Major League Baseball
NL West preview
1. San Francisco Giants
uWhy they’re enthused: Pitching, baby. They still have their nucleus intact from last year’s World Series champions, and Barry Zito pitched the best he has in spring training since joining the Giants. First baseman Brandon Belt buoyed their confidence by hitting eight spring homers. Buster Posey just turned 27 — and is the reigning National League MVP. uWhy they’re worried: Tim Lincecum struggled all spring, yielding a 10.97 ERA and .347 batting average. The outfield production is shaky beyond Hunter Pence. uKid in play: Leadoff hitter Gary Brown, who had an impressive camp before being sent to the minors, could be an early call-up if an outfielder goes down. He still needs to improve his plate discipline, but he showed he’s ready defensively. uFollow this guy: @bbelt9. The Giants first baseman and Olive Garden enthusiast doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is refreshing. uThe end game: There’s no reason the Giants can’t repeat, provided a thin rotation stays healthy.
USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale and Ted Berg look at the National League West, in order of projected finish:
uWhy they’re enthused: If you had a $225 million payroll, wouldn’t you be? They are deep, have eight starting pitchers and were ecstatic with the performance of left-handed Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu, who made the rotation. Life is good when you can send rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig to Class AA after leading the Cactus League with a .526 batting average. uWhy they’re worried: They’re cursing the World Baseball Classic with Hanley Ramirez (thumb) out two months, forcing Luis Cruz to shortstop. They hope left fielder Carl Crawford can stay healthy. uKid in play: No rookie impressed more than Puig, who showed tremendous raw ability and reminds scouts of a young Bo Jackson. uFollow this guy: @TheReal MattKemp. Awesome baseball player, dedicated grandson. uThe end game: No team has more resources, but money can’t buy a title. They will stay in contention and battle for the division and a wild-card spot. If they fall short, manager Don Mattingly might pay the price.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
By Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
Colorado’s Drew Pomeranz
By Rick Scuteri, USA TODAY Sports
uWhy they’re enthused: They believe they revamped their clubhouse culture, banking that chemistry can lead them to the postseason. They have one of the deepest and most versatile bullpens in baseball, anchored by J.J. Putz and Heath Bell. uWhy they’re worried: They traded outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young and now could use reinforcements because Adam Eaton and Cody Ross will begin the season on the disabled list. uKid in play: The D’backs revamped their outfield to make room for Eaton, and he showed why this spring, hitting .390 with 10 RBI before suffering a small tear of his elbow ligament. They think he can be the NL’s most dynamic leadoff man. uFollow this guy: @BMcCarthy32. McCarthy’s wit matches his intellect, and his Twitter repartee with his wife proves endearing. uThe end game: They have plenty of talent and should be a factor in the NL West, but they lack the horses to keep up.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
uWhy they’re enthused: Maybe because they don’t know any better and believe there’s a magical cure for their injuries? The Padres finished strong in the second half last season. Their pitching corps of Edinson Volquez, Clayton Richard, Jason Marquis and Eric Stults should keep them in games. uWhy they’re worried: They had eight players go down with injuries, and the middle of their lineup all might miss the start of the season. Third baseman Chase Headley will open the year on the disabled list with a broken tip of the left thumb. uKid in play: Jedd Gyorko. The dude can hit. He was converted from a third baseman to second before Headley’s injury; he now is expected to bounce between second and third. uThe end game: The Padres were hoping their new ownership and new TV contract would lead to riches, but they were quiet all winter. You can’t sit back in the NL West and expect to contend. There’s little chance of finishing higher than third.
4. San Diego Padres
uWhy they’re enthused: They have a powerful lineup, led by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. They also have developed a powerful hitting catcher in Wilin Rosario. Certainly, no team has a more dangerous lineup in its home ballpark. uWhy they’re worried: Well, the rules say you still have to pitch. The Rockies yielded a major leagueworst 5.71 ERA last year, including 6.70 at Coors Field. Jon Garland, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues in 1½ years, is in the rotation. uKid in play: Drew Pomeranz was the reason they traded Ubaldo Jimenez. He continues to tantalize but has yet to put it together. He showed a much better command of the strike zone this spring and should be the first call-up. uFollow this guy: @Dexter Fowler24. His birthday cake featured light-up Marty McFly sneakers. uThe end game: Same ol’ Rockies. Plenty of offense, no pitching. Just another long season waiting for a homegrown pitcher to develop.
5. Colorado Rockies
San Francisco’s Buster Posey, left, and Tim Lincecum