1. San Francisco Giants
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres
Like the Mariners in the AL West, I see the Giants winning a division title despite what I consider the weakest offense in the NL (yes, weaker than the Pirates). They don’t have any real impact bats, not even the kinda sorta impact bats I mentioned the Pirates having, and most of their lineup will struggle to consistently get on base. But they have a solid defense and one of the best rotations in MLB: Tim Lincecum is of course an ace. Many won’t think much of adding the aging Randy Johnson due to his age, but one injury plagued season doesn’t mean he can’t give the Giants 150 solid innings. Matt Cain is a strong starter, Zito is expensive but not horrible, and the emerging Jonathan Sanchez gives the Giants one of the best #5s in baseball. The bullpen’s simply okay but they have solid arms in front, an actual close for a change, and should eke out plenty of low scoring victories to the tune of 85-90 wins.
The Diamondbacks won’t be far behind and will give the Giants a serious run for their money. Their bane, however, is a poor defense and a young lineup loaded with talent but also inconsistency. Their pitching staff will also lean heavily on the ordinary Jon Garland and the inconsistent Doug Davis. Even if Brandon Webb and Dan Haren stay mostly healthy, they won’t have the defensive help the Giants will. 85 wins isn’t impossible: In fact, it’s likely. But their defense and youthful exuberance (read: impatience) at the plate will hold them back.
The Dodgers have the best lineup in the division and probably the most consistently productive pitching staff, but also have the division’s worst defense, thanks in ironically large part to one man: Manny Ramirez. His bat is the biggest and the best in the lineup, but his range and glove at LF are the slowest and the worst in the field. He doesn’t cost his team as many runs in the field as his bat brings to the lineup, but it costs the team enough to likely cost them a real shot at the division title. The Dodgers will play .500 ball, and don’t be surprised to see them finish 2009 with a losing record.
Even with the team’s humidor cancelling out much of the effect of Coors Field’s mile high altitude, the Colorado Rockies should still score plenty of runs thanks to a productive offense with reasonable power. However, they easily boast the worst pitching staff in the division, with a subpar rotation and an okay-at-best bullpen, as well as a subpar defense anchored by one of the worst RF’s in baseball: Brad Hawpe. Hawpe’s power bat boosts the lineup, but his “defense” can cost the Rockies 20-30 runs in the field alone. Garrett Atkins at 3B and a couple others have their issues as fielders, and the combination of subpar pitching and subpar fielding will sink Colorado. 90 losses sounds like a reasonable expectation.
The Padres lost Khalil Greene and didn’t really replace him. They’re expecting serious innings from Kevin Correia, Shawn Hill, the career Mexican Leaguer Walter Silva and maybe Cha Seung Baek. Heath Bell makes a solid replacement for Trevor Hoffman at closer, and Cla Meredith is a solid workhorse, but the rest of the pen is a shoddy contrast to the once-solid Padres pens of yesteryear. The defense is also, shall we say, a little weak. Still, cavernous PETCO Park should help the Padres prevent some runs, but the offense packs too little of a punch to expect anything other than 90-95 losses.