Authored by Andrew Perna - 7th March, 2012 - 10:10 pm
The division has had three different winners in as many seasons and you only have to go back six years to find a fourth. The Colorado Rockies, added to the division and league in 1993, are the only current inhabitant not to take the crown, but they have won the National League Wild Card three separate times.
Two of the last 11 World Series have been won by a NL West team (Arizona in 2001 and San Francisco nine years later). The Diamondbacks finished first by eight games in 2011, but the division has been decided by three games or fewer in five of the last six seasons.
2011 Standings (Offensive Rank/Pitching Rank)
1. Arizona: 94-68 (9th/14th)
2. San Francisco: 86-76 (29th/2nd)
3. Los Angeles: 82-79 (21st/5th)
4. Colorado: 73-89 (8th/26th)
5. San Diego: 71-91 (28th/3rd)
They parted with prospect Jarrod Parker to do so, but Arizona added Trevor Cahill to their rotation and Craig Breslow their bullpen in a trade with Oakland in December. They also made moves to improve their offense by signing Lyle Overbay and Jason Kubel and further fortified their pitching depth by re-signing Joe Saunders.
Arizona has one of the oldest rosters in baseball, behind only the Yankees and Phillies, but have plenty of young talent in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, outfielder Justin Upton and right-handers Daniel Hudson and Cahill.
The Question Mark: Paul Goldschmidt -- Struck out in 34% of at-bats in 2011.
The Key: Trevor Cahill -- The Arizona infield needs to help him out.
The Lock: Justin Upton -- If he is an MVP candidate this fall, the division is theirs.
After winning the 2010 World Series, they missed the playoffs despite leading the division at one point in early August. Their major additions this winter were Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, who will likely make up two-thirds of their retooled outfield. The short tenure of Carlos Beltran was successful in that he hit .323 with a .910 OPS, but a failure in that he missed more than a dozen games due to injury.
The Giants enter the season optimistic because of the healed Buster Posey, the more thinner and more consistent Pablo Sandoval and the further dominance of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. If they are able to stay healthy and get into the postseason, their ace pitching duo can get hot and lead them all the way.
The Question Mark: Buster Posey -- Can he hold up at catcher?
The Key: Brian Wilson -- Had elbow and consistency issues in 2011.
The Lock: Tim Lincecum/Matt Cain -- They are quality start machines.
They signed Matt Kemp to an eight-year contract and Clayton Kershaw to a two-year pact, but there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the franchise. They are awaiting a new owner and Andre Ethier and James Loney are playing under one-year deals.
There is plenty of good as well. They have Dee Gordon, an electric shortstop that impressed in just 56 games last season, and they finished 2011 on a strong note that coincided with the infielder cracking the lineup. How they play in the first half of the season will be key to the future of Ethier, who will be coveted by contenders, come July.
The Question Mark: Andre Ethier -- Will the strained relationship mean more strained production?
The Key: The Rotation -- Can they get consistency from Ted Lilly and Co.?
The Lock: Clayton Kershaw -- Even more of a lock as a contributor than Matt Kemp.
They made a number of changes this offseason, headlined by outfielder Michael Cuddyer and pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. The offense looks like the best in the division, if not one of the best in the game, on paper. If Todd Helton remains productive as he approaches forty, Marco Scutaro hits like he did in 113 games with Boston and Carlos Gonzalez returns to his 2010 form, the offense will live up to expectations.
Colorado has an unproven rotation aside from Guthrie, acquired from the Orioles and signed to a one-year deal, with the four other projected starters having made just 80 Major League starts. Guthrie started 153 games for Baltimore over five years.
The Question Mark: Drew Pomeranz -- The 23-year-old prize of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade.
The Key: First Base -- Todd Helton is their youngest first baseman at 38.
The Lock: Troy Tulowitzki -- A shortstop with an OPS over .900 in each of the past three seasons.
San Diego had an elite pitching staff last season as one of three NL West teams that finished with a top-five ERA, but dealt Mat Latos to the Reds for what they believe was a great haul. They are hoping that Edinson Volquez will eat his innings and that sabermetric legend Cory Luebke will produce like he did in the second half.
Their offense was the polar opposite of their pitching. They scored the third-fewest runs in baseball in 2011 and are hoping that Carlos Quentin and Yonder Alonso will help bring them to the middle of the pack as Cameron Maybin grows into his new five-year, $25 million contract. Alonso needs time too, though, as he has just 117 at-bats over 69 games in the last two seasons.
The Question Mark: Cameron Maybin -- Can he produce over a full season?
The Key: Andrew Cashner -- A reliever for now, he can start if needed.
The Lock: Carlos Quentin -- At least 20 home runs in last four seasons.
The Projected Finish
1. Los Angeles: They have an MVP candidate in the field and a Cy Young winner on the mound.
2. San Francisco: Posey and Panda will decide their fate since their pitching will be there.
3. Arizona: Pitching staff will regress, hurting their chances in a deep division.
4. Colorado: If they pitch well, a playoff spot is within reach.
5. San Diego: The offense is just too thin.