Two on Two: NL West Preview
We conclude 2007's Two on Two Preview series with the NL West. With us for this one is Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts, who also has published a collection of his best postings over there. Geoff Young of the popular Padres blog, Ducksnorts, has also joined us to preview things out west. Geoff's book, Ducksnorts 2007 Baseball Annual, is a thorough review of recent Padres history and would make an excellent addition to any Padres (or baseball for that matter) fan's library.
Previous Two on Two's are listed below:
Sully: In 2006 the NL West was a two-tiered division. San Diego and Los Angeles each finished with 88 wins, while San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado all finished with 76. It seems like Colorado and Arizona may be looking to break into that upper tier - if not this year, then soon. I think anything goes in this division in 2007. The standings could look exactly the same or the Snakes and Rox could make some real noise and tip the balance of power. What do you guys look forward to from the West this season?
Geoff: The division figures to be extremely competitive. The Dodgers and Padres each won 88 games in 2006, and neither should slip much this year. Arizona and Colorado both have some dynamic young players, with the Diamondbacks being more well rounded and ready to contend. Even the Giants, about whom I'm not terribly enthusiastic, could be tough if Barry Bonds can stay healthy and a few other things go their way.
Jon: I think the NL West is an interesting division, top to bottom. And I am with Geoff on the Giants, perhaps the last-place consensus pick. But they have a starting rotation you can't dismiss, plus Bonds in his drive for history. I'm not sure there's an elite team in the division, but I think it could be the best overall division in the league.
Rich: This is our sixth and final preview and what I find interesting is that each division in the NL seems to have three teams that have a legitimate chance of winning. The Phillies, Mets, and Braves should dominate the NL East; the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs appear to have separated themselves from the others in the NL Central; and the Dodgers, Padres, and Diamondbacks are the cream of the crop in the NL West. San Diego won the West last year. Is the pitching as good as advertised?
Sully: It's a very solid rotation, and that Peavy was in fact very good last season cannot be stressed enough. He struck out more than a batter an inning and was by no means liberal with the free pass. That will translate into better traditional stats like W-L and ERA in 2007. As for the bullpen, I think it remains strong but I wouldn't be holding my breath expecting similar output from Meredith in 2007.
Rich: San Diego led the NL in ERA last year and, as Geoff notes, the pitching staff should be even better in 2007. Sure, they benefited from Petco but the Padres were second in the league in ERA+ (which adjusts for ballpark effects). One of the hallmarks of a Kevin Towers team is throwing strikes. The Padres do that as well as any team in the majors. In the meantime, San Diego's defense was the best in the NL. Having Mike Cameron in center means the outfield will do just fine in chasing down flyballs. If Kevin Kouzmanoff and Marcus Giles can hold their own at third and second, respectively, this team will likely lead the league in run prevention this year, too.
Sully: These guys aren't so bad offensively either. I am really excited to see Kouzmanoff with the bat and I also want to see what the Pads offense can do with full seasons from Cameron and Josh Bard. Marcus Giles coming over and staying healthy could also be a nice boost.
Geoff: Scoring runs was a problem for the Padres in 2006, especially at home. Now entering their fourth season at Petco Park, Padres batters really need to figure out ways to make it work to their advantage. A fully healthy Terrmel Sledge should represent a slight upgrade in left field from the popular but aging Dave Roberts. I also expect Brian Giles to rebound somewhat (nothing spectacular, maybe .280/.390/.450) from a career-worst season; he's in the decline phase of his career, but his batting eye hasn't deteriorated at all and he actually could be a pretty decent #2 hitter. If Khalil Greene can stay off the disabled list, he's still got a little upside.
Jon: It's not a dynamic offense, but I really like the look of Adrian Gonzalez, whom San Diego recently rewarded with a contract extension. And I need to make a special mention of Rob Bowen, whose plus/minus rating - based on purely anecdotal recollection on my part - must be sky high!
Sully: The Dodgers are a tough team to handicap. On the one hand, they have all of this young talent and yet they seem a little clumsy in melding their free agent strategy with their efforts to promote from within their own system. Offensively they look solid if they can get the right guys in there. But Luis Gonzalez and Juan Pierre have the ability to quickly submarine even the most potent offense.
Jon: On the pitching side, I've had nagging concerns about the health of the Dodgers' otherwise deep starting rotation, and I'm certainly not alone in my reservations about the defense. I think the Dodger bullpen is underrated, though. They have a lot of live arms.
Geoff: The Dodgers have a fascinating rotation. Their signing of Jason Schmidt, in light of other deals being thrown around for pitchers this winter, could be one of the steals of the off-season. Derek Lowe and Brad Penny remain talented but erratic. Penny completely disappeared after the All-Star break last year, and the Dodgers can't afford to have that happen again. Randy Wolf doesn't do much for me, but if he's healthy, there are worse guys to stash at the back of your rotation. Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton return to anchor the 'pen. Bringing Saito over from Japan was a brilliant move, and Broxton is one of my favorite pitchers to watch -- he's the NL version of Bobby Jenks. Actually, he's probably got a little better command than Jenks.
Sully: The Giants continued full steam ahead with their organizational philosophy of being as old as possible this off-season. Only this season they just so happen to have some young talent entering into the Big League mix from within. For the money the Barry Zito signing was awful but with the youngsters (Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum) in the mix the rotation looks formidable.
Jon: Like I indicated earlier, a rotation with Cain, Zito, Lowry and, say, Lincecum will keep them in most games. I'm not enamored of the Giants' bullpen or defense.
Jon: At age 42, Bonds is still perhaps the hugest threat in the division, and Ray Durham is still productive - though, as with the Dodgers' Jeff Kent, you'd rather that your aging, 20-homers-with-a-little-luck second baseman weren't your cleanup hitter. I think basically, you can pitch around Bonds and let the rest of the offense sink itself.
Geoff: This is an unbelievably old lineup. I like the Bengie Molina signing. He's not great, but he'll give the Giants better offense out of the catcher position than they've gotten in recent years. Durham won't repeat his fine 2006 season, and Pedro Feliz still makes way too many outs to be a big-league regular. As for Bonds, he'll be productive if healthy.
Sully: I hate to be glib but it just astounds me how awful Feliz is and that he holds down an everyday MLB job.
Rich: I concur with Geoff. The team was old last year and is even older this year. I mean, what was Brian Sabean thinking when he signed Rich Aurilia, Ryan Klesko, and Roberts during the off-season? I know, I know. The Giants are of the opinion that they have to win now but that's the problem. They abandoned their player development program years and years ago, diverting money that should have gone to draftees in favor of free agents. The gig is finally up. I believe the Giants could be one of the worst teams in the NL, if not the majors, over the next half dozen years.
Geoff: Well I'm pretty excited about the Rockies' offense. Todd Helton appears to be following the Brian Giles decline path, but he still gets on base and can do occasional damage. Helton, though, is no longer the focus of this lineup. Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, and Matt Holliday all made their mark in 2006, and all are just entering their prime. Even acknowledging that Helton is on his way down, the Rockies have assembled a nice little collection of offensive talent that only figures to improve. Overall, this is probably a more well-rounded group than the heralded Blake Street Bombers from a decade ago.
Jon: As I wrote this week at SI.com, it's the best heart of the order in the NL West. If Colorado can get production out of Tulowitzki and Iannetta, they will be a lot harder to beat than people may be expecting.
Geoff: Humidor or not, preventing runs at Coors Field will always be a challenge. Losing Jason Jennings hurts, and I have concerns about his replacement, Jason Hirsh, who gave up a ton of home runs in limited big-league innings with the Astros. Who else is in the rotation -- Josh Fogg? Kim? Lopez? Not a lot to get excited about here. The bullpen has potenial. Fuentes deserves a medal for consistently getting the job done for the Rockies. Outside of Steve Reed, I can't think of another reliever who's enjoyed so much success with Colorado. Manny Corpas and Ramirez give the Rockies a couple nice young right-handers with some upside. The guy I can't figure out is Jeremy Affeldt. Whenever I see him pitch, he looks like he should be pretty good, but the numbers just aren't there.
Rich: I like Lopez more than Geoff. He had decent strikeout, walk, and groundball rates last year while pitching for Baltimore in the much tougher AL East. The NL West should look like Triple-A to him except, of course, when he has to pitch at home. But, hey, somebody has to start those 81 games. Cook and Francis are solid. Although Hirsh might be a year away, I think O'Dowd made a great move trading Jennings for him. Colorado was bound to lose the free agent-to-be so turning him into a prized prospect and a center fielder (Willy Taveras) who can flag down balls at Coors Field seemed like a brilliant move to me.
Sully: And now onto the most compelling team in the division (in my opinion), the Arizona Diamondbacks. The projection systems love these guys, far more so than the mainstream press. I think the Snakes are ready to contend for the division. Their starting pitching is phenomenal, with the reigning Cy Young Award winner, Randy Johnson, a workhorse in Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis and any number of capable youngsters in the fifth spot. Jose Valverde, Brandon Medders, Tony Pena and Juan Cruz should all be excellent relievers. These guys are going to be tough.
Sully: This should be a strong offense. It was just average last year (99 OPS+) but with additional development and improvement from Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin and Connor Jackson, and the addition of Chris Young should all make this offense formidable.
Jon: It's exciting to think of what the kids can do. There's always the risk of a collective slump from unproven hitters, but it's a risk I'd be willing to take. With their talent, they don't need to feel intimidated by any division rival's pitching.
Rich: Let's talk about some potential surprises that may develop in the NL West in 2007.
Sully: I'll jump in and say that Rich's call for best player in the division, Rafael Furcal, will be surpassed by Stephen Drew. Drew will outplay Furcal in 2007 and be the best SS in the division.
On another level, I think the Padres have the potential to win and allow Bud Black to bust the stigma against pitchers becoming managers.
Geoff: A couple months ago, I would've said the Diamondbacks, but everyone seems to be jumping on their bandwagon, so I'll say the Colorado pitching staff. Jeff Francis will finish in the top 10 in the NL in ERA.
Sully: How about the three major awards? Who do we like as MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidates? I don't think I see any real MVP potentials coming out of the division. Maybe one of those guys in the middle of Colorado's offense. As for Cy Young candidates, I like Peavy and Webb, with Matt Cain having an outside shot as well. Chris Young is my guy, and I am sure others' as well, for ROY.
Sully: And finally, please predict the order of finish in the division. I will take San Diego to repeat, and then I have Arizona, Los Angeles, Colorado, a big gap, then the Giants.
Rich: I'm on record going with the Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Giants. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
I'll qualify this somewhat by saying that the battle for those top three spots will be fierce. I expect the wild card to come out of the NL West again this year.
Sully: Thanks for participating, guys.