Remember the days of the “NL Worst” jokes? They now help you identify that moron in the bar who tries to butt in on a conversation that doesn’t involve him, but he’s desperate to be accepted. I was at a local watering hole about a week ago, working on somewhere between my ninth and twelfth watered down domestic draft, and my buddy who I rap (or slur as it were) baseball with from time to time asks me if I think the Dodgers can win the NL West this year. Enter aforementioned dufus, “Don’t you mean the NL Worst?” Here’s some free advice, people. If you are going to interrupt a sports conversation between two folks, at least do so at a reasonable volume and with something to add. And if what you’re adding is a cliché that wasn’t funny when someone invented it five years ago, don’t laugh at your own terrible joke at ear-splitting volume. Anyway, moving on.
- San Francisco Giants – This pains me greatly… I should pull a Jackie Robinson and just quit writing this in protest. And yes, I did just compare myself to Jackie Robinson, apparently humility is not one of my finer qualities. That established, what to Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have in common? Answer, neither is as good as Madison Bumgarner. Think I’m on crack? No comment. But I’m right. Check the numbers after the season. This team’s major problem was offense, but Buster Posey is back, Brandon Belt will be a full timer this season (assuming Bruce Bochy hasn’t suffered a horrible brain injury), and the WAY better than he’s given credit for Nate Schierholtz FINALLY in line for 400+ plate appearances. Now, their weakness is the bullpen, with an iffy Brian Wilson (elbow) and not a ton of quality depth behind understudy Sergio Romo. You could nitpick a few things that aren’t perfect, like Angel Pagan being way overrated because of his one God-like season in New York filling in for Carlos Beltran, and Melky Cabrera being… well, Melky Cabrera, but with a rotation that’s this deep, it’s a lock for 90 games won, and that should be enough.
- Los Angeles Dodgers – Ned Colletti has gotten a lot of grief for his moves since taking over as GM, but let’s be fair. The guy actually did a reasonable job filling a bunch of holes with serviceable players with a budget of practically zero while the team waits for new ownership. Their bullpen is about as good as it gets, so if the rotation of all-Universe stud Clayton Kershaw and four slightly above average guys can keep them in games, they should finish well above .500… though I have doubts it will be well enough to sneak into the wild card scenario. They have some guys who can hit and will be counted on to knock in runs, but Kemp, Ethier, and Rivera have one albatross in common. They strike out a lot. And that means fewer productive outs. It will matter less if James Loney can continue his awesome second half from last year and hit .330 for an entire season… but that won’t happen. What will happen? Juan Uribe will continue to hit less than two bucks and be released by June. Welcome back to the big leagues, Josh Fields.
- Arizona Diamondbacks – Great story, great manager, great results last season. They won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year though. Everywhere you look, there’s just not quite enough to take this division again. Hudson and Kennedy lead a legit rotation, but it ain’t what the Giants have. Putz and Hernandez anchor a ridiculously improved bullpen, but it’s not in the same class as the Dodgers. I think the human tattoo, Ryan Roberts’ breakout season is not a fluke, and he’ll even improve his average and strikeout rate this season, but I don’t think Paul Goldschmidt is ready. And Upton needs more help than just Roberts and the underrated Miguel Montero. Good team, really good manager, but it just doesn’t look like they’re going to be good enough. Not this season.
- Colorado Rockies – That 4 preceding their name could very easily turn into a 2 if Dexter Fowler starts to become the superstud leadoff guy they’ve been hoping for the last couple of seasons. Tulo and Cargo can rake the ball all over the park, all season long, but if there isn’t anyone on base, it isn’t gonna matter much. 2012 will be the last year Todd Helton hits over .300… and it should also be his last year. Reservations for one in Cooperstown in five years please. Yeah, I said it, whatcha gonna do about it? The rotation is led by Jhoulys Chacin, whose glittering arsenal of devastating pitches is now being complemented with the couple years of experience most ace pitchers need to develop, and he’ll probably win 20 games if healthy. The description is probably becoming old hat by now as I seem to have used it a lot today, but there just isn’t enough else. All due respect to the courageous Juan Nicasio who is attempting a comeback from a broken neck sustained on a line drive back through the box last year, but this team is Swiss cheese. Looks really good, and goes great on a pastrami sandwich, but it has a lot of holes.
- San Diego Padres – It’s gonna get ugly. So here’s what they need to do. Watch the brilliant, if unheralded, Cory Luebke emerge as a legitimate ace, pull out the blueprints from the Mat Latos trade, and flip him for a similar haul in prospects. Then you’ll have several more pieces to add to franchise cornerstones, Cameron Maybin and (now) Yonder Alonso. (and I’m really hoping that Will Venable finally emerges as the five tool threat he has looked like he’d become the last few years) Put several contenders in a bidding war for set up guy extraordinaire, Luke Gregerson, and haul in even MORE prospects, and this team is a playoff contender… in 2015. Hey, Rome wasn’t built overnight.
Bonus Observation: For those of you who read us semi-regularly, it should be relatively obvious by now that pretty much hate research. In 2012, you have all kinds of advanced statistics and metrics, computer programs, gazillions of sports publications and websites that feature “experts” of all kinds… and what is it really for? Do I really need sabermetrics to know that Yuniesky Betancourt isn’t very good? That said, my lack of proclivity for research has me fall into a trap from time to time. I mentioned in my earlier preview of the NL East that I don’t think the Phillies are going to be as good as many people think. This was BEFORE I knew that Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik were competing for a reserve outfield spot. Had I known this, I could have saved myself at least 100 words typed toward carpal tunnel. The whole team preview would have been, “The Phillies are gonna suck. Yeah, the Halladay, Lee, Hamels trio is nice, but Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik might make the team. Case closed.”