2011 NL West Preview: Can the Giants Repeat as Division Champions?

ARLINGTON TX - NOVEMBER 01: The San Francisco Giants celebrate their 3-1 victory to win the World Series over the Texas Rangers in Game Five of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on November 1 2010 in Arlington Texas. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The NL West was a tough division last year, and will be even tougher this year. Are the San Francisco Giants up to the task of repeating as NL West Champions?

The 2010 San Francisco Giants had an improbable run to a World Series championship that took them through a season-long battle within the NL West, one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball last year. It took all 162 games to decide a division winner, taking the San Diego Padres down to the wire with a 3-0 win at AT&T Park on the last day of the season. This year is looking to be much of the same as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Diego Padres all have their eyes on dethroning the champion Giants and make a World Series appearance of their own. Let's take a closer look at the NL West and see how each team has positioned themselves to take the division title this season.

First off, the Champions...

San Francisco Giants

2010 record 92-70, 1st in the NL West

If the Giants want to repeat as division champs, they are probably going to have to do it torturously (again).  The Giants success hinges on the health of their excellent pitching staff, lead by two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (16-10 3.43 ERA, 231 K), Matt Cain (13-11 3.14 ERA, 177 K), and closer Brian Wilson (48 SV, 1.81 ERA, 93 K).  If these three guys, along with Jonathan Sanchez and youngster Madison Bumgarner, can stay injury-free throughout most of the season than the Giants will have a decided advantage on their NL West competition, especially with the tightly knit ball games that the Giants seemingly love to play.

The Giants didn't have a true power hitter in the lineup all last season, and barring any trades probably won't this year either. National League Rookie of the Year Buster Posey (.305, 18 HR, 67 RBI) was probably the closest thing to it and will likely be the clean up hitter for the Giants this year. Playing in only 108 games last season didn't seem to hinder his performance at all, and Buster is primed to make an even bigger splash this year. If he can keep his numbers at the plate up and his defense and play calling behind it strong he will almost certainly be an All-Star in 2011. The other big bat last season was Aubrey Huff (.290, 26 HR, 86 RBI) who had a terrific year for the Giants and hopefully can continue his success, but with the losses of Juan Uribe to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers and World Series MVP Edgar Renteria to the Cincinnati Reds, the Giants are going to need guys to up their offensive production from last year.

The Giants picked up Miguel Tejada (.269 15 HR, 71 RBI) from the Padres in the offseason, who should bring some veteran stability to the shortstop position, hopefully picking up where Renteria left off.  Switch hitting Pablo Sandoval is looking to rebound form his forgettable 2010 season (.268, 13 HR, 63 RBI) and become a solid heart of the lineup hitter. His offseason workouts with Giants legend Barry Bonds and the loss of upwards of 40 pounds seems to have put Kung Fu Panda on the right track for 2011.  Mark DeRosa is finally healthy after mid-season wrist surgery cut his season to a mere 26 games for the G-Men last year; he could fill in as a super-utility guy as Juan Uribe had been the previous seasons. Look for DeRosa to have a strong 2011 campaign as long as his health remains a non-issue.

Other players/situations to keep an eye on this season are the speedy Andres Torres (.268, 16 HR, 63 RBI), the postseason hero Cody Ross (.269, 14 HR, 65 RBI) and the up and coming Brandon Belt (.352, 23 HR, 112 RBI in Minors). How much time will Torres have to share with Aaron Rowand? How will Ross fair in his first full season as a Giant? Will Brandon Belt get called up this year a la Buster Posey last season? My guesses would be not much, pretty well, and definitely.

Prediction: 96-66, NL West Division Champions

San Francisco Giants Win 2010 World Series (via championAM7)

 

Now, the Challengers...

 

San Diego Padres

2010 record: 90-72, 2nd in the NL West

The Padres 2010 success was similar to the Giants in that they were a small-ball club that was dictated by their pitching. It was their 12-6 record against the Giants that kept them atop the NL West for most of their year, but 2011 may be a bit of a different story.

San Diego dumped a lot of their talent, including perennial All-Star Adrian Gonzalez and former World Series MVP David Eckstein, making them an immediately weaker team offensively and defensively. To compensate San Diego picked up guys like Brad Hawpe (.245, 9 HR, 44 RBI) from the Rockies, Jason Bartlett (.254, 4 HR, 47 RBI) from the Rays, youngster Cameron Maybin (.234, 8 HR, 28 RBI) from the Marlins and veteran Orlando Hudson (.268, 6 HR, 37 RBI) from the Twins to fill in the gaps. They also lost three of their better arms over the offseason; Jon Garland to the Dodgers, Chris Young to the Mets, and Kevin Correia to the Pirates, but picked up Aaron Harang (6-7, 5.32 ERA, 82 K) from the Reds and Chad Qualls (12 SV, 7.32 ERA, 49 K) from the Rays to try and solidify their pitching staff. Guys like Mat Latos (14-10 2.92 ERA, 189 K) and closer Heath Bell (47 SV, 1.93 ERA, 86 K) are going to have to have monster years if the Padres want to be successful, which will be a challenge for Bud Black's team.

Other players/situations to keep an eye on are Ryan Ludwick (.251, 17 HR, 69 RBI) and Kyle Blanks (.157, 3 HR, 15 RBI in 33 games). Can the Padres get some more production out of these guys and keep the Padres from a freefall? I don't think so. 2010 was an outlier year for the San Diego Padres, and I see a rapid decline in the 2011 season.

Prediction: 77-95, 4th in the NL West

 

Colorado Rockies

2010 record: 83-79, 3rd in the NL West

The talented Rockies seemed to be nipping at the Giants heels all last season but never could get over the hump; but when you have 8 straight losses to end the season and a 9-9 record against the Giants it's easy to see why the Rocks finished 9 games out of first place. Can they take home the title this year? In a word, maybe.

Skipper Jim Tracy and the Rockies didn't do a lot of off-season overhaul to their lineup, but did drop a bunch of cash on a few players they see as their future. All-Star Troy Tulowitzki (.315, 27 HR, 95 RBI) got a contract extension until the 2020 season worth approximately $157 million, 2010 NL Batting Champion Carlos Gonzales (.336, 34 HR, 117 RBI) got a 7 year $80 million contract, and Jorge De La Rosa  (8-7 4.22 ERA, 113 K) got a 2 year contract with 3rd and 4th year options, worth approximately $42.5 in total.  That's a lot of dough, but considering the contracts the Giants have with guys like Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand, these actually make a lot more sense.  The move that would garner the most attention was Ty Wigginton (.248, 22 HR, 76 RBI) who will definitely add to the potent Rockies offense.

The Rockies also have an ace pitcher of their own in Ublado Jimenez (19-8, 2.88 ERA, 214 K) who was an early season favorite for the Cy Young last year, especially with his no-hitter in April. But Colorado lacks the pitching depth past their 3rd starter, Jhoulys Chacin (9-11 3.28, 138 K) which will put a lot of strain on their bullpen. Despite their dominant offense, it's their pitching that will keep them from really improving on their 2010 record.

Other players to keep your eye on are the speedy Dexter Fowler (.260, 6 HR, 36 RBI) and the aging Todd Helton (.256, 8 HR, 37 RBI). Helton, the grizzly 37 year old veteran, holds almost all of the Rockies batting records, but his skills are definitely deteriorating. Colorado owes him a whopping $19.1 million this season, how much bang for their buck can they really get out of him? I do think the Rockies will get better this season, but not by much.

Prediction: 90-72, 2nd in the NL West

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

2010 record: 80-82, 4th in the NL West

The Giants most hated rivals had a rather trying 2010 campaign, but a number of offseason acquisitions have the Dodgers looking to make a run for the playoffs.  All of their additions seem to be in an attempt to mirror the Giants formula of success which includes but is not limited to stealing away Giants players and creating a pitching staff that can compete; but making a replica is nothing like the real deal.

Probably the two most significant moves made by the Dodgers were nabbing Juan Uribe (.248, 24 HR, 85 RBI) from the Giants and Jon Garland (14-12, 3.47 ERA, 136 K) from the Padres, an obvious ‘if you can't beat ‘em, join em' maneuver. But with the addition of Garland to a starting rotation consisting of Clayton Kershaw (13-10, 2.91 ERA, 212 K), Chad Billingsley (12-11, 3.57 ERA, 171 K), Ted Lilly (10-12, 3.62 ERA, 166 K), and Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.39 ERA, 159 K) the Dodgers probably are second to only the Giants in the NL West in that category.  As for the offense the Dodgers lineup looks pretty good on paper with guys like Rafael Furcal (.300, 8 HR, 43 RBI), Andre Ethier (.292, 23 HR, 82 RBI), Matt Kemp (.249, 28 HR, 89 RBI) and James Loney (.267, 10 HR, 88 RBI), but they can never quite get all of these guys going at the same time.  If the Dodgers want to win the division, all of these guys are going to have to have great seasons.

Other players/situations to keep your eye on are closer Jonathan Broxton (22 SV, 4.04 ERA, 73 K) and the divorce of team owner Frank McCourt. Broxton tanked hard at the end of last season, can he turn it around in 2011? How will the distractions of the McCourt's divorce affect the team as a whole?

I think the Dodgers are an improved team with some serious talent, but new manager Don Mattingly will have some issues getting his team to play as a unit instead of a bunch of egos in uniforms (had to get a Dodger zinger in there somewhere).

Prediction: 88-74, 3rd in the NL West

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

2010 record 65-97, 5th in the NL West

Besides the Giants the only NL West team to win a World Series this millennium is the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, but haven't had much success as of late. New General Manager Kevin Towers had a busy offseason tweaking his roster in the hope of vaulting up the standings and making a playoff push. The Giants were a staggering 13-5 against Arizona last season, but they might not be as successful this year.

Like the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks looked to strengthen their pitching staff by adding guys like the almost perfect Armando Galarraga (4-9, 4.49 ERA, 74 K) to the back end of their rotation as well as youngster David Hernandez (2 SV, 4.31 ERA, 72 K) and veteran J.J. Putz (2.83 ERA, 14 HLD, 65 K) to their bullpen. Even with the loss of the powerful Adam LaRoche and the all-or-nothing strikeout king Mark Reynolds, the Diamondbacks still have some solid hitters on their team with the likes of Chris Young (.257, 27 HR, 91 RBI), Justin Upton (.273, 17 HR, 69 RBI), Kelly Johnson (.284, 26 HR, 71 RBI), and Stephen Drew (.278, 15 HR, 61 RBI). They also added some veterans to a team filled with whippersnappers in Melvin Mora (.285, 7 HR, 45 RBI) and Geoff Blum (2.67, 2 HR, 22 RBI) whose experience and understanding of the game will assist the development of their younger players.  

Although the D'Backs had a rather forgetful season last year, they played better after skipper A.J. Hinch was replaced by Kirk Gibson last July, and I expect that to continue; just not a whole lot.  I believe their improvement in 2011 will be marginal compared to 2010 as this young D'Backs team still has a year or two to go before they can become truly competitive for an NL West title, especially their pitching staff.

Prediction: 72-90 5th in the NL West

I think the Giants are going to have another tough season in 2011 as the NL West has only gotten better. Yes, I'd still put the G-Men as the front-runner but their margin for error has shrunk to a sliver. Whatever the case, I'm ready for another torture-filled season of Giants baseball. And luckily for us the good guys always wear black and orange. 

ASHKON: DON'T STOP BELIEVING - GIANTS 2010 ANTHEM (OFFICIAL VIDEO) (via KaiandNate)

Stats provided by ESPN.com and baseball-reference.com

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