The NL West is a very curious division at this point in time, as the Dodgers have become the consensus pick around baseball to win the division as not only the best team in the West, but in all of baseball. However, aside from the boys in blue, there is a good amount of parity amongst the rest of the teams in the West, as it appears the Giants, Diamondbacks, Padres, and Rockies could all have a shot at a potential Wild Card spot if the Dodgers do, in fact, win the division. While it appears that the Dodgers are the strongest team in the West, we have learned over the years that baseball is as unpredictable as any sport and anything can happen over the course of the long season (yes, even the Rockies could win the division.) That being said, we still think the Dodgers will come out on top, the hype around the Padres is being overblown, and Mark Trumbo could hit 98 home runs. With our 2014 NL West Preview, Connor and I team up to provide you with our very well educated, precisely calculated, highly-anticipated, best guess of how the division will unfold, complete with best- and worst-case scenarios for each team and the soon-to-be-famous Season Changer™. Los Angeles Dodgers (Predicted win-loss record: 94-68) Andrew: Best-case scenario: Well, you see, with a projected payroll of $235 million, the ceiling is pretty freakin’ high for this team. Their rotation is lights-out, led by yet another Cy Young season from Kershaw and backed by a sub-3.00 ERA from Greinke, 16 wins from Hyun-Jin Ryu, a revitalized form of Dan Haren, and solid contributions from a combination of Paul Maholm and Josh Beckett in the fifth spot in the rotation. The offense leads the league in runs, RBI, homers, average, OBP, and everything else, as Hanley Ramirez wins the MVP in a close race between himself, a consistent Yasiel Puig, and a healthy Matt Kemp. Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen lock down the 8th and 9th innings, each posting a sub-2.00 ERA and establishing the Dodgers bullpen as the best in the league. The Dodgers have the potential to produce the best lineup, starting pitching, and bullpen in the league with their star-studded roster, and although it won’t happen this way, their best-case scenario win total tops out at 100 games. Worst-case scenario: For a team with so much talent, there still remain some question marks going into the regular season. First off, Matt Kemp’s health is a big concern. He is still not fully recovered from ankle surgery last season and has been marred by injuries ever since his near-MVP season in 2011. Secondly, Yasiel Puig is Yasiel Puig and when Puig acts like Puig, well, Puig can either do great Puig-like things or very, very bad Puig-like things. Puig. You really never know with this kid, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he continued his tear from last season nor if he hit around .260 and was a detriment to the team as a whole. Third, the back end of the rotation is filled with uncertainty, as the Dodgers don’t know what to expect from the combination of Haren, Maholm, and Beckett. It seems obvious, but if these three falter, the Dodgers rotation all of a sudden isn’t so much of a strength. In a dystopian Dodgers-land this season, Matt Kemp battles injuryies all year and fails to produce, Yasiel Puig runs himself out of a few too many innings on the basepaths, and the back end of the rotation falls apart, leading to an 86 win season, a shocked fan base, and a very lonely Vin Scully in an empty Dodgers Stadium once October rolls around. Season Changer™: Although I’m tempted to choose Puig, any version of Matt Kemp that approaches his 2011-self would solidify this lineup more than anyone else. His value as a healthy five-tool player is through the roof, and if he can produce at an elite level in 2014, the combination of Hanley, A-Gon, and Kemp would be really scary. In all likelihood, neither the best- not worst- case scenarios will come to fruition, and the Dodgers will end up with a win total somewhere in between. Hanley Ramirez, in his contract season, and Clayton Kershaw, fresh off his shiny, new $215 million deal, will headline this stacked team as they cruise to a 94-win season, shaking off a few injuries and crazy stories from Puig-camp along the way. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan) San Francisco Giants (91-71) Andrew: Best-case scenario: Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Giants have reaped the benefits of great pitching in 2010 and 2012 with World Series titles in both of those seasons. However, their struggles in 2011 and 2013 can be directly attributed to subpar starting rotations. Last season was tough to watch, as San Francisco saw Tim Lincecum continuing to decline, Barry Zito being Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong starting to lose a little (a lot) of his magic from his dominant 2011 season, and even Matt Cain struggling for the first time in his career. At least they had Bumgarner. Anyways, the Giants have done a good job of putting together a solid lineup, but everyone knows that pitching wins championships. Best-case scenario unravels as such: Bumgarner continues to be a horse, Matt Cain rebounds with a 3.10 ERA, Tim Hudson proves to be ageless and remains a consistent force in the National League, Tim Lincecum posts a sub-4.00 ERA, and Ryan Vogelsong stays afloat as a replacement level fifth starter. As for the bullpen, Romo carries the load as a dependable closer and someone steps up to fill the eighth inning role to solidify a bullpen that was largely less than noteworthy in 2013. Worst-case scenario: Again, pitching, pitching, pitching. The biggest question marks with this team lie in the rotation and bullpen. Will Cain bounce back? Can Lincecum regain his dominant form? How will 38-year-old Tim Hudson respond to his ankle surgery last season? Is Vogelsong still a viable option for the fifth starter role? Will Romo tire under the workload of a full season as closer? The list goes on. God forbid Posey getting hurt again, but that would obviously be the biggest blow this otherwise solid offense could take. I’m shocked to be saying this given the offensive weakness of Giants teams in recent years, but the lineup is really the least of my concerns. The offensive production will be there this season even if a few players spend some time on the DL. The biggest issue that could happen rather easily is another poor season for the starting pitching collectively, which would lead to another disappointing season in the 75 to 80 win range. Season Changer™: Tim Hudson. This guy has been a stud in the National League for years. Although this signing was risky due to his severe ankle injury last season, it was completely merited given the mighty struggles of the 2013 San Francisco rotation. If Hudson can prove the doubters wrong and return to form behind Bumgarner and Cain, he could propel the Giants back to the playoffs and ease the pressure on Lincecum and Vogelsong. However, if Hudson struggles, I simply don’t see the Giants having much success in 2014. Assuming Lincecum doesn’t suddenly rediscover his Cy Young form and Vogelsong puts together a season with around a 4.50 ERA, a struggling Tim Hudson would bog the rotation down to a point past salvaging and would again lead to a boring October in San Francisco. Thus, Mr. Hudson, I dub you the official Season Changer™ of the San Francisco Giants. Geoff Livingston / Creative Commons Connor: Other random thoughts: Not to reiterate what Drew said too much, but it’s clear that much better seasons from Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain (not to mention everyone not-named Bumgarner) is imperative to the Giants’ success in 2014. To stray away from, “the Giants will win if Buster Posey gets a lot of hard hits,” lets start with the bullpen. Stemming from the less than stellar starting pitching in 2013, it caused the bullpen to have to throw 501.1 innings. That’s the most innings from Giants relievers since 2005. Bruce Bochy’s hand was often forced to misuse or overuse Jake Dunning, Mike Kickham, and Yusmeiro Petit for several innings at a time, often not working in the Giants’ favor. Last thing, the Giants on-base percentage from the leadoff spot last season was fifth-worst in the National League, so 2014 is going to be a very revealing season as to how the Angel Pagan contract will be looked back upon. Season Changer™: Pablo Sandoval – Contract year. Time to put up or shut up (about $90 million, that is.) Arizona Diamondbacks (86-76) Connor: Best-case scenario: The Diamondbacks were once highly regarded for their farm system that held highly touted prospects like Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Didi Gregorius. Bauer came to the big leagues, flopped, and was flipped for Gregorius. Skaggs was brought up at 20 years of age and posted an ERA above five, he was just flipped for Mark Trumbo. Now Arizona puts in faith in its latest “phenom,” 21-year-old righty Archie Bradley. Ideally for the Diamondbacks, Bradley takes center stage much like Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha did in his first season last year. Mark Trumbo can hit a lot of home runs as we all know, and one has to think that number can only go up playing in the Arizona now. Trumbo potentially can complement young slugger Paul Goldschmidt to create a lethal one-two punch in the lineup. New closer Addison Reed can continue to dominate and post 45+ saves for the snakes. AJ Pollock can continue to grow as a young outfielder, and Cody Ross can find his swing circa October 2010. I said this was the best-case scenario, remember? Much like the past few years, the Diamondbacks have a lot of potential. If their plethora of young players can surprise some people and produce now in 2014, and veterans Martin Prado and Aaron Hill produce like they have in their prime before, there’s no reason the DBacks can’t challenge for the crown in the NL West. Worst-case scenario: That p-word I dropped…potential. Well, to start, Bradley could flop in his first several starts and get shipped down to AAA. Projected number-one starter Patrick Corbin is already MIA for 2014 with Tommy John, and the rest of the rotation looks and projects to be less than stellar. Bronson Arroyo, Trevor Cahill (Go A’s), Brandon McCarthy (Go A’s) and Wade Miley really do seem like a contingency bound to go through collective ruts and implosions. Can an offense that scored the fifth-most runs in the National League last year protect a pitching staff that seems susceptible to season-long struggles? I suppose we’ll all find out together. Season Changer™: The bullpen entirely, and more importantly, new closer Addison Reed. The Diamondbacks and JJ Putz led the National League and tied for the Major League lead in blown saves, with 29. You want to win games? Don’t lose the ones you’re three outs away from winning. When the Diamondbacks posted a historically bad 5.74 bullpen ERA in 2010, general manager Kevin Towers sought out to revamp his bullpen, and just a season later they posted a respectable 3.71 mark and won the NL West. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) San Diego Padres (77-85) Andrew: Best-case scenario: This team is capable of finishing anywhere between second and fifth in the division this season depending on health and production from a few key players. On the offensive side, Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin will need to each hit at least 20 home runs to carry the offense, with 15-homer support from Will Venable and 40+ steals from Everth Cabrera at the top of the order. No easy task, but certainly within reach for those players. The bullpen is the biggest strength of this team, with the offseason acquisitions of Joaquin Benoit and Alex Torres serving as a solid bridge from starter to closer, Huston Street. However, the starting rotation is in question given the recent news that Josh Johnson will miss at least the first month of the season and the general mediocrity of the rest of the rotation. Staff “ace” Ian Kennedy has not been elite since he went 21-4 in 2011 with the Diamondbacks, so a solid season from him is no guarantee. However, if Kennedy is able to put up numbers approaching 2011 and Johnson can come back from injury quickly and produce, they could lead the Padres to an 86-win season. Worst-case scenario: Injuries are already starting to appear to be the Achilles heel of this squad. With Johnson out for the first month, he joins Cory Luebke (out for season with Tommy John surgery) and Joe Wieland (out until All-Star break with an elbow injury) on the list of injuries that will inevitably grow throughout the season. Unfortunately for the Padres, Headley and Quentin, arguably the two most important hitters in the lineup, have some injury history themselves and are far from locks to remain healthy all season. If the Padres suffer further injuries to their rotation and Headley and/or Quentin go down for an extended trip on the DL, San Diego will be quickly headed to the basement of the West, winning only 74 games. Season Changer™: Chase Headley easily has the highest ceiling of any player on this roster, boasting both the National League Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards in 2012. In order for the Padres to have any shot at finishing higher than third in the West, Headley needs to return to his All-Star form. San Diego’s pitching simply is not good enough to support an offensive situation in which Headley is not reaching his full potential. Any slim shot the Padres may have of making the postseason is riding on the bat of Chase Headley. Good luck, and you stay classy San Diego. Colorado Rockies (75-87) Connor: Best-case scenario: This team has the reigning NL batting champion along with Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez in the most offensive ballpark in the majors. Sign me up. They added former MVP first baseman Justin Morneau and picked up speedy outfielder Drew Stubbs. The Rockies lineup on paper looks robust and dynamic, potentially a top two or three offense in the National League. The next step for the 2014 squad is not finishing with the worst collective starting pitchers ERA in the league. For more on the Rockies rotational plans last year, I’ll turn it over to our Colorado SweetSpot friends at Rockies Zingers. Part of the plan for 2013 was to acquire Brett Anderson, specifically targeted as a pitcher who throws strikes and generates ground balls. Meanwhile, they hoped that the return of Jorge De La Rosa, the continued performance of Jhoulys Chacin and the development of Juan Nicasio could make the Rockies competitive with hot prospects Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray develop. Worst-case scenario: Worst-case scenario is exactly what has happened the past few years with Colorado. Tulowitski and Gonzalez can’t stay healthy, and the pitching still proves incapable. The Rockies haven’t been factors in the playoff hunt since they forgot how to pitch, and it’s hard not to imagine the same events transpiring this year. The forecast for the Rockies really isn’t all that dismal as Richard Bergstrom mentioned in the excerpt above, but 2014 might be a little early for even the optimists to think that this is the year the Rockies will turn it around. Season Changer™: Drew Stubbs – The Rockies mistakenly sent center fielder Dexter Fowler packing to Houston in a trade this offseason, and Stubbs looks to be the only man who can fill the hole Fowler left, in terms of similarity in playing styles. Stubbs is notoriously a strikeout machine, but if he can maintain a decent on-base percentage and expose the wide open spaces of Coors Field as a hitter, there’s a lot of potential there.