It's the middle of March, and spring training games are getting more competitive. Pitchers are pitching more innings, and players are starting to get back into the swing of playing Major League Baseball everyday.
The transition from spring training to the regular season is beginning to take place.
With that in mind, there have been numerous predictions, division breakdowns, rankings, and lists about who will win, lose, win awards, an so on.
Anyone can pick division winners and losers, but it's time to dig into each division beyond just the order in which teams will finish.
In recent years, there have been two ways to look at the National League West. An optimist, or fan of a NL West team, may look at the division as being so competitive that the race for the division crown lasts well into late September.
On the other hand, a pessimist would argue that the division is one of the weaker ones in the sport, with only two of its teams, The Dodgers and Diamondbacks, finishing over .500 last year.
After all, the Dodgers won the division with only 84 wins.
But, it's a new season, so here is the 2009 National League West division breakdown.
The All-NL West Team
- 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SD
- 2B Orlando Hudson, LA
- 3B Garrett Atkins, COL
- SS Stephan Drew, ARIZ
- LF Manny Ramirez, LA
- CF Aaron Rowand, SF
- RF Brad Hawpe, COL
- C Russell Martin, LA
- RHP Brandon Webb, Ariz
- LHP Randy Johnson, SF
- CL Jonathon Broxton, LA
Best Starting Rotation: Arizona Diamondbacks
When your top two starting pitchers are Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, you could fill in the rest of your rotation with three guys from Bleacher Report and still be a contender.
To compliment the two studs at the top of the rotation (who were a combined 38-15 in 2008), the Diamondbacks also have promising young talent Max Scherzer, and solid veterans Doug Davis and John Garland.
Throw in Yusmeiro Petit and youngster Billy Buckner, and Arizona has a total of seven quality starters. (Honorable Mention: San Francisco Giants)
Best Lineup: LA Dodgers
This lineup is chock full of quality hitters. The top of the order will have speedsters Rafeal Furcal and Orlando Hudson.
The Dodger lineup will also feature some of the brightest young hitters in baseball with Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Matt Kemp. Russell Martin again will bring clutch, timely hitting and leadership to the order.
On paper, that seems like a solid lineup, but throw Manny Ramirez into the middle of it, and the lineup looks like one of the best in the entire National League. (Honorable Mention: Colorado Rockies).
Best Bullpen: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks acquired Nationals closer John Rauch last season just prior to the trade deadline. At the time, Rauch was enjoying his best season as a pro, but in his final 26 appearances for Arizona, he posted an ERA over 6.00. He'll look to set up Chad Qualls, who will get his first shot at closing full time this season.
The Diamondbacks also added veteran Tom Gordon for middle relief. Gordon didn't have his best season in Philly last year, but he was still able to make 34 appearances.
Scott Schoenweiss will also try to revive his career after a terrible season with the Mets, and looks to win the job as their lefty specialist. (Honorable Mention: Colorado Rockies)
Best Defensive Team: Colorado Rockies
It's easy to notice how offensively productive the Colorado Rockies are, but one thing that seems to get overlooked is their defense.
Despite having no gold glovers at any position, the Rockies may have been the best defensive team in the entire sport. Their 68 errors in 162 games in 2008 was tied for the second lowest total ever (along with the 1999 Mets and 2006 Red Sox).
Colorado did lose two-thirds of its outfield this off-season, including speedy, slick-fielding Willy Taveras in center field, so it will be interesting to see if the Rockies can keep up the stellar defensive play. (Honorable Mention: SanFrancisco Giants)
Best Hitter: Manny Ramirez, LA Dodgers
This is a no-brainer. Even if Ramirez isn't quite the same hitter he was down the stretch last season, there isn't another hitter in the division who comes close to what Manny brings to the lineup.
Maybe one of the best right-handed hitters ever, Ramirez changes the whole complexion of the game as soon as his name is written on the lineup card. He's and RBI machine who always seems to hit in the big spot, and makes the other hitters around him better (just ask Big Papi).
Even if Manny is unhappy, his subpar numbers would get most guys into the Hall of Fame. As a hitter, he truly is in a class by himself.(Honorable Mention: Garrett Atkins, Colorado Rockies).
Best All-Around Player: Matt Kemp, LA Dodgers
The Dodgers' center fielder is not only one of the best all-around players in the NL West, he's also one of the brightest young stars in the game.
Playing in his first full season in 2008, Kemp proved he could do it all. He hit well (.290 batting average), hit with pop (61 extra base hits), drove in runs (76 RBI), and showed his speed (93 runs scored and 35 stolen bases).
He also played excellent defense, splitting time between center and right field, while only making three errors in 155 games played. (Honorable Mention: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks).
Best Starting Pitcher: Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks
This was a tough pick. In a division that has five former Cy Young Award winners in it (Randy Johnson in 1995, 1999-2002, Barry Zito in 2002, Webb in 2006, Jake Peavy in 2007, and Tim Lincecum in 2008), including the last three winners, as well as other great starters like Dan Haren, Aaron Cook, and Chad Billingsley, picking the absolute best starter may be splitting hairs.
Despite this spot belonging to Tim Lincecum in the near future, right now it's hard to argue with what Webb has done over the past three seasons.
Since winning his Cy Young Award, Webb has finished second twice, and has raised his win total each season. His 22 wins in 2008 was a career high, and led the league.
Webb also posted a consecutive-scoreless innings streak of 41 innings, a number no pitcher has come close to since Orel Hershiser threw his record 59 in 1988. (Honorable Mention: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants).
Best Closer: Jonathon Broxton, LA Dodgers
Despite struggling at times after being named the closer last season, Broxton has electric stuff and is a force on the mound.
Broxton did blow eight saves in 2008 (14-for-22), but he did make 70 appearances, and struck out 88 batters in only 69 innings pitched.
Broxton thrived in the set-up role, so it will be interesting to see if he can dominate the same way as a closer for a full season.
Broxton has all the stuff in the world, and even if he did struggle at times in his first attempt as a closer, he still gets the nod as the best in a division that has no big time closers. (Honorable Mention: Heath Bell, San Diego Padres)
Best Rookie: Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies cleared space in center field this off-season by letting Willy Taveras depart via free agency. While the spot will be given to Ryan Spilborghs at first, it may not be long before Dexter Fowler is roaming center at Coors Field.
The 22 year-old switch hitter batted .335 with .431 on-base percentage, nine home runs, and 20 stolen bases at AA Tulsa in 2008.
Scouts also see him as an outstanding defensive player who has tremendous speed, a strong arm, and at 6'4", the potential to develop power. He is a five tool player in the making. (Honorable Mention: Matt Antonelli, San Diego Padres)
Most Underrated Player: Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres
Baseball fans may know Adrian Gonzalez, but many don't know how good he really is. After being unable to crack the Texas Rangers line-up in his first two seasons, Gonzalez has become one of the best first baseman in all of baseball, yet was only named an All-Star for the first time last season.
He hit 36 homers in the worst hitters' park in baseball, and drove in and scored over 100 runs on the worst offensive team in baseball last year.
Over his three seasons in a Padres uniform, Gonzalez has averaged 96 runs scored, 176 hits, 39 doubles, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and a .288 batting average.
Throw in the fact that he can really pick it at first base, and you have a guy who is comparable to Mark Teixeira, at about $19 million less. (Honorable Mention: Aaron Cook, Colorado Rockies)
Most Overrated Player: Eric Byrnes, Arizona Diamondbacks
Eric Byrnes is a nice player, who plays hard and squeezes every drop of talent out of himself as possible. He's not a guy that a team should give a big contract to and build their offense around, which Arizona has tried to do.
Byrnes has never driven in more than 83 runs in a season, has never batted higher than .286, has never hit 30 home runs (his career high is 26), and has scored 100 runs only once.
If you look at his averages for a 162 game season, .263, 19 home runs, 68 RBI, and 83 runs scored, you see a nice solid player, but not one who will carry a team. (Honorable Mention: Huston Street, Colorado Rockies)
And The Winner Is: Arizona Diamondbacks
Pitching wins in baseball, and the Diamondbacks definitely have pitching. They arguably have the best staff top to bottom in the division, even after losing Randy Johnson.
With that being said, Arizona had such a hard time scoring runs last season, that not even a deadline deal for powerhouse Adam Dunn could fix it. Still, the D-Backs lineup is full of young talented players who are still learning how to hit.
If guys like Stephan Drew, Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Mark Reynolds can mature at the plate and cut down on the Strikeouts (including a record setting 204 by Reynolds in 2008), then this team should win the division easily. (Honorable Mention: LA Dodgers).
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