2010 MLB Preview: AL & NL West

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Well, here we are.  The final day of my 2010 MLB Preview is here and I will be going over the American League and National League West Divisions.  We are one day closer to the start of the season and the excitment is mounting.  I hope you have enjoyed my take on what this year may bring in Major League Baseball.

AL Westaswest

Rangers

 

Angels

 

Mariners

 

Oakland

Toughest division in baseball to pick. The Mariners are the “sexy” pick after all the offseason acquisitions but I can’t pull the trigger on them. This isn’t basketball where you can transform into a power like the Celtics did in one year. There has to be some sort of gel with the team first in baseball. Jim Leyland would say fuck chemistry, all it is is a class you take, but I believe that there is chemistry in baseball and it is important. The Mariners defense is gross – Jack Wilson and Jose Lopez up the middle, new acquisition Chone Figgins at 3rd and 2 gold glove outfielders who will catch anything in Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez (another stud Shapiro traded away). Gutierrez will be a gold glover in the future; his bat is also coming to life. They also added clubhouse cancer, or should I say the Kanye West of baseball, Milton Bradley in a trade with the Cubs over the offseason. Will his shut his ass and play ball, or throw another tamper tantrum and tear his ACL like he did in San Diego a few years back? Cliff Lee-Felix Hernandez is as good as you get in baseball as a 1-2 punch. They have some live arms behind them as well in Ian Snell and Ryan Rowland-Smith, but they can be counted on? Also, can the offense be counted on? The Mariners were among the league leaders in least runs scored last year and they let there biggest power threat in Russel Branyan walk after the season. Call me crazy but I think this is the Rangers year….

I’m going out on a limb with the Rangers, especially after Ron Washington recently admitted to using cocaine, but I think he will be able to rally them and they will win this season for him. They have a great person backing the team in Nolan Ryan. He believes in them. He believes in them so much he’s already predicted a 92 win season, but it will hinge on 3 things: the health of Rich Harden, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton. Harden desperately needs to anchor the Rangers rotation. Him and Scott Feldman are the only 2 pitchers on the Texas roster who have quite a bit a service time as a starter. Cj Wilson has plenty of big league service time, but it’s been mostly as a reliever. Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis will also be in the rotation and they are pretty much unheard of. Harrison showed some flashes last year, but not enough to bring the Rangers to a division title. They have a great bullpen that includes Frank Francisco and Naftali Feliz who is an absolute fireballer. On the offensive side, everyone knows the Rangers can score runs, but they have to be healthy to do it. OK I’ll come out and say it, I have a man crush on Ian Kinsler – I bet the dude has banged so many skanks in Arlington it’s not even funny, but he can bang the baseball around too. He was one of 8 players to hit for the cycle last year before hitting the shelf near the end of the year with an injury. The injury bug seems to be constantly biting Josh Hamilton these days as well. They are the key to the Rangers offense in 2010. If Harden, Kinsler and Hamilton can come through, the Rangers take the West.

Now how could I pick against the Angels who have dominated the past decade in the West? Easy – pitching. The Angels had the 9th highest ERA in the AL last year and lost there best starter to the Boston Red Sox via free agency. Ervin Santana was on the shelf all of last year and is still not healthy and Spring Training is nearing the end. They have two workhorses in Saunders and Weaver at the top of the rotation but who’s after that? Well, they signed Joel Pinerio this offseason after a bounce back season in the NL. Is he the answer? I’m thinking no. Pinerio started his career in Seattle and won 14 and 16 games respectively in his first 2 full big league season, but then the league caught up to him and he won 6, 7 and 8 games in the following years with ERA’s of 4.67, 5.62, and 6.36. If Pinerio enters and is a force again, the Angels should be solid, because they will always hit the ball. They had a rocky bullpen and could still have a rocky bullpen this season. They had Fernando Rodney in the offseason and good Lord is he a heart attack waiting to happen. I am so glad Tiger fans do not have to sit through another inning of him pitching. Guys like Tori Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick are all high OBP guys that will get on base for guys like Kendry Morales and recently signed Hideki Matsui. And if anything, they have one of the great managers in the game today, Mike Scioscia. He has been to the playoffs six times since being hired in 2000 and won a World Series in 2002. Pitching will be the key if the Angels want to win the division.

I think I know maybe one or two players on the whole Oakland A’s team this year. They are a bunch of no names, but with Billy Beane’s eye for talent, the A’s will play spoiler throughout the season.  Then again, they did get Ben Sheets…I think I’ll wet my pants.

NL West

Rockiesnlwest

 

Dodgers

 

Giants

 

Diamondbacks

 

Padres

I don’t know why I’m picking the Rockies. They seem to be the most bipolar team in all of sports.  They were awesome in 2007 and made the World Series, crapped the bed in 2008, started off horrible in 2009, leading to the firing of manager Clint Hurdle, and then came out of no where to go on an absolute tear and win the wild card. Their lineup really gets my attention – a great young group of guys like Carlos Gonzalez (Matt Holiday trade), Dexter Fowler, Troy Tulowitzki, and Ian Stewart mixed with future hall of famer Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe, who served on the USA team for last years WBC. There bullpen is very solid with Huston Street at the back end, and Manny Corpas, who was the closer at one point himself, as the set up man.  They also have Taylor Buchholz, Franklin Morales, and Indians fans favorite reliever of all-time Rafael Betencourt.  They did take a hit with their starting pitching as 15-game winner last season Jason Marquis left for the Washington Nationals (really, Jason?).  Jubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De la Rosa enjoyed breakout seasons for the Rockies last year on the hill and Jeff Francis, who starred in the Rockies 2007 run, returns from injury and instead of being the ace that he once was, will be the # 5 starter.

Dodgers have been the team to beat in the West for the past few seasons, but I see this finally coming to an end. They lack depth at the back end of the rotation and they don’t have the speed that they used to.  Furcal is the sparkplug at the top of the lineup and he is yet another year older and also is very injury prone. Do expect a great year out of Matt Kemp though.  He’s probably a 30-30 guy, and Either and Manny Ramirez will be a key part of the offense, but there are some question marks after that. James Loney and Stacey, I mean Casey Blake are solid, but not great and Russel Martin had was dismal last season.  There pitching is solid at the front end with Kershaw, Billingsley (I faced him in high school and was absolutely disgusting then), and Padilla, but Hiroki Kuroda is a question mark as the # 4 man as is the # 5 spot.  The bullpen is very good and Jonathon Broxton has turned into one of the best closers in the NL.

Giants are yet another sleeper team in the NL.  Here are two names to watch for this year: Jonathan Sanchez, who threw a no-hitter for the Giants last year and Madison Bumgarner.  Both could be key parts to whether the Giants compete for the division or not.  You know Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain will be lights out in front of them, but if those Sanchez and Bumgarner can kick it into high gear, this division is going to come down to the wire.  Offense was the main reason the Giants did not win the division last year. The Giants have upgraded by adding Aubrey Huff, who pooped his pants for my Tigers after they shredded for him last season, and Mark DeRosa who started the year in Cleveland last season, but ended up in St. Louis.  They will be paired with Aaron Rowand and Pablo Sandoval who had very productive seasons for the Giants last year.  Keep in mind the Giants also get a full year of Freddy Sanchez, who they got from the Pirates at the trade deadline last season. If the Giants can stay with the Dodgers and Rockies for the first half look for them to add a big bat at the deadline to keep pace.  Remember yesterday I mentioned the Astros possibly having a firesale near the deadline – a guy like Lance Berkman would fit perfectly in San Francisco.

No team in the NL did more to improve in the offseason then the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The D’Backs added Edwin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, Bob Howry, Aaron Heilman, Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche to a team that was in the race for the most part of last season.  They will also get former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb back who missed all of 2009 due to injury. He will start the season on the DL for a few weeks, but once he returns, even if he wins 12-14 games, it will improve the D’Backs from last season. Like I said they hung around last season, mainly due to the success of Dan Haren, and with getting Webb back, and the additions of Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy, the D’Backs could improve anywhere from 10-15 games in my opinion.  The big question is, will their bullpen help them out after squandering so many leads last season.  The above mentioned Howry and Heilman hope to improve the bullpen.  Other question marks include Webb and when he will return and Ian Kennedy.  Kennedy it seams has been the talk of the Yankees minor league systems for half of the last decade.  Will he live up to the hype? Dan Haren is already set to go for the D’Backs, coming off a Cy Young-type season, so most of 2010 hinges on whether Kennedy can prove himself and whether or not Edwin Jackson can transition to the NL from the AL.  They are set offensively with super stars Justin Upton, Stephen Drew and slugger Mark Reynolds who jacked 44 bombs last year (he also set the major league record for strikeouts, breaking his own record, DOH!).  If the D’Backs pitching comes through, it will be a 4-team race in the NL West this season.

Padres = awful. Talk about a youth movement in San Diego….they will challenge the Nationals for the worst record in baseball next season.  There two best players are Adrian Gonzalez, who was one of the top sluggers in all of baseball last season and Heath Bell, who had 42 saves last season.  You will probably see a lot of new faces in San Diego – many of them coming over in the Jake Peavy deal.  Keep an eye on Tony Gwynn, Jr. in the centerfield as well, could be poised for a breakout season and maybe a sleeper fantasy player.

 

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