The Milwaukee Brewers had once hoped that Mitch Haniger would join Ryan Braun in their outfield to form a dynamic power-hitting duo. A slow start to his career, a few injury setbacks, and a new team have seen Haniger’s career take a different path. He finally seems to be putting it all together this year with the Reno Aces.
One of two things will be said in September in the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The first may be, “Dave Stewart is a genius.” The other may be, “What a moron.”
Stewart had a very busy offseason, and his moves were questioned by many. That being said, the Diamondbacks’ GM clearly went for a win-now mentality, trading away two big pieces of their future to create some stability in the current pitching rotation.
Did he do enough to make them contenders?
Spring Training rolls on. So does the tour of The Wayniac’s NL Predictions. In case you haven’t been following along you can check out the NL East picks and NL Central projections at your leisure but for the time being I demand your full attention on the NL West. The winner will round out the playoffs with the fifth and final spot.
THE NL WEST 2014 PREDICTIONS:
5. The Colorado Rockies
Unlike Coors Original, the Colorado Rockies offense has never had a problem with its strength. Heading into 2014, the Rockies’ main problem is not their offense but the same two issues they struggle with every season: injuries and pitching. Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez are lethal in the middle of the line-up. They could carry this team very far… if they stayed on the field. Last season, the Rockies didn’t have one and of their offensive threats play over 130 games. This season, the Rockies begin their first season since 1998 without Peyton Manning’s former back-up, Todd Helton. Justin Morneau was brought in to replace him. He is a nice addition, but is also injury-prone.
The pitching staff from top to bottom is pretty weak. When Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are battling to be the ace of your rotation, you are in for a long season. They brought in Brett Anderson from Oakland. Anderson has always had sick stuff but he is, of course, an injury risk. Tyler Chatwood showed a lot of promise last season, but he needs to get his control issues under, well… control! The bullpen is anchored by 41-year old LaTroy Hawkins, who has pitched 1374.1 innings over his 19-year career and has amassed a meager 101 saves. Now he is be asked to be the closer. Rex Brothers filled in admirably last season as the teams’ closer; however, he has always been plagued by control issues with a career 1.37 WHIP. Perhaps the Rockies feel more comfortable with Hawkins’ experience, but I wouldn’t rule out seeing Brothers as the team’s closer by season’s end.
This team could hover around .500 if they stay healthy. Based on history, that is a big IF.
Projected 2014 finish: 78-84. For ticket information check out Ticket Monster.
4. The San Diego Padres
(Covers.com has the O/U at 76.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 81-81)
The team is named after a holy person, their mascot is a chicken, and I am told that the name of the city translates to whale’s vagina. None of that makes much sense to me, but as the saying goes, when in Rome.
Believe it or not, despite not having many big names, this team isn’t half bad. Their offense has a bunch of nice players, but none are close to superstars. Heck, I don’t even think one classifies as an All-Star. But together they work and could push this team around .500. Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko are the future of this team. It’s time for them to stop teasing us and become the big time players the Padres need so the team can be relevant for the first time since Tony Gwynn retired.
Andrew Cashner should emerge as the ace of this staff as he set career bests in ERA and WHIP in his first full season in the bigs. Ian Kennedy will never be the 21-4 pitcher he was in 2011, having won 22 games in the 2 seasons since then, but he is still a good pitcher. The real X-factor will be Josh Johnson. He is one of the most frustrating pitchers in baseball with all the talent in the world but rarely stays healthy. If he can, they form a pretty strong 1-2-3.
If they can get to the bullpen, Huston Street and newly acquired Joaquin Benoit are very solid. Benoit came on strong last season when the Tigers needed him to be a closer for the first time in his career at the ripe age of 35. Sliding back into his set-up role for Street gives the Padres extra insurance should they need him. The Padres are kings of one-run ballgames so the deeper the bull pen, the better. Stay classy, San Diego.
Projected 2014 finish: 80-82. For ticket information click here.
3. The San Francisco Giants
(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77)
I never think these guys are going to be any good, but the Giants are legit contenders as long as Buster Posey is around. He isn’t the best in the league. Hell, he isn’t even the best player in the division, but there are very few players more valuable to his team than Posey. He bats in the clean-up spot and handles one of the better pitching staffs in the league.
The rest of the offense is a question mark. The biggest question every spring is always how fat can Kung Fu Panda actually get? Talk about a guy wasting his talent on French Fries. Pablo Sandoval can hit but his conditioning has derailed his career as his peripheral stats are already in a decline at 27. Brandon Belt has been a “sleeper” breakout candidate since he came into the league. He has gotten increasingly better each year so don’t be surprised to once again hear how this will be his “breakout campaign”. Hunter Pence is pretty reliable and really is the only protection that Posey has in the line-up.
No matter if the offense struggles, the pitching staff is strong enough to keep the Giants in contention. Tim Lincecum is the X-factor for these guys. It doesn’t make sense how he has fallen off from the best pitcher in the league to a guy battling to be in the rotation. I think he has a nice bounce back but I don’t think we will ever see The Freak again. Tim Hudson is the veteran leadership the front end of the rotation needs. Huddy can still pitch even if his best days are behind him. Madison Bumgarner (that name is funny, I don’t even need a joke) and Matt Cain are both the aces of the staff and I would trust either in Game 7 of a playoff series. Ryan Vogelsong is playing on borrowed time at 36 but there really isn’t anyone to take his job yet.
Sergio Romo leads a strong bullpen and should have no problem repeating as closer after a strong debut replacing Brian Wilson. Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla will make closing out close games seem easy.
Projected 2014 finish: 83-79. For ticket information click here.
2. The Arizona Diamondbacks
(Covers.com has the O/U at 81 while FanGraphs has them at 83-79)
I hate the Diamondbacks. Not only did they win that 2001 World Series from my beloved Yankees, but on one pitch, on one bloop single by Luis Gonzalez, the D-Backs ended the Yankee dynasty. That being said, I think they have a good squad this year. If the Pirates fall back into their losing ways, then the Diamondbacks could steal the last Wild Card slot.
The offense is led by one of the best all-around players in baseball. Paul Goldschmidt’s stat line last season was sick: .302 batting average with 36 HRs, 125 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 15 SBs, all while getting on base at a .401 clip. He will be a Triple Crown threat soon enough as his batting average has jumped tremendously in each of his first three seasons. Bringing in Mark Trumbo from the Angels surrounds Goldschmidt with a solid 2 through 6 in the line-up. DiDi Gregorius has been a highly touted prospect for a few years and showed a glimpse of what he is capable of last season. If he can put it together this year, then the D-Backs will have a very potent line-up from the leadoff spot right up to the pitcher.
The pitching staff isn’t full of Cy Young contenders but they have 6 solid starters. Newly signed Bronson Arroyo brings some much needed veteran leadership to this young staff. Patrick Corbin stepped up and became the ace of this staff last season. Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy need to return to their old form. If not, Randall Delgado is waiting in the wings. I watched this guy as a youngster in Atlanta. He has the stuff to be in this rotation — most likely for McCarthy — by mid-season.
The bullpen is deep as well. They acquired Addison Reed from the White Sox and now have three go-to options with closing experience at the back end of the bullpen. J.J. Putz (yet another fantastic name) and Brad Ziegler will lock down plenty of wins for the upstart Diamondbacks.
Projected 2014 finish: 88-74. For ticket information click here.
1. The Los Angeles Dodgers
(Covers.com has the O/U at 92.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing at 91-71)
Well, folks, for just $224 million, you too can have the best team in a mediocre division. This Dodgers team (on paper) has all of the tools to win the NL Pennant. Which is why Don Mattingly is already on the hot seat.
Most Yankee fans are rooting heavily for the Dodgers just to see the hero of our youth make a World Series. He will have a lot of managing to do to pull it off both on the field and in the dugout. He has some highly paid egos that could implode on him if he doesn’t clamp it down right from the get go.
It truly is a Hollywood story for the Dodgers. Yasiel Puig is going for the Fat Albert look putting on 40 pounds in the offseason, which is exactly what you want from your stud 23-year old outfielder. Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp appear to be poised to bounce back from injury-riddled seasons… again. Adrian Gonzalez is the first player in the history of baseball to become a worse hitter after leaving the pitcher-friendly confines of San Diego. Together though, with the likes of Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis, and Dee Gordon, there is no weakness in their line-up.
The pitching staff is anchored by possibly the best pitcher in baseball. You can mark it down now, Clayton Kershaw is your 2014 NL Cy Young. He’s too good not to win the award for the third time in the last 4 years. This starting five is so deep (how deep is it?) that newly signed starting pitcher Paul Maholm may most likely start the year in long relief out of the bullpen. Zack Grienke would be an ace on any other staff and it will be exciting to see how Hyun-Jin Ryu responds in his second year in the states.
The bullpen is super deep. Kenley Jansen throws straight-up gas striking out 111 batters in just 76.2 innings last season. That’s a 13 K/ 9 inning ratio which translates to INSANE. Like the Diamondbacks, Jansen’s set-up men both have closing experience. Brian Wilson seems like he is back and hairier than ever. Reports are that he is also adding a knuckle ball into his repertoire which is perfectly normal 8 years into your career and also translates to INSANE. Chris Perez has long struggled closing out games for the Indians but maybe he thrives in LA with the pressure off of him as a closer. There is no reason this team can’t reach 100 wins.
Projected 2014 finish: 100-62 NL West Champs. For ticket information click here.