Breakdown of the Rest of the Division (Yawn…)

As promised, here’s our thoughts on the Non-Dodger, Non-Giant part of the NL West.

NEXT UP! THE NEW AND IMPROVED SAN DIEGO PADRES!

Last Year: They sucked.

Projected 2015 Finish: Second place in NL West with 88 wins and a real good shot at a Wild Card spot.

Offseason: My computer doesn’t have enough ink to type all the moves the Pads made this offseason. Suffice to say, they ain’t kidding around. They expect to win and win right now. On paper, they’ve left the Giants in the dust and are the only legitimate threat to the Dodgers postseason hopes. Of course, as Giants fans will quickly point out, the game is not played on paper. If it were, instead of getting mean strawberries from sliding into second, players would get nasty paper cuts. But, as usual, I digress.

Last year the Padres were terrible offensively. Their pitching is all that kept them from sliding all the way into a Double-A league, where they would have finished third.

New Padres’ GM, A.J. Preller was loosed onto the Baseball World by ownership and he ran up and down the aisles like he was at a Wal-Mart Super Store and he was wearing a Tweety-Bird shirt! He grabbed all he could get his hands on! Need a big bat in the outfield? How about two??? Throw Justin Upton (from Braves) into the cart! Want more? Look! They’re having a special on All-Stars!!! Let’s get Matt Kemp and $30M from our friendly neighbor to the North! Our pitching is already pretty good, but look, a blue light special!!! James Shields, one of the top three free agent pitchers on the market! Wouldn’t he look good on the Petco Park mound? Oh, why not! Where there’s a “will” there’s a way, right? OK, we’ll double up on “will,” give me Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox) and Wil Myers (Rays) for an additional little boost and depth to that everyday lineup.

I mean, COME ON!!!!

Here’s the new projected lineup for the 2015 Padres:

3B YANGERVIS SOLARE  Lots of upside but his OBP is pretty skimpy for a leadoff guy. If he falters, Will Middlebrooks can take over at third.

CF WIL MYERS  Nice player, pretty good glove but definitely an upgrade over their other options at the position.

RF MATT KEMP Here’s the guy who figures to be a difference maker. I applaud the Padres for taking a chance with Matt, and it IS a chance they’re taking. Matty could be the MVP or he could be in line for the 2016 Comeback Player award. You just don’t know which Matt Kemp you’re getting. It is true that his physical showed he has arthritis in both hips. Kemp shrugs it off, but your hips play a big role in your swing. When he’s feeling good, he’s a beast. Obviously, the Dodgers felt that they were through “hoping” he’d be healthy and sent him packing with an additional $30M in his suitcase to help ease Padre concerns. It’s a gamble, but one the Padres were very smart to make. Without a big bat, the Pads were looking at another mediocre season … if he plays well, they’re a contender. It was a deal the Padres had to make. But, like always with Kemp, we’ll see what we see.

LF JUSTIN UPTON If all the Padres did was pick up Upton, they would be a better club this season. Of course, they did far more, but with Upton in the outfield it takes a little heat off Kemp to be the savior. Solid player, but we’ll see how he likes NL West pitching. He’s going to see a lot of Kershaw, Bumgarner, Greinke, Hudson, Ryu and Cain. Good luck, Justin!

1B YONDER ALONSO So far, a bit of an underachiever, but if he can get it together the Pads will be all right.

2B JEDD GYORKO OK, Padres fans, meet your Dee Gordon (without the speed). How long can you wait for a guy to develop into the All-Star he was projected to be? Of course, once he does you don’t necessarily have to trade him to the Marlins, but really, how much longer does he have to prove he belongs in the majors? I’m guessing this year.

C DEREK NORRIS  Living in the Bay Area I try to take in as many A’s games as I can and one of my favorite players has been Derek Norris. Solid guy, has a little pop and handles pitchers well. The safest of all of the Padres offseason moves.

SS ALEXI AMERISTA  Glove guy. Will never be walked to get to the pitcher’s spot.

STARTING PITCHING: James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy. That, my friends, is a VERY nice rotation. The fifth spot will be held by either recently acquired Brandon Morrow or Robbie Elfin … probably Odrisamer Despaigne. But, the biggest contributor to Padres pitching will be, and as always been, Petco Park. Still, a three-game series with the Padres means you will be facing at least two quality pitchers. If you’re unlucky enough to catch their top three, well, runs will be hard to come by. This is a rotation that could go deep into the playoffs.

BULLPEN: Joaquin Benoit and his 30 saves leads a solid bullpen. Again, pitching in Petco doesn’t hurt either.

MANAGER: Bud Black is a former Giants pitching coach and as such, is immediately identified as a Dipwad. I don’t like him. He’s prettier than Bruce Bochy, but then again I’ve stepped in stuff that was prettier than Bochy, but that’s about all he’s got going for him. He’ll look a lot smarter this year than last.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Last year: 66-96, finished fourth in NL West.

For this year’s outlook let’s go to Special Belly Of The Beast Correspondent (and Rockies fan), JIM DYAR

The Colorado Rockies finished the 2014 baseball season at 66-96, just a few scrubby games ahead of the doormat Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West. It left yet another purple welt on the collective psyche of Rockies fans everywhere — the fourth straight summer of a second-to-last or last-place finish. The 92 wins from 2009 and 90 victories from 2007 (including the team’s only World Series appearance) are far-off fading memories. Of small consolation from last year was winning the season series against San Francisco, including a beautiful three-game sweep of the Giants at AT&T in July. Beyond that (and a couple of breakout seasons by young players) it was a rough stretch of baseball.

 

Most fans prayed for off-season fireworks, yet the Rockies were as quiet as a glacial lake near Leadville in January. First-year general manager Jeff Bridich must have been slack-jawed watching daily headlines from Los Angeles and San Diego. Premier players were being dealt and acquired faster than kids tossing around baseball cards. Did they clone Billy Beane and send him down the California Coast? They certainly didn’t send him to Denver. When the dust settled, the Padres looked like a much better team, and the Dodgers could argue they were improved too. The Giants mostly lost players it seemed like, and who knows what was going on in Zona, something about Tony LaRussa and Dave Stewart.

"Dinger" the Rockies' Paleolithic Mascot was not available for a photograph to be used for this blog. We had no trouble finding a replacement.

“Dinger” the Rockies’ Paleolithic Mascot was not available for a photograph to be used for this blog. We had no trouble finding a replacement.

 

Meanwhile, the Rox faithful checked the wire and waited. Maybe the Mets were interested in Troy Tulowitzki? Perhaps someone was asking about Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson? Were the Rockies the ones spurned by James Shields? Crickets. Bridich did make some moves under the radar. Colorado obtained catcher Nick Hundley, utility infielder Daniel Descalso, right-hander Kyle Kendrick, relief pitcher (and former closer) John Axford, and right-hander David Hale. The team parted ways with outfielder Michael Cuddyer (Mets), infielder Josh Rutledge (Angels), right-hander Juan Nicasio (Dodgers) and lefty Brett Anderson (Dodgers).

 

There were some other intriguing shifts most people missed. The team hired new pitching coach Steve Foster from the Royals, and bullpen coach Darren Holmes (a former Rock, most recently with the Braves). The organization also moved its Triple A team from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque, and its Double A squad from Tulsa to New Britain (Conn.). Colorado Springs was a lackluster venue at a higher altitude than Denver, and no team wants its top prospects sweating out the summer in Tulsa. Manager Walt Weiss played a more active role in the moves, working closely with Bridich, who took over for Dan O’Dowd when he mercifully stepped down after 2014.

 

Here’s hoping Weiss and Haaa-vard educated Bridich are quietly designing a Rocky Mountain High masterpiece (and not just the bong-filled, completely legal kind in CO). The gamble of holding pat is trusting in an offense than can certainly be formidable: Blackmon, Dickerson, Cargo, Tulo, Justin Mornaeu, Nolan Arenado, Wilin Rosario. People know what Tulo and Cargo can do. Morneau won the ’14 batting title. Blackmon made the All-Star team. Dickerson led the Rox in homers (24) and had a .567 slugging percentage despite less than a full season. Gold-glover Arenado had 18 bombs and 34 doubles in an injury-shortened season.

 

The team can put up crooked numbers faster than you can say Toddfather Helton, but (for the eighty billionth time) it has to stay healthy. It also has to drastically improve the on the road to have any chance. Colorado had the worst road record in baseball in 2014 – an epically bad mark of 21-60. The ball moves differently at sea level in California than it does at Coors Field. It’s time to figure that out.

 

On the pitching front, the Rockies may lack names like Kershaw, Bumgarner, Shields or Greinke, but the staff could be surprisingly solid (don’t choke on your Dodger Dog or kale garden salad). Jorge de la Rosa has a 45-15 record at Coors Field (you read that right) over the past few seasons, second only to Zack Greinke in home wins over that stretch. Jhoulys Chacin won 14 games in 2013 and is finally healthy after a lost ’14 campaign. Left-hander Tyler Matzek, just 24, was a fabulous surprise in his rookie season, busting out like some kind of neo-Kershaw. Right-hander Jordan Lyles, also 24, was enjoying the best season on the staff before a fluke broken left hand. Kendrick (the longtime Philly) or David Hale will probably be the No. 5 starter. Hale could be a steal – he had a 3.30 ERA in 45 games (including six starts) for the Braves in ‘14. There’s enough pitching depth to allow two of baseball’s top pitching prospects – Eddie Butler and Jon Gray – some continued time in the minors before they’re thrown into the fire.

 

The ageless LaTroy Hawkins will finish his career in 2015 and should continue to be an effective closer. Adam Ottavino or Axford could step into that role if Hawkins falters. Left-handers Boone Logan and Rex Brothers must return to better form or their days in purple pin stripes will expire quickly. There are some other promising arms in the ‘pen, and Bridich added some depth, like the flame-throwing Jairo Diaz and side-armer Gus Schlosser.

 

Though subtle, I like Bridich’s moves. He’s trusting that a total injury nightmare implosion can’t repeat itself, and saying to the current team: “You’re my guys. We can win with you right now.” Trading Tulowitzki and/or Carlos Gonzales coming off injury seasons would have meant moving them at their absolute lowest market value. If the Rockies are a dud come July (what most everyone will predict) Bridich can deal those guys to a contender and get something tangible in return. If Colorado gets some pitching to go along with its powerful lineup, it might be the surprise Rockies that are a contender.

 

It’s the great thing about mid-February: everyone’s currently in first place. We can stay up late and dream big. Pitchers and catchers are just arriving in Florida and Arizona. Even Colorado Rockies fans believe their team has a snowball’s chance beyond Scottsdale.

Editor’s Note: Thanks, Jimbo! It’s nice to see the thin air of those high altitudes hasn’t had a negative impact on your cognitive abilities! For the record, I think the Rox will have a healthier, and thus happier, season and COULD wrest third place from the Giants! I would LOVE that!

 

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Last year: Who cares?

Projected 2015 Finish: Somewhere south of last place.

SYNOPSIS:  They have a pool in their ballpark so the fans can still enjoy themselves during D-Bag games. I can’t stand this team and I’m glad they didn’t do anything over the offseason to get better. The great thing about the D-Bags, when they’re in town the Giants lower their ticket prices. Although having to watch BOTH teams – they should pay us

.

That’s it! To recap, here’s the Final N.L. West Standings as I see it …

1. DODGERS

2. PADRES (Wild Card)

3. GIANTS

4. ROCKIES

5. D-BAGS

Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.

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