The weather is getting warmer. The days are getting longer. Spring training is in full swing, and you can almost smell the freshly cut grass, hot dogs and peanuts of your local ballpark. The Rangers and Astros will kick off the season in just a few short weeks, and it is now time for a round of useless division predictions so we can all start getting our mind out of basketball mode and into its baseball preset. If you saw the Orioles finishing in second place in the notorious American League East or the Oakland A’s winning the AL west, then these projections aren’t useless. As it stands, we never know what twists and turns will take place over the course of 162, but we’re going to try to look into the future and see where things will stand come October.
National League West:
San Diego Padres, 5th place
With a supremely mediocre lineup to accompany its supremely mediocre starting rotation, the San Diego Padres figure to be the NL West bottom dwellers for a few more years. Edinson Volquez will lead the tip of the spear on the mound in 2013, following a sub par 2012 that saw him finish with a 4.14 ERA. Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin will lead the offensive charge, which again underlines how mediocre this team is. On the bright side for Ron Burgundy’s bunch, they still play in the most beautiful ballpark in the big leagues.
Colorado Rockies, 4th place
While the Rockies have had a decently solid nucleus in place for the last few seasons, the results have yet to translate to the win column. They finished a whopping 30 games behind the Giants in 2012, but could be poised to have a more competitive 2013. Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton are as formidable in the middle of the lineup and nearly anyone, but it is the starting rotation that leaves more to be desired. Juan Nicasio has been the walking definition of bad luck to start his major league career, breaking his neck in 2011and having a bum knee in 2012. If the rotation can manage to not get knocked around in the altitude, the Rox should improve on their 64 wins of a year ago.
Arizona Diamondbacks, 3rd place
After a winter of wheeling and dealing, and ultimately trading their all-star left fielder Justin Upton to Atlanta, the Diamondbacks could have a bit of a hill to climb. The lineup could have its issues through the course of the summer in the dessert, but the starting rotation appears to be a strength heading into 2012. Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill are both looking to build on strong campaigns a year ago, and new addition Brandon McCarthy should also give a boost. Highly touted prospect left-hander Tyler Skaggs could be the wild card for the Diamondbacks, and if the rotation can stay healthy, they may be a dark horse candidate akin to the A’s of a season ago. Of course, they could disintegrate and lead to a miserable year, but the D’backs have a few things going for them.
San Francisco Giants, 2nd place
Feels wrong picking the defending World Series Champions to finish second place in their own division, but you’ll see why in about 90 more words. The whole gang is back to try to win their third title in four years, a mixture that obviously seems to yield positive results. Buster Posey is the returning NL MVP, and the starting rotation is just as nasty led by Matt Cain. If Tim Lincecum can return to his old form, the Giants may not care about all the money being spent by their division rivals in So. Cal.
Los Angeles Dodgers, 1st place
So, that happened. After a Magic Johnson led group bought the team last spring for over a billion dollars, they immediately began throwing money around like it was as useless as the paper it was printed on. They acquired Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford over the summer, and then backed the brinks truck up to Zach Grienke’s doorstep to lure him to LA. Over 260 million dollars in added payroll later, the Los Angeles Dodgers have taken the torch from the Yankees as the big spenders of the league, and with a whole spring to let the acquired talent gel, they look as dangerous as anyone. Don’t forget former Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw at the top of the rotation to go along with Greinke either. These guys better hope the ‘making it rain’ approach works or they’ll be a national laughing stock.
For the first time in their professional careers, the Upton brothers will unite on the same team. On Thursday, it was announced that the Arizona Diamondbacks had agreed to trade Justin Upton to Atlanta, where he and his brother BJ, whom Atlanta just signed in November, will roam the outfield of Turner Field.
Going to Atlanta along with Upton is third baseman Chris Johnson. The Braves were forced to part with a large package of players in order to match the hefty price tag for Upton. Heading to the desert to be future Diamondbacks are pitcher Randall Delgado, utility man Martin Prado, and minor league players Nick Ahmed, Zeke Spruill, and Brandon Drury.
Upton, drafted number one overall in the 2005 draft, had enjoyed a sizeable run of success with the Diamondbacks. In 2011, he finished fourth in NL MVP voting while leading the Diamondbacks to a National League West title.
All the goodwill began to unravel in the winter after his breakout season due to constant trade rumors surrounding the star, and a subpar 2012 campaign that saw him hit .280 with only 17 homeruns. Upton’s name had been attached to different trade rumors since the hot stove began to warm in November, and now the Diamondbacks and Upton can finally part ways.
The last time the Braves pulled off a seven player deal, it was the Mark Teixera trade of 2007 that saw them deal future all stars Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, and Matt Harrison to the Texas Rangers. Hopefully for the Braves, they won’t find out down the road the cost of reuniting the Upton brothers was just as expensive.
Decisions are starting to be made, pitchers are being stretched out for more than 30 pitches an appearance, and lineups are starting to get closer to resembling major league lineups rather than a mixture of hopeful minor league prospects. As the season draws closer, we’re going to give you a preseason set of power rankings to get you up to speed for Opening Day.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks: The team that won the division in 2011 finds themselves right back at the top of the list to start 2012. After breakout years on the mound for both Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, the Diamondbacks were not content. They sought after and acquired former A’s pitcher Trevor Cahill to add to the top of the rotation, building what appears to be a very formidable stable of starters. Justin Upton will look to build on his all-star season, and the Diamondbacks are the early favorites out of the west.
2. San Francisco Giants: After winning it all in 2010, the Giants failed to make the postseason last fall. A season ending injury to Buster Posey derailed the Giants in late May, and they were never able to right the ship. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner are the tip of the spear for the Giants and should keep them relevant late in the season. Add a healthy Buster Posey and they may have enough to push the themselves passed the Diamondbacks in the end.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers: The kings of Chavez Ravine were sold last week for 2 billion dollars, but being wildly expensive does not translate to wins. Matt Kemp, who nearly hit for the Triple Crown last year, along with Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw will lead the way for the Dodgers, but Magic Johnson and his group are going to need some time to pump new life and money into the franchise before they are back to competing for titles.
4. Colorado Rockies: The Rockies conceded a few years on the competition level last summer with the haul they made out with in the Ubaldo Jiminez trade. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales will still be all stars, and the mile high crew could stick around for a few months before fading into the finish line.
5. San Diego Padres: You could say the Padres conceded a few competitive years with their recent set of transactions, but you have to be competitive before you concede it for the future. They traded set-up guy Mike Adams to the Rangers before the trade deadline last summer, top of the rotation starter Mat Latos to Cincinnati over the winter, and recouped a compensatory first round pick for letting closer Heath Bell walk in free agency. The Padres have some young talent coming through the pipeline, but this will not be the year to see it all come to fruition.
A fly ball hit by Pittsburgh Pirates Jose Tabata bounces off the right field wall past Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton (10) during the eighth inning of a baseball game at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
If this comes as a struggle, fear not. The team’s rotation is a rather unknown bunch to the casual baseball fan. The five starting pitchers share a combined 130 career wins, a relatively low number for a team sitting in second place in the NL West. Joe Saunders and Texas native Zach Duke own the bulk of those wins, and even though they have yet to turn 30, they have provided the team with veteran leadership.
One name on the pitching staff that should ring a bell is J.J. Putz. Best known for his time as a Seattle Mariner, Putz has provided Arizona with a reliable closer, something they have been missing since Jose Valverde’s departure in 2007.
With an average age around 28, the Diamondbacks are one of the younger teams around, and that youth has played a major role in the team’s early success this season.
The D-Backs’ high-powered offense is as hot as the Arizona sun, and shortstop Stephen Drew has led the way thus far. Stephen, shortstop and younger brother of long-time major leaguer J.D. Drew, leads Arizona in many statistical categories such as batting average, RBIs and on-base percentage. The younger Drew has been with Arizona since he was drafted No. 15 overall by the team in 2004.
Another young player that has seen his role become more clearly defined is right-fielder Justin Upton, who also has an older brother in the bigs — Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton. Justin has a team-leading 62 hits, great speed and surprising power. Selected by the Diamondbacks with the top pick in the 2005 Draft, the team has invested a lot of time into Upton’s development, and that’s beginning to pay off. Only 23 years old, Upton will only continue to grow with the organization.
With a 33-29 record, the Diamondbacks should challenge the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants in a division that has a reputation for being one of the weakest in all of baseball. Picked by many analysts to finish dead-last in the NL West, they have proved many wrong in the early stage of the season. With the help of an unheralded but talented pitching rotation and a group of surging stars, the Diamondbacks are a legitimate dark horse to make a push for their second World Series trophy.