MLB Preview: NL West
The Major League Baseball season is right around the corner...who is the best in the NL West?
1. San Francisco Giants (2012: 94-68, 1st Place, World Series Champs)
Why they'll win: The Giants made the playoffs last season thanks to a late season Dodgers swoon, and took full advantage on their way to a second World Series title in three years. The lineup remains largely intact, and the rotation is as formidable as ever. Even with Tim Lincecum falling off the face of the Earth last season, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong are a strong top three.
Why they won't win: Pablo Sandoval has an off-season and Tim Lincecum doesn't return to form. Barry Zito is also due for a step backward after a respectable 2012 season. The Giants won't face much competition from the rest of the West, but there is a good chance they beat themselves.
LincecuMIA: Was it a lack of fast food and subsequent weight loss that caused Tim Lincecum to lose velocity and regress so badly? Perhaps the fact that Lincecum famously never ices his arm after starts? Simply a case of the league catching up to his stuff? Whatever the case, it was hard to watch the former Cy Young Award winner struggle as badly as he did (10-15, 5.18 ERA).
Ballad of Vogelsong: Ryan Vogelsong was a struggling, journeyman reliever who hadn't pitched in the majors since 2006 when he joined the Giants from the Pirates in 2011. Since taking his talents to the Bay, the 35-year old is 27-16 with a sub-3.00 ERA. It'll be interesting to see how long his San Fran Indian Summer continues.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks (2012: 81-81, 3rd Place)
Why they'll win: A deep rotation, stellar bullpen, favorable division matchups and a pretty good--but not great--lineup. Former Twins outfielder Jason Kubel continues to be one of the most underrated outfielders in all of baseball, putting up a .253-30-90 stat line while leading the league in outfield assists.
Why they won't win: The Dbacks traded their star outfielder, Justin Upton, to the Atlanta Braves in the offseason. While third baseman Martin Prado will help immediately, a majority of the players Arizona received in the deal are at least a couple years away from making a major impact.
Bell Tolls: Heath Bell was a premiere closer for the San Diego Padres only a few seasons ago after succeeding Pads legend Trevor Hoffman. In three seasons as closer, Bell notched 132 saves and only blew 14 opportunities. After signing with the Marlins prior to 2012, Bell saved 19 games but blew a ridiculous 13. Now expected to be the seventh-inning stopper, Bell is facing a career crossroads.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (2012: 86-76, 2nd Place)
Why they'll win: As it turns out, money can't buy happiness. However, it could potentially win you the weak NL West division. Last season the new Dodger ownership group made a number of splashes in acquiring shortstop/third baseman Hanley Ramirez, pitcher Josh Beckett, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Carl Crawford. This offseason Los Angeles signed the top free agent pitcher on the market in Zach Greinke. If the pieces of the puzzle come together they could win 100+ games.
Why they won't win: For the same reason the Yankees have won the World Series only once since 2001 despite an astronomical payroll each year: Just because you get the best players on paper doesn't mean you will stay healthy (Ramirez is already out at least eight weeks, Crawford has evolved into a human question mark) or productive (Josh Beckett).
4. Colorado Rockies (2012: 64-98, 5th Place)
Why they'll win: The Rockies have two All-World players in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Michael Cuddyer was a nice addition when healthy, and Josh Rutledge emerged as a potential star in the middle infield.
Why they won't: They employ professional home run allower Jon Garland as a starter, and the rest of the rotation is nothing to get excited about, either. Somehow Jorge De La Rosa is their number one starter? Pass.
5. San Diego Padres (2012: 76-86, 5th place)
Why they'll win: Well, if they don't trade him, as is rumored every offseason, Chase Headley could break out as a top flight power threat after an outstanding 2012. Edinson Volquez could finally stop walking every other batter and their prom date, too.
Why they won't win: Let's just say I'm not holding my breath. With the Pad's track record they will trade Headley for "the future" and Volquez will walk 1,765 batters.