This is usually the part in any preview where the author will refer to a division as being the tightest, or the most talented, or the most underrated, or the most overrated, or what have you. I'm not sure the National League West is the most anything. Well, I'm sure it's the most something, but I don't know what that is. All I know is that it's pretty interesting, as every division is every season, and below I'll give you an overview so that you can familiarize yourself with the situation.
The team facing the longest odds looks to be the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are coming off a nightmare 2010. A repeat of the 97-loss campaign isn't in the cards, but there simply isn't division-winning talent on the roster, and I don't think even the most hardcore DBacks fan would argue otherwise. Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson are two strong young pitchers, but the rotation drops off in a hurry behind them, and the addition of J.J. Putz won't be enough to turn one of the worst bullpens ever into a strength. The team has given a job to Russell Branyan, which should help out the fans who really miss Mark Reynolds. So at least those fans will be happy.
And now we get into a big ol clump of teams. Even though they ultimately came up short, the San Diego Padres were baseball's biggest surprise a year ago, with only a late-season slump knocking them out of a playoff spot. Unfortunately, the Padres are a small-market operation, and their response to their surprise success was to trade away their best player. I think they did a decent job of replacing Adrian Gonzalez with a handful of small improvements, and their run prevention should again be outstanding, but between Ryan Ludwick being the lineup's best hitter and Mat Latos already battling some shoulder problems, I don't think they're in position to get over the top.
That brings us to the Los Angeles Dodgers. For obvious reasons, the Dodgers weren't very busy over the winter, returning much of the team that last year fell short of expectations. Even so, there's a fair bit to like, here, because the arms are deep in the rotation and strong in relief. It's an underrated starting five that should consistently keep the team close, which is important given the limitations of the lineup. Power? Not great. Defense? Not great. The Dodgers are probably going to hover around .500 for most, if not all of the season. Given what's going on up top, though, things could be worse.
Ahead of the Dodgers and Padres we find the Colorado Rockies, who seem to find themselves in an annual battle for more respect. On the one hand, the Rockies didn't have the most high-profile of offseasons, with their biggest move being the re-signing of Jorge de la Rosa. On the other hand, the Rockies didn't have many needs, as theirs is a talented roster led at short by Troy Tulowitzki. I really quite like their pitching staff, which is deep behind the one guy who ever gets any attention. I'm just not sold on their ability to score enough runs to win 55% of their games. Jose Lopez may turn out to be an excellent fit for Coors Field, but then Lopez is a guy for hope, not expectation.
And, at last, we've got the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are not a run-scoring juggernaut. Nobody should expect them to be, no matter how many pounds Pablo Sandoval lost to the sidewalk. But they didn't even score 700 times a season ago, and look where that got them. The Giants' strength is that they aren't going to allow runs, pretty much ever, and while the Phillies obviously have the super sexy rotation, the Giants may have the better overall staff, as their bullpen is fearsome in addition to the excellent starting five. An injury could bring this team back towards the pack, but on paper, right now, they appear well out in front. And God help the rest of the N.L. if Brandon Belt does in 2011 what Buster Posey did in 2010.
Projected National League West Standings
1. San Francisco Giants
5. Arizona Diamondbacks 73-89