NL West Preview

The Los Angeles Dodgers are favorites to repeat at NL West champions, but not by much. Heading into the new season the NL West looks to be the most competitive division in the NL. The Dodgers have won back-to-back division titles and they’re favored to make it three in a row this season at +200. It won’t be easy, though. The Dodgers’ pitching rotation isn’t even set yet going into the season, which isn’t good news. Atop the staff young guns Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw lead the way and should give the Dodgers two top-notch starters for years to come. After that it’s a big question mark with Vicente Padilla and Hiroki Kuroda. The Dodgers’ lineup isn’t the scariest in the league, but the outfield should drive in plenty of runs with Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier all capable of hitting 30-plus home runs. Los Angeles’ offensive capabilities may rely more on the health and production of Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin, and James Loney.

The Colorado Rockies finished only three games behind the Dodgers last season, but still snagged the Wild Card. With a rotation stocked with reliable arms and an up-and-coming ace in Ubaldo Jimenez the Rockies could overtake the Dodgers this season. That could be dependant upon how well Jeff Francis returns from shoulder surgery, and if Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel can build on last year’s success. Troy Tulowitzki carries the most dangerous bat for Colorado, which uncharacteristically lacks a lot of power to do damage at Coors Field. Ian Stewart, Brad Hawpe, and Clint Barmes had solid seasons in 2009 and need to keep it up or the Rockies could have trouble scoring a lot of runs.

Also expected to challenge the Dodgers for top spot in the division this season are the Giants. San Francisco has the best rotation in the division, led by two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. He’s followed by 14-game winner Matt Cain, Barry Zito, and rising star Jonathan Sanchez. If the Giants have a clear weakness it’s scoring runs. Last season Pablo Sandoval led the Giants in home runs with 25 and RBI with 90. Only one other player, Bengie Molina, hit 20 homers and drove in more than 60 runs. That’s not going to cut it even with four reliable starters in the rotation. San Francisco is hoping the acquisitions of Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff will add a little more pop to the lineup.

The dark horse in the West this season is Arizona. They could be a contender if Brandon Webb returns to form and their young hitters start to mature. Webb and Dan Haren would be a solid duo at the top of the rotation, but Webb is expected to start the season on the DL while recovering from shoulder surgery. Mark Reynolds had a breakout season last year with 44 home runs and the D-Backs will need another big year from him and breakouts from Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Stephen Drew for starters if they’re going to contend in the West. NL West futures: L.A. Dodgers +200 Colorado +220 San Francisco +220 Arizona +450 San Diego +4000

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