And we’ve finally made it to the top spot. I believe there is going to be a repeat champion in the NL West this year.
I wrote the Dodgers had the best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) and the best position player (Matt Kemp) in the NL West on their roster. Well, I believe the Diamondbacks can claim they have the second best of each. Ian Kennedy had a breakout year and established himself as the ace of a very good starting rotation, finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Right fielder Justin Upton also had a breakout year. He hit .289 with 31 home runs and 88 RBI, finishing fourth in the NL MVP race behind Kemp, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Not bad company to be in. Upton also stole 21 bases. He is the key cog in a lineup that should score a lot of runs.
One key is going to be the health of shortstop Stephen Drew. He’s coming off an ankle injury and is questionable for opening day. Drew and Aaron Hill can form a very solid middle infield. The Diamondbacks don’t really manufacture runs. Their lineup is a lot more American League than it is National League. This lineup is going to depend on power. I don’t think that’s a problem at all. Upton is going to approach 30 home runs, and first basemen Paul Goldschmidt has 30 home run power, too. Adding Jason Kubel from Minnesota is a big upgrade. This was a right-handed dominant lineup, and he adds some pop from the left side.
The real strength of the Diamondbacks is going to be pitching, specifically the starting rotation. Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 2011. While he may not be able to repeat those spectacular numbers, anything close will be perfectly fine. Daniel Hudson (16-12, 3.49) is going to break out and rival Kennedy’s 2011. Trevor Cahill struggled last year in Oakland after a great 2010. Moving to the NL should be a good transition for Cahill, who I expect to be a very good start in the No. 3 spot. It’s not quite the Tim Lincecum-Matt Cain-Madison Bumgarner the Giants have, but the D-backs have a very strong top 3.
Closer J.J. Putz saved 45 games in 49 opportunities with a 2.17 ERA. What more do you want from your closer? The D-backs added Craig Breslow and Takashi Saito, who have both had success late in games.
I think the Giants’ pitching is slightly better, but Arizona’s pitching is still very strong. Coupled with the large number of home runs the lineup will hit, I see the Diamondbacks repeating as NL West champions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them improve on their first-round exit in 2011.
Position players: C Miguel Montero, 1B Goldschmidt, 2B Hill, SS Drew, 3B Ryan Roberts, LF Kubel, CF Chris Young, RF Upton
Bench: INF Willie Bloomquist, Lyle Overbay, John McDonald, Geoff Blum, C Henry Blanco, OF Gerardo Parra
Starting rotation: 1. Kennedy, 2. Hudson, 3. Cahill, 4. Joe Saunders, 5. Josh Collmenter
Bullpen: Putz, David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler, Saito, Breslow, Bryan Shaw
Projected finish: 96-66, 1st in NL West