A look ahead at the National League West division in 2012:
The Arizona Diamondbacks made a startling improvement to take the division from the heavily favored San Francisco Giants, who were coming off a World Series title. And both teams must be considered the favorites again, provided they get enough hitting. The Giants hope the return of Buster Posey from a broken leg suffered in a home-plate collision last May helps solve their scoring issue. Both teams are very strong at the top of their pitching rotations, as are the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw, the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner. The Dodgers could contend if everything comes together -- they'll get a new owner this spring as well -- but their roster is a bit thin. The Rockies should have the best offense in the division, but their pitching staff is young and being rebuilt. And the Padres are in a rebuilding mode all around.
Top 3 Impact Newcomers
- Trevor Cahill, Diamondbacks: While the Giants kept the status quo on their starting pitching, the Diamondbacks got even better by trading for Cahill, a 24-year-old who was 18-8 for Oakland in 2010 and was an AL All-Star. His ERA jumped from 2.97 to 4.16 last season, but he certainly has the talent and is under team control through 2017.
- Michael Cuddyer, Rockies: He's not exactly a household name, but he put up solid stats for years in Minnesota and was an All-Star last season. In Colorado, he could really give the bottom of the Rockies' lineup a jolt, and with players such as Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki hitting in front of him, he could easily drive in 100 runs for the second time in his career.
- Melky Cabrera, Giants: Traded from the Royals in the offseason, it will be up to Cabrera and fellow newcomer Angel Pagan to get on base for a team whose offense was anemic in 2011, thwarting their chances to repeat. Cabrera had a great season for the Royals last year (.305, 18 homers, 87 RBI, 20 SB). Still, he's on his fourth team in four years, so why did the Yankees, Braves and Royals give up on him?
Top 3 Story Lines
- Dodgers' new chapter: The roster is pretty much the same, but the people writing the checks will change when the Dodgers finally get the distraction of the Frank McCourt ownership drama out of the way. The Dodgers, quietly, were one of the best teams in the league in the second half of the 2011 season, and almost swept the two individual awards with Kershaw and Matt Kemp, who finished a close second behind Ryan Braun in MVP voting.
- Diamondbacks maturing: They came out of nowhere last season, and tinkered with their lineup by bringing in Jason Kubel. If Paul Goldschmidt fulfills his powerful potential at first base, Arizona will have just enough offense.
- Crossroads in San Francisco: They didn't do much in the offseason, and that great pitching staff could be broken up if they don't watch out. Matt Cain's contract expires after shis season, and ace Tim Linecum isn't locked up beyond 2013, although he will make $18 million this season and $22 million next. If the offense falls flat again, it will be a big missed opportunity.
- Diamondbacks: SS Willie Bloomquist, 2B Aaron Hill, RF Justin Upton, C Miguel Montero, CF Chris Young, LF Jason Kubel, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, 3B Ryan Roberts
- Dodgers: SS Dee Gordon, 2B Mark Ellis, CF Matt Kemp, RF Andre Ethier, LF Juan Rivera, 1B James Loney, 3B Juan Uribe, C A.J. Ellis
- Giants: CF Angel Pagan, LF Melky Cabrera, 3B Pablo Sandoval, C Buster Posey, 1B Aubrey Huff, RF Nate Schierholtz, 2B Ryan Theriot, SS Brandon Crawford
- Padres: CF Cameron Maybin, RF Will Venable, 3B Chase Headley, LF Carlos Quentin (out for first few weeks), 1B Yonder Alonso, C Nick Hundley, 2B Orlando Hudson, SS Jason Bartlett
- Rockies: CF Dexter Fowler, 2B Marco Scutaro, LHP Carlos Gonzalez, SS Troy Tulowitzki, 1B Todd Helton, RF Michael Cuddyer, C Ramon Hernandez, 3B Casey Blake
- Diamondbacks: RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Daniel Hudson, LHP Joe Saunders, RHP Trevor Cahill, RHP Josh Collmenter
- Dodgers: LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Chad Billingsley, LHP Ted Lilly, RHP Aaron Harang, LHP Chris Capuano
- Giants: RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Matt Cain, LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, LHP Barry Zito
- Padres: RHP Tim Stauffer, LHP Cory Luebke, RHP Edinson Volquez, LHP Clayton Richard, RHP Dustin Moseley
- Rockies: RHP Jeremy Guthrie, RHP Jhoulys Chacon, RHP Juan Nicasio, LHP Drew Pomeranz, LHP Jamie Moyer
Predicted order of finish
1. Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69); 2. San Francisco Giants (88-74); 3. Los Angeles Dodgers (85-77); 4. Colorado Rockies (78-84); 5. San Diego Padres (68-94)