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Columns > Brian Levenson -  Head Games

Published: 2011/04/03

National League West: Preview

The National League West is loaded with the best young pitching aces in all of baseball. The NL West is also home to the World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants. With that in mind, let’s take a look at this division set to the tune of the Grateful Dead’s “Loser.”

If I had a gun for every ace I’ve drawn
I could arm a town the size of Abeline

Any discussion of the best team in the National League West begins with the World Series champions, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants won the World Series, largely by assembling the best collection of dominant young aces in the game, lead by the “Freak,” Tim Lincecum and including Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. The Giants also have one of the best closers in the game in Brian Wilson. The Giants pitching staff remains the same this year, and their offense is improved. Look for the Giants to repeat as division winner.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also have a pretty great pitching staff, lead by lefty ace, Clayton Kershaw. Though not as dominating the San Francisco Giants’ staff, the Dodgers probably have a better lineup that includes great young hitters like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. The Dodgers also have a new manager, as Don Mattingly takes over for Joe Torre. If the Dodgers play up to their potential this season, they will be dangerous.

While the Colorado Rockies will have trouble matching the Giants and Dodgers, ace for ace, the Rockies unquestionably have the two best hitters in the National League West in shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, and outfielder, Carlos Gonzalez. Plus, the Rockies’ ace, Ubaldo Jiminez, can keep up with Lincecum and Kershaw on any given night. This Rockies team has a great foundation and should be a force in the NL West this season.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are a team in transition. The Diamondbacks have a tradition of aces in tandem, going back to Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling at the beginning of the century, and and Brandon Webb and Dan Haren in more recent years. In 2011, the Diamondbacks will lean on potential future aces like Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. The bullpen looks weak and the lineup will have some trouble scoring runs. It will take a monster season from the Diamondbacks’ best hitter, Justin Upton, and the emergence of Kennedy and Hudson to make this team competitive.

Finally, there is the San Diego Padres, a team that was able to remain competitive last summer with only one good hitter, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and then proceeded to trade him away to the Boston Red Sox. The Padres pitching staff has an ace in Matt Latos, and an awesome closer in Heath Bell. But this Padres team has no recognizable offensive star and is going to have a lot of trouble scoring runs this summer. The Padres pitching is enough to keep them competitive, but their light hitting will prevent them from winning.

And you know I’m only in it for the gold

It’s going to take incredible pitching to emerge as the winner of this division and with pitching that good, there is a great chance that the winner of the NL West will play in the World Series. This division probably belongs to the San Francisco Giants followed by the Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Padres.

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