The National League West division has an interesting mix of teams in 2011 – from the reigning World Champs (Giants), to a power-packed streaky team (Rockies), to the pitching team in the pitcher’s park (Padres), to an organization rebuilding (D’Backs) and finally, the franchise potentially strapped by an ongoing bitter divorce settlement (Dodgers).

TWHS brings you its NL West preview, set wilth statistics, analysis, breakdowns, Fantasy Baseball breakout candidates and more:

KP’s 2011 National League West Preview

Arizona Diamondbacks

Offense: There are plenty of talented bats – Justin Upton, Stephen Drew and Chris Young just to name a few – but the D’Backs struggled to hit for average last season, batting just .250 as a team.  At some point, the young stars need to step up their game, or Arizona will need to consider moving in a different direction.

Defense: Of the five divisional teams, the Diamondbacks ranked last (in 2010) among the NL West in both fielding percentage and defensive efficiency ratio.

Pitching: Arizona was 28th in Major League Baseball last season with a 4.81 ERA.  The D’Backs worked hard to improve by acquiring multiple bullpen arms, both via trade and free agency.  Still, the rotation has no clear cut ace – and that will be a problem.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: David Hernandez – J.J. Putz is listed as the D’Backs closer, and he seems to get hurt every year.  That means the door could open for saves, and Hernandez (acquired from Baltimore) is a young fireballer who has closed a few games in the past.  Call it a hunch, but Hernandez gets a shot during the season.  Don’t draft him, but keep an eye out.

KP’s Take: There is talent on the Arizona roster, but this season will bring more growing pains than gleeful gains.  The biggest issue will be the starting rotation, which has no clear cut ace – and until the D’Backs can add some more pitching depth, they will struggle to compete with the likes of the Giants and Rockies.

Colorado Rockies

troy-tulowitzki-colorado-rockies

Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies should have one of the best offenses in the National League

Offense: The middle of the lineup featuring Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton and Carlos Gonzalez is arguably the most potent in the division.  The additions of Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton should also help boost the team’s offensive performance in 2011.

Defense: The Rockies’ defensive efficiency ratio in 2010 was ranked low in baseball (25th), but Colorado has its share of spectacular playmakers, most notably SS Troy Tulowitzki.

Pitching: The rotation is a tricky one to read.  Ubaldo Jimenez was as dominant as any pitcher during the first half, but faded fast during the final months of the season.  Jorge De La Rosa was resigned, and is a solid number two guy, but the question mark will be rest of the rotation, and how effective it can be.  Jhoulys Chacin does appear to have a bright future ahead of him.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Jhoulys Chacin – The 23-year old rookie dazzled in 2010, striking out more than a batter an inning (138 K’s and 3.28 ERA).  During his sophomore campaign, Chacin is slated as the #3 starter, and even when pitching at Coors Field, he should be considered a solid sleeper pick in many fantasy drafts.

KP’s Take: The Rockies should be the NL West team that gives the Giants the biggest challenge.  Colorado sports a potent offensive attack that plays 81 games in the most widely known hitters park in baseball.  The pitching staff has some question marks, and could wind up being the Achilles heel.  Over the last few years, the Rockies have been a very streaky team, especially in the second half so expect Colorado to be right there in the season’s final weeks.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Offense: Only three teams had fewer homers than the Dodgers in 2010.  The additions to improve the offense – Marcus Thames and Jay Gibbons, for example – likely won’t add much more pop.  The Dodgers will need its best offensive player, Matt Kemp, to regain his 2009 form.

Defense: The Dodgers are a solid defensive team and in 2010, L.A. was ranked in the top ten in both defensive efficiency ratio and fielding percentage.

Pitching: The starting rotation is the strength of the Dodgers, featuring quality arms Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly.  The bullpen is more of a question mark, and that includes closer Jonathan Broxton (his ERA rose above 4 last season).  If he struggles again, the job could be handed to Kenley Jansen, who has filthy stuff.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Kenley Jansen – He is not worth drafting, except for in NL-only leagues.  Jansen has nasty stuff, posting a 0.67 ERA in 27 IP (with 41 K’s) during the 2010 season.  If Broxton struggles in 2011, he could be handed the job.

KP’s Take: The McCourt situation is an issue, and not as a distraction for the team, but it could wind up hindering the Dodgers at the trade deadline if the team needs to wheel and deal to make a run at the playoffs.  That said, the rotation is pretty solid and there are bats in place for L.A. to compete in the division.  But they will need to be consistently solid to keep up with the Rockies’ offense and the Giants’ pitching.  A 3rd or 4th place finish seems more likely.

San Diego Padres

Offense: The weakness of the 2010 Padres was the offense, which struggled to consistently score runs.  Moves at the trade deadline didn’t help, as the team faded down the stretch and missed the playoffs.  San Diego has added a number of new faces to try and spark the offense, including Cameron Maybin, Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson.

Defense: The Padres had the best fielding percentage in baseball in 2010, and the team has improved its defense up the middle by adding Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett.

Pitching: PETCO Park is very much a pitchers park, and that was one reason the Padres had the second best ERA in 2010 (3.39).  The other reason was obviously the talent.  Mat Latos shined in 2010 (14-10, 2.92 ERA, 189 K’s), but he opens the season on the DL.  Tim Stauffer was also dynamite in the limited time he was in the rotation.  New addition Aaron Harang also will hope to right the ship after a subpar 2010 season.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Tim Stauffer – Last season, Stauffer pitched in 32 games (7 starts), posting a stellar 1.85 ERA in 82 2/3 innings.  This year, he will be the Opening Day starter due to Mat Latos beginning the season on the DL.  From seven starts to Opening Day starter, he’ll likely fall underneath a number of Fantasy owner’s radar.

KP’s Take: Last year’s Padres batted .246 as a team, third lowest in the majors.  New bats have been brought in, but not enough to be able to slay the cavernous outfield of PETCO Park.  The pitching has a chance to be real good again, but Mat Latos will need to get healthy and be as effective as last season.  It’s hard to imagine San Diego matching last season’s run.  Count on a battle with the Dodgers for 3rd or 4th place.

San Francisco Giants

Offense: This was a mediocre offense during the 2010 regular season – and certainly not one that scared opponents on the basepaths.  Having the least amount of steals in baseball (55), the Giants attempted to knock teams out with home runs and extra base hits.  Buster Posey provided a much needed boost as a rookie, and this year, many expect 1B Brandon Belt to do the same.  Miguel Tejada was brought in, but he doesn’t possess the same potent bat that he once had.

Defense: The Giants had the highest fielding percentage in baseball last season, but may take a slight hit in this department upon adding Miguel Tejada, who has declining range at shortstop.

Pitching: The San Francisco pitching staff not only led all of baseball in 2010 with a 3.36 ERA, but also in strikeouts with 1,331 – the only team to eclipse the 1,300 mark.  The rotation (Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner and Zito) is near the overall talent and execution level of the Philadelphia Phillies.  Closer Brian Wilson is injured and will leave an early season hole in the back end of the bullpen.

Fantasy Breakout Candidate: Madison Bumgarner – Last season, the 21-year old spent time in the minors, and then was eventually called up, where he posted 7 wins and a 3.00 ERA across 18 starts.  He’s been very solid at a young age, and with his talent and control on the mound, he could be a solid fantasy breakout candidate in 2011.

KP’s Take: The reigning World Champs will again face a challenge in the NL West.  Don’t expect the Giants to run away with the division.  The offense could improve from last year, with Posey around all season, and Brandon Belt potentially providing a boost, too.  The pitching is the strength, and if Brian Wilson can get healthy, San Francisco should be the favorite to take the division crown once again.

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Headlined by Tim Lincecum, the San Francisco pitching staff is one of the best in all of baseball

 

THE FINAL WORD

The NL West could see four teams in a tight race as the season winds down.  It looks like Arizona is likely to fall back in the pack, possibly around midseason.  The reigning World Champs from San Francisco have great pitching – and a staff that’s not too far behind the starting rotation in Philadelphia.  The Rockies have the bats, but the pitching staff could be what does them in.  The Dodgers have the McCourt situation that could strap them, and the Padres have a questionable offense playing in a pitchers park.  That leaves the Giants, who should avoid any post-title jinxes and take the division once again.

KP’s Division Winner: San Francisco Giants

KP’s Overall 2011 MLB Season and Playoff Predictions will be posted in the next few days…

Who Will Win The National League West Division in 2011?

  • San Francisco Giants (70%, 19 Votes)
  • Arizona Diamondbacks (11%, 3 Votes)
  • Colorado Rockies (11%, 3 Votes)
  • San Diego Padres (7%, 2 Votes)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 27

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