1. San Diego Padres – The San Diego Padres winning the NL Western Division is a little like saying a driver wins a race by having all of the other cars parked outside the stadium. The amount of talent on this team should make last season a disappointment but the playoff birth was enough to placate fans for another season (at least until they remember the drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals). Ace Jake Peavy is recovering from a shoulder injury caused by an end of season celebration. His health will be a question all season, but he should still be good for 12-14 wins. The rest of the staff is questionable, with an underachieving Chan Ho Park, an aging Woody Williams, and an inexperienced Chris Young following Peavy. Whether they continue their mediocrity in 2006 will depend on how much the pitching staff keeps pressure off the batting order. Petco Field is a bit cavernous but with guys like Khalil Greene, Mike Cameron, and Brian Giles need to hit gap balls instead of powering it out of the park. They still need consistent performances in this line up but the rest of theï¿½NL Westï¿½is not good enough to beat out an underachieving San Diego Padres lineup.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers – The Losï¿½Angelesï¿½Dodgers have been an annual disappointment, in their failure to reach their players’ potential and their inability to understand that having a huge payroll is not always the key. Their attempts at becoming the West Coast New York Yankees has failed and they are starting to look at this as a sport, not a business. The addition of Grady Little, the former Boston Red Sox manager who has been out for too long, as manager should provide some stability in the dug out. Free agent additions Brett Tomko, Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, and Kenny Lofton should provide some help if they can get over their respective roadblocks. J.D. Drew needs to stay healthy and fulfill even the slimmest portion of his potential in order to stay in the lineup. The pitching staff should be fairly solid, with Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, and Odalis Perez topping a solid rotation. Eric Gagne’s return from serious surgery that ended his 2005 season is welcome and they hope he can return to his shutdown form of the last couple of years. The Los Angeles Dodgers will push the San Diego Padres for the top spot, if only because the San Diegoï¿½Padres will be pushing down towards the second spot.
3. San Francisco Giants – The questions swirling around Barry Bonds, what he has done outside the lines, and what he can do on the field will be answered soon enough. But it is difficult to see his performance getting any better than his record setting performances in the past and it is probable that he will show his age beginning this season. The San Franciscoï¿½Giants need to start looking at the rest of their team for a post-Barry life. The pitching staff is fairly solid, with Jason Schmidt anchoring a young staff, at least until the San Francisco Giants are out of the NL Westï¿½race and he gets dealt away to a contender. Noah Lowry and Matt Cain are the future for the San Francisco Giants and should slowly climb the rotation over the next two seasons. The offensive lineup for this team has too many holes to be consistent over an entire season. Lance Niekro swings too often to be an effective hitter. Omar Vizquel, Bonds, and Ray Durham are showing signs of their age. The hope is that Randy Winn and Pedro Feliz can spur this offense to enough runs to keep pressure off of the young pitching staff.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks – The Arizona Diamondbacks should improve over their poor performance last season, with the addition of Eric Byrnes, Orlando Hernandez, and Orlando Hudson and the only major losses being Troy Glaus and Javier Vazquez. Glaus’ power and Vazquez’ potential may be missed, but they were able to get a good collection of role players in the process. Ace pitcher Brandon Webb will improve to an elite status beginning this season, as he is able to get some more run support and an improved pitching staff behind him, including Hernandez. Jose Valverde will improve as closer and they should close down many of their close late inning affairs. The batting order’s strength is in its experience. Shawn Green, Orlando Hudson, Luis Gonzalez, and Craig Counsell all provide great leadership to the younger players on this team and will usher the Arizona Diamondbacks towards better campaigns within the next few year. But even within this weak NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks don’t have enough power to get out of the bottom of the division.
5. Colorado Rockies – The Coloradoï¿½Rockies’ problems continue to be the same ones they have had throughout their relatively short life span: an abundance of power, but a lack of clutch hitting and a pitching rotation that can’t keep the team in games beyond the seventh inning stretch. If Clint Barmes can keep from hurting himself again and if Matt Holiday develops like he should, they will provide the support that veterans like Todd Helton need in order to keep the runs coming. But the pitching rotation remains the biggest question. Closer Brian Fuentes had a good season in 2005 and will close down games in the ninth inning, if he is given the chance. The starting rotation has a lot of holes in it, with ace Jason Jennings more of a middle to end of rotation pitcher. Byung-Hyun Kim will get hung out to dry this season because of his poor clutch ability. The Coloradoï¿½Rockies will only become successful if the air thickens in Colorado or they move elsewhere, but will not be competitive unless they get five solid pitchers and eight solid bats.ï¿½
Division Winner: San Diego Padres