MLB: NL West Preview

David Cassilo


2006 Record: 88-74

The Dodgers come off a 2006 season in which they won the Wild Card but were swept by the Mets in the NLDS. They are poised for another run to the playoffs after making some noise in free agency. The Dodgers will feature a good mix of experienced veterans and highly touted prospects as they try to win their first playoff series in 19 seasons.

Key Additions: OF Luis Gonzalez, OF Juan Pierre, SP Jason Schmidt, SP Randy Wolf, C Mike Lieberthal

Key Losses: OF J.D. Drew, RP Eric Gagne, OF Kenny Lofton, SS Julio Lugo, SP Greg Maddux

X-Factor: OF Luis Gonzalez. After eight successful seasons in the dessert of Arizona, Gonzalez signed with the Diamondback’s division rival in the offseason. Although clearly in the final stages of life in MLB, Gonzalez was able to set a career-high with 52 doubles last season, which suggests his power is still there. The Dodgers use a light hitting lineup that only features one player who hit 20 homers last season. Gonzalez must once again discover the power stroke that made him one of the most feared hitters in baseball just a few seasons ago if he is going to help the Dodgers contend this season.

Don’t be surprised if … Jonathan Broxton assumes the closer role and becomes the next Eric Gagne.

2007 Outlook: The Dodgers have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. The additions of Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf, coupled with a terrific bullpen, should keep Los Angeles alive even if the offense still displays little power. The team’s misfortune is that it plays in the toughest division of the National League. Although the Dodgers have the talent to make the World Series, they may have more trouble just surviving in their division. — D.C.


2006 Record: 88-74

For the second straight season, the St. Louis Cardinals handed the Padres an early exit in the postseason. Since its move to Petco Park, San Diego has tried to build the team around pitching, and the addition of Greg Maddux should only improve an already talented staff. The Padres will need their offense to match the efficacy of the pitching staff if they are going to finally make a serious playoff run.

Key Additions: SP Greg Maddux, 2B Marcus Giles, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff

Key Losses: C Mike Piazza, RP Alan Embree, 1B Ryan Klesko, OF Dave Roberts, SP Woody Williams, 2B Josh Barfield

X-Factor: 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff. Kouzmanoff, the highly touted recruit, was acquired this off-season from the Indians for second baseman Josh Barfield. The Padres, who are desperate for any sort of power, now have a third baseman with the ability to hit 30 or more homers in a given season. He has been on fire during spring training and is a legitimate candidate for National League’s Rookie of the Year. With his talent and potential, the only thing that he may have to worry about in his first season is Greg Maddux’s shower-time rookie hazing.

Don’t be surprised if … the Padres are celebrating their first World Series title.

2007 Outlook: Clearly, the Padres will try to ride their pitching to the playoffs in 2007. Jake Peavy, Greg Maddux, Chris Young and David Wells give the Padres the best staff in the National League. They don’t even have to go more than seven innings because the Padres also have one of the best bullpens in baseball, led by closer Trevor Hoffman and setup men Scott Linebrink and Cla Meredith. The question will be whether or not the offense can offer enough run support to help their pitchers out. If a couple other bats can step up to help out Brian Giles and Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres should find themselves playing late into October. — D.C.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

2006 Record: 76-86

With new red and black uniforms and an old face in the starting rotation, the young Diamondbacks are looking to climb out of the dregs of the NL West. Arizona finished 12 games back in the NL West last season. After three straight losing seasons, Arizona signed SP Randy Johnson this offseason to add some veteran experience to its young lineup and rotation. Despite losing Luis Gonzalez, Cy Young winner Brandon Webb and a bevy of highly-praised youngsters hope to lead this organization to an above-.500 finish.

Key Additions: SP Randy Johnson

Key Losses: OF Luis Gonzalez, RP Miguel Batista, C Johnny Estrada

X-Factor: SP Brandon Webb. Leading the NL in wins (16), strikeouts (178) and groundball-flyball ratio (4.06), last year’s Cy Young winner should anchor this strong starting rotation on his way to another 15-plus win season. Using his devastating sinker to force ground balls, Arizona’s young infield will get a lot of work as this pitcher logs many innings and wins to boot.

Don’t be surprised if … Arizona struggles at the beginning of the season but finishes strong and is dubbed possible division contenders next season.

2007 Outlook: Despite two tough starting pitchers, Johnson and Webb, the young Diamondbacks find themselves in a tough NL West division contending with the preseason favorite LA Dodgers. Despite strong bats from Orlando Hudson and Eric Byrnes and good defense, the Diamondbacks will more than likely finish second in the West with a unified, talented team ready to take the 2008 season by storm. — M.P.

4. San Francisco Giants

2006 Record: 76-85

Overshadowing the Giants organization this season, is outfielder Barry Bonds’ pursuit of Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. He sits 22 homers shy of the record and could very well move ahead of Hammering Hank this season. Bonds anchors the “Geriatric Giants” at the age of 42, playing alongside fellow AARP members Omar Vizquel, 40, and Ray Durham, 35. Unless Major League Baseball or the San Francisco organization decide to euthanize their old roster, the Giants should finish last in the NL West. Last year, San Francisco finished 11.5 games behind NL West division champion San Diego Padres. Although the Giants added the devastating Barry Zito to their starting rotation, not even the Bay Area’s new Barry will help this struggling club.

Key Additions: SP Barry Zito, C Bengie Molina, 1B Ryan Klesko

Key Losses: SP Jason Schmidt, 1B Shea Hillenbrand

X-Factor: OF Barry Bonds. Although his performance won’t help the team this season, he is trying to break one of Major League Baseball’s most remarkable records set by one of its most remarkable players. Bonds breaking Aaron’s all-time home run record would not only be a major accomplishment for Bonds, achieving a preseason goal allowing him to undoublty retire at the end of the season or after surpassing Hammering Hank, but also a major accomplishment for the Giants organization, that can finally get rid of Bonds and concentrate on filling out the rest of its roster.

Don’t be surprised if … The Giants finish last in the NL West despite Barry Zito getting 20 wins on his way to being crowned NL Cy Young.

2007 Outlook: Although Bonds will be getting all the coverage in San Francisco this season, the most exciting part of the Giants’ season will be to see if the AL-dominating Barry Zito can continue his dominance and then some in the National League. Despite pitching the best season of his career and winning the Cy Young, the Giants could quite possibly finish dead last in the NL West division. This division will be highly competitive this season, and given the Giants’ lack of offense and bullpen, it will be a long summer in the Bay Area. Zito will act as the beacon of hope for the Giants after Bonds leaves. Only then will San Francisco be able to worry about winning baseball games and getting back to the World Series. — M.P.


2006 Record: 76-86

The pride of Coors Field got off to a hot start last season before suffering a late-season swoon into last place. The Rockies have benefited from a successful farm system and now have the tools in place to be legitimate contenders in the tough NL West. With Matt Holliday, Garrett Atkins and Jeff Francis leading the way, the Rockies appear to be at the beginning of a very successful run in the National League.

Key Additions: CF Willy Taveras, OF Steve Finley, SP Rodrigo Lopez, SP Jason Hirsh, RP LaTroy Hawkins

Key Losses: SP Jason Jennings, RP Jose Mesa

X-Factor: SS Troy Tulowitzki. Colorado’s top prospect will get his chance to start at shortstop during this his first full season in the majors. He is a gifted all around player who displays both great plate discipline and a growing amount of power. If Tulowitzki can drive the ball into the cavernous alleys of Coors Field, he should make his case for Rookie of the Year in the NL. It is not out of the question to suggest that Tulowitzki will have an immediate impact for the Rockies similar to that of Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins.

Don’t be surprised if … the Rockies are in the playoff hunt late in September.

2007 Outlook: Since the Rockies decided to store their game balls in a humidor, Coors Field is no longer the site of a daily slugfest. However, balls thrown by Rockies pitchers may overtake cigars as the No. 1 thing smoked out of a humidor this season. Aside from their rock solid closer, Brian Fuentes, Colorado lacks any sort of consistency in its pitching staff. The offense will need to carry the Rockies through the struggles that pitching brings. With the addition of speedster Willy Taveras and a healthy Todd Helton, the Colorado offense is more than capable. The pieces are in play for a legitimate run at the Wild Card this season as the Rockies will no longer have the reputation of an irrelevant, member of the National League. — D.C.