Monday, April 05, 2010

Mile High Pennant: 2010 National League West Preview

There are two easy scenarios here.

First off is the repeat. In 2007, the Colorado Rockies went on an improbable late-season run to earn the National League Wild Card. They swept through the Phillies and Diamondbacks on their way to the World Series, where Boston finally put an end to this silliness.

With expectations at an all-time high in 2008, the Rockies fizzled badly, finishing under .500 and leaving people wondering exactly how the hell they did what they did in 2007.

Last year, they fired manager Clint Hurdle, and the change to Jim Tracy -- an abject failure as a manager in Pittsburgh -- worked perfectly. Colorado got hot again, went 74-42 under Tracy, and they found a way to win the Wild Card.

Once again, expectations are at an all-time high. So will the Rockies repeat 2008, or carve out a new path for themselves?

1. Colorado
2. San Francisco
3. L.A. Dodgers
4. Arizona
5. San Diego

The emerging power. The Rockies have built a franchise the right way, using shrewd drafting, smart trades, and a few key signings to make themselves into a major contender. Now, the franchise once a laughingstock because of their poor pitching and perennial slugfest games at Coors Field has some top-notch pitching. And they can still hit. Look at their staff. Guys like Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, Jorge de la Rosa, and Jeff Francis (when healthy) can throw, and they have Franklin Morales and Huston Street (when healthy) to anchor a strong bullpen. The bats will be led by veteran Todd Helton, emerging star Troy Tulowitzki, and an impressive outfield of Brad Hawpe, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez. No reason to think this team won't be very good, as long as they don't sour on Tracy like they did Hurdle.

All-pitch, no-hit. Well, that's too simple. Maybe not. Outside of Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval and maybe Aubrey Huff, there isn't a lot to talk about with the hitting on this team. Veterans Aaron Rowand, Mark DeRosa, and Edgar Renteria might help a little, but the ceilings aren't high. Walk machine Benjie Molina is only holding the catching position until the team has no excuse to leave Buster Posey in the minors any longer. The story of the Giants will be the pitching. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum leads the staff, but Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Barry Zito make for what could be the game's best rotation. Todd Wellemeyer isn't a bad option for a fifth starter. Brian Wilson serves as the closer. The Giants won't give up a lot of runs, but they won't score many, either. How the offense develops is the key to this team's success, because the margin for error is quite low, even with their pitching.

The rest. Reality is that the McCourts' highly-publicized divorce hampered the team's offseason spending. How do we know? Because their biggest signing was probably Jamey Carroll, while they lost pitchers Randy Wolf and Jon Garland. Vincente Padilla is the Opening Day starter. The unimpressive Ronnie Belliard should be an everyday player. This could be a rough year for a team that won 95 a year ago. Arizona has Brandon Webb and Dan Haren atop the rotation, and 3TO throwback Mark Reynolds hitting home runs and striking out a lot. There is some good young talent like Stephen Drew and Justin Upton, but probably not enough to get the Diamondbacks over .500. The Adrian Gonzalez drama still hangs over San Diego like an ugly cloud. He has two years left on his contract, but all the talk is that he could be moved during the season. The Padres won't hit much outside of Gonzalez, which means he'll see a ton of walks, and there will be a ton of pressure on Garland, Chris Young, and Kevin Correia to pitch well every game.

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