Results tagged ‘ Matt Kemp ’

A Couple Thoughts On Braun and Other Nonsense

Doping-in-baseball-Ryan-Braun-of-the-suspension-was-canceledThe last week and a half has been a rough one for Major League Baseball to say the least. On Monday, 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun willingly took a suspension for the rest of the season, covering the final 65 games. He won’t receive a paycheck for the rest of the year either and for all intents and purposes he’s going to be a black sheep within the sport and among sportswriters for the rest of his career. Matt Kemp, the runner up for the 2011 MVP award has already called for Braun’s MVP trophy to be returned. “At this point, he lied about it. Got away with it. Tried to lie about it again. … Got caught. … And is still making hundreds of millions of dollars,” said New York Mets pitcher David Aardsma. Reed Johnson of the Atlanta Braves felt that Braun cheated the system and abandoned his fellow players. Suffice to say, the reaction to Braun has been harsh and for the rest of his career it will always be harsh. But you know what?

The man is a sly, sneaky bastard.

Seriously.

Outside of scorn, the only real, tangible punishment that Ryan Braun receives in this whole Biogenesis ordeal is a loss of 65 games or $3,251,366 dollars. That’s a whole lot of money to me and you, but to Braun that’s chump change. He made $6 million last year. He’s going to make $133 million over the life of his contract. That $3.25 million doesn’t matter to him, neither do those 65 games. Milwaukee’s already 20 games out of first in the NL Central. Hell, they’re 15 games out of the second Wild Card spot. That’s an impossible deficit to overcome, so why shouldn’t the Brewers go into all-out tank mode to get a better draft spot in next year’s draft? Braun’s locked into his contract until the end of the decade and he knows this. Why not cut a deal, help your team lose more, and reap the benefits in a couple of years? Yes, the Major League draft is a crapshoot, but it’s still better to be picking in the 1-3 range rather than the 5-7 range.

And the real cherry on top for Mr. Braun is that neither he, nor Major League Baseball, have revealed any details about the suspension. We have no idea what Ryan Braun was on, all we know is that he failed a drug test in October 2011 for elevated testosterone levels. We also have no idea about Braun’s involvement with Biogenesis and their owner Anthony Boesch and we probably never will. It’s great that Braun was suspended without any form of appeal. That, in and of itself, is an admission of guilt. But we still don’t know what, exactly, Braun was guilty of.

Who’s Pushing the Panic Button?

josh-hamilton-ap2Every single Major League team now has 30 games under their belts, which gives us enough data to start surveying the MLB landscape looking for surprises and disappointments. Fans in Boston, Kansas City, and Denver have to be thrilled with their respective teams hot starts.

However, for fans in other cities things haven’t been as bright. The Toronto Blue Jays were handed the AL East by most pundits before the season even began and they’ve fallen flat on their face out of the gate, carrying a 10-21 record that only the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are envious of. Things are also starting to get dicey in Anaheim, where the Angels have once again stumbled in the early weeks of the season. Their supposedly vaunted offense has yet to earn its pay, thanks to its middle of the pack ranking in the AL in runs scored, and L.A.’s pitching staff minus Jered Weaver has been a disaster.

They’re not the only cities that are getting anxious about their ball club’s slow start either. Fans in Philadelphia were hoping that a once-great pitching staff led by Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee could rebound to carry the Phillies to the playoffs, but that hasn’t materialized thus far. The Dodgers were imagining themselves as the west coast Yankees with a budget to match. So far all that lavish spending has gotten them is 4th place and a struggling Matt Kemp.Even the handful of fans that attend Rays games have to feel a little nervous in the AL East watching their starting nine drop to 1-6 in games started by Cy Young winner David Price.

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Is Torii Hunter a Good Fit for the Dodgers?

Ahh, the offseason. It’s a place where trade rumors swirl around like winds on a blustery day at the beach. It’s a place where Scott Boras circles around said beach like a shark waiting to pounce on whatever chum is foolish enough to hand out a Carl Crawford-sized deal before immediately regretting it. It’s where thrifty front office types scrounge around for that perfectly valuable scrap that’s been long lost in the sand. It’s where Josh Hamilton is tied to the Orioles one minute and the Brewers the next. Rumors get ridiculous, players get paid, general managers lose their minds. One of those interesting rumors floating around the November waters this year has the Dodgers in hot pursuit of outfielder Torii Hunter. This particular tasty morsel of information is also a two-parter. The Dodgers are also believed to be floating right fielder Andre Ethier out on the market, which would be a fascinating move if Los Angeles can pull it off.

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Dodger’s Big Money Moves Aren’t Paying Off

Perhaps no team in the history of baseball has ever been as balls-to-the-wall aggressive over the course of both trade deadlines as the Los Angeles Dodgers were this season. The Dodgers’ new ownership, a group including Laker legend Magic Johnson, didn’t even flinch at the thought of picking up $300 million plus worth of player contracts if it meant a shot at immediately competing this season. Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, and Carl Crawford’s contract were all added to the roster mid-season in the hopes of giving LA the offense and starting pitching depth that manager Don Mattingly would need to make the playoffs.

Well thus far the high-priced replacements have, for the most part, stunk up the joint, going 8-13 since August 25th, the day of Adrian Gonzalez’s first game in Dodger blue.   That isn’t to say the Dodgers won’t make the playoffs, because they’re 1 game out after splitting a 4 game set with St. Louis, but unless the newcomers, and Matt Kemp for that matter, start playing a little better, Los Angeles isn’t going anywhere.

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LA Needs Matt Kemp, Like Now

With today’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of rival San Francisco, the Dodgers have relinquished sole possession of 1st place in the NL West for the 1st time since April 10th. The team has been slumping ever since Matt Kemp went back on the DL, going 11-14 since May 31st. The team has particularly struggled of late, losing 8 of their last 9. What’s even worse is that the San Francisco Giants have been able to make up 5 games in that amount of time, punctuating their mini-comeback with a 3-game sweep to tie for 1st. The Dodgers were outscored 13-0 by their rival from Northern California, the first time in the history of the franchise that they were shutout in a series of 3 games or more. So why, all of the sudden, is the outlook on LA’s dream season begun to turn cloudy? And can the Dodgers turn it around this season, or are they destined to drop behind San Francisco or maybe even Arizona, who’s only 4.5 games back of 1st?

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April’s All-Stars: National League

Now that we’ve taken a look at the American League’s best, let’s take a look at the best the Senior Circuit has to offer.

Catcher- Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

Molina gets a slight edge over Buster Posey because he plays the position everyday, rather than playing half his games at 1st base. Molina has been excellent with the bat so far, hitting .316 with 4 homers and 15 RBI. He even has 2 stolen bases so far, half of his entire total from 2011. He has always been the finest of the catching Molina’s with his glove work, and now, in his age-29 season, the bat is starting to catch up.

1st base- Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs

LaHair has been given his 1st real shot in the big leagues at 29 and has not disappointed so far. In 20 games he has hit .390/.471/.780 with 5 homers and 14 RBI. Very few players are ever given their first crack at the Major Leagues at 29 and his early success has been one of baseball’s best stories so far. If LaHair could finish around .280 with 20+ homers, numbers that are very realistic, the Cubs will have gotten an absolute steal at 1st base.

2nd base- Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

Another surprise out of the NL Central has been the play of the Astros’ 2nd baseman. Altuve is very green at only 21 years of age, but has been smacking extra-base hits all over the field batting .360/.404/.547 with 11 XBH. The Astros have been surprisingly feisty so far, and Altuve is one of the major reasons why. His speed game is also excellent, having stolen 4 bases without being caught.

Shortstop- Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs

The 2nd Cub to grace the list, Castro is a singles hitting machine. He led the National League in hits a year ago, and is already back to his old tricks, piling up 30 hits already. He’s added some new moves as well, and has already stolen 10 bases, which puts him on pace to smash his previous career high of 22. Troy Tulowitzki is also playing well, but I’m giving the nod to Castro.

3rd base- David Wright, New York Mets

Wright gets the nod over Pablo Sandoval and David Freese at the National League’s deepest position. Wright leads all of baseball in on-base percentage, at a stellar .494, and is hitting a robust .389. He has been enjoying the moved in fences at Citi Field, bombing 3 homers already, putting him on pace to beat last season’s measly 14. He is also walking more than he is striking out, which is always an excellent sign that a hitter is really locked in at the plate.

Outfield- Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

Well, this one’s obvious. Kemp is leading everyone in everything, topping the National League in batting average, OPS, slugging, total bases, runs, hits, homeruns, and RBI. His defense in center has also been excellent, and his batting eye at the plate looks to be improved. He’s got an outside shot at hitting 60 homers, and a really long shot at hitting .400 for the season. This kind of production wins no-doubt-about-it MVPs.

Outfield- Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Outside of Matt Kemp, there are plenty of deserving candidates, and Ryan Braun is my first. Braun had been having a somewhat slow start to his MVP defense until last nights 3 homer, 1 triple, 6 RBI outburst. He’s now all the way up to 3rd in OPS for National League outfielders, and also has 7 homers total. He’s also showing last seasons 33 steals weren’t a fluke, as Braun has swiped 3 bases in 4 attempts.

Outfield- Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

Gonzalez snaps up the last of the available outfield spots, because of his all-around play. He’s 6th out of NL outfielders in OPS, 13th in steals, 8th in homers, and 4th in RBI.  His batting line: .303/.376/.539 with 4 homers, 4 steals, and 18 RBI. Other deserving candidates include: Andrew McCutchen, Michael Bourne, Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, and Chris Young, who was having a monster season before hitting the DL. If Young comes back and plays as well as he had been, the All-Star spot is his.

Right-handed Pitcher- Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

The ace of the best pitching staff in baseball so far has lived up to all the hype. Strasburg has pitched 5 games, compiling 32 innings and has struck out 34 while allowing 6 walks, 22 hits, and only 4 runs, giving him an ERA of 1.13. Hitters have looked overmatched against his powerful fastball and wipeout curveball. Strasburg is a legitimate Cy Young candidate if his team doesn’t shut him down first.

Left-handed Pitcher- Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

For as dominant as Strasburg has been from the right side, Kershaw has been nearly as dominant from the left. He has a 1.78 ERA in 30.1 innings and has already struck out 28 batters to begin his Cy Young defense. His WHIP sits under 1.00 once again and he has only allowed 1 homer so far, which was his biggest weakness a season ago. If Strasburg is shut down, look for Kershaw to reap the rewards.

Relief Pitcher- Jonathan Paplebon, Philadelphia Phillies

Without the excellent rotation put together in Philly, the team would already be sunk. They spend a fortune for Paplebon to close the door on teams, and he has gotten the job done so far this year. Paplebon is striking out 1 batter per innings, has a tidy .90 WHIP, and a miniscule .90 ERA as well.

Baseball’s Burning Questions

With the 1st 10% of the Major League regular season in the books, let’s take a look at some of the burning questions from around the league.

Can Matt Kemp hit .400? Or how about 60 homers?

Matt Kemp launched another homerun last night, his 10th of the year, and he is currently hitting a robust .449 at the plate. Kemp is on pace to smash over 85 homeruns and post a batting average that would stand as an all-time record. Regression will inevitably set in at some point however, so his performance will inevitably decline, but does he have a shot at history. Kemp had a sizzling start a year ago, hitting .368 the 1stmonth of the season, with 6 homers before average declined, but he continued hitting homers at the same rate. While I don’t think Kemp can legitimately hit .400, I do believe that this start will enable him to bat above the .375 mark, a very difficult feat. I think Kemp has a better chance at hitting 60 dingers, because he would only need to hit a homer about 1 in every 11 at-bats the rest of the year, which would be a decline in his current 1 per 7 rate. Last year he hit 1 homer per every 15 at-bats, so he would have to continue to slug better than he did a year ago, but it is possible and I think Kemp will do it.

Do the Yankees have a pitching problem?

What was once thought to be the deepest rotation in baseball, with 7 major league caliber starters, is now treading on thin ice due to poor performance and injury. The Rangers bombed Phil Hughes yesterday, being chased after allowing 4 runs on 5 hits in 2.2 innings. His season ERA now stands at an ugly 7.88 and his biggest problem is the home run ball. Hughes has given up an unsightly 5 homers in the 16 innings he’s pitched, while allowing 13.5 hits per 9 innings. Batters are just teeing off on Phil right now. The news got worse yesterday for the Yankees and Michael Pineda, as they learned the young righty has a partially torn labrum, which requires surgery and will end his season before it began. Freddy Garcia has also been unsightly in the rotation, and now the Yankees are viewing the return of Andy Pettitte as a need, rather than a luxury. Pettitte is 40-years-old and didn’t pitch a season ago, so he should be counted on for nothing more than back of the rotation help. If Garcia can put together one good start his next time out, Hughes will probably be sent to the bullpen. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova make up a solid top of the rotation, but the Yankees will need someone else to step up in the 3rd spot if they want to improve what has been their biggest problem so far in 2012. That pitcher will probably have to be Hiroki Kuroda, who has been mediocre for the Bronx Bombers so far. If he steps up the Yankees pitching woes will be a thing of the past. But if he continues to struggle and posts a mid-4.00 ERA or worse, New York could be watching baseball in October, because the AL East is a meat grinder this year.

Are the Nationals for real?

Most definitely yes, the Nats are for real. Washington has the best pitching staff in baseball so far. They rank 1st in runs allowed, hits allowed, homeruns allowed (only 4!!!), average fastball velocity and they rank 2nd in baseball in strikeouts. Before the season manager Davey Johnson said he would take his staff over any in baseball, including the vaunted Philadelphia rotation, and so far he’s been proven right. The top-3 of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez all possess ERAs under 2.00. Strasburg, in particular, has been untouchable, posting an absurd 336 ERA+ while striking out 10.3 batters per 9. The offense could use a little boost, ranking 22nd in baseball so far, but many of their best hitters are struggling or on the DL. Michael Morse has yet to play, and he was the team’s best hitter a year ago. Morse will probably return to action around the end of May. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington’s star 3rd baseman, has also struggled hitting only .224/.324/.345. Expect the offense to improve when the weather really heats up and expect the Nationals to keep on winning.

Should Yoenis Cespedes be your new favorite player?

Yes. The guy is a treat to watch. Cespedes swings with all his might, hits with massive power, steals bases, has a rocket launcher for an arm, and plays the game with passion. And if that isn’t enough for you how about this?

Or what he did to the White Sox yesterday?

Or this pitch that is still in orbit?

Oh, and he will probably be a 30-30 player for years to come. He already has 5 homers and 4 steals on the young season and his plate discipline is improving. And the scary part is how good Cespedes will be in a year or two, once he adjusts to living in America and gets a better grasp of the strike zone.  He’s a fantastic player who is breathtaking to watch.

Where has Albert Pujols gone?

The Machine has not been the same since leaving St. Louis for the sunny shores of California. He’s having the worst April of his entire career and is also currently stuck in the worst slump of his career, a 0-19 bender that has many pundits baffled. He is now hitting .222/.282/.319 and still hasn’t hit his 1st homerun. Last night against the Tampa Bay Rays, Pujols looked downright uncomfortable at the plate, striking out twice, and pulling into the shift once. Two or three years ago, a manager wouldn’t have dared to use a shift on Pujols, because he would punish it by immediately taking the 1st good pitch to the opposite field for a base hit. The Rays shifted on Pujols for every at-bat, showing either a lot of conviction out of Joe Maddon or knowledge that Pujols is trying to pull everything. If Albert relaxes a little more at the plate and starts to use the whole field again, he will once again take his place as one of the 3-5 most feared hitters alive. Pujols should recover in time to hit around .280-.300 with 25 homers, a far cry from the production expected out of him when he signed in LA for $240 million. The bigger concern should be going forward, because if Pujols’ production is already declining, the Angels are in big trouble.

3 Up, 3 Down: Wednesday Edition

3 up

  1. The Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers currently have the best record in all of baseball at 9-2. Don Mattingly is pushing all the right buttons, Dee Gordon has provided excitement, the clubhouse is loose, and every bounce is going right. (Did you see that triple play on Sunday???!??) Matt Kemp is mashing the ball, hitting .465/.500/.977 with 6 homers and 16 RBI. These are video game numbers and this is the kind of production the Dodgers envisioned when they extended his contract until 2019.Kemp also leads the NL in runs scored, runs created, total bases, and hits. Andre Ethier is also hitting well, with 4 homers and 17 RBI. The schedule has been home heavy, playing the short-handed Padres, and underwhelming Pirates, so LA’s hot start could be a mirage. The schedule gets tougher, as the Dodgers hit the road for 2 more after dropping the opener in Milwaukee, but they follow that series with another easy one against Houston. If Matt Kemp keeps hitting, and the pitching staff stays in the top half of the National League, the Dodgers are a legitimate contender.
  2. Justin Verlander. The Cy Young/MVP winner threw his 1st complete game of the year on Monday in a 3-2 win over the Royals. Verlander used an astounding 131 pitches to dispatch the Royals and his last 3 all clocked in at 100 mph. He dominated the Royals last night with a steady diet of fastballs offset by a fantastic changeup, which he was locating beautifully, throwing it for a strike 74% of the time. As you can see from the chart, JV got better as the game progressed, gaining velocity thus becoming more difficult to hit. Verlander has picked right back up from his torrid pace a season ago. He already leads the league in innings pitched, strikeouts, has allowed 0 homers, and has the lowest WHIP in baseball.  All of the teams he was facing have offenses that will probably rank in the top half of baseball as well, so its not like he was piling up big numbers against banjo hitters either. Verlander has earned the right to be called the best pitcher in baseball, over other worthy contenders like Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Clayton Kershaw.
  3. Highlights from Around the League. Josh Reddick, the new right fielder in Oakland, has a rocket launcher for an arm. He’s already gunned down two different runners at 3rd and has 4 assists total. Impressive. Congrats are due to Jaime Moyer, who at 49 became the oldest pitcher ever to get a major league win, going 7 innings and only allowing 2 unearned runs in Colorado’s 5-3 win. Derek Jeter’s early season surge continued, as he picked up another 2 RBI last night out of the leadoff spot. He’s now hitting .367/.385/.633 with 3 homers, 9 RBI, and 18 hits total. He also has 2 leadoff home runs on the season. Josh Willingham is also off to an excellent start this season, hitting in all 11 games with 5 total home runs. He has been carrying Minnesota’s offense during the early season. Gio Gonzalez seems to be enjoying life in Washington, picking up his 1st win in a 1-0 victory over Houston. Gonzalez has struck out 21 batters in 17.2 innings over his first 3 starts, and has a 2.04 ERA.

3 Down

  1. LA’s other team. The LA Angels easily have one of the most talented rosters in baseball. The rotation is stacked, with 2 aces and 2 other plus arms, the lineup is full of powerful bats, and they have young talent oozing through the minors. So what is wrong with the Angels so far? They are 4-7 and no one on the team looks to be comfortable. Albert Pujols is homerless so far, a streak that is 48 at-bats long and counting. The combination of Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter is keeping the powerful Mark Trumbo planted on the bench, because he is a liability at 3rd base. The #1 prospect in baseball Mike Trout is sitting in Triple-A because of the outfield problems. If the Angels really want to win, they need to plant Wells on the bench or trade Hunter, in order to free up playing time for the younger players. Or they should try and build a time machine to go back in time and undo the Vernon Wells-Mike Napoli swap. They butchered that trade about as badly as an franchise has in the past decade, losing a powerful catcher and taking on a bad contract in one foul swoop.
  2. Baseball’s Closer Problem. Tom Verducci wrote an in-depth article yesterday on SI.com detailing the issue. Closers are breaking down at higher rates than ever before, despite the advances in modern medicine, and teams are spending a combined $487 million last year on injured relievers. “Fifty percent of all starting pitchers will go on the DL every year, as well as 34 percent of all relievers, according to research by Stan Conte, director of medical services for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That bears repeating: half of all starting pitchers will break down this year. ‘When I did the research,’ Conte said, ‘I was so surprised I figured I must have done the math wrong.'” This is an astounding issue, especially with season-ending injuries already to Joakim Soria, Ryan Madsen, and Brian Wilson. And many teams that aren’t having injury issues with their closers are, instead, having performance issues. Jose Valverde has already blown 2 saves, Boston can’t find a closer, Heath Bell has blown a couple, and the list goes on. Teams need to think outside the box a little more with relief pitching, because the uber-defined roles and the one-inning or one-batter appearances are leading to injury, as well as poor performance.
  3. Struggles from Around the League. Albert Pujols’ base running has been abysmal so far. He’s the runner in the clip posted above, being gunned down at 3rd. This is already the 3rd time in the young season he has been thrown out being too aggressive on the base paths. Pujols doesn’t quite have the speed he possessed earlier in his career and the league knows it. Tim Lincecum had another iffy start against the Phillies on Monday giving up 4 runs in the 1st. He settled down nicely after that inning, throwing nearly all breaking balls and using his slider 30 times, allowing only 1 run. He had previously said he was scrapping the pitch, but it appears to be vital to his success, so he brought it back after the 1st and proceeded to look like the Timmy of old. If he continues to use the pitch, it will be interesting to see going forward if it has any negative effects on his arm, or if it was just a case of Lincecum being a little too cautious.

Division Previews: National League West

The National League West has been baseball wildest division over the past 5 seasons, with all 5 franchises making a playoff appearance. It’s the home to some of the biggest ballparks in baseball, and some of the lowest scoring teams in the league. 2012 will probably be no different so don’t be surprised if any of the 5 take the division crown.

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks were the turnaround team of 2011, winning 29 more games than in 2010, and completing the worst-to-first turnaround. They were able to push Milwaukee to 5 games in the Divisional playoff round before bowing out, and Arizona has the look of a contender again in 2012.

The Diamondbacks were easily the most balanced team in the NL West a year ago, finishing 10th in offense and 11th in run prevention in baseball. Arizona should once again be a balanced contender, with many of its players beginning to enter their primes.

The offense acquired a fresh face going into 2012, picking up Jason Kubel in the offseason.  Kubel has been a fairly productive player throughout his 7 year career, with an average of .271/.335/.459 and 22 homers per year.  A full year of 2011 USA Today Minor League Player of the Year Paul Goldschmidt should help as well. Goldschmidt is a classic 3-outcome player, with big power, big strikeouts, and a solid batting eye for drawing walks.

Those two will be joining franchise building block Justin Upton in the middle of the lineup. Upton is a true 5-tool talent, who possesses superb outfield range, a strong-arm, can steal bases, hits for power as well as average, and can even draw a walk. He hit .289/.369/.529 a year ago, and won a Silver Slugger for his 31 homers.

Another solid piece is centerfielder Chris Young, a 28-year-old, who hits for solid power, can steal 20+ bases, and is an excellent defensive centerfielder who could easily win a Gold Glove. Catcher Miguel Montero is also 28 and a better than average offensive player for his position. He posted a 121 OPS+ a year ago while hitting 18 dingers.

The rest of the offense is hit-or-miss, especially with shortstop Stephen Drew still out with an ankle injury from 2011.  The below average Willie Bloomquist is penciled in to start at short on Opening Day, and Arizona has to hope Drew can get back quickly. He is a much greater offensive threat in addition to being much more skilled with the glove.

The pitching staff, particularly the bullpen took a huge step forward a year ago and was the key to Arizona’s turnaround. Ian Kennedy won 21 games and was one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball, posting a near elite 5.5 WAR. His strikeout rate for his career sits at around 8 per 9 innings, and Kennedy was able to cut his walks down by 15 from 2010, despite throwing 28 more innings. Kennedy was more aggressive pitching to hitters in 2011, and his approach paid off with a top-5 Cy Young finish. If his walk rate stays down he is a Cy candidate again in 2012.

In acquiring Trevor Cahill from Oakland, Arizona has given itself a fantastic chance at having a top-8 pitching staff in baseball. Cahill should benefit moving to the National League West, where most of the worst offenses in baseball reside. He is a sinkerball pitcher, who has generated grounders on 56% of ball put in play over the past 2 seasons. That is the 5th highest rate in baseball, and should help when pitching against the weak offenses of San Francisco and San Diego.

Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter, and Joe Saunders are all coming off of solid seasons as well. Arizona also has a potential top-of-the-rotation ace coming up through the minors in Trevor Bauer. Bauer has an unorthodox release, but is a fireball throwing pitcher who can pile up the strikeouts.

The bullpen, with closer JJ Putz, should be solid once again.  Arizona was had the lowest bullpen ERA in the National League a year after finishing with a team bullpen ERA over 6.00. As long as they rank in the top-8 in baseball again Arizona will be fine.

The Diamondbacks have built a deep young team, much in the way the Texas Rangers have. They have capitalized on their good fortune through the draft, and have made savvy trades acquiring young talent, like Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill. Arizona will be tough to beat once again in 2012.

San Francisco Giants

The 2010 champs had a rough go of it in 2011, failing to make the playoffs. The big reason was the complete lack of offense. After putting together a league average offense in 2010 the wheels fell off the wagon in 2011, as the Giants finished 2nd to last in baseball in scoring.  The pitching has finished in the top-2 in baseball the past 2 seasons and will probably finish near the top of baseball in 2012, so the Giants will only go as far as their offense can take them.

A big reason for the collapse of the offense in 2011 was the leg injury to Buster Posey. Posey was hurt when he improperly blocked the plate and left himself vulnerable to being hit. Scott Downs, the Marlins runner on the play, did nothing wrong, and had Posey taken proper positioning, by staying on his feet as catchers are taught, he would not have been injured. If Posey can rebound and hit near the .305/.357./.505 mark it would go a long way to helping the offense. A full year out of Pablo Sandoval would help as well. Sandoval mashed the ball when he was healthy in 2011, hitting for an elite 153 OPS+ and 23 homers.

The outfield will be different in 2012 as well, with the additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. Cabrera had a career year in 2011, posting 4.2 WAR in for Kansas City. If he can put up about 3 wins of value San Fran will have a more useful outfielder than anyone else from 2011.  If Pagan can hit better than Andres Torres abysmal .221 the Giants will see even more improvement. If the offense can finish around league average in runs scored San Francisco could play deep into October again. If they finish in the bottom-5, expect another year of .500 baseball, because the pitching staff will keep the team afloat.

Led by Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants boast a truly fearsome 1-2-3 punch. Lincecum has led the National League in strikeouts 3 times in his 5-year career, baffling hitters with an array of sublime change-ups, curveballs, and fastballs. Despite his size, Timmy is a workhorse, having thrown at least 210 innings 4 years running. Cain, who just inked the biggest deal ever for a right-handed pitcher, is also a superb talent. He’s dependable (200+ innings in 5 straight seasons), keeps batters off the basepaths (WHIP under 1.1 two straight years), and strikes out more than 7 batters per 9. His lousy career record should be ignored, because he receives less run support than any other pitcher in the league.

The bullpen has been excellent in San Francisco for the past 3 seasons. Brian Wilson, for all his craziness, is a plus pitcher at the back of the bullpen. He had a bit of an off-year in 2011, posting an ERA north of 3.00, but has lights out stuff, having twice struck out more than 10 batters per 9. The rest of the bullpen is deep with solid arms Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt.

The pitching is once again going to be solid. Lincecum-Cain-Bumgarner are as good as any trio in the game. If the offense can scratch out enough 3-2 wins, San Francisco will head back to the playoffs. If the Giants can get sneak in they are dangerous, because no one will have a better chance to shut your offense down.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers haven’t even played a game yet in 2012 and the season is already a success, because Frank McCourt finally sold the team, and to Magic Johnson’s group. On the field, it will probably be another .500 season at best, because the team just doesn’t have enough talent, outside of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. Despite having the Cy Young winner on the roster, LA still finished with the 5th worst staff in baseball, and on offense things weren’t much better. Even with a near 40-40 season out of Matt Kemp the Dodgers were still a middling offensive team, and things don’t look much better for 2012.

The good news is that Matt Kemp was signed through 2019 during the offseason, and immediately began talking about the possibility of a 50-50 season. Kemp has struggled some in the spring, striking out 20 times already, but he should be fine come Opening Day.  Last year he was worth a league high 9.0 offensive WAR, the best in baseball. He finished with a 171 OPS+, also leading the league. A repeat performance in 2012 would probably guarantee him the MVP but still may not make the Dodgers competitive.

Andre Ethier is the one of the few Dodgers with All-Star potential, and is a career .291/.364/.479 hitter. He won his first Gold Glove last year, showing improvement in his defense, but the rest of his game suffered. Ethier’s power disappeared, as he hit 11 homers for his lowest total since his rookie season.

Dee Gordon is the only other player of note, and he appears to have a bright future at short. Gordon is a hard-working speedster who stole 24 bases in just over 50 games. He could be a 60-steal threat, which would lead the National League and could provide a good spark at the top of the Dodger offense.  Gordon is still very raw at age 23, so there will be growing pains particularly on defense, but he has lots of talent.

The pitching staff has to improve this season if the Dodgers want to have any chance to compete.  Kershaw is the ace and won the pitching Triple Crown in 2011, leading the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts to gather up his first Cy Young. He’s only 24 still and has the potential to dominate the National League for the next decade. The Dodgers are going to need to develop pitching around Kershaw, because nothing else currently stands out.

Chad Billingsley has shown some potential earlier in his career, but he has seen his strikeout rate drop in each of the past 3 seasons after posting a career high 9.0 in 2008.  He had a rough 2011, due to a high batting average on balls in play, so he could be a nice candidate for a bounce back season, especially if his K rate returns. The rest of the rotation is abysmal and will probably prohibit the Dodgers from winning enough games to make the playoffs. Ted Lily is league average and on the downside of his career, and Aaron Harang has not done much in his many opportunities in Cincinnati.

The bullpen doesn’t look to be strong either, outside of Casey Jansen, who is an elite strikeout pitcher. The rest of the ‘pen is young and unproven, so some potential for surprise or disappointment is there.

The Dodgers just don’t look to be deep enough to really compete in a strong National League. Unless another player like James Loney makes a jump similar to the one Kemp made, LA is not going to make much noise.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies entered 2011 with expectations to compete with the playoffs and outside of the first month of the season, they were a disappointment. The team has decided to surround their young talented core of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez with plenty of aging veterans in 2012. Jamie Moyer, Todd Helton, Marco Scutaro, and Michael Cuddyer were all acquired by the Rockies. This type of thinking flies in the face of other turnaround teams like Arizona and Tampa, who used youth to get an advantage. It will be interesting to see if this experiment works, or if Colorado struggles to win 75 games again.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is easily the best player in baseball at his position. He has won two straight Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, and the statistics back it up. He’s the only shortstop to hit 25+ homers and put up a 130+ OPS+ in the last 3 seasons. He is also a stellar defensive shortstop, despite his size. He has a strong arm, turns the double play with vigor, and has plenty of range. If Colorado competes for a playoff spot, Tulowitzki will have an MVP-type campaign.

Carlos Gomez is also a player with MVP aspirations. He finished 3rd in the MVP voting in 2010 posting a monster .336/.376/.598 slash with 34 homers and 117 RBIs. Last year he was still an excellent outfielder, posting a 126 OPS+ while increasing his walks. If he puts it all together, the Rockies middle-of-the-order will be tough to deal with.

Outside of CarGo and Tulo the Rockies are ancient. There next best hitter is probably either Michael Cuddyer (career .272/.343/.794) or Todd Helton, who is now 38 and in his 16th season. Helton was still able to hit over .300 in 2011, but his power is almost gone.

The pitching staff doesn’t look too pretty either, and the big news out of Spring Training is that 49-year-old Jaime Moyer will be the #2 starter. It will be Moyer’s 25th season in the big leagues, and he will probably throw around 150 innings with a 4.50-5.00 ERA. The Rockies will need youngsters Drew Pomeranz and Jhoulys Chacin to step up if they want to be competitive. Pomeranz was the best prospect received in the Ubaldo Jiminez trade and looks to have the makings of a solid top-to-middle of the rotation starter.

The Rockies are probably not going to compete for much in 2012, but in the wild NL West anything is possible. If the young pitching comes along quicker than expected, imagining the Rockies winning the division doesn’t seem so difficult. If Jaime Moyer is the #2 starter all year though, things will get a little bit rough.

San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres have undergone some massive changes in the past 2 seasons, trading their best players, Adrian Gonzalez and Mat Latos, for prospects.  The team is rebuilding on the fly and will have one of the younger rosters in baseball in 2012. The offense needs to improve if the Padres want to avoid the cellar again because they were 3rd worst in baseball in 2011. The pitching was solid last year, but it is difficult to tell if they are talented or just a product of PetCo Park, the toughest on hitters in the majors.

Edinson Volquez was one part of the Latos trade, and has been named the Opening Day starter. Volquez has not been a very productive pitcher since his breakout year in 2008, never once posting an ERA beneath 4.20.  He has battled plenty of injury, but it is risky to have a pitcher with this poor of a track record and a walk rate over 5 per 9 to begin the season as the de-facto ace.

Cory Luebke is probably the best pitcher on the staff, and was a surprise a year ago, beginning in the bullpen before finishing the year by making 17 starts. His Ks per 9 was an elite 9.9 in over 139.2 innings last year, and if he can post a similar rate in 200 innings he has the makings of an ace.  He also put up a very stellar WHIP, at 1.067. Some decline is expected with an increase in workload, but Luebke has the potential to be a good #2 starter.

The offense is very, very young outside of the double play combo of Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett. Both players are solid on defense, which is a plus in spacious PetCo, but aren’t much with the bat. Carlos Quentin was also traded for to provide some middle of the order pop, but he is already injured and has an extensive history of injury problems.

1st baseman Yonder Alonso was the real prize in the Latos trade. His bat has been rated very highly by scouts, but his glove work is considered subpar even for a 1st baseman. If he can hit around .280-.300 he is a solid Rookie of the Year candidate. He hit .330 in 98 plate appearances for Cincinnati last year, but was blocked at 1st by Joey Votto.

Cameron Maybin also showed why he was a highly rated minor leaguer a year ago, with a solid season. He stole 40 bases and showed an ability to get on base at an average rate, which is key for a speedy player. Maybin has the ability to hit .250 with his legs alone, so if he can just add .050 points with his bat he could be a .300 hitter.

The Padres could be a sneaky team out in the NL West. If no other team seizes control of the division and the Padres see big years out of some young players, they could surprise and steal the division. It will take good years from Volquez, Luebke, the bullpen, improvement on offense, and a healthy Carlos Quentin, but it is certainly possible.

Predictions

*Arizona Diamondbacks

San Francisco Giants

San Diego Padres

Los Angeles Dodgers

Colorado Rockies

National League West MVP: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

National League West Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

I like the Diamondbacks to repeat as division champions. Arizona has a very balanced, young, and talented team. I just don’t think that San Francisco is going to score enough to steal the division, and I think that Barry Zito and the mystery 5th starter will be a problem. I don’t think that San Diego has quite enough to make noise, although it wouldn’t surprise me to see them win the division with something around 86-87 games if Arizona or San Francisco disappoints. I think Colorado will have to score a ton of runs to make up for a complete lack of pitching, and while the Moyer experience will be fun it won’t produce a lot of wins. Los Angeles is looking forward to the offseason when the new ownership can make some moves on the free agent market.

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