EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a six-part preview of each division in the major leagues leading up to the season opener between the Atlanta Braves and Nationals in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 30.
The National League West looks on paper as a four-team race, leaving San Francisco in the cellar. Yet, the Giants potentially may have the best pitching staff in the division.
The Las Vegas Hilton favors Arizona at 9-5 to repeat as division champs. Colorado, which won the NL pennant, is tied for third with the Los Angeles Dodgers at 3-1. San Diego, which lost in a one-game playoff last year to the Rockies, is second at 11-4. Which leaves the Barry Bonds-less Giants at 20-1.
The changes in the division begin with Bonds, who is a free agent without a home. Without Bonds, the Giants will have to scratch out runs and hope their young pitching corps can live up to the hype. A rebound season from rich lefty Barry Zito is essential if the Giants are to shock the Western world.
Arizona added Oakland ace Dan Haren to an already solid starting staff that could explode if Randy Johnson can turn back the block. Brandon Lyon takes over the closer role from Jose Valverde (47 SV), now with Houston.
San Diego took a chance and acquired the injury-prone Mark Prior, who if healthy gives San Diego the best starting five in the division and perhaps the league.
Colorado won the NL pennant and will play that hand again. Matt Holliday is a Triple Crown candidate and 23-year-old SS Troy Tulowitzki batted .291 with 24 HR and 99 RBI in his first full season. Jeff Francis (17 wins) anchors an inexperienced staff. Manny Corpas (19 SV) is the closer with Brian Fuentes (20 SV) now setting up.
Los Angeles may be the most interesting team to scout in the division, gaining new manager Joe Torre from the Yankees and centerfielder Andruw Jones from the Braves. Catcher Russell Martin is a stud. Pitching is solid and could be great if Jason Schmidt can bounce back from two seasons of arm problems.
San Francisco won’t have the home run pop of Bonds and the infield is aging before our eyes. But Matt Cain, Tim Lincecom and 14-game winner Noah Lowry are all strikeout pitchers.
Based on the current rosters, we rank this division: Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, Colorado, San Francisco.
Infield: C Chris Snyder, 1B Conor Jackson, 2B Orlando Hudson (.294 BA), 3B Chad Tracy, SS Stephen Drew. Outfield: LF Eric Byrnes (83 RBI, 50 SB), CF Chris Young (32 HR), RF Justin Upton. Rotation: Brandon Webb (18 wins, 194 K), Dan Haren (Athletics), Randy Johnson, Doug Davis, Micah Owings. Closer: Brandon Lyon (2.68 ERA, 2 SV).
Infield: C Yorvit Torrealba, 1B Todd Helton, 2B Jayson Nix, 3B Garrett Atkins, SS Troy Tulowitzki. Outfield: LF Matt Holliday (.340 BA, 36 HR, 137 RBI), CF Willy Taveras (33 SB), RF Brad Hawpe. Rotation: Jeff Francis (17 wins, 165 K), Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jiminez, Franklin Morales, Jason Hirsh. Closer: Manny Corpas (2.08 ERA, 19 SV).
Los Angeles Dodgers
Infield: C Russell Martin (87 RBI), 1B James Loney, 2B Jeff Kent (.302 BA, 20 HR), 3B Andy LaRoche, SS Rafael Furcal. Outfield: LF Juan Pierre (64 SB), CF Andruw Jones (Braves), RF Matt Kemp. Rotation: Brad Penny (16 wins, 3.03 ERA), Derek Lowe (147 K), Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Jason Schmidt. Closer: Takashi Saito (39 SV).
San Diego Padres
Infield: C Josh Bard, 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.282 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI), 2B Tadahito Iguchi (White Sox), 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, SS Khalil Greene. Outfield: LF Scott Hairston, CF Jim Edmonds (Cardinals), RF Brian Giles. Rotation: Jake Peavy (19 wins, 2.54 ERA, 240 K), Chris Young, Greg Maddux, Randy Wolf, Mark Prior (Cubs). Closer: Trevor Hoffman (42 SV).
San Francisco Giants
Infield: C Bengie Molina (19 HR, 81 RBI), 1B Dan Ortmeier, 2B Ray Durham, 3B Rich Aurilia, SS Omar Vizquel. Outfield: LF Dave Roberts (31 SB), CF Aaron Rowand (Phillies), RF Randy Winn (.300 BA). Rotation: Barry Zito, Matt Cain (3.65 ERA, 163 K), Tim Lincecum, Noah Lowry (14 wins), Kevin Correia. Closer: Brian Wilson (6 SV).
Hilton projected win totals: Arizona 87Â½, LA 86Â½, San Diego 84Â½, Colorado 83, SF 73.
. Next week: The AL West.