NL West: LA looks to dodge ‘staff’ infection

Mar 18, 2003 2:48 AM

The National League West could boil down to five "over" questions.

For last year’s champ Arizona, it’s whether Lyle Overbay lives up to expectations at first base.

For Wild Card winner San Francisco, it’s whether Barry Bonds can get over the team’s widespread changes.

Los Angeles is wondering if the injury curse is over and that a potentially stellar pitching staff will be intact.

San Diego hopes the season isn’t over before it started with the loss of Phil Nevin and Trevor Hoffman.

And, Colorado is banking that it’s young pitching staff can keep games at Coors Canaveral from going over 15 runs.

Here are some answers and odds of winning it all.

LOS ANGELES (15-1): The Dodgers made wiseguys $1,001 for every $100 bet over the course of last season, fifth best in the NL. Amazing when you consider that Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort and Kaz Ishii all spent considerable time on the disabled list.

Brown is 38 and battling for the No. 5 slot in the rotation with Dreifort. If Brown gives LA anything, it’s a plus because his stuff is nasty when right.

Eric Gagne was brilliant as the closer and he’s the main reason LA is the team to beat in what should be a three-team battle with the Giants and D’backs.

Fred McGriff replaces Eric Karros at first base and Joe Thurston takes over at second. Thurston was a standout with the Las Vegas 51s last year and hit .462 when called up in late September.

Clearly, the Dodgers offense goes as Shawn Green goes. The other parts ”” LoDuca, Jordan, Beltre, fit in nicely. The Dodgers were 52-34 outside their division. A better division record should lift LA back into the top spot.

SAN FRANCISCO (6-1): The Giants are easily the most intriguing story of the preseason. After all, how many teams clean house starting with the manager, after winning a pennant?

Dusty Baker was a popular figure in the Bay Area, yet 69-year-old Felipe Alou is one of three brothers that played for the Giants and seems an excellent fit.

Jeff Kent, Kenny Lofton and David Bell are gone, but gaining Ray Durham, Edgardo Alfonso, Marquis Grissom and Jose Cruz Jr. may work out better. Of course, Giants hopes for another postseason bid come down to making Barry Bonds happy.

Russ Ortiz departed the pitching staff but in came Damian Moss from Atlanta. Moss won 12 games, posted a fine 3.42 ERA and has tremendous upside.

Robb Nen is a match for Gagne down the coast and Pac Bell Park is one of baseball’s top homefield advantages. San Francisco led the NL on $100 moneyline bet winners at $1,912 and could again be a good investment.

ARIZONA(5-1): The D’backs are still old and have done little to upgrade a suspect offense. Yet, many think Zona can repeat as division champs.

They have two good reasons ”” Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Both are ageless and should again battle each other for the Cy Young. Enough said about their greatness.

It’s what’s behind them that will determine Arizona’s fate. Elmer Dessens has first shot at being the vital No. 3 cog in the rotation, coming over from the Reds. Matt Mantei and Byung-Hyun Kim give the D’backs a solid bullpen.

Offensively, Arizona is banking that Lyle Overbay becomes the first base standout once predicted for Travis Lee. Overbay was hitting .143 in his first 21 spring at-bats, meaning the aging Mark Grace could open at first base.

Luis Gonzalez will be welcomed back after offseason surgery, but the D’backs should never have let Damian Miller or Erubiel Durazo get away.

Arizona was up $1,414 last season on the moneyline. We’re not so sure this year, especially with more pressure on Johnson and Schilling slipping.

SAN DIEGO (120-1): If the Padres can approach this record having lost Nevin and Hoffman, this will be a productive season. It won’t surprise us a bit if San Diego is among the top five teams in the NL on the moneyline. The Pads should be a very live dog in a number of games.

Management has to be sick about Nevin, who vetoed a deal to Cincinnati for Ken Griffey just before sustaining a season-ending injury diving for a ball hit to the outfield.

The Padres are gearing toward their new ballpark in 2004. Brian Lawrence and Oliver Perez lead an exciting pitching staff. If Jay Witasick can save a couple of games, San Diego could hang around for a while.

Sean Burroughs was a big flop last year, but with Nevin out, the door is now wide open for a big comeback year. The K-Rations (Mark Kotsay and Ryan Klesko) are solid and this will be one of the faster teams in the NL. Watch out for SD in 2004.

COLORADO (100-1): The Rockies are more likely to lose 100 games than reach the .500 mark, but what’s new. Actually Clint Hurdle did a stellar job as interim manager last season to earn himself the fulltime task of raising fan interest and lowering the team ERA.

Coors Field has ruined many top-flight pitchers ”” the late Darryl Kyle, Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle for starters. Neagle has three years and $37 million left on his contract, which presents salary cap problems for a team in desperate need of youth.

Larry Walker is still there, but unhappy. The pitching is better than you would think and the Rocks should slowly improve.