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UCB Predictions Project (Or…U.P.P.?): NL West

Okay, we’re running a day late here at Cards N Stuff with the NL West predictions (took the family to Silver Dollar City yesterday…where I discovered the Water Tobaggin may be gone! WTH?!)…but we’re determined to finish this thing. In the interest of integrity, I specifically refrained from looking at the predictions of the other UCB’ers…which I’m sure will be apparent with my picks :). I know next to nothing about the NL West. With big California parks, batting practice fields in Colorado, and the third world status of the entire state of Arizona (no daylight savings? really?)…this division is all wonky from the start. Ah well…we’ll do the best we can, anyway.

First Place: San Francisco Giants
I tried hard to dethrone the champs. I imagined a sudden Todd Helton resurgence for the Rockies, a blockbuster trade for the Dodgers, and even a spoiler-ready Padres team – but in the end, I just can’t see a reason the Giants don’t win the NL West amidst such remedial teams. With a 1-2 punch like Lincecum and Cain in the rotation, and a possible surprise performance from Barry Zito, the Giants are going to pull a Tony LaRussa and win more series than not.  Sure, a Sandoval resurgence is suspect – but I think I believe…maybe. Yeah, I know…Cody Ross’ injury is troubling…but with Huff, Torres, and Rowand (eek) on the squad, I think they’ll be fine. Sprinkle in some encouraging news from Mark DeRosa, and you got a fairly deep roster.

And let me say this – I abso-freaking-love Brian Wilson. I know, I know…opening the season on the DL and all that…I don’t care. In Wilson’s own estimation, he IS “superhuman.” Throw it all together in a bowl with an insane increase in confidence and swagger left over from their World Series victory, and I see the Giants strutting their way to a division championship.

Second Place: Los Angeles Dodgers
With Kershaw, Billingsly, Kuroda, and Lilly, this Dodgers team may have the most consistent pitching staff top to bottom in the West. By the end of the season, we may be saying that about their offense as well. The Dodgers lack that “Big Guy” in their offensive lineup, but with guys like Uribe, Furcal, Ethier, and Kemp, this team could end up producing on a day-to-day basis better than any team in their division. That consistency will carry them throughout most of the year in a contending position. Unfortunately, consistency alone won’t get it done against a rotation like the Giants or an offense like the Rockies. However, one X factor for this team in this division could be the ability to make a blockbuster trade. The Dodgers market could support that big salary impact guy to put them over the hump mid-season…but does the organization have the trade chips to make a deal? I sure don’t know…but I do know that the lack of dominant power in this division could definately justify such an “impact guy” acquisition…making it an easy sell to a front office staff. In a division where the sub-par can look like contenders, one hitter or starting pitcher can make all the difference in July.

Third Place: Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are my “Brewers of the West” team. With a heart of the order like Carlos Gonzalez, Tulo, and Todd Helton, the Rockies carry a lot of RBI potential. Throw in a good supporting cast (Stewart, Ianneta, etc.) and an intriguing bench (Wigginton, Giambi, etc.) and the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Rockies will frustrate the hell out of a lot of NL teams this season. Unfortunately, beyond Jimenez, their pitching is more than suspect – especially in a pop-happy Coors Field. Sure, Coors may act as a Win – Loss record equilizer for the Rockies…but it could also have the opposite effect. The fly ball nature of Coors can make a Dodgers lineup look like the Yankees while also separating the men from the boys when it comes to starting pitching. In the end, I can see the Rockies struggling in big, California parks while other teams strive in the power-popping confines of Coors field. Look for Colorado to make a nuisance of themselves and believers out of their fans…but struggle to overcome a more consistent Dodgers team for second place. Third place is where this team lives.

Fourth Place: San Diego Padres
Whoa…big drop from nearly making the playoffs in 2010, eh? Yeah, it is. And it won’t be easy for Padres fans to swallow, but the 2011 season may finally fulfill the “don’t expect much” predictions of the 2010 team. After an impressive showing in 2010, the Padres dealt top-tier first baseman and perennial All-Star Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox; then preceded to say goodbye to guys like Miguel Tejada, David Eckstein, Torrealba, Stairs, Gwynn Jr., and the Hairston boys. Sure…with the possible exception of Tejada on a good day, none of these guys are “impact” players…but such a turnover ratio does mean a lot of uncertainty for a team that doesn’t really know what to expect anyway. To the Padres’ credit, they did sign guys like Orlando Hudson and Brad Hawpe as well as manage to resist trading Ryan Ludwick…but it appears more and more like the team is looking to make Ludwick their offensive centerpiece. As much as I love Luddy…that dog just ain’t gonna’ hunt. The over-achieving 2010 Padres offense certainly got worse for 2011.

As far as the rotation goes, Harang and Latos should be able to keep this team afloat, but don’t expect many upstream performances. The pitching squad is competative but not impressive. Harang is not a consistent top of the rotation guy, and Latos may or may not be able to shoulder an increased focus in a Major League rotation fresh off playoff aspirations. In a poor division, the Padres may be able to tread water in third place for a while, but don’t expect upward movement. They finish fourth.

Fifth Place: Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-Backs are really going to feel the loss of Dan Haren this season. In the last few years, they’ve lost some big pitchers (Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, etc.). For a team that may be best known for having that  top of the rotation guy (if not much else) in the past – Randy Johnson, Kurt Schilling, Brandon Webb, Dan Haren – 2011 could be a particularly difficult year to watch for snake fans. But, on the bright side, the team should be able to field a somewhat entertaining team to watch with Stephen Drew, Kelly Johnson, Justin Upton, and Chris Young (who could combine for over 80 homeruns between them), even if Chris Young isn’t quite able to live up to the impressive Spring he’s put together for a full season. Melvin Mora is good enough at third, but opposing pitchers will notice the lack of Mark Reynolds’ bat as a potential 40 HR threat. All in all, I don’t see the D-Backs escaping the cellar in a so-so division. As a result of their non-contention, look for the team to finally pull the trigger on a Stephen Drew trade this July (perhaps for young starting pitching?). As a young, impressive SS signed through 2012 with a team option for 2013, he may just be too attractive for teams to resist. The loss should further solidify the D-Backs last place finish late in the season.

Wrap-Up!

With my Phillies prediction looking less and less likely with every medical report released, my NL West predictions could go down as my worst yet. But, let’s be honest…this division is a turkey shoot, anyway. You could throw each team in a bag and draw one out just as accurately as well-researched picks (which mine are not). So…we’ll call it a wrap and just say…

GO CARDS!!!

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