Home to the reigning World Series champions, the NL West ended up being a two-horse race in 2010, with the Padres just missing out at the last. The Giants’ subsequent postseason success should be a great incentive to their division rivals, both in terms of showing what is possible and in making the rest just that little more determined to knock the Giants back down.
2010 standings (Team, win-loss record)
1. San Francisco Giants. 92-70 * World Series champions
2. San Diego Padres. 90-72
3. Colorado Rockies. 83-79
4. Los Angeles Dodgers. 80-82
5. Arizona Diamondbacks. 65-97
The 2010/11 Offseason
The Giants inched past the Padres to set them on course to a World Series championship in 2010 and they look well-placed to get back to the postseason again in 2011. They haven’t done a great deal over the offseason; their main efforts have involved keeping hitters Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross. However, their challengers have not taken significant strides forward to chase the Giants down.
In the Padres’ case, they’ve gone the other way by losing their best player. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez was traded to the Boston Red Sox for a host of prospects, which should be good news for the future but is liable to see the Padres drop back a bit in 2011. The Rockies invested heavily in signing young stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to multi-year contracts and brought back free-agent starting pitcher Jorge de la Rosa. These are all good moves that will help to keep the team in contention for the foreseeable future, but they don’t obviously make the 2011 Rockies a tougher proposition compared to the 2010 team.
The Dodgers are still in limbo as a result of their owners’ bitter divorce proceedings and they had a quiet offseason as a result, although they retain enough talented players to potentially get into the division race if things fall right. In contrast, the D-Backs continued down the rebuilding road by trading third baseman Mark Reynolds to the Baltimore Orioles and allowing Adam LaRoche and one-time ace Brandon Webb to depart as free agents.
Without wishing to downplay their batting heroes, San Francisco’s World Series triumph lived up to the age-old theory that quality pitching often proves to be the difference-maker. The Giants’ staff will once again catch the eye, led by two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and the extrovert closer Brian Wilson. Catcher Buster Posey may be coming off his rookie year, but he already looks the type of talent who can lead a team, while the ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Pablo Sandoval has lost some weight over the offseason and will look to bounce back from what was personally a disappointing year in 2010.
The Rockies’ hopes, both now and in the future, revolve around their three young stars: starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, shortstop Troy Tulowizki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. The exciting young pitching talent in the NL West continues with the Padres’ Mat Latos, who was outstanding in his first full season last year. Heath Bell is one of the best closers in the business and he plays an important role as a veteran of the Padres’ pitching staff, something that new recruits Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson will look to do on the postition-player side too.
In Los Angeles, their crop of young talent has reached the stage where they now need to turn promise and potential into a playoff run. James Loney, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp all need to produce in 2011, with Kemp in particular coming off what was for him a below-par year. Clayton Kershaw has established himself as one of the best young starters around alongside Chad Billingsley, while closer Jonathan Broxton needs to restore his confidence (and the Dodgers’ confidence in him) after a nervy second half to 2010. Hard-throwing reliever Kenley Jansen is one to keep an eye on from a European perspective. He was the Netherlands’ catcher in the 2009 World Baseball Classic before the Dodgers turned his rocket-arm over to pitching, to stunning immediate effect.
As for the Diamondbacks, they are hoping that Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson can build on their promising 2010 seasons in the rotation. The team was let down badly by a historically terrible bullpen and closer J.J. Putz has been recruited as part of the process of building a group of relievers that provide relief rather than panic and misery. Right-fielder Justin Upton has all of the tools to be a star and this might just be the year he takes a big step forward, while centre-fielder Chris Young and second baseman Kelly Johnson will provide plenty of power in the lineup
Kurt Gibson took over in Arizona on an interim basis midway through the 2010 season and he is now in charge on a full-time basis. In L.A., Don Mattingly steps out from Joe Torre’s shadow following the latter’s retirement. Bruce Bochy (Giants), Jim Tracy (Rockies) and Bud Black (Padres) all return for another season.
Should be: Giants, Rockies
Could be: Padres, Dodgers,
Won’t be: D-Backs
The Giants will be at the front of the battle. From there it’s a case of whether the Rockies can make up ground from 2010 and if the Padres can cover for the loss of Gonzalez.