nl-west-logosWith the World Baseball Classic wrapping up and the MLB season fast approaching, it’s time to take a look at how the 2013 season could shake out. I’ll be previewing and predicting the National League this week and the American next week. This preview/prediction series kicks off the with the division of the defending World Series champs, the NL West. With apologies to Arizona, Colorado and San Diego, this is a two horse race, though that could change over the course of the season. It’s style vs substance, flash vs finish and hype vs heart in a contest between hated rivals San Francisco and Los Angeles.

5) San Diego Padres
In an effort to keep fans from dosing off during games, the Padres moved in the outfield fences at Petco Park in hopes to generate more offense. That will certainly benefit guys like 3B Chase Headley, LF Carlos Quentin and 1B Yonder Alonso. It could help Headley in particular avoid a precipitous fall after a breakout 2012. SS Everth Cabrera could swipe 40+ bags, but the team will struggle to hit consistently as there might not be a regular to hit above 290. The rotation is filled with guys no one outside of San Diego really knows aside from Edinson Volquez. He like the other starters will have their problems preventing runs. The bullpen has a bright spot in closer Huston Street, especially if he avoids the injuries of last season.

4) Colorado Rockies
The Rox seem to be stuck in a perpetual rut as they have talent, but don’t seem to perform up to it. Offense will never be a problem for this team. SS Troy Tulowitzki should have a bounce back season, LF Carolos Gonzalez will have another 20-20 year, while young players like CF Dexter Fowler, 2B Josh Rutledge and C Wilin Rosario will contribute. As long as they play half their games at Coors Field, their offense will churn out runs. On the flip side, this also means their pitching will struggle greatly, though that’s a polite way of putting it. The motley collection of starters Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Drew Pomeranaz, Juan Nicasio and Jeff Francis will more then likely all have ERAs over 4 and only one or two crack the 10 win barrier. This will put more stress on the bullpen who will again be in the bottom for group ERA, saves and opponent AVG.

3) Arizona Diamondbacks
They might as well rename themselves the Arizona Kirk Gibsons as they’ve jettisoned flashier players and remade the roster in the gritty version of their manager. Whether that’s enough to seriously contend remains to be seen. 2B Aaron Hill was a surprise last year and he’ll form the offensive core with 1B Paul Goldschmidt and RF Cody Ross, while LF Jason Kubel will mash but struggle for a decent average. The rotation will be solid if unspectacular with vets Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy leading the way, joined by youngster Wade Miley who narrowly lost the NL ROTY to some dude from Washington. The bullpen will be interesting with JJ Putz as the closer, but Heath ‘Big Bust’ Bell is in the mix. Their Gibson Grit may help them scratch out a few more wins, but it won’t be enough to compete with the Giants and Dodgers.

2) Los Angeles Dodgers
Flush with cash, the Dodgers’ brass went berserk throwing money at guys left and right. While they certainly look good on paper, we’ve all heard this story before. CF Matt Kemp should be back in the MVP conversation and 1B Adrian Gonzalez and SS Hanley Ramirez will form an extremely potent offense with him. However, there are cocnerns. Andre Ethier can’t hit lefties, LF Carl Crawford is (shockingly) still dealing with injuries and third appears to be a sinkhole unless HanRam slides over. Greinke was the biggest signing and he’ll team up with perennial Cy Young contender Clayton Kershaw to form one of the major’s top 1-2 pitching combos. Hyun-Jin Ryu, the other big pitching buy, will try to hadouken his way through transitioning to MLB. The worst of the team’s spending spree is embodied in the absurd contract they gave Brandon League. Paying over 7 million a year for a mediocre closer is questionable at best. The Dodgers could absolutely overtake the Giants in the division, but will end up with one of the wild cards in a very close race.

1) San Francisco Giants
With the offseason focus squarely on the Dodgers, the Giants quietly brought back essentially the same team that won the World Series. While they won’t be an offensive juggernaut, they still have guys like CF Angel Pagan and 2B Marco Scutaro who can set the table and a core of C Buster Posey, 3B Pablo Sandoval and RF Hunter Pence that should bring them home. There’s nowhere to go but up for Pence after a horrid stint at the plate after coming to SF and 1B Brandon Belt looks to breakout while Posey will chase yet another batting title. On the pitching side, Matt Cain is one of the more underrated starters in the league and Madison Bumgarner could be the team’s best pitcher by season’s end. Ryan Vogelsong will be solid as usual, but the rotation’s success could hinge on how well Tim Lincecum bounces back. The bullpen has no stars but productive guys in Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and closer Sergio Romo who will go a long way in helping the team succeed.