NL West… Not The Best in Baseball.

1. San Francisco Giants – It would seem silly to not make the defending World Series champs the favorites to win the division.  Their already anemic offense took a hit with the departure of Juan Uribe and his 20+ home runs from a middle infield position, and re-signing of the awful Pat Burrell to play left field.  However, it was their pitching that did the heavy lifting last season and the outstanding trifecta of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner return intact and healthy.  If those three can come close to their 2010 performance, the Giants are going to be tough to beat. Aubrey Huff seems to have found a home in the Bay Area, and he’ll need to continue his strong play.  Andres Torres is probably the most anonymous star in baseball.  Who?  Andres Torres.  Here at the poostain, we would prefer to drink beer instead of do research so in lieu of posting his excellent numbers last season, I’ll just tell you to wikipedia them.  90 wins are probable here, and given the dearth of good teams in this division, they’ll be plenty to repeat.  Another run through the playoffs, though, is unlikely.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers – Kind of a homer selection by me here, but the fact that they have five legitimate starting pitchers for the first time since… uh… a long time ago will keep them in some games.  Clayton Kershaw is the ace and Chad Billingsley has a devastating arsenal (and fragile psyche) and the trio of Kuroda, Lilly and Garland are solid and servicable, if unspectacular.  The sooner they replace closer Jonathan Broxton with the outstanding (if brittle) Hong Chi Kuo (best reliever in baseball who doesn’t have the words Mariano or Rivera in his name), the better off they’ll be.  They added a little bit of power by adding Juan Uribe, Marcus Thames, and re-signing the underrated Rod Barajas.  Problem is, they also added strikeouts in Adam Dunnesque proportions.  And if you don’t get on base, you don’t win much.  Everything changes if Rafael Furcal can repeat his start to 2009 and keep it up for a whole season.  If not, 85 wins is probably the ceiling.

3. Colorado Rockies – They went all in signing Troy Toluwitzki and Carlos Gonzales to long term deals this offseason, and you can’t really blame them considering those two guys are in the top drawer for their positions in the entire sport.  Add to their offensive excellence the fact that my mother could hit 30 home runs in Denver (maybe 25 considering the humidor), they’ll score some runs. The achilles heel is the rotation beyond Ubaldo Jimenez.  He’s awesome, but the Rockies rode him hard down the stretch and he faded noticably at the end of the year, regressing from being friggin awesome to merely very good. There are some rumblings that they’re in the market for Michael Young, despite obvious financial concerns his contract would create, but he would really round out this batting order nicely.  Both with good average and power, and by allowing Jim Tracy to ease the aging and injury-prone Todd Helton to more of a platoon role.  Breakout years by Ian Stewart and Dexter Fowler could propel them into wildcard contention, but realistically, I can’t see them winning more than 80 games.

4. San Diego Padres – Losing Adrian Gonzales, their only offensive threat of any note, is crippling to their offense, which already sucked to begin with.  Veteran Brad Hawpe will replace him at first base, but he has faded badly in recent years after a promising start to his career in Colorado. They’ve got excellent pitching, but I’m pretty sure Mother Teresa could post a sub-3 ERA in that ballpark.  They may hang around up until the all-star break but the inevitable trade of closer Heath Bell is going to sound the death knell to their season.  Orlando Hudson, an excellent defender and half way decent hitter was a nice pickup there, but he would have been better served going to a team with a crack at the post season.  He’s too classy of a guy to languish on a potential cellar dweller. If I were a betting man, and I am, I would take the under on 70 wins.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks – A new philosphy of striking out less led to the departure of Mark Reynolds.  Unfortunately, he also took his 40 home run and 20 stolen base potential with him.  The rotation sucks beyond belief, even though Daniel Hudson showed serious promise when given the opportunity to start last season.  I’m searching for good things to say here, and failing.  The likely path is a full rebuilding plan that will lead to the departure of veteran shortstop Steven Drew, one of their few remaining players of any quality.  He’ll be followed out the door by every other veteran on the roster.  Arizona fans should not fret though.  It’s not like they come to the ballpark anyway.  But if they did, they would get to watch Gerardo Parra, a real prospect with tools comparable to Bobby Abreu.  One young stud, though, does not a team make and a NL worst 100+ losses are a possibility.  Make that a probability.

Offensive Player of the Year – Torres.  Remember him from early in this article.  His combination of pop, speed, and improving plate discipline are fortelling of a monster year.  Other candidates would include Gonzales, Tulowitzki, and Andre Ethier if he can stay healthy for a whole year, but those guys are known quantities.  It doesn’t take a lot of analytical skill, nor does it give you much to brag about when you predict that an established slugger is going to have a big year.  Kind of like predicting that Brad Pitt was going to end up with Angelina Jolie after filming that movie, leaving poor Jennifer Aniston behind.  Oh wait, didn’t she start banging John Mayer?  Every other woman in showbiz was, even if she wasn’t, so we’ll just leave that up there.  And if you’re on Jennifer’s legal team and happen into reading this, I’m just kidding.  Not really, but I think just by saying that I’m avoiding a potential lawsuit.

Pitcher of the Year – Mat Latos. He has absolutely malevolent stuff and pinpoint command to boot.  The fact that he pitches in a cavernous ballpark won’t hurt his peripherals, but he doesn’t really need the help.  Put him on a team with some offensive weapons and he’d be as close to a shoe in for 20 wins as anyone can be.  I’m trying to think of someone to compare him to… and again, failing.  You don’t know this because you can’t see me, but I just took a ten minute break to mainline a beer and help my creative process.  It worked.  He’s a combination of a young Carlos Zambrano without the mental problems and Roger Clemens without the, ahem, alleged steroids.  Throw in a little Adam Wainright for the ease with which he seems to fire his plethora of beautiful pitches over the corners of the strike zone and there you have him.

Rookies – Shaun predicted offensive and pitching rookies, which annoys me slightly.  Then again, he did actual research.  Which is good.  But see, I’m lazy.  Digressing, and working on another beer, I can’t see any rookie pitcher out-performing Kenley Jansen.  He was positively lights out in his late season call up for the Dodgers last year, and considering he has only been a pitcher for about a year, figures to only get better.  He’ll remain anonymous for most of the year because he doesn’t start or close, but the fact that every team is demanding him in return for any trade the Dodgers try to make.  A 100 MPH heater with movement will do that, I guess.  Offensively, I’ll have to go with Kyle Blanks.  I’m really glad we didn’t write these articles last year because he would have been my pick then too.  Thanks to an abysmal start, and subsequently an injury, he retains his rookie status, saving me from having to do some homework for this prediction.  Generally, guys his size (about 6 foot 9 and 300 lbs) have glaring holes in their swings, mainly because of the massive strike zone they provide.  His swing is pretty, though.  Not Ken Griffey Junior pretty, but it’s sweet.  If he can lay off crappy breaking pitches, he’ll get more strikes, and those he can hit.  Far.

Surprise Player of the Year – Russell @#$%ing Martin… really, Shaun?  I’m going to go a different direction here.  Buster Posey.  Thought I forgot about him, didn’t you?  He really is a marvelous talent, but two things are working against him.  Pitchers are going to adjust and pitch him tougher, and despite rumors of a position switch, he’s still a catcher.  When you swing a bat like he does, no manager ever wants to take him out of the lineup, but catchers need rest over a long season.  It’s not going to be a Russell Martinesque collapse for Posey this year, but all the talk about him being the next Mike Piazza type slugging catcher is about one season premature.  Remember what they said about Baltimore’s Matt Wieters.  I do.  I picked him on like 37 of my fantasy teams and he murdered the soul of all of them.  Posey may one day put up massive numbers every year to the tune of .330 and 35 dingers, but it is not this day.  At least I really hope it isn’t… because if it is, the Dodgers have no chance of overtaking the Giants. 

Random Homer Rant – I nearly put my beloved Dodgers in last after seeing that they signed Aaron Miles to a minor league contract.  He may be the best emergency pitcher in baseball (ask Tony LaRussa) but do the Dodgers really need another guy who can play every infield position?  Because Juan Uribe, Jamie Carroll, and Juan Castro aren’t already in town.  For goodness’ sake…

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