Spring Training began this week, when catchers and pitchers reported to their respective camps. It signaled the end of the long winter without baseball for many fans. Every team has unbridled optimism for the upcoming season, but most will be sitting home disappointed in October, watching the playoffs and the World Series.
This upcoming season should be exciting for the National League West. For the second time in the past three years, this division features the World Series champion in the San Francisco Giants.
Although I don't like making predictions, most fans expect it from every writer. One of my colleagues told me that fans would forget what I said, so don't worry about being wrong. I took his advice to heart until this past Christmas Eve, when I received an e-mail from a fan reminding me that two years ago I wanted to trade Matt Kemp. He told me that I was wrong then, and I'm wrong now for thinking the Los Angeles Dodgers should give Luis Cruz an opportunity to start at third base.
Making correct predictions in baseball is impossible. Over the course of the 162-game season, so many unforeseen things can happen to change the projected outcome of a certain team. Baseball must play the games to see which team is the best or the luckiest.
Since fans expect it, I will try my best to predict which team will win the NL West.
The Giants should be able to hold onto their status of being the elite team in the division. Within the division, they are the most well-rounded team. Their starting rotation -- especially if Tim Lincecum returns to his NL Cy Young Award winning form -- is fantastic. Their bullpen is awesome, with Bruce Bochy managing it. Although he uses his bullpen often, Bochy knows how to spread the work around so that none of his relievers gets too tired at the end of the season.
Young shortstop Brandon Crawford, who is coming off his rookie season, gives the Giants a good infield defense and speed at the bottom of the lineup. Re-signing Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro helped them to have a more dynamic offense than many other teams within the division. Having Hunter Pence for the entire season to protect the reigning NL batting champion and MVP Award winner Buster Posey will allow the Giants to have a potent middle of the lineup.
The national media frequently ignores the D-backs, but Arizona might surprise many people. A year removed from winning the division, the D-backs have a competitive young team. Unlike others within the division, the D-backs will try to win with mostly unproven young talent who are trying to learn how to handle the pressures of the Majors. They have obtained Heath Bell, an excellent closer coming off a difficult season playing for the Miami Marlins. He will be used in a setup role.
In the recent past, strikeouts have plagued the D-backs, and this has hurt their offensive production. Obtaining the unselfish Cody Ross will help their on-base percentage while maintaining power and a level of enthusiasm required to win the division. Trading Justin Upton, who continually disappointed the organization, to the Atlanta Braves left a large hole in the lineup. Nevertheless, any time a team can acquire a player the caliber of Martin Prado, it's worth what the team had to lose. Prado can play a variety of positions. Unlike Upton, Prado doesn't hit many home runs, but he gets on base consistently. This is something that the D-backs have lacked for several years, preventing them from being one of the elite teams in the NL. Other teams within their division didn't strengthen their bench, whereas Arizona did, giving it the ability to score in the late innings.
I feel the D-backs can win the West, especially if the Giants suffer any key injuries.
Since the Los Angeles Dodgers have spent more money than any team in the history of baseball and have a lineup that resembles an All-Star team, most people think they will stop their 25-year drought without appearing in a World Series. Teams filled with stars frequently underachieve. The Dodgers have that look all over them because the expectations are so high.
They have eight starting pitchers. That is too many, even though general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly like to have fierce competition between players during Spring Training, because they feel this makes players work harder and perform better. Both Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly are coming back from serious arm injuries, and no one knows how they will perform in 2013. The Dodgers' bullpen is overstocked, too.
Unless Kemp regains speed after two hamstring injuries and Carl Crawford is healthy after having Tommy John elbow surgery last August, the Dodgers don't have enough speed to have a dynamic lineup. Mark Ellis is a solid player, but he isn't the traditional leadoff hitter, which the Dodgers will need to score.
After the megatrade with the Boston Red Sox, people who watch the Dodgers regularly should know that a lineup filled with stars doesn't produce a winner. The team needs chemistry and a sense of fun when it plays together. During Spring Training, Mattingly needs to establish a feeling of togetherness.
The San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies didn't do much to improve themselves this offseason. While the Padres have a young team that needs time to mature, the Rockies are an organization in trouble. At the end of the 2012 season, the Padres performed as well as the elite teams in baseball that went to the playoffs. They might not be a factor in the division this season, but by '15, they should be competing for the division title.
The Rockies need help on all fronts before they can even hope to have a .500 record. Those are my predictions. I'm probably way off base, and in October I won't remember what I wrote now. It will be exciting to see what happens in 2013.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.