Spring training games are officially underway, which it means it's time for our annual divisional previews. Feel free to look back at 2008 and 2009 to reminisce about bad predictions and worse jokes, and to determine how little you should trust us.
Previously, Kris looked at the American League West. Today, we flop leagues and check out the Senior Circuit.
The National League West forgives you if you have trouble remembering their last World Series win. Since the Wild Card era began in 1995, the NL West has produced just one champ, the 2001 Diamondbacks, and three other pennant winners.
In fact, if you look at the three California teams in the NL, they've produced only five World Series winners since West Coast baseball started in 1957: all by the Dodgers. So much for manifest destiny. But there's one thing this division does well: win Wild Cards. Three of the last four NL Wild Card teams have emerged from the West, partly due to the Rockies late season successes and partly because of the Mets inability to win September games.
What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing. On with the irrational predictions!
5. San Diego Padres
- They won't give up too many tater tots at home. Petco has ranked near the very bottom among ballparks when it comes to runs scored for its entire existence and only once (in 2006) did the park not come up at the bottom for homers hit. It's the ultimate pitchers park, and possibly part of the reason Jon Garland took a one year deal to be a Padre.
- They can close out wins. Shutdown closer Heath Bell is full of strikeouts and, again, he won't be giving up the home runs at home. Fella is real telegenic and will do yeoman's work to save 40 wins for a team not expected to win 80. Plus, Heath is a real snappy dresser:
- They probably won't hit too many tater tots at home either. Sure, the Padres can pencil power hitters Adrian Gonzalez and Kyle Blanks into the lineup every day (at least until Gonzalez gets traded) but no one else in that lineup strikes fear into the hearts of men. Well, maybe professional pinch hitter and newly slimmed-down Matt Stairs, but still: this team employs David Eckstein.
- The Petco outfield needs athletic outfielders. With a 295-lb Kyle Blanks slated to be the Opening Day left fielder, the Padres are sacrificing range for the dude's big bat. In an ideal world, Blanks would play first base but that won't happen until Gonzalez gets traded. Perhaps the Padres best fielder is Scott Hairston but he's going to spend too many days trying to pry that World Series ring out of his brother Jerry Junior's grasp.
- Yorvit! (whose name must always be accompanied with the exclamation mark) is simply too fabulous to be a backup catcher.
Predictions: 69-93 record. Gonzalez gets traded to the Cubs in June for Derrek Lee, twenty-five prospects and Ron Santo's therapist. Manager
Bruce Bochy Bud Black leaves the team in mid-May to open an organic freegan bistro in Salinas that serves table scraps gathered from local Panera dumpsters. Tony Gwynn Jr. changes name to Tone Gwynne.
3. (tie) San Francisco Giants
- Oh that starting rotation! Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain head up a five-headed monster that would make Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale shit terra cotta pots. Despite the heady contract tied around Barry Zito's tattooed neck, he's actually not bad. Fourth starter Jonathan Sanchez threw a consarned no-hitter last year. And if it's in the tea leaves, stud pitcher Madison "Bum-Bum" Bumgarner will enter the rotation sometime this spring to turn heads and make pitching starved teams do a wolf whistle.
- There is going to be a mini-Walkoff Walk Heist at AT&T Park this summer. It's a proven fact: the home team never loses during Walkoff Walk Heists.
- Pablo Sandoval may improve his on-base percentage to match up with his ability to collect extra base hits. Unfortunately, the OBP increase will mainly derive from the opposing pitchers' desire to pitch around Kung Fu Panda. Because...
- The Giants have no offense of which to speak. Their lineup stinks, and its old, and its overpaid, and it makes Wilie Mays cry to think that this team will struggle to score 600 runs in 2010. You cannot build a proper MLB team using spare parts like Aubrey Huff, Mark Derosa, and Freddy Sanchez, while re-signing Bengie Molina to block Buster Posey. There is literally nothing of value in this lineup, and it pains me to call an offense that scored just 657 runs in 2009 "worsening".
- Brian Wilson is really, really, really, ridiculously hungry.
- Tim Lincecum, like every human ever, looks ridiculous in a Snuggie:
Predictions: 81-81 record. General manager Brian Sabean considers his off-season moves to be dramatically great successes and dubs himself Crown Prince of San Mateo County, only to lose the title on a technicality when Eugenio Velez produces the proper documentation. Lincecum wins third straight Cy Young Award despite amassing a 11-12 record thanks to a record low 1.08 runs of support per game. Barry Zito abides.
3. (tie) Los Angeles Dodgers
- Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are studs. Entering his age 25 season, Kemp has the potential to knock 30 homers and steal 30 bases, and maybe even snag some MVP support. That is, unless Ethier hogs it all with his walkoff magic: fella hit four walkoff home runs in 2009 and six walkoff hits overall. Pick up the walkoff walk in 2010 and we'll send you a cooler full of Maine shrimp, Andre.
- Russell Martin will probably not wear his mother's name on the back of his jersey this year. If the Canuck catcher can rebound his OPS+ over 100 again, the Dodgers will reap the benefits of having an above average hitter at every position. Except second base, because Ronnie Belliard is a bum.
- Manny Ramirez is nothing if he's not a constant source of entertainment. Sum Poosie, indeed.
- They didn't get make a big splash in the free agent market. Past Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, their starting rotation is sketchy at best: Vicente Padilla doesn't exactly inspire anything except a shrug for a team with lofty annual expectations. Dodgers Stadium may be a pitchers park, but it ain't no Petco.
- They won't have Juan Pierre to push around anymore. If, by some bizarre twist of fate, Manny Ramirez joins the circus and can no longer play left, the Dodgers must choose from a pool of Reed Johnson, Xavier Paul, and newly signed Garret Anderson to fill his shoes. Yes, this is a huge if, but would you really be that surprised if Manny joined the circus?
- The team can't hit the postgame buffet spread until Tommy Lasorda has sampled all the food. And then has had seconds. And then has made inappropriate comments about the waitress.
Predictions: 81-81 record. The Germans invent a word to describe the feeling one gets when one's favorite team and most hated rival finish tied with a perfectly mediocre .500 record. Reed Johnson plays all nine positions in a late September game, then manages the eighth inning after Joe Torre gets ejected, then sells peanuts in the ninth to earn some extra dough to cover his Webkinz habit. Jonathan Broxton changes his last name to Papelbroxton.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
- New rotation acquisition Edwin Jackson eats innings well enough to allow his former manager Jim Leyland to take a break:
"Leyland joked with (D-Backs manager A.J.) Hinch that he can insert Jackson into the rotation, go have a smoke and return six or seven innings later."
Can you blame him? Leyland needed all the relaxation he could get with that horrid Tigers bullpen under his command. Hinch also has Will Carroll's favorite Cy Young candidate Danny Haren and shell of his former self Brandon Webb at his disposal. If the D-Backs catch a break and Ian Kennedy pans out, they've got something.
- Justin Upton is ready to break out. Expect 30 homers, 100 RBI, and some top of the lineup fun from a dude who won't even turn 23 until August. Put three-true-outcomes guy Mark Reynolds behind him and you'd expect Upton will feast on fastballs.
- Chad Qualls is a worthwhile closer, but the reliever whose poster we all want to hang in our bedrooms is Clay Zavada. Maintain that moustache, sir, and you'll strikeout batters with your swagger alone.
- We still have no idea who A.J. Hinch is. I'm almost convinced he doesn't really exist and is merely a hologram projected onto the field by a devious Josh Byrnes. Either that or it's Eric Byrnes in disguise. There's gotta be a Byrnes behind it.
- They imported an underperforming infield duo from the Braves. First baseman Adam La Roche had a decent 2009 but second baseman Kelly Johnson looks to rebound from disappointing season in Atlanta. Can't blame him, really. You'd have a disappointing season, too, if you just realized you had a girl's name.
- Brandon Webb may never get his sinkerball back. Fella had shoulder surgery last summer to clean out his rotator cuff and labrum; I'm no Doctor Andrews but that doesn't sound like a pleasant experience to me. One time I saw one of them medical shows on Discovery Health where they scoped out some dude's knee and I passed out for three hours only to wake up in my bathtub missing a kidney. True story.
Predictions: 84-78 record. Team enters September in first place with an 84-55 record and then loses 23 straight games to close out the season. Nobody in Arizona notices. Augie Ojeda and Tony Abreu become the first pair of teammates to get married. Nobody in Arizona notices.
1. Colorado Rockies
- Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez want to set your table. Both of these dudes could score 100 runs batting in front of Todd Helton and a resurgent Troy Tulowitzki. If Fowler and CarGon can both maintain an OBP of .350 or better, my basic knowledge of probability tells me that Todd Helton will have approximately 957 plate appearances with men in scoring position this season, and should get at least 839 RBI.
- Chris Iannetta, the pride of Providence, Rhode Island, emerges as the best hitting catcher in the National League. You simply cannot go wrong with an Italian-American dude whose last name starts with the letter "I".
- The Rockies need two things to win games in Coors Field: a good-fielding outfield and pitchers who can strike dudes out. Jorge de la Rosa and Ubaldo Jimenez can handle the strikeouts. If they keep their walk and homer totals down, they can be the best one-two punch in the division. The bullpen, led by Huston Street, will also strike out many gentlemen.
- Other starters Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook cannot strike dudes out. They'll need to count on inducing groundballs, a skill that asks a great deal from the infielders behind 'em, and also a bit of luck.
- Jim Tracy is a bum. This is his team now and he won't have the honeymoon period of an interim manager to fall back on in 2010. Roxtober is a cute idea, but if one's team is foundering in late May, there are no kitschy words to save one's job.
- Brad Hawpe couldn't field his way out of a soggy paper grocery bag. Remember this familiar sight at the NLDS last year? Brad Hawpe mishandled more balls than an arthritic hooker in that series against the Phillies; in a yooge ballpark like Coors Field, you simply cannot afford to have such a liability game after game. But hey, fella's got a bat and that's why Baby Jesus invented the late inning defensive replacement.
Predictions: 89-73 record. A hideous purple and black NL West Division Title banner to hang from the upper deck in Coors. Team gets swept 3-0 in the NLDS. Troy Tulowitzki finishes second in the MVP voting. Clint Barmes nearly executes the unassisted triple play but gets distracted when an adorable puppy dog runs on the field.