2007 W-L Record: 90-72
2007 pW-pL Record: 79-83
Strengths: Maturing young blue-chippers, Brandon Webb
Weaknesses: Inconsistent offense, tough division
Biggest Change from '07: Dan Haren
One reason the Diamondbacks will win in '07 is the drastic room for improvement among their young hitters. Arizona finished 14th in the NL in hitting last year, a disgrace in their ballpark. But if they can get better work from Stephen Drew, Chris Young, and Justin Upton, that should make a pretty big difference. And they also don't have any one gaping hole in their offense; their worst everyday player is probably Eric Byrnes (who is also their most expensive; go figure).
One reason the Diamondbacks will lose in '07 is that they were really just an 80-win team last year, and they're playing in the most competitive division in the majors. Last year, the Padres won 89 games and missed the playoffs; I wouldn't be at all surprised for something similar to happen this year, with a team having a fine year but finishing 3rd in the West. The D-Backs will need advancement from their young hitters and continued excellence from their pitching staff to make the postseason.
Brandon Webb is an ace. Danny Haren isn't really an ace, but he's solidly above-average and should be reliable for 200 innings. That's a big step up all the other guys the D-Backs tried as a #2 starter last year ... Even with the acquisition of Haren, the back end of the D-Backs' rotationis spotty. As it stands, the rotation is Webb-Haren-Micah Owings-Doug Davis and whatever's left of Randy Johnson. Best-case scenario, that's a solid bunc. Worst-case, you're looking for spare parts to take over from Davis and Johnson in July.
2007 W-L Record: 90-73
2007 pW-pL Record: 91-72
Strengths: Best pitching staff in Colorado history; sufficient offense
Weaknesses: Lack of depth; underestimating the Coors effect on hitters' stats
Biggest Change from '07: Everybody's a year older and a year wiser
One reason the Rockies will win in '08 is the same reason they won in '07. They've got an underrated starting rotation of Jeff Francis-Aaron Cook-Franklin Morales-Ubaldo Jimenez-Jason Hirsh/Kip Wells that's a lot better than it looks in the thin air of Denver. They've got a lineup with some star players (Holliday, Hawpe, Tulowitzki, Helton) who can cover for the weak spots.
One reason the Rockies will lose in '08 is that in many ways everything went right for them in 2007, and you can't reasonably predict that to happen for two straight years. There's room for improvement here, as I said before, with young players such as Tulowitzki, Morales, Jimenez, Manny Corpas and their big prospects, but it will be hard to get everything working at the same level it was down the stretch last year. And in the NL West, that's a problem.
Can we jump off the Matt Holliday bandwagon already? The guy's a fine hitter, but he's not among the ten best players in the NL. Just because he's young, white, and Christian doesn't mean we can start building his statues ... The Rockies need the versatility to be able to work in their good young prospects. That wasn't a problem in the rotation last year, because the cupboard was bare; it's a different story when you've got two or three viable third basemen and no openings in the outfield or at first base ... The sooner Chris Iannetta pushes Yorvit Torrealba out of a job, the better ... 2007 wasn't just a pennant-winning year, it was an incredible job-saving experience for GM Dan O'Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle, at least for the foreseeable future.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
2007 W-L Record: 82-80
2007 pW-pL Record: 82-80
Strengths: Elite young talent, Stacked pitching staff
Weaknesses: Injuries, Age, and Joe Torre's sweet tooth for veterans
Biggest Change from '07: Andruw Jones
One reason the Dodgers will win in '08 is that they're the best team on paper. Their projected lineup includes seven lineup spots that could potentially produce an All-Star, and a stacked starting rotation that doesn't even factor in #1 prospect Clayton Kershaw.
One reason the Dodgers will lose in '08 is that they've been the best team on paper for several years now and have nothing but two NLDS losses to show for it. Gross mismanagement, laughable free agent signings, and injuries have kept down the team that should be the favorites in the NL West, especially with their full stock of prospects. But who can say that this year will be any different, or that Joe Torre won't make the same mistakes that Jim Tracy and Grady Little did? Torre's a big name, but it will take something more substantive to solve the Dodgers' problems.
If Torre has cojones, he'll use Juan Pierre as a part-timer or bench player; I don't care how much he's getting paid, there's three or four more talented outfielders on the roster ... Health will be a pretty big issue in the starting rotation. Derek Lowe is reliable, but Brad Penny and especially Jason Schmidt are no sure things. The good news is that this opens up the door to Chad Billingsley ... The team's middle infield bears watching, as both Jeff Kent and Rafael Furcal have done great things in the past, but haven't been as consistent in their Dodger years ... Any team that can crank out young talent with such quality and quantity as the Dodgers has a huge advantage over the competition.
San Diego Padres
2007 W-L Record: 89-74
2007 pW-pL Record: 89-74
Strengths: Jake Peavy
Weaknesses: Aging/Inconsistent offense
Biggest Change from '07: Rookie Chase Headley
One reason the Padres will win in '08 is their pitching staff. Even adjusted for Petco, these guys have a chance to be really strong, especially out of the bullpen.
One reason the Padres will lose in '08 is that it's hard to see their offense keeping up with the division rivals. A projected outfield of Kevin Kouzmanoff/Jim Edmonds/Brian Giles could be a strong offensive force, but if injuries and old age take their toll, it'll be Kouz & his band of stragglers. A lot of hopes rest on the corner infielders; rookie Chase Headley has a lot of promise and should take over at third, and offensive leader Adrian Gonzalez is a necessary cog at first.
With their lack of internal solutions and the age/injury risk of so many key players (Edmonds, Giles, Greg Maddux, Trevor Hoffman, Khalil Greene) the Padres can contend in the West if everything goes right, but their downside is much worse than their division rivals due to the lack of viable alternatives ... Considering the dark shadow thrown over Roger Clemens, we may see a greater aura of historical significance surround Greg Maddux as he continues to pass huge pitching milestones ... Here's hoping that Jim Edmonds still has some good leather left in him, because Petco is a big park and there's a lot of ground to cover between Kevin Kouzmanoff and Brian Giles ... I'm a bit down on the Pads' middle infield of Tadahito Iguchi and Khalil Greene, but both could surprise me, even if it's just a season of consistently average play.
San Francisco Giants
2007 W-L Record: 71-91
2007 pW-pL Record: 77-85
Strengths: Young Pitching
Weaknesses: Absolutely everything else
Biggest Change from '07: His name rhymes with "Jerry Fronds"
One reason the Giants will win in '08 is that the MLB institues a policy giving over-40 players an automatic 2-run head start.
One reason the Giants will lose in '08 is because without Barry Bonds, their offense will be bad -- I mean scary bad.
The San Francisco Bonds become the San Francisco Bombs ... The signing of Aaron Rowand was the baseball equivalent of putting lipstick on a hog, except the lipstick really isn't that good after all ... Can you believe that a major league team is entering Spring Training with an infield of Dan Ortmeier/John Schierholtz at first base, Ray Durham at second, Omar Vizquel at short, and some unknown quantity at third? Vizquel will win out just by being the only one above the Mendoza line ... The Giants' starting rotation of Matt Cain-Tim Lincecum-Barry Zito-Noah Lowry-Jonathan Sanchez isn't half bad. But the good news ends there, and their bullpen reeks ... No team was more embarassed by the Mitchell Report than the Giants. However, I should note that the name of GM Brian Sabean popped up in all the debates, whereas the name of owner Peter Magowan did not ... This team has been constructed in a terrible fashion for several years now, and it's a shame that it may take an entirely unrelated issue (steroids) to kick the bums out of the front office.
Next up, the AL, as pitchers, catchers, and vultures have reported ...