Sports

Will Manny Matter? National League West 2009 Preview

padres

San Diego Padres:

The Padres are a far cry from the team I watched a lot in 2007. They have some of the pieces they used to, but everything around those is just horrible, and have seemed to give up in the last year and a half.

They do still have one of the most dominate pitchers in the game in Jake Peavy. He still seems to have the stuff that made him a unanimous Cy Young award winner in 2007. He just seems to have lost the intensity in his attitude, maybe it’s because he is pitching for a horrendous team.

Peavy still has his gentle giant pitching behind him in the rotation. The giant I am talking about is 6’10” Chris Young. He has always been very good when he is healthy. He suffered a freak accident last year off of the bat of Albert Pujols, after which he came back to pitch moderately well. He has always thrown a great fastball and maintained a low E.R.A., and has a great future ahead of him if his body stays together.

Behind these two quality pitchers is where it gets real messy. It’s just a bad situation for the Padres because they used to be a team that relied on a great rotation and dominating bullpen. Instead of first ballot hall of famer Greg Maddux pitching behind Young, this year it’s Cha Seung Baek. He was 6-10 last year with a 4.79 E.R.A.,  a giant leap back from last year.

The final two positions will be filled by Kevin Correia and Josh Greer. I know what you’re saying, “who are these guys”. Well I consider myself a bit of a Padres fan and I don’t even really know.

They do have a new face in the closing position, which has been filled by Trevor Hoffman since 1993. The man stepping up to replace the legend is Heath Bell. Padre fans have waiting for this change to happen for the last two seasons. Hoffman has been unreliable since 2006;  and was unbearable to watch at the end of 2007. It was sad because the Padres felt almost obligated to let Hoffman leave on his own terms instead of doing what was best for their organization and getting rid of him.

Their offense is going to be pretty sad this year as well. It was bad a few years ago when they were relying on pitching in a big home ballpark, but now it couldn’t even play that kind of role.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom. The Padres have the most underrated pure hitter in the game and one of the best young hitters as well. The underrated player I’m talking about is Adrian Gonzalez. He hit 36 home runs last year and drove in 119 runs. Tell me someone that put up those kind of numbers and is completely unknown. He has a beautiful swing and is only going to continue to produce like this for a long time. I just feel bad for him being this good and having no one care about it.

The good young hitter I was talking about is converted left fielder Chase Headley. He has a monster bat. He was a mid-season call up last year for the Padres. He’s only 24 and is ready to spend his first full year learning the game. He has good patience for a young power hitter and seems to learn extremely fast. He should put up around 20 home runs this year batting in the five hole.

Batting in the clean-up spot is third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. He is the reason Headley is playing left field instead of third. Kouzmanoff has continued to improve since he was traded from the Indians in 2007. He’s 27 and only playing in his third full season in the majors. If he can continue his progression he should get close to hitting 30 home runs this year.

Other than these three hitters, the Padres are pretty void of any kind of offensive excitement. There next best hitter is probably 38 year old Brian Giles in left field. Did you see that I said he was 38? Jody Gerut will be leading off for them and playing center-field. He has some speed and some power, but just some. It’s just a nightmare around the Padres 3,4, and 5 hitters. God help them in 2009.

Diamond in the rough:

bellHeath Bell (CP): I think Bell is in line for a very good season. He may have wasted away his best stuff as a set up man for Trevor Hoffman, but he is still nasty. The real question is whether or not he’s going to have any games to save for the Padres, for they have to be in the lead for that to happen. I still think he puts up over 35 saves this year and has a sub 2.00 E.R.A. San Diego has been waiting for him to be there closer, and in 2009 they will get that chance.

Might not live up to expectations:

gonzalezAdrian Gonzalez (1B): I really hope this isn’t the case this year. The thing is that the only time Gonzalez has really struggled is when he tries to put too much on his shoulders. In 2009 he will be biggest key to the Padres offense, and without massive production on his part, they go nowhere. The bad thing is that Gonzalez knows that. Having that weight on you is not a great thing for your production. I hope he is now old enough to just play his game doesn’t try to do too much this year.

giants

San Francisco Giants:

The 2009 Giants are a lot like the 2007 Padres I spoke of earlier. They have a great rotation that features two amazing front end starters. A legendary pitcher in the third position that is at the end of career and just looking to contribute.

One of the two pitchers that is going to carry this team in 2009 is the reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. He’s 5’11”, 160 pounds and throws the ball like Zeus throws lightening. He’s a freak. Oh yeah and he’s 24. Got a crush on him yet? Me and the rest of U.S. is excited to see what he is capable in the next decade or so. He posted 18 wins last year and struck out 265 batters (the most in the major leagues last year). Lincecum and his crazy mechanics are going to be a force this year.

The second of their dominating young pitchers is Matt Cain. The scary thing is that Cain was supposed to be the better pitcher of two pitchers. His stuff is that good. His 2009 season could be a lot like Lincecum’s 2008 season. It does look a little unlikely because of his 8-14 record last year, but he had a very decent E.R.A.; his team just didn’t really give him any help. He throws just as hard as Lincecum, he just hasn’t found his control yet.

The legendary pitcher I talked about earlier that joined the Giants this year is the acne faced emu himself, Randy Johnson. He will provide a lot more for the Giants than most people think. When he was healthy last year he put up decent numbers. That is kind of a big “if” though. His 45 year old body seems to be giving up on him a little bit more every year. If he can stay healthy and give them 200 innings this year he will put up about 14-15 wins and hopefully pass along the wisdom he has accrued in his 20 plus years in the majors.

There is also another pitcher on the staff that we seem to forget about, and we shouldn’t. Especially because at one point he signed the biggest contract a pitcher ever had before. His name is Barry Zito. I think he will be a lot more productive when there are less expectations put upon him. He will be pitching in the fourth position and hopes to do better than his 21-30 record he has posted in his two years with the Giants.

Their offense is where they are going to be in real trouble. I’ll give you a dollar if you can name 6 position players for the Giants in 2009 off of the top of your head. I’m writing this preview and I couldn’t.

The Giants do have a catcher that posted the most rbi’s last year for his position. That catcher is Bengie Molina, and he knocked in 95 runners last year. He will be their clean up hitter again this year and has to post the same kind of numbers for the Giants to do anything offensively. The sad thing is that I do see his numbers dipping slightly this year. I say that because he has become their most productive hitter, and because of that he is a hard person to give a day off to. Now as a catcher,  you end up needing more days off than all other positions. Last year he played in 145 games and if he does that again I really see him waring down.

Batting third for the Giants this year is second year Giant Aaron Rowand. In his first year with the Giants he didn’t do a damn thing for them. He got to the plate over 500 times but only hit 13 home runs and drove in 70 runs. He was batting in the middle of their lineup and he put up those kind of numbers. You can now see why their offense struggled.

There are two veterans with about an eighth of a tank left in their careers, going on empty. Those two players are Edgar Renteria and Randy Winn. Winn did do some good things last year, stealing 25 bases and hitting .306 in the lead off position. He’s doing great for a 34 year old and seems to still have his speed, I just think he’s on the downhill and 2009 is the year you’re going to begin to see it. Unlike Winn, Renteria already started his drastic decline over a year ago.

The rest of the lineup is a bunch of maybes. They could possibly produce, but not likely. 22 year old Pablo Sandoval might show signs of becoming the hitter everyone in San Francisco thinks he can be. Or he could be another few years away. It’s all a bunch of “what if’s”. The only thing for sure is that the Giants won’t be scoring a lot of runs in 2009.

Diamond in the rough:

cainMatt Cain (SP): Cain is going to be a force this year. I don’t think he necessarily wins over 15 games, but I think he will strike out over 200 batters and will post an E.R.A. around 3.00. He can’t win a bunch of games because of the offense his team puts up behind him, but his personal numbers won’t be tarnished. I think he becomes the Tim Lincecum of last year. It’s scary for one team to have two pitchers at this age at this skill level.

Might not live up to expectations:

molinaBengie Molina (C): I think Molina’s numbers will fall this year. He will be just as productive in his at bats as last year, I just don’t see him getting as many in 2009. He’ll be 35 before this year is over and the Giants are going to ask a lot out of him endurance wise. His body just can’t do it again this year. I wouldn’t be saying this if he was an aging first baseman or left fielder, but he’s a catcher. There aren’t many guys who can catch 140 plus games a year two years in a row. Last year he had 530 at bats and won’t be able to duplicate – I see his power numbers dropping from 17 home runs 95 rbis to about 12 home runs and 70 rbis. Still very good for a catcher, just not as good as Giants fans will be expecting.

diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks:

The Arizona Diamondbacks are coming off a very disappointing 2008 season. In a wide open National League West division they were considered the hands down favorites. They were coming off of a National League Championship Series in 2007. They had a plethora of young talent that seemed to just be coming into their own and one of the best pitchers in the game. They actually looked a lot like the Tampa Rays coming into 2009, so you can see why they were extremely frustrated finishing 82-80 and two games behind the Dodgers for the West title.

With all teams that have high expectations and do not come through, there is still hope in the following year. They still have all of their young talent offensively and have upgraded their rotation.

Justin Upton is one of the returning youngsters in the Diamondbacks lineup. He started out 2008 great, and also finished strong. The only bad thing is that in between he was horrendous. Something that makes you feel better is that he will only be 21 most of this season. He has so much potential in every aspect of the game, and is going to hit for power at some point and is fast enough to steal 20 bases. He is going to be a terror. The Diamondbacks did the right thing by letting him get some of his growing pains out of the way last year. When he does get comfortable, be afraid.  Be very afraid.

The closest thing the Diamondbacks have to a power hitter is third baseman Mark Reynolds. Last year he ended up hitting 28 home runs, but in doing so he put up a pathetic .239 average. Once his patience actually shows up at the plate (204 strikeouts last year), he could be a very productive hitter with a good amount of power, which is what the Diamondbacks desperately need in their lineup.

Chris Young had a similar year to Reynolds hitting 22 home runs and batting .248, except that Young has the potential for so much more. He is still very young and will most likely improve mightily over the next few years. He is a high pedigree prospect and hopes his third full year will be his best by leaps and bounds in 2009.

I really think the key for the Diamondbacks offense this year rests on the shoulders of their talented young lead off hitter. This of course is Stephen Drew. He quietly had a very good season for such a young player. He’s not going to steal the normal amount of bases for a lead off hitter, but I think Arizona fans can cope with his 20 home runs in place of that. It sounds weird to keep saying this over and over again about these young Arizona players, but his potential is amazing. He has the baseball intelligence and patience to be a great hitter for years and years to come.

Once you look past the offense and how good it “could someday” be, you realize that the Diamondbacks pitching rotation “someday” is now. They have all-world pitcher Brandon Webb heading up their staff, and has been the most consistent quality pitcher in the major leagues over the last three years. He set a new high for wins in a year with 22 in 2008, and pitches in a ridiculous amount of innings every year. He pitches to contact and always has the hitter driving the ball into the ground.

Pitching behind Webb is Dan Haren, who was picked up during the middle of last year from the Oakland A’s. He seems to be consistently improving and also reached his career high in wins last year with 16. Haren has legitimate “ace quality” stuff, and could be considered on of the best 2nd pitchers in the majors. I think he will also continue doing what he has been over his four full years in the majors, which is improving and staying healthy.

The Diamondbacks also picked up Jon Garland from the Angels this year to be their third starter. Since leaving the White Sox he has never really been what he used to be, but as third starters go, Arizona fans have to be happy.

Diamond in the rough:

drewStephen Drew (SS): I think in 2009 Drew asserts himself as one of the five best shortstops in baseball, which is saying a lot. No one seemed to notice what he did last year for Arizona in the lead-off position. I think he hits over 25 home runs this year. His rbi numbers won’t be through the roof because he is a lead off hitter, but more important than that I think his biggest boost will be in batting average. He gets more comfortable with every at-bat and I think he could be someone who hits around .315.

Might not live up to expectations:

uptonJustin Upton (RF): I’m only saying this because of his age. It’s going to happen for Upton, and in a big way. The thing is that it might not be this year. I think you’ll see a lot of things that will show you what he is capable of, but just not on a consistent basis. Like I said, I have no doubt that he is going to be very, very special, it’s just not  going to be in 2009. He will continue to improve but I just think people want too much from him, too soon.

rockies

Colorado Rockies:

The Colorado Rockies are coming off the same kind of year as the Diamondbacks, possibly even more frustrating because they actually went further in the playoffs. They brought back almost the same roster in 2008 as the 2007 team that had was unbelievably good at the end of the ’07 season. Howevr, because of this cores lack of production in ’08,  the Rockies brought the house down this last off-season. They traded their best offensive player in Matt Holiday to the Athletics. They let the league leader in steals, Willy Taveras, fly away to the Reds. Lastly for good measure they watched as their closer, Brian Fuentes, move on the the Angels.

The Rockies are about the future now, although they did keep some of their veteran players such as long time Rockie first-baseman Todd Helton. Helton’s numbers are a mere mockery of what they used to be in his prime. In 2008 Helton played in only 83 games because of a back injury. It was the first season he hadn’t played in at least 144 games since 1997. He has become a non-factor offensively, but looks to put up respectable numbers this year. If he hits 20 home runs and drives in over 75 runs it will be a great success for this 35 year old former superstar.

Another veteran Rockie is Garrett Atkins. In 2006 he put up incredible numbers (.329 BA, 29 HR, 120 RBI) and convinced the world he was only going to improve. In face it has been the exact opposite since. He has steadily declined in every offensive category since with no legitimate reasoning. Atkins looks to rebound this year and start to find the form he had three years ago.

On the other end of the spectrum there is some very good youth on their team. The first name that comes to mind is third year shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. He had an amazing 2007 season and just like everybody else, struggled alot in 2008. He was injured for the first half of the season and never really recovered. The Rockies expect big things from him in 2009 if he stays healthy. That’s what  happens when you hit 26 home runs in your rookie year.

Another proven young starter is catcher Chris Iannetta. He figures to be one of the better offensive catchers in the National League in 2009 in only his second year as a starter. He put up impressive numbers for his position last year, hitting 18 home runs in only 104 games. I think he has a great year for the Rockies and may continue to be a building block for their organization.

Somewhere in the middle of veteran and young talent is first year starter Ryan Spiborghs. He will be given the opportunity to lead off and play centerfield for the Rockies this year. Spiborghs needs to use his speed to get on base this year and try and fill the void Willy Taveras left in the stolen bases department.

The Rockies pitching rotation will be average at best this year, pitching 81 games in the nightmare that is Coors Field. Their opening day starter will most likely be Aaron Cook, who had a very respectable year last year putting up 16 wins and an E.R.A. below 4.00. It was a year that could’ve been much better though. He posted 11 wins before the break in 2008, only to go 5-3 in the second half of the season. If he can stay consistent and stay healthy he has a very good chance of having a real breakthrough season as the ace for the Rockies.

Pitching behind was supposed to be Jeff Francis, but he recently had surgery that will keep him out for the entire season. Now that Francis is out, 24 year old flame thrower Ubaldo Jimenez will be stepping into his place. Jimenez has the ability to be one of the better hurlers in the game. He is still very young but has shown great durability and strike out capability. The area he will really have to work on is control, but big young arms always have that problem, and they seem to always fix it.

Diamond in the rough:

tulowitzkiTroy Tulowitzki (SS): I think people may have forgotten about how good this kid was in 2007 because of what his 2008 season entailed. It is just unheard of a rookie shortstop to put up the kind of numbers he did. I think if he can stay healthy, which is a big “if”, he could be one of the premiere middle infielders in all of baseball. He is just someone who is going to hit if he is playing at a 100%.

Might not live up to expectations:

heltonTodd Helton (1B): I don’t really understand why he is still consistently starting for the Rockies. Not only that, the Rockies will probably be batting him in the three hole. That is putting a lot of offensive responsibility on someone who hasn’t hit more than 20 home runs since 2004. I know that his average has been good, but I even see that dropping this year with his slowing bat speed. I respect what Helton has done over the last decade but I think his time is just about over.

dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers:

The Los Angeles Dodgers off-season was dominated by one word: MANNY! Manny Ramirez dominated the 2009 outlook for the Dodgers. He single-handed-ly held the key to how effective the Dodgers lineup would be this year. Believe it or not though there is more to this team than this one player –  actually, a team of relative youth and potential.

The Dodgers will have one thing for sure, the best young offensive catcher in baseball right now. His name is Russell Martin and he is as good as they get these days. He will be bidding for a 20/20 season this year, which is crazy as a catcher; they aren’t supposed to steal bases. He is very patient and provides a ton of walks for his team in the middle of the order. Now that Manny will probably be batting behind him, his numbers are going to go up a good deal in 2009.

Leading off for the Dodgers this year will be shortstop Rafael Furcal. He is coming off an injury-plagued 2008 season, but looks to stay healthy and produce like he always has. He’ll usually always get you 40 steals, hit around .300, and play great defense. I think just about any team would take that.

Later in the lineup the Dodgers have a lot of youngsters who are all going to give you about the same kind of potential and production. They are all relatively young with a very high ceiling in ability. The first is center-fielder Matt Kemp. Last year he put up good numbers for his first year as a full time starter (18 hr, 76 rbis, 35 stolen bases), and looks to improve his numbers this year batting in the second spot in the lineup. If he can steal the same amount of bases, teams will really have to beware of dealing with Furcal and Kemp back to back.

Another young starter is first baseman James Loney. People thought the world of his power in 2007 when he hit 15 home runs in about 90 games. So what happened when they gave him the opportunity to play in 161? He hit 13. Beyond that, he makes contact a lot and doesn’t strike out, and  is still 24 and is learning very fast. He will progress to hitting 25 home runs one day, but I see him hitting around 20 this year and driving in 75 runs.

Saving the best for the last, we need to talk about Andre Etheir. He was pushed out of a job last year when Andruw Jones came in to play in the Dodgers outfield. After the Dodgers realized that Jones was horrendous, Etheir got his job back and proceeded to mash the ball. He led the team in home runs last year with 20. Not only that, he hit .305 for the Dodgers and was their biggest threat Pre-Manny. He looks to build upon his accomplishments in 2009 and will be much happier going into the season as a starter.

With the addition of Manny Ramirez people overlooked the losses the Dodgers had in their pitching rotation. Derek Lowe and Brad Penny both left town and all of a sudden put a lot more pressure on the young starters the Dodgers have for 2009.

Chad Billingsley is the 24 year old that will be throwing the first pitch for the Dodgers in 2009. He posted a great season in 2008 that led to this promotion. He went 16-10 with a 3.16 E.R.A. and struck out over 200 batters, not bad. He will be expected to be a consistent force this year for the Dodgers, which is sometimes a tall order for such a young player. With Billingsly’s stuff, he shouldn’t be too worried though.

21 year old super stud Clayton Kershaw looks to become a permanent fixture in the Dodgers rotation this year. The organization has innings limitations for Kershaw in 2009, but he should still be able to start around 25 games. It’s going to be fun to watch. People have said he has the best stuff in the game, and he’s 21! Think about that. He will be a beast someday, but right now the Dodgers are trying to bring the reigns back a bit and protect his young arm.

Hiroki Kuroda should be a calming influence this year for the Dodgers staff. He doesn’t necessarily have the greatest ability but he does know how to win and is a veteran, even though he has only been on the Dodgers for one year. I think if he can put up 15 wins this year it will be a great success.

Diamond in the rough:

ethierAndre Ethier (RF): I think this the year Etheir becomes a name the National League West starts to fear. I love players that finish strong, and that is exactly what he did in 2008. He hit .335 in the second half of the year. Does that momentum carry over to this year? I don’t know, but I do know it shows that he can hit consistently against major league pitching. I think he keeps his average up but puts up a five or so more home runs this year,  knocking in a lot more runs with Manny in the lineup.

Might not live up to expectations:

furcalRafael Furcal (SS): I’m only saying this because I think he might miss a good amount of games in 2009. He had back problems last year and I’ve always been really weary of those in general; they seem to never go away once they start. If he’s healthy, he’s always been a great player, but I think once this pattern starts it will never really let up. When someone is reliant on his speed, back problems are a killer.

Prediction:

1st: Diamondbacks

2nd: Dodgers

3rd: Rockies

4th: Giants

5th: Padres

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