Thursday, April 20, 2006


I'm sure most of you could care less about Major League Baseball, but I'll continue my predictions for 2006 with a fairly in-depth look at the National League's West Division. I have been trying to obsess less about politics lately, and when I don't obsess about politics or music or family matters... stuff like this happens:

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST – This division may be the toughest to predict in all of major league baseball. It might be easiest to just put all five names into a hat, draw them out, and use that order for saying where I think they will finish. But based on what I do know about the five teams, this is how I believe they will finish.

1. San Francisco – The Giants have to have the oldest team in the majors. Their infield has lots of class, but SS Omar Vizquel is 39 next week, and 2B Ray Durham,, while still only 34, has had declining stats in recent years. 1B Mark Sweeney is 36, and catcher Mike Metheny is 35. Back-up OF Steve Finley is 41, and backup IF Jose Vizcaino is 38. The starting outfielders all have July birthdays; Barry Bonds will be 42, Moises Alou 39, and Randy Winn, a relative youngster, will be 32. The youngest player in the everyday lineup, 3B Pedro Feliz will be 31 next week. The rotation has some youth, and several starting pitchers who should prove better-than-average in Jason Schmidt, Noah Lowry and Jamey Wright. Matt Cain is a youngster with lots of potential. Then in the bullpen, Tim Worrell, 38, is the temporary closer while Armando Benitez starts the season on the disabled list. 43-year-old Jeff Fassero is still pitching, and so is veteran Steve Kline. All in all, this ballclub as the talent to finish around .500 or slightly better. If the ancient lineup can withstand the rigors of a full season, if Barry Bonds' personal soap opera doesnm't cause too much distraction, and if the bullpen can produce, I think the Giants could win 90 games. I'd look for something more in the vicinity of 85-88 wins.

2. San Diego – The Padres won this division in 2005 with a win-loss record of only 82-80. This season they once again balance inexperience (LF Ben Johnson, 2B Josh Barfield, 1B Adrian Gonzalez) with veteran presence in new C Mike Piazza, CF Dave Roberts, 3B Vinny Castilla and RF Brian Giles. Khalil Greene is steady at shortstop. After posting an 80-54 record during six seasons with the Dodgers, starting pitcher Chan Ho Park flailed his way to a 22-23 mark in his four years with Texas. The Padres hope he can team with other starters Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Woody Williams to form a formidable rotation. Look for Trevor Hoffman to continue pitching well as the team’s stopper. However, he has questionable support from the rest of the bullpen, outside of Scott Linebrink. Getting CF Mike Cameron healthy again could help. Anyway, I think this team should do about as well as it did last year, which was fairly mediocre... 85 wins tops.

3. Colorado – The Rockies want to prove a couple of things this year. One, that they can hit on the road, away from the mile-high Coors Field. The other thing? That their pitchers can throw well at Coors, and not just on the road. So far, so good. The Rocks have some young hitters in OFs Brad Hawpe, Corey Sullivan, and Matt Holliday, SS Clint Barmes, 3B Garrett Atkins and 2B Jason Smith. 1B Todd Helton has a career batting average of .337 and at age 32 he shows no signs of slowing down. As always, the question with the Rockies is their pitching staff. Their ERAs are usually inflated due to all the hitting that goes on at Coors Field, but Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis are all very capable starting pitchers. New SP Josh Fogg struggled in Pittsburgh but he is off to a good start with Colorado. Brian Fuentes has established himself as the stopper in the Rockies’ bullpen, with 31 saves in 2005. He and Scott Dohmann are the only holdovers from last season in what is now a mostly remade pen that includes ex-Pirate Jose Mesa, ex-Cardinal Ray King, ex-Brave Tom Martin and rookie David Cortes. With continuous improvement from all the young players on the team, and with consistently decent pitching, this team should finish around .500 The talent could be there for a nice year for the Rockies.

4. Arizona – This team had a pretty lousy 2005, but this year they have the potential to surprise a lot of people. Their pitching staff is fairly deep, and they have good talent in their everyday lineup with a good mix of vets and youngsters. OFs Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green and C Johnny Estrada are names with which many fans are familiar. Names which could become familiar soon are those of 3B Chad Tracy, 1B Conor Jackson, and veteran OF Jeff DaVanon, who is off to a great start. Back-up 1B Tony Clark resurrected his career last season in Arizona by hitting 30 homers in 349 at-bats. Brandon Webb, Orlando Hernandez and Miguel Batista make a good “first three” in the rotation, and other starting pitchers Russ Ortiz and Claudio Vargas have had past successes. Closer Jose Valverde is physically fragile in that he has had a history of injuries, but if he is healthy he does a great job finishing ballgames. Valverde has capable bullpen helpers in Juan Cruz and Luis Vizcaino. I’m not sure this team has enough “oomph” to finish above .500. Their hitting is a bit suspect, as is their bullpen. I'm pegging them for about 75 wins.

5. Los Angeles – I’m sad to say this once-proud team is my pick for last place in the National League West. While I have never been a Dodgers fan, I always like it better when they are more competitive… but this his year doesn’t look like a good one for Dodger fans. Theballcub should try to resist the temptation to use the ancient Kenny Lofton in CF, and use Jason Repko instead. The usually-injured J.D. Drew is in RF at least for now, and the terminally-inconsistent Jose Cruz starts in LF. Steady veteran Bill Mueller starts at 3B, former Brave Rafael Furcal is at SS, and a number of players will fill in at 1B (including 2B Jeff Kent, rookie James Loney and veteran Olmedo Saenz) until Nomar Garciaparra gets healthy (if he can). When Nomar comes back he will also see some time at 3B. Young Dioner Navarro and veteran Sandy Alomar, Jr. form a doubtful duo behind the plate. Starting pitcher Brad Penny can be dominant at times, but he seems to visit the Disabled List too often. After him, the pitchers in the rotation are average, at best. Derek Lowe? Brett Tomko? Odalis Perez? The best they are capable of seems like.500 win-loss records with ERAs around 4.50. Fifth starter Jae Seo may be slightly better than those last three guys, but not by much. Closer Eric Gagne is out with elbow surgery, but L.A. was wise enough to acquire relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter from Tampa Bay during the off-season; Baez is more than capable of filling Gagne’s role, at least for now if not for longer, and Carter is unspectacular but durable. After those two, the bullpen is highly suspect. It will be interesting to see if Japanese newcomer Takashi Saito can continue his impressive start enough to help the relief corps, but even if he can it won't be enough to keep the Dodgers out of the cellar. I'm thinking 75 wins tops, more likely slightly less than that.

San Francisco 88-74
San Diego 84-78
Colorado 80-82
Arizona 74-87
Los Angeles 73-89

The final installment won't be as in-depth, and it will look at the NL Central and NL East.


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