It’s that time of year again, time for the 500 Level Fan to start embarrassing himself with futile, sad, and mind-blowingly awful predictions. Last year I introduced a divisonal preview concept that seemed to go over well, so I’ve decided to bring it back for 2013. These preview posts should be seen as a division primer, so we can get to know the best players and teams, along with some interesting storylines, in each. These won’t have my actual predicted order of finish – just a quick snapshot. The predictions come later.
We’ll begin today with the NL West.
San Francisco Giants
Past Five Champions
2012 – San Francisco
2011 – Arizona
2010 – San Francisco
2009 – Los Angeles
2008 – Los Angeles
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 91.8
Buster Posey, Giants
Though there are a lot of great players in this division, it’s hard to argue against the defending NL MVP. When Posey returned from a gruesome leg injury in 2011, the hope was that he’d last the season without any further complications to his leg. Not only did he last – he dominated. Posey led all major leaguers with a .336 average, slugged 24 home runs, drove in 103 runs, put up a .957 OPS, and a 7.2 WAR. He did all of that while playing over 75% of his games (112 to be exact) at baseball’s most demanding position. Oh – and he also tacked on 16 more games in the playoffs, leading the Giants to their second World Series title in three years. And the scary part? He’ll only be 26 on Opening Day.
Honourable Mention: Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Chase Headley, Padres
Matt Cain, Giants
Cain has been a dominating pitcher for years, but was consistently overshadowed by other pitchers on his on team (see Lincecum, Tim and Wilson, Brian). That is no longer the case. 2012 was the sixth consecutive season the right hander posted better than a 3.0 WAR according to baseball reference, finishing with a 3.5. He also put up a 16-5 record, 2.79 ERA, and a sparkling 1.04 WHIP to finish 6th in Cy Young voting and make his third NL All-Star team. While the Giants still have an outstanding rotation (Lincecum, Vogelsong, Zito, and Bumgarner), it will be Cain who leads the team as they chase a third title in four years.
Honourable Mention: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Three Storylines For 2013
1. A Dynasty by the Bay?
No team has won back-to-back World Series since the 2000 New York Yankees beat the Mets to win their third straight. That was also the last team to win as many as two titles in three years – until the 2012 Giants. Now the Giants enter the 2013 season with virtually the same team that beat the Tigers last October, and should be the favourites to get back to the Fall Classic. But a funny thing happened over the winter: the Dodgers stole all the headlines, meaning San Francisco will be right back in a position that they love – under the radar. With defending MVP Buster Posey, an incredible rotation and bullpen, and full seasons from Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval, the Giants are poised to be called something that hasn’t been used since those Yankee teams – a dynasty.
2. Dodger Dollars
One year ago, in March of 2012, a consortium named Guggenheim Baseball Management, which included controlling partner Mark Walter and Magic Johnson, purchased the Dodgers for a record $2.15 billion. They inherited a team that had finished in third place in 2011, and promised a return to glory. Armed with a boatload of cash, the ownership group is certainly not holding back on that promise. The Dodgers already had two of the brightest young players in the game in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. Now they have a team full of stars, having added Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, and import Hyun-Jin Ryu. On paper they look like a good bet to win the division. But they share a city with another super team who couldn’t translate “on paper” into wins. It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers become the next powerhouse, or baseball’s version of the Lakers.
3. Bizarro Arizona
The D-Backs won the NL West in 2011, but fell back to Earth with a disappointing 81-81 record last year. However, armed with a bunch of young talent, they still appeared to be a team on the rise. Then this past winter happened, and Arizona left many people scratching their heads. In October they dealt OF Chris Young to Oakland, and brought in light hitting Cliff Pennington and 2012 disaster Heath Bell. Then in December they traded top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to the Indians for a relief pitcher and a SS prospect. Finally in January, the big one – Justin Upton dealt to the Braves for a collection of prospects. It’s not often that a team loses three of the best young players and improves. GM Kevin Towers took a massive gamble. Now we wait to see if it pays off.
Times have certainly changed in the NL West. It used to be the division where players put up cartoon-like power numbers, thanks to Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez, and the thin air in Colorado. Now? Not so much. 27 players hit 30 HR last season, and only two of those played in the NL West: Chase Headley (31) and Jason Kubel (30). By comparison, the NL Central had seven. Furthermore, the bottom three spots on the team HR list are all NL West squads: San Diego (121), LA (116) and San Fran (103).
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column on March 25th.