Never a dull moment in the NL West

Never a dull moment in the NL West

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Say what you want about the topsy-turvy National League West, but it's anything but a mundane 162-game ride from April to October.

There have been four different division champions in the past six years. In 2009, the Dodgers will try to become the first team to win back-to-back divisional crowns since the Padres did so in 2005-06.

2009 DIVISION
PREVIEWS
NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Some of the best pitching in the Major Leagues resides in the NL West, as there is Tim Lincecum in San Francisco, Jake Peavy in San Diego, and the nasty duo of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren in Arizona.

Offense? There's some of that as well, and even more of it in Los Angeles than there was a month ago now that Manny Ramirez, who nearly single-handedly lifted the Dodgers to the top on his shoulders last season, has returned.

No, there's never a dull moment in the NL West, where the division is seemingly up for grabs until the final days of September. Don't expect anything different in 2009.

KEY ADDITIONS
• SP Randy Wolf, Dodgers
• 2B Orlando Hudson, Dodgers
• SP Jon Garland, Diamondbacks
• SP Randy Johnson, Giants
• SP Huston Street, Rockies
• SP Jason Marquis, Rockies
• SS Edgar Renteria, Giants
• 2B David Eckstein, Padres
• SP Jeremy Affeldt, Giants
• 2B Felipe Lopez, Diamondbacks

KEY DEPARTURES
• SP Derek Lowe, Dodgers
• 2B Hudson, Diamondbacks
• SP Johnson, Diamondbacks
• OF Adam Dunn, Diamondbacks
• OF Matt Holliday, Rockies
• OF Willy Taveras, Rockies
• SP Trevor Hoffman, Padres
• SS Khalil Greene, Padres

BEST LINEUP
Ramirez makes the Dodgers' offense tick, and we haven't seen the best of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier yet. Losing Holliday won't help the Rockies' offense, but there's still a lot to like there. There's a lot to like about Arizona's young hitters as well. But their high number of strikeouts isn't one of them.
Our selection: Dodgers

BEST ROTATION
There's always good pitching in the NL West, and this season will be no exception. What's not to like about the Giants' rotation of Cy Young Award winner Lincecum, newcomer Johnson and Matt Cain going 1-2-3? It's difficult to find a better trio of power arms in baseball. The Diamondbacks have a nice 1-2 punch in Haren and Webb. San Diego has a nice 1-2 punch as well, with Peavy and Chris Young.
Our selection: Giants

BEST BULLPEN
The best bullpen in the division used to reside in San Diego, but with Hoffman gone and a host of new faces, the Dodgers might have the best bullpen crew in the division, even with the departures of Joe Beimel and Takashi Saito. Jonathan Broxton is a bull, and Cory Wade and Hong-Chih Kuo look like the real deal. The Giants badly needed Affeldt and Bob Howry to help their bullpen.
Our selection: Dodgers

BEST DEFENSE
The Dodgers might be the strongest team up the middle in all of baseball, with catcher Russell Martin, shortstop Rafael Furcal, Hudson and center fielder Kemp. Adrian Gonzalez won a Gold Glove at first base for San Diego but doesn't have as much help. For Arizona, Stephen Drew and Felipe Lopez will be very good up the middle, and Chris Young can flag anything down in center field.
Our selection: Dodgers

WILD CARDS
1. The Dodgers stand to be pretty good as it is, but if they get right-hander Chad Billingsley back after he recovers from his broken leg, an injury he sustained in the offseason, they could be really dangerous.

2. Arizona outfielder Eric Byrnes is still owed $22 million and is trying to come back from a bad hamstring injury. Can he regain his 2007 form?

3. Heath Bell takes over as closer in San Diego for Hoffman. Think those are big shoes to fill?

4. The Rockies need a big bounceback year from right-hander Manny Corpas, especially since Jeff Francis (shoulder surgery) is out for the season.

5. Looking for a stud to watch this season? Try Pablo Sandoval of the Giants. The guy can flat-out rake. Where he ends up playing is another question.

6. Is this the year that Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez develops into the five-tool player the A's thought he would be?

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Dodgers; 2. Giants; 3. Diamondbacks; 4. Rockies; 5. Padres

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.