A Look at the National League West

The National League West went down to the wire in 2009, with Colorado and San Francisco beating each other up to allow the Dodgers, who had sprinted into a lead early in the season, to claim their fourth post-season berth in six years.

The "experts" suggested dropping the division into the Pacific Coast League in 2008 when the Dodgers rolled up just 86 wins to claim the title. But in 2009, the NL West went from last to first and featured the best division race in the league.

The Dodgers took the 2009 division, winning 95 games, their highest win total since 1985. The Rockies had a chance to gain a tie if they swept the final three game series in Los Angeles.

Now the question is, how will the 2010 race come out?

The Division should be even more competitive, with Arizona joining in the scrum, and so the following is our take on each club, listed by their final standings in 2009.

Los Angeles Dodgers:
The Dodgers used a 35-17 start to roll up a nine game lead after the first two months of the season. Manny Ramirez hit .372 in April and Orlando Hudson knocked in 32 runs. Chad Billingsley was 4-0, 2.14 going into May.

Juan Pierre took over for the suspended Ramirez in May and led the team with a .369 average. Jonathan Broxton and Clayton Kershaw each won three games as the club ran their home winning streak to 13-0 on the way to a 20-9 record in May.

Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier picked up the torch in June and July, Kemp leading the team with a .305 mark in June and hitting .344 in July and Ethier chipped in with 15 home runs and 40 RBI. Kershaw won five times and Billingsley four as the team ended the month eight games in front of both Colorado and San Francisco.

The Dodgers hit their first losing month in August, going 14-15, and the race started to tighten up, with the Rockies creeping to just six back. Ether and Kemp switched roles, with Matt leading the club with nine homers and Ethier hitting .333.

Despite losing seven of eight late in September, the Dodgers earned the tile with Rafael Furcal hitting .330. Randy Wolf won four times in his seven starts. Colorado finished three games behind, the Giants seven.

Some felt it was a distraction when owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, announced that they would be getting a divorce. But the club swept St. Louis in the National League Championship Series, then lost in five to Philadelphia.

Many questioned the club when they failed to offer arbitration to second baseman Orlando Hudson and left-hander Randy Wolf. Their strategy drew a C+ when Hudson got no other offers and signed at a discount and Wolf inking a three-year deal. Hudson would have cost big numbers in arbitration (good move) but Wolf was going to wait for a multi-year deal that would have given the club a first-round draft pick (bad move).

A rumor was floated that the Dodgers were not interested in an extra first-round pick because of the money it would take to sign him. If true, this is an ugly red flag that might indicate the club is extremely underfunded.

Juan Pierre was traded to the White Sox and the money saved was used to strengthen the bench.

Have almost the same club they used during the post season, save for Wolf. The thinking seems to be that the young nucleus (James Loney, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Blake DeWitt) will improve and that an adequate rotation can be assembled to overcome the loss of their top winner.

Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are young, talented pitchers. If Hiroki Kuroda can stay healthy over the full season and Vincente Padilla pitches as he did down the stretch, they can experiment with a number of candidates for the fifth starting slot, including but not limited to James McDonald, Scott Elbert, Charlie Haeger, Josh Lindblom and perhaps even Jeff Weaver.

Manny Ramirez? If he hits like a 38-year-old (which he is) the club may be in big trouble. He doesn't have to be Albert Pujols but he can't be Andrew Jones, either.

Can the Dodgers win 17 of their first 20 games at home again and match their 56-32 first-half record? Can they duplicate their 46-22 dominance over NL West teams? Can they match their second lowest error mark (83) in club history? Cam they win 14 of 18 games against the Rockies in 2010?

It's obvious that a lot of things went right last season.

The divorce proceedings, depending on how it goes, could leave Frank with the ball club and Jamie with the couple's other assets. If Jamie gets a share of the club in the final decision, it could signal a selloff that could leave the club starting all over, much like the Padres suffered through.

Colorado Rockies:
The Rockies, after falling 15 games under .500 in early June, brought in former Dodgers skipper Jim Tracy who righted the ship and guided them to the the best record in the National League from June 5th on.

The Rockies lost clubhouse leader Yorvit Torrealba, and 15 game winner Jason Marquis. Despite the loses, many feel the Rockies strengthened their team.

The Rox quickly signed former Kansas City Royal Miguel Olivo, a power hitting catcher who was AL Cy Young winner Zach Grienke' personal catcher inn 2009.

They re-signed Jason Giambi and landed third baseman Melvin Mora from Baltimore. Mora will compete with Clint Barmes at second base and can help out at third if Ian Stewart struggles.

The key to the Rockies resurgence will be Jeff Francis, who missed all of 2009 after undergoing shoulder surgery. If he makes a full comeback, the race could again go down to the final day.

San Francisco Giants:
The Giants are a throwback to the old Los Angeles teams who concentrated on the pitching staff, then and only then, scratched around to find someone who could hit enough to make them contenders.

They will be again depend on their two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, along with Matt Cain, and Barry Zito. The first two are a legitimate threat, the third will be remembered for being the worst free agent signing of the decade but who showed signs of recovery late in the season.

The Giants, despite scoring the second fewest runs in the National League, did not seem to have helped themselves much. They did sign outfielder Aubrey Huff, who whacked 15 home runs late year and re-signed catcher Bengie Molina.

If Zeto's September was legitimate, and one of their young, talented pitchers comes around, they will be in the mix right up to the final pitch.

Arizona Diamondbacks:
While the Dodgers, Rockies and Giants are eying each other with suspicion, they might do well to keep tabs on the Diamondbacks.

They were 11th in the National League in 2009 with a 4.42 earned run average and finished a distant, 25 games behind the Dodgers in the league basement.

But if Brandon Webb returns to form after an injury cost him the season, and the acquisition of Edwin Jackson (who they have just signed to a $13.35 million, two-year deal, avoiding an arbitration hearing) and Ian Kennedy performs as expected, they will not be anyone's patsies in 2010.

They have a potentially explosive offense that slugged 173 home runs, more than Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego.

Stephen Drew is solid, Mark Reynolds can hit the long ball, and if Justin Upton and Chris Young play up to their potential, this club will be the sleeper of the west.

San Diego Padres:
The Padres are a prime example of how a divorce can wreck a family -- or a baseball team. While they didn't make any earth-shaking trades in the off-season, what they didn't do is important.

They didn't trade slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to someone who can afford him in the future. The move never happened, but, sadly enough, it will probably happen before the trade deadline.

They have a group of young players, mostly unknown out outside the Padres organization, who finish the 2009 season with an 18-11 final month. We'll see if that was just an aberration or an indication of things to come.

They won't contend, they probably won't even reach a break-even point this year but they just might make things tougher for the other four contending teams.

Out best-guess for the final finish, with a full admission of favoritism for the boys in Blue and the knowledge that you could throw the top four in a hat and draw out team names that would be just as accurate:

N.L. West
1. Los Angeles
2. Colorado
3. San Francisco
4. Arizona
5. San Diego

White Interview
Dodger scouting guru, in an interview with Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles, had this to say about the Dodgers minor league talent:

"To me, it doesn't make a lot of sense to knock us down just because a lot of the talent in our system isn't at the upper echelons yet," White said. "I think after next year, the competition within our organization is going to be really fierce, especially in terms of pitching. There are going to be some really good guys who don't make our staff.

"We actually have 15 guys who are 95-plus with good deliveries and mechanics. Now, I know how attrition works, and all 15 of them aren't going to pitch in the big leagues. But I guarantee you that five or six of them are all going to be ready in the next couple of years to push each other for jobs. When that happens, it's going to be tough to figure out who makes the team and who doesn't.

"I can honestly tell you we have guys who have better deliveries, better arm action and probably better stuff than [Chad] Billingsley and [Jonathan] Broxton had at the same age. That next wave is coming, and we have some strong position guys coming, too."

Dodger Blue Notes-- The Dodgers and Rockies watched Eric Gagné throw and both teams are reportedly going to make offers. ...

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