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Sunday Rockpile: Answers to NL West's burning questions shows Dodgers, Giants still living in 2009

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Since it appears to be another silent weekend when it comes to Rockies news, I thought we could take the opportunity to look at MLB.com's burning questions around the NL West, as the other four teams' beat writers had the same sort of Q and A preview piece like the Thomas Harding post that togb linked to yesterday.

Los Angeles: Let's start with Question #4 regarding Clayton Kershaw. I have no problem thinking of Kershaw as a young ace, he is. I don't know if he'll necessarily be bettter in 2010, but there's at least a chance of that being the case given his capabilities. What I wonder about is the casual discussion of 20 game winners after that as if that's the goal or Kershaw's imperative. The author notes LA's last 20 game winner was Ramon Martinez in 1990. He doesn't note that Martinez that year had 12 complete games and pitched 234 innings as a 22 year old, Kershaw's age this upcoming year. Two seasons later Martinez was down to150 IP, 8-11 and never quite as effective again. Where do we as opposing fans get to sign up for this course for Kershaw? Maybe if Joe Torre can't find another starter LA's going to have to switch to a four man rotation and we will get our wish anyway.

Question #6 also interests me because it's a real blind spot for Dodgers fans. I can buy Matt Kemp getting better as his career progresses, like Kershaw, the guy's a great, young player. Coming off a 2009 where a lot of things went right for him, I have a hard time endorsing  Kemp being better next season as the likeliest outcome, but again, like Kershaw, there's a chance. With Ethier, however, you don't see a lot of Dodgers fans recognizing that last season's 31 HR and 106 RBI are both likely to take a tumble in 2010 back closer to the 20 HR/77 RBI season he had in 2008. At the very least, LA fans seem to expect that level of production to be static, and many, like Ken Gurnick seems to imply in his post, think that Ethier can actually improve on those numbers. Until he proves otherwise, reason would suggest that the production Ethier gave in 2009 represents a new ceiling for him, not a floor.

Rockies and other fans around the division can also take heart that even if Ethier somehow is able to match his production from 2009, that production isn't likely to be nearly as valuable in 2010 just because of the added clutchiness he gave to LA last year. Save for Albert Pujols and a lesser extent Matt Holliday, the list of the clutchiest players of 2008 didn't carry over to 2009, the list in 2009 won't carry over to 2010.

San Francisco: The interesting questions for the Giants start right around #3 (what would the team do if something were to happen to Pablo Sandoval?) as the article starts to devolve into an exercise of wishful thinking similar to the Ethier question for the Dodgers. For instance, check out the answer to question #6: Can Lincecum get any better? Here's a hint for the author: anytime you need to fish outside the sport for a comparison to try and prove your point, in this case, Magic Johnson, you are probably best off saying "It's not at all likely" and just leaving it at that. This question and the subsequent one regarding Matt Cain really exemplify how the Giants maxed out their potential in 2009, and how the team may be hard pressed to duplicate that degree of success in 2010.

Arizona: Unlike the three teams on top of the NL West standings in 2009 that have limited internal opportunities for improvement, Arizona's full of them, and the Q and A reflects that. I really don't get the same silly optimism vibe here that I did in the other three previews (it was less present in the Colorado piece linked yesterday, but CarGo's 2009 was his breakout year, I don't know if we should expect much from the follow-up season, just be pleasantly surprised if it does happen).

The Diamondbacks will be considerably better in 2010, I'm inclined to believe at least ten wins better. I think they'll see the bulk of this improvement in their performance against second division teams (the D-backs went a combined 2-10 against the Reds and Nationals last season) but they should also make inroads against the Giants, Dodgers and Rockies. I thought they'd be a spoiler last year but they were a combined 4-15 against the three NL West leaders after September first. As important as beating those other two teams is for the Rockies, the NL West team that's best able to hold its 2009 advantage over the D-backs should have an added advantage in the quest for the division title.

San Diego: The Padres face another season of low expectations, the fourth question down particularly reflects this, and all of the other questions are built for a team still in flux. I'm not going to dwell on them, but added to this Bill Center article from the Union Tribune, you can see that San Diego's front office wisely isn't making any airs of being ready to compete for the division yet. That timeline remains somewhat dependent on what they get for Adrian Gonzalez when they do, eventually, decide to trade him. It could happen quickly, it only took a couple of seasons for Texas to use the windfall of trading Mark Teixeira to the Braves to build a semi-competitive club.