Win Total Bets - NL West
March 25, 2014
By Bruce Marshall
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The Los Angeles Dodgers (92 1/2) have been throwing around more money than Mark Cuban and Kevin O'Leary on Shark Tank since the Guggenheim Partners scared away even middle-east oil barons with their overbid for the franchise two years ago. Money is thus no object in the Blue ever losing a key player in the foreseeable future. There are still some trip wires laid at the big league-level, however, mostly related to mercurial RF Yasiel Puig, who did light the fuse that would eventually trigger a stunning 42-8 summer hot streak (the best such MLB 50-game stretch in over 60 years) that allowed the Blue to run away with last year's NL West, but whose antics on and off the field are said to be wearing very thin in the clubhouse, especially with manager Don Mattingly. Fortuitously for the Dodgers, however, a potential logjam in the OF (and inevitable bruised feelings for whomever is out of the lineup) have been alleviated by Matt Kemp's ongoing injury concerns, meaning Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Puig should continue to get their at bats. Though too much attention is being paid to the undisciplined Puig (who reported overweight to spring training in Glendale and whose 2013 numbers in a half-season did not really translate to anything spectacular over a full year), not enough might be paid to the under-the-radar re-sign of 3B Juan Uribe, who delivered many key hits last season, or the league's dominant pitching staff, led by the modern-day Sandy Koufax, Clayton Kershaw, and the rejuvenated Zack Greinke. So effective was the pitching last summer that the Blue were able to survive an offensive downturn and win many 2-1 and 3-2 decisions during the July and August surge. Moreover, the Dodgers now seem to intimidate the rest of the West, a scary thought for the Giants, D-backs and the rest, with 24 of L.A.'s first 26 games within the division (and already a 2-0 start after the sweep of Australian pair of games vs. Arizona). By Cinco de Mayo, the Dodgers should be in firm control of the West, and unless injuries hit the pitching staff hard, the Vin Scullys might have the division clinched by Labor Day. Pull up a chair, and watch the Blue threaten 100 wins and an "over" at Chavez Ravine.
With the Dodgers intimidating all others and possibly trampling the division, the rest of the West is a bit hard to project. But if we're going to go out on a limb with any of the other entries, perhaps it will be the San Diego Padres (78 1/2), who have seemed to make enough upgrades to suggest they can improve several games from last year's 74-88 and maybe even emerge as a stealth wild-card contender. The reason is pitching and the expansive Petco Park dimensions that help make young lefty Andrew Cashner a potential All-Star and could greatly contribute to a couple of one-time aces at other locales, Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson, rediscovering their old form. Johnson, along with reliever Joaquin Benoit (a nice potential bridge to closer Huston Street) and OF Seth Smith, could be very useful off-season roster additions by GM Josh Byrnes, although there will be speculation that Byrnes will be tempted to move 3B Chase Headley and his expiring contract before the trade deadline, where San Diego has been a notorious "seller" in recent years. By June, however, the Padres should get CF Cameron Maybin back from his biceps tendon injury, and SS Everth Cabrera is in the fold from the outset after his 50-game Biogenesis scandal-related suspension last season. Byrnes also might have some added flexibility by summertime if prospects such as OF Rymer Liriano and RHP Matt Wisler make the jump from the minors. But the bottom line is that pitching and defense give San Diego a legit chance to make a move up the NL West table. So, we'll enjoy another year of the ageless Dick Enberg describing the action on Padres TV in what could be a breakthrough "over" summer at Petco Park.
While the Padres threaten to make a move with their pitching, the Colorado Rockies (76 1/2) will try to base their resurgence around hitting. Which might have a better chance of triggering a playoff push if skipper Walt Weiss had a bit more to rely upon with his staff. Which, unfortunately, he doesn't, as the only upgrades of note for a staff whose 2013 ERA among the starters was 4.57 (almost 11/2 runs worse than the Dodgers) was ex-A's lefty Brett Anderson, who has battled injury problems in recent years, plus journeyman LaTroy Hawkins, who inherits closer duties. Complicating matters further is the shoulder strain suffered at Talking Stick this spring by co-ace (such as they are labeled for the Rocks) Jhoulys Chacin, who likely opens the season on the DL. True, Colorado can outscore foes if SS Troy Tulowitzki can stay healthy, and if offseason additions 1B Justin Morneau (teamed again with an old pal from Twins days, RF Michael Cuddyer) and LF Drew Stubbs (acquired in trade from the Reds) can rehabilitate their careers at Coors Field, a proper place for hitters to get well. But without an upgrade from the staff, it's hard to see Colorado doing any better than last year's 74-88. It's an "under" for us in Denver.
A chic pick to re-emerge as a serious contender this season has been the San Francisco Giants (86 1/2) , who bounced back from the post-championship doldrums in 2011 to win the World Series again in 2012. A repeat scenario after last year's collapse to 76-86 might is a bit harder to project, however, because skipper Bruce Bochy will have far fewer cards to play if starters Tim Lincecum (re-signed after two very subpar seasons, with a 20-29 record and 4.76 in 2012-13, a far cry from his former Cy Young-winning form) and Ryan Vogelsong (who missed more than two months with a broken thumb last summer as his wins dropped form 14 to 4 and his ERA skyrocketed to 5.73 ERA), counted upon in the middle of the rotation, can't deliver. Bochy is also hoping that aging FA signee Tim Hudson (who long ago starred across San Francisco Bay with the A's) bounces back from his injury concerns of 2013. The offense could also use healthy years from 3B Pablo Sandoval (who is hopefully motivated to control his weight problems by his contract year), 2B Marco Scutaro, and a return to All-Star form of C Buster Posey, as well as a healthy Michael Morse, ex of the Nats and Mariners who could add some much-needed pop in LF if beyond his own injury woes that limited him to 88 games with Seattle last season. Given past successes from the core of the roster, and with Matt Cain (reportedly beyond some personal problems) and Madison Bumgarner two potential dominators at the top of the rotation, we cannot summarily dismiss the Giants. We're simply not convinced, so it's a no-call for us at AT&T Park as we enjoy another season of Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow entertaining us on Giants TV, and Jon Miller and Dave Fleming doing the same on KNBR 680 AM, whose blowtorch signal can be heard throughout the West.
We're assuming the Arizona Diamondbacks (80 1/2) are second-guessing themselves like crazy for insisting upon the opening two-game series in Australia and sacrificing two home games with the Dodgers in the process. After losing both games down under last weekend, it made for a long flight back to Sky Harbor Airport. We're simply not sure what is going on in Phoenix after we were expecting a bounce-back to the 2011 playoff form a year ago when the D-backs could do no better than .500, and skipper Kirk Gibson, in a monument to instability, used a staggering 138 different lineup combinations. There might be more structure to the batting order this season now that LF Mark Trumbo (34 homers in 2013) has been added from the Angels to likely bat clean-up and provide some protection for All-Star 1B Paul Goldschmidt, who should be a fixture at the three spot. Maybe. "You guys fill in the rest," Gibby has suggested to the assembled media in March at Talking Stick regarding the rest of the lineup, hardly reassuring Phoenix-area fans that things are going to be much different in 2014. GM Kevin Towers did more than add Trumbo in the offseason, inking Bronson Arroyo as a late signee to bolster the starting pitching rotation. And ex-White Sox closer Addison Reed was a trade addition who should assume the same role at Chase Field. We still think there is plenty of upside with the D-backs (especially if C Miguel Montero bounces back after an injury-hampered 2013), but we're not sure, so we instead take a pass in Phoenix.
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