main setup man for a stretch during his rookie year in 2008. Current setup man Sherrill struggled in exhibition games. Martin has been out since March 7 with a groin injury, but expects to be ready by opening day.
Stat Sheet: The Dodgers were bounced by Philadelphia in the NLCS for the second straight season despite their NL-best 95 wins. Kershaw posted a 9.45 ERA in the series, exposing the team's lack of a true ace. Ramirez was 5 for 19 with one home run and two RBIs, with the homer being his only extra-base hit.
Bottom Line: The defending NL West champions could be as interesting off the field as on this season. That's because the contentious divorce of owner Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie, will heat up when the trial begins Aug. 30. At issue is a dispute about the team's ownership. Torre heads into the third and final year of his contract with no resolution on a possible extension. Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully has said he'll continue in the broadcast booth this season, then decide whether to retire at 82. On the field, Ramirez will try to regain the form he lost after returning from a 50-game suspension last season for violating baseball's drug rules.
2009: 92-70, second place, wild card.
Manager: Jim Tracy (second season with Colorado).
He's Here: 3B Melvin Mora, RH Tim Redding, C Miguel Olivo, RH Justin Speier.
He's Outta Here: C Yorvit Torrealba, 3B Garrett Atkins, RH Jason Marquis.
Projected Lineup: LF Carlos Gonzalez (.284, 13 HRs, 29 RBIs, 16 SB), CF Dexter Fowler (.266, 4, 34, 27 SB), 1B Todd Helton (.325, 15, 86), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.297, 32, 92, 20 SB), RF Brad Hawpe (.285, 23, 86), C Chris Iannetta (.228, 16, 52), 3B Ian Stewart (.228, 25, 70), 2B Clint Barmes (.245, 23, 76, 12 SB).
Rotation: RH Ubaldo Jimenez (15-12, 3.47 ERA, 198 Ks, staff-high 218 IP), LH Jeff Francis (didn't pitch last season due to left shoulder surgery), RH Aaron Cook (11-6, 4.16, 78 Ks, 158 IP), LH Jorge De La Rosa (16-9, 4.38, 193 Ks, 185 IP), RH Jason Hammel (10-8, 4.33, 133 Ks, 176 2-3 IP).
Key Relievers: RH Huston Street (4-1, 3.06 ERA, 35/37 saves), RH Rafael Betancourt (3-1, 1.78 in 32 games with Rockies; 1-2, 3.52 in 29 games with Cleveland), LH Franklin Morales (3-2. 4.50, 7 saves), RH Manuel Corpas (1-3, 5.88, 1 save), RH Matt Belisle (3-1, 5.52), LH Randy Flores (0-1, 5.25), RH Matt Daley (1-1, 4.24).
Hot Spots: Catcher. Iannetta and Olivo will more than likely split the duties behind the plate in the wake of Torrealba's departure. Tracy doesn't want to wear his catchers out over the course of the season. Iannetta had the starting job last season, before struggling and losing his spot to Torrealba. Iannetta has been working diligently in the offseason on a toe-tap technique at the plate that has helped get his timing back in order.
Stat Sheet: The Rockies were 41-40 on the road last season, marking the first time in franchise history the team finished with a winning record away from Coors Field. Colorado also turned around its fortune at home, finishing 51-30. The team started the season 7-13 start at Coors Field.
Bottom Line: Tracy took over for Clint Hurdle when the Rockies were 18-28 and made the playoffs as the NL wild card. The Rockies reeled off 11 straight wins in June to work their way back into the race. Colorado returns a youthful squad with plenty of pop up and down the lineup. They hit 190 homers, second-most in the NL. Their rotation is solid, especially if lefty Francis returns to form after missing the entire 2009 season following surgery on his throwing arm. Francis joins a deep rotation that also includes Jimenez, Cook, Hammel and De La Rosa. Helton recently signed a two-year deal that should keep him in Colorado until he retires. He's coming off a season in which he hit .325 and drove in 86 runs. Helton will be spelled at first by Jason Giambi, who returned for another season with Colorado after he couldn't land a designated hitter job in the AL. Mora could get plenty of at-bats if Stewart struggles against lefties again or if Barmes continues to have a low on-base percentage. Tulowitzki remains the anchor of the Rockies, playing stellar shortstop while hitting cleanup in the batting order.
San Francisco Giants
2009: 88-74, third place.
Manager: Bruce Bochy (fourth season).
He's Here: INF-OF Mark DeRosa, 1B Aubrey Huff, RH Todd Wellemeyer, RH Guillermo Mota.
He's Outta Here: LH Randy Johnson; RH Brad Penny, OF Randy Winn, 1B Ryan Garko, INF Rich Aurilia, RH Bobby Howry, RH Merkin Valdez.
Projected Lineup: CF Aaron Rowand (.261, 15, 64, 125 Ks), 2B Freddy Sanchez (.293, 7, 41) or Juan Uribe (.289, 16, 55), 3B Pablo Sandoval (.330, 25, 90, 44 2Bs), 1B Aubrey Huff (.241, 15, 85 with Detroit and Baltimore), LF Mark DeRosa (.250, 23, 78 with Cleveland and St. Louis), C Bengie Molina (.265, 20, 80, .285 OBP), SS Edgar Renteria (.250, 5, 48), RF Nate Schierholtz (.267, 5, 29) or John Bowker (.194, 2, 7).
Rotation: RH Tim Lincecum (15-7, 2.48, 261 Ks, .206 BA against, 2nd straight NL Cy Young), LH Barry Zito (10-13, 4.03), RH Matt Cain (14-8, 2.89), LH Jonathan Sanchez (8-12, 4.24, no-hitter), RH Todd Wellemeyer (7-10, 5.89).
Key Relievers: RH Brian Wilson (5-6, 2.74, 38/45 saves), LH Jeremy Affeldt (2-2, .173), RH Sergio Romo (5-2, 3.97).
Hot Spots: The Giants brought in Huff and DeRosa to upgrade an offense whose 122 homers were the second fewest in the majors last season. Huff hit 32 as recently as 2008 in Baltimore, while DeRosa has topped 20 the past two seasons. They will find it tough to match in notoriously difficult to hit in AT&T Park.
Stat Sheet: 392. The Giants walked only 392 times last season, the fewest for an NL team in a non-strike season since the expansion Colorado Rockies had 388 in 1993. Barry Bonds had a major league record 232 walks by himself in 2004.
Bottom Line: The biggest weakness last year is the biggest weakness again, the offense. The Giants made some minor moves to try to increase their scoring, but they might have harmed their defense along the way. With Lincecum and Cain providing a fearsome 1-2 punch for the rotation, the Giants don't need a ton of runs to stay in contention in the NL West. Buster Posey, a first-round pick in 2008, is supposed to be the catcher of the future in San Francisco, but he'll spend his time now in the minors. But the Giants had enough questions about whether he was ready that they brought back Molina for another year. Posey could get time at first base and as Molina's backup later in the season. If all goes well, he could be the big bat the Giants need.
San Diego Padres
2009: 75-87, fourth place.
Manager: Bud Black (fourth season).
He's Here: RH Jon Garland, C Yorvit Torrealba, INF-OF Jerry Hairston Jr., OF Scott Hairston.
He's Outta Here: RF Brian Giles, C Henry Blanco, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, INF Luis Rodriguez.
Projected Lineup: CF Tony Gwynn Jr. (.270, 2 HR, 21 RBIs, 59 runs), 2B David Eckstein (.260, 2, 50), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.277, 40, 99), 3B Chase Headley (.262, 12, 64), LF Kyle Blanks (.250, 10, 22 in 54 games), RF Will Venable (.256, 12, 38), C Nick Hundley (.238, 8, 30), SS Everth Cabrera (.255, 2, 31, 25 SB).
Rotation: RH Chris Young (4-6, 5.21 ERA), RH Jon Garland (11-13, 4.01 with Arizona and the Dodgers), RH Kevin Correia (12-11, 3.91, 142 Ks), LH Clayton Richard (5-2, 4.08 in 12 starts), RH Mat Latos (4-5, 4.62).
Key Relievers: RH Heath Bell (6-4, 2.71, NL-high 42 saves), RH Sean Gallagher (2-0, 0.00), RH Mike Adams (0-0, 0.73, 45 K's in 37 IP), RH Luke Gregerson (2-4, 3.24), LH Joe Thatcher (1-0, 2.80), RH Edward Mujica (3-5, 3.94), RH Adam Russell (3-1, 3.65).
Hot Spots: Fourth and fifth starter, and whether Gonzalez is still with the Padres after the trading deadline. Richard, one of the pitchers obtained from the Chicago White Sox in the Jake Peavy deal, struggled during spring training. Latos has the physical tools and made his big league debut last year, but the Padres aren't sure whether he'll start the season in the majors or minors. Gonzalez, a two-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner, was the subject of trade rumors all offseason. Whether the Padres keep him or deal him to save money is going to be the biggest decision yet for new general manager Jed Hoyer. Gonzalez has one year remaining on his current deal with a team option for the 2011 season. He says he's looking for "value" when it's time to talk contract again. Gonzalez said he sacrificed dollars for security in his last contract. The Padres could have the lowest payroll in the big leagues this year, so they might feel that Gonzalez will be too expensive to keep.
Stat Sheet: The Padres finished the 2009 season by going 37-25 as several young players realized they belonged in the big leagues. That vaulted them past Arizona and into fourth place in the division, a respectable finish considering they had lost 99 games the year before.
Bottom Line: Buoyed by their strong finish in 2009, the Padres think they can play better than .500 ball this season. A lot depends on the pitching staff, of course. Young is looking to rebound after having his last two seasons interrupted by injuries. By trading Kouzmanoff to the Athletics, the Padres were able to move Headley to his natural position and get Blanks into the everyday lineup. Hoyer has pledged to shape a team more in tune to Petco Park, and the Padres have been working hard on baserunning this spring.
2009: 72-90, last place.
Manager: A.J. Hinch (first full season).
He's Here: 1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Kelly Johnson, RH Edwin Jackson, RH Ian Kennedy, RH Bob Howry, RH Aaron Heilman, LH Zach Kroenke, INF Tony Abreu.
He's Outta Here: LH Doug Davis, RH Max Scherzer, OF Eric Byrnes, INF Chad Tracy, RH Yusmeiro Petit, LH Scott Schoeneweis, LH Daniel Schlereth.
Projected Lineup: SS Stephen Drew (.261, 12 HRs, 65 RBIs), LF Conor Jackson (.182, 1, 14 in 30 games), RF Justin Upton (.300, 26, 86), 1B Adam LaRoche (.277, 25, 83 for Atlanta, Boston and Pittsburgh), 3B Mark Reynolds (.260, 44, 102, 223 Ks), C Miguel Montero (.294, 16, 59), 2B Kelly Johnson (.224, 8, 29 with Atlanta), CF Chris Young (.212, 15, 42).
Rotation: RH Dan Haren (14-10, 3.14 ERA, 223 Ks, 33 walks), RH Edwin Jackson (13-9, 3.62 with Detroit), RH Ian Kennedy (1-0, 1.59 in four games with Yankees' Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, missed most of season with aneurysm near right shoulder), RH Rodrigo Lopez (3-1, 5.70 with Philadelphia, 7-5, 4.31 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley), RH Brandon Webb (missed all but opening day of last season, recovering from shoulder surgery, will start season on disabled list). Team won't need a fifth starter until April 18.
Key Relievers: RH Chad Qualls (2-2, 3.63, 24/29 saves), RH Juan Guitierrez (4-3, 4.06), RH Esmerling Vasquez (3-3, 4.42), RH Bob Howry (2-6, 3.39 with San Francisco), RH Aaron Heilman (4-4, 4.11 with Chicago Cubs), LH Clay Zavada (3-3, 3.35).
Hot Spots: Starting pitching, bullpen. If Webb doesn't return to the rotation soon, and if he isn't effective when he does, the Arizona starters are extremely thin after Haren and Jackson. Webb never had been injured before in his career and has been slow recovering from shoulder surgery. Expect the team to begin the season with four starters because of the early schedule. Team is counting on Howry and Heilman to steady an extremely shaky bullpen from last year. The Diamondbacks could start the season with only one left-hander, probably the 25-year-old Zavada.
Stat Sheet: The Diamondbacks committed 124 errors, ahead only of Washington (143) for worst in the majors. Hinch emphasized fundamentals in spring training, and he believes the acquisition of 1B LaRoche and 2B Johnson will help improve the defense.
Bottom Line: Starting pitching historically has been a strength, but it's a big question mark going into the season, with so much riding on the return of former NL Cy Young Award winner Webb to his previous form. The team may well have to rely more on its offense, which should be bolstered by the addition of LaRoche and the return to health of Jackson, who missed nearly all of last season because of illness. Gerardo Parra gives the team four solid outfielders, and Montero hit extremely well late in the season. Upton and Reynolds have new contracts, indicating the franchise is intent on keeping its young talent. Upton, just 22 years old, signed a six-year, $51.25 million contract, second-largest in franchise history. Reynolds inked a three-year deal worth $14.5 million. The players seem to have embraced the managing style of the 35-year-old Hinch after some skepticism when, despite no experience at the job at any level, he replaced the fired Bob Melvin last season. There is no doubt the offseason moves made the team better, and another last-place finish in the NL seems unlikely. But a return to playoff contention is a longshot, with any chance riding largely on Webb's surgically repaired right shoulder.