Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) 92-96 win range
Arizona Diamondbacks (85-77) 83-87 win range
San Diego Padres (84-78) 82-86 win range
Colorado Rockies (78-84) 76-80 win range
San Francisco Giants (73-89) 71-75 win range
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
2006 W-L Record: 88-74 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 88-74
2007 Projection: 94-68
Strengths: Farm system; young contributors; pitching staff
Weaknesses: Useless old guys blocking young studs; organizational indifference to prospects
Biggest Change from '06: Jason Schmidt
One reason the Dodgers will win in '07 is that their excellent roster is supplemented by top-notch, major league-ready talent.
One reason the Dodgers will lose in '07 is their misappopriation of playing time. Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez shouldn't be playing much at all on a team that has so many young possibilities in the outfield. We can only hope that GM Ned Colletti doesn't further damage his team's future in exchange for dubious returns.
They're not without some serious questions, but I think the Dodgers are the best team in the NL going into 2007. As I've said before, I'm encouraged by their depth and their ability to replace injured players or non-entities with quality guys.
The Dodgers are in a very competitive division and certainly won't have any easy time of it. But If I had to pick two teams that I expect to make the playoffs, it would be the Dodgers and Mets.
2006 W-L Record: 76-86 (T-4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 80-82
2007 Projection: 85-77
Strengths: Outfield; Farm system; Stephen Drew, Brandon Webb
Weaknesses: Pitching Depth; Bullpen
Biggest Change from '06: Great prospects finally graduating to the majors
One Reason the D-Backs will win in '07 is that they've got as much raw talent as any team in the league.
One Reason the D-Backs will lose in '07 is that it's questionable whether they can make use of that talent. The offense is mostly young, and it's hard to predict how fast they'll get used to the big leagues. Their pitchers are questionable for different reasons. Livan Hernandez handles a great workload, but is coming off two down years and is moving into a hitter's park. Randy Johnson is still Randy Johnson, just an older, more rickety version. And the back end of the rotation (Doug Davis, Enrique Gonzalez) has some promise but isn't very reliable.
I mentioned before that the D-Backs have a broader win range than I've listed. They could realistically finish anywhere between 75 and 90 wins, and perhaps beyond that. They're a team of great talent (especially going forward), but the talent is much more volatile than that of the Dodgers. So I've pencilled in the D-Backs for second place.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
2006 W-L Record: 88-74 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 86-76
2007 Projection: 84-78
Strengths: Pitching Staff; Defense
Weaknesses: Lineup Depth
Biggest Change from '06: Jake Peavy at full strength
One Reason the Padres will win in '07 is that they are reliably good. Their ceiling isn't nearly as high as that of Arizona, but you can predict with some certainty that they'll win 80-some games and stay in the Wild Card race for a while.
One Reason the Padres will lose in '07 is their lack of upside. The Dodgers are going to be setting a high standard in the West. Other than Peavy, there are no real "difference-makers" in San Diego. Brian and Marcus Giles aren't really difference-makers anymore, and neither are pitchers David Wells, Greg Maddux, and Trevor Hoffman (to a lesser extent). The rest of the team is rounded out by solid players such as Mike Cameron, Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Young, and Scott Linebrink. They've got good depth, but there's just little reason to expect this team to break through to 90 wins.
The biggest thing to watch here is Jake Peavy. Peavy struggled a bit last week, but if you look into it, a lot of his struggles weren't really his fault. He's still a strong candidate for the Cy Young Award and a good bet to notch 200 Ks.
Another boost would be if Mike Cameron and the Giles brothers played a bit like their older selves. The Padres aren't out of the postseason race entirely, but it just takes a lot of "ifs" and "maybes" to make them sound like contenders.
2006 W-L Record: 76-86 (T-4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 81-81
2007 Projection: 78-84
Strengths: Young talent; Good offseason moves; Rotation stability; Closer
Weaknesses: Inexperience; Rotation mediocrity
Biggest Change from '06: Youngsters are one year better
One reason the Rockies will win in '07 is that they don't have a really striking weakness. Their lineup is surprisingly potent, if short on impact players. Their rotation is strong but also lacking in impact guys. Their bullpen is fair, but they've got a good closer. They've got several young players reaching the majors with good upside. It's a long shot to expect the Rockies to approach 90 wins, but stranger things have happened.
One reason the Rockies won't win in '07 is that they're in the wrong division. Most of the things they have going for them -- the addition of young, impact players -- can also be said of their chief rivals in L.A. and Arizona. And you could argue that the Dodgers' players have more big-league seasoning and that the D-Backs' players have a higher upside. This means that even if the Rockies do succeed in forming a competitive, well-rounded team for the first time in team history, it might not get them much better than 3rd place.
Unlike some commentators, I liked the Rockies' pick-up of Willy Taveras. Taveras has his shortcomings in that he's a weak hitter with an empty average whose strongest suit is defense. But the Rockies don't have a better candidate for CF sitting around. And I think that the rest of the lineup will generate enough pop that they can live with Taveras' offensive issues, especially since he's a great defender.
Two rookies that will likely open the season in the starting lineup are Chris Iannetta (C) and Troy Tulowitzki (SS). Both are very good prospects with the chance to be quite productive and soon. Their performance will go a long way toward making or breaking the Rockies. That's not even considering other prospects such as Jeff Baker who should reach the majors in '07.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
2006 W-L Record: 76-85 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 76-85
2007 Projection: 73-89
Strengths: The Two Barrys and Matt Cain
Weaknesses: Everybody else
Biggest Change from '06: A free agent exodus leaves the lineup stripped bare.
One reason the Giants win in '07 is that they find a way to clone Barry Bonds 8 times.
One reason the Giants will lose in '07 is that their best-case scenario is about 80-82 wins. Best-case. Worst case is finishing 30 games out of first place.
In the NL West, you have three teams -- L.A., Arizona, and Colorado -- on the way up. You've got one team -- San Diego -- who's treading water. And one team -- the Giants -- who are inches away from falling off a cliff. Instead of solving the small problems a few years ago and taking a hit in the short term, the Giants leveraged everything they had into winning in the next few years. Not only did they take this huge risk, but the decisions they made did little to help them on their quest for World Series gold. Instead, their desperation led to signing desperate contracts, some of which have been passable, but many of which have been a total waste. If the Giants had rebuilt around 2004 or 2005, they would have suffered losing seasons in 2005-6 but would be nearing competitiveness in a year or so. As it is, they still lost in 2005 and 2006 with no future hope to compensate. Instead, once this current team dissolves, the Giants will be all but lost on the field. They will have only the skeletal remains of a major league team, with a painfully thin minor league system to support it.
Let this be a lesson to those who wish to sacrifice the long-term for the short-term.
On to the American League this weekend.