Trolling around on message boards this off season, I've come to the conclusion that among the baseball literati, the sexy picks for winning the NL West next year are the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. Obviously due to homerism, I think the Rockies are neglected, but I've also learned to be constantly wary of the Padres, so I also think that San Diego is once again being under-rated among the thinking fans. Anyway, I'm going to give a progress report on how each team in the division is progressing to a title in 2007:
Arizona: I actually think the Diamondbacks are a bit over-rated by most pundits for 2007, and the most likely team in the division to be a disappointment to it's fans (other than a few naive San Franciscans). It's not just the rotation that makes me think this with Arizona, but also the bench depth in general. Look at it this way, if the best pitcher on every team in the division goes down to injury, which team is hurt the most? What if the same thing happens to the best position player? The drop-off after Webb in AZ's rotation is staggering, and while the offense won't suffer as much, there really isn't a bench that will provide much more than replacement level play until Mark Reynolds arrives.
Second, I think there is too much confidence being placed in Livan Hernandez's ability to maintain his 69 inning performance in Phoenix last season. This is a pitcher that will be 32 next season, and has seen his ERA steadily rise with his age the past three seasons. If he was on our team I'd be very concerned by all the warning flags surrounding his chances of success in 2007.
Finally, teams as young as Arizona are bound to be inconsistent, regardless of what kind of talent they possess. I think a similar situation played out in Cleveland last season when a lot of expectations were placed on the Indians young and potent offense even though going in there were visible holes in the rotation, bullpen and bench. I'm not buying the Arizona as contenders story, yet, and until I see some genuine movement to shore up some of these issues, I'm giving them the second lowest odds of winning next season. 1/6
Colorado: The Rockies are staying status quo thus far, and if you read this blog or any Rockies page regularly, you know their weaknesses and question marks by now so I'm not going to dwell on them. Colorado has a lot more of its regulars in their peak phases than Arizona, as well as a deeper pitching staff so I don't see quite the down-side danger for the Rockies. That said, their upside is limited by a lack of a true top of the rotation pitcher and mediocrity at three positions up the middle. I'm giving them a better chance than Arizona, but it's not a lot better. 1/5
Los Angeles: I can't say that the Dodgers have had the worst off-season in the division to date, but at least the Giants had to expect some of their misfortune. So far they have replaced JD Drew with Juan Pierre and shuffled their infield a bit by re-signing Nomar. I'd say that's a step back, and there's not a whole lot they can do to make it back to where they were except open up the vault for Manny, which would be scary for the division in 2007, but extremely useful to the Rockies and D-backs in 2008 and beyond. I think they still have enough resources in both prospects and cash to be the favorites, but their lack of direction has made me lower their odds a bit from where it was two months ago. 1/3
San Diego: The Padres have made major overhauls to their roster thus far, with this remake being very much a work in progress. I'm going to tentatively put them in second because I think they have the most money to spend on fixing things now that LA has gone and spent a pretty penny on Pierre for some insane reason. Also, they have the best pitching in the division still, and that counts for a lot in my book. The biggest problem is that there isn't a whole lot left out there to pick over as far as free agents. Luckily all the second basemen are still available, but the hole in left field doesn't appear to have an easy and worthwhile solution at the moment. Hmmm.... if they gave us Peavy, I think I'd be willing to part with Matt Holliday. I'm just saying. 1/4
San Francisco: No Moises Alou, No Ray Durham, No Jason Schmidt, Probably no Barry Bonds. But they do have Dave Roberts. I don't know, something still tells me that the Giants aren't contenders anymore. The question is: how long will it take them to return to that point? Here's a hint: trade Matt Cain to rebuild, San Francisco, you're not going to be needing his old and tired arm for your next trip back to the playoffs in 2013. 1/20