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Manny Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Mark Reynolds No More in NL West

The world series was won.  The parade is over.  Now it’s time to look at the division as a whole and really ponder about who is going to come out on top in 2011.  Many changes have been made to all teams in the division and fans from Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, Colorado and especially San Fransisco all know that their team has a chance to compete.  Let’s go down the list of teams in the division and see who has the best shot of coming out on top in the NL West.

As a Dodger fan, I’ve been waiting way too long for another world series to land in Los Angeles.  The last world series the Dodgers competed in was in 1988 when they won.  The cheers can still be heard in Dodger Stadium from Gibson’s walk off.  Since then, the Boys In Blue have yet to make it past the National Championship Series while loosing it recently, two years in a row to the Philadelphia Phillies in ’08 and ’09.  

2010 was a bust for the Dodgers while they struggled to win towards the end of the season.  Disappointed fans erupted up all over the city while their team subsequently imploded.  It was a sad and wasted last season for manager Joe Torre as he left with an under .500 record for the first time in over 10 years.  The departed Manny Ramirez was good and bad news for some fans, however his short reign of Mannywood will always be remembered in Chavez Ravine.  

This year the Dodgers added some new acquisitions such as Jon Garland, Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth to shore up the pitching in both the rotation and the bullpen. Russel Martin decided his time with the Dodgers was over and in came Dioner Navarro and a starting job for Rod Barajas.  Navarro was with the Dodgers in 2005 and half of 2006 before being traded to Tampa Bay.  

Overall, the Dodgers really didn’t make any key moves this offseason to show that they really want to compete in the season ahead.  Although they added Juan Uribe and Tony Gwynn Jr., it doesn’t look like 2011 will be any different from 2010.  However, if key players such as Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Jonathon Broxton continue to evolve into their own and reach their full potential this season without injury, then the Dodgers will be an unstoppable force that will easily be able to compete for a title.

The San Diego Padres were left upset by the events towards the end of the 2010 season when all they had to do was win a couple of games and they would have been set to compete in the playoffs.  You could hear the cries of agony from Padre fans all across the California coast.  

The age of Adrian Gonzalez is over and in come the new look Padres. Their phenomenal pitching got them as far as they did last season winning 90 games however it wasn’t enough to win the division.  With Gonzo gone, short stop Jason Bartlett, first baseman Brad Hawpe and comical second baseman Orlando Hudson have found their way into the Padres starting line up.  

Also, with Chase Headley still at third, the infield is looking good for 2011.  The Padres’ rotation hasn’t changed much except with the addition of Aaron Harang who should eat up some innings to relieve the bullpen of the long gap to Heath Bell.  Other than that, the Padres have relatively the same bullpen and outfield as last season with the addition of young Cameron Maybin in center field.  

Even without the presence of Gonzalez, the Padres are looking like a young team that is ready to compete and maybe even win more games than last season.  Look for them to be a competitor in the hunt for their first world series.

The Colorado Rockies look to throw their hat in the mix as they resigned Carlos Gonzalez to a hefty deal reassuring fans that they are ready to play ball.  Todd Helton hasn’t aged a bit and Troy Tulowitzki is as productive as ever as long as he can stay healthy.  The Rockies have a bunch of guys who can put the bat on the ball and rack up a lot of hits.  

They also have a decent rotation with young phenom Ubaldo Jimenez as the ace.  Young Jhoulys Chacin looks like his days in the big leagues may be in stone for 2011 as long as he keeps his swagger.  Last year he came up and did very well for the Rockies as a 22-year-old rookie.  

This year the Rockies rotation should be pretty decent as long as they all can stay healthy. With the addition of Jose Lopez, they should have even more power in the infield.  The outfield is looking pretty good as well with Cargo, Dexter Fowler and Seth Smith.  Overall, the Rockies should be putting up numbers on the scoreboard and as long as they don’t get hurt, they shouldn’t have a problem fighting for first in the west.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have a lot of issues to deal with as we move into the 2011 season.  With the loss of the two main power producers in Mark Reynolds and Adam LaRoche, the D-Backs will be looking to their youth as the power supply.  Justin Upton and Chris Young look to keep the team in contention although it is going to be very hard to do considering the team is in a rebuilding stage.  

New additions such as Xavier Nady, Melvin Mora and Juan Miranda hope to help the team win more than just 65 games.  First base should be interesting as youngsters Juan Miranda and Brandon Allen share the duties.  Kelly Johnson and Stephen Drew have stayed put in the middle infield and hope to contribute some “pop” as well to the lineup.  

The rotation for the D-Backs is very young and the only notable veterans were recently added either last season or this offseason such as Zach Duke, the former Pirate, and Joe Saunders, who they received in turn for Dan Haren during the 2010 season.  Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy and Barry Enright all show promise as they made their way to the show last season.  

The bullpen was also revamped, which was definitely needed, with closer JJ Putz.  For 2011, the D-Backs are going to need a positive direction under new manager Kirk Gibson and maybe with some luck, they’ll be able to compete with other teams in the league.  If any team would be considered a “sleeper” team in 2011, this would be the team.

Last but certainly not least, the World Champion San Fransisco Giants.  They are going to have a hard time protecting their title with all the moves that other teams have made this offseason.  The Giants rotation should stack up as still one of the best in baseball.  The only question in the rotation remains with Barry Zito.  He hasn’t had a winning record since he joined the Giants in 2007.  

Although no rotation can match up to the Phillies on paper, the Giants still have an arsenal that will definitely strikeout a ton of helpless batters.  With new addition Miguel Tejada at short and the rest of the infield staying the same as 2010, it should be interesting to watch the team bond as they’ve basically kept the same team.  It will be interesting to see Buster Posey’s first full season in the big leagues.  

In the end, Cody Ross was added to right field, but other than that, there haven’t been any real impacting transactions that stand out.  Nonetheless, the Giants have the best shot at winning the division and possibly making it past that in the post season.

Like every season in every sport, the team that can stay healthy and win games will be the victor.  It should be an interesting 2011 season.  Will there be a version 2.0 to “season of the pitcher”, or will there be home runs left and right?  With spring training just around the corner, only time will tell what new and exciting adventures await baseball fans.

The National League West will without a doubt be the toughest division in the league with multiple teams that have shots at being very successful in the near future.  You never know what team might come out of no where and sweep everyone off their feet.

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Could Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt Pitch His Way To Dodgertown?

I remember rumors about Adam Dunn or Alex Rodriguez heading to the Dodgers at one point in time and just thinking about how it made me laugh because the likelihood of the Dodgers getting any highly-priced player was doubtful.

Even in a big market city like Los Angeles, the Dodgers never spent the money needed for an A-Rod, Dunn, or any ace pitcher for that matter. 

The Dodgers have always been known for building from within, and most Dodger fans liked this idea, but when it hasn’t won them a World Series in over 20 years, they start to wonder. 

Then the Manny era began.

No one would have believed it if you told them the day before the trade, that one of the best right-handed hitters of all time would land in LA. That huge trade set off an explosion in the fan base commonly known as Manny Mania and even Mannywood.  

Could there be another highly-priced player coming to the Dodgers?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers have inquired about Cliff Lee of the Seattle Mariners and Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros.  Both teams happen to be in last place in their respected divisions and both players have insisted on wanting to leave. 

For example, Oswalt recently suggested waiving his no-trade clause and asked to be traded from Houston, and Lee has certainly made it clear to the Mariners that he does not want to pitch in Seattle for much longer. 

Contract-wise, Oswalt is signed through 2011 and has a much larger salary than Lee. However, this is the last year on Lee’s contract and he is likely to test the free agent waters this winter.  

So, which is more likely?

If you look at most of the trades the Dodgers have made over the past few years, they have done the “rent a player” strategy, which is trading for players who are on their last year of their contract and basically renting them for the last half of the season, and they usually leave to the free agent market that winter. 

Manny Ramirez, Jon Garland, Jim Thome, Julio Lugo, and many other players have come to Chavez Ravine for this reason.  Luckily, the Dodgers were able to retain Ramirez but at a high price. 

The classic “rent a player” in this case, would be Lee.  The problem with this strategy is that in order to obtain a player of his stature, the Dodgers would have to dig into their bag of plentiful prospects in the minors and basically give them away assuming Lee doesn’t re-sign with the Dodgers. 

Here’s the good news though: Manny has said that this will be his last year in LA.  

After his contract is finished, the Dodgers will have $25 million to play with to use for a couple players in Manny’s place.  It is likely that the Dodgers could attract Lee in the offseason, with or without a trade.  

Do you catch my drift?

Now, the big downside to this scenario of trading for a veteran ace is trading top prospects like Dee Gordon—an amazing young shortstop—or players already in the major leagues like Xavier Paul, Manny’s apparent heir to left field next year, or John Ely or another pitcher.

Either way, the Dodgers will lose some brilliant young talent for a player who might only stay a half of a season.  Here’s a little information on the two pitchers.

Oswalt, who will be 33 in August, is a right-handed pitcher with a 10-year career in Houston, posting a 140-76 lifetime record.  Oswalt has had two, 20-game winning seasons and for the first time last year, did not win 10 or more games in a single season. Oswalt is not known for his strikeouts as much now because of his increasing age. 

This is one good pitcher to have on any rotation because he is consistent and he has stayed healthy for almost his whole career.  Oswalt has posted a 3.20 ERA and 1,542 strikeouts over his career and is 3-6 with a 2.36 ERA this year.

Lee, who will be 32 in August, is a left-handed pitcher who has had a nine-year career with Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Seattle, posting a 92-54 record.  Lee has been pretty inconsistent throughout his career and has just recently found his grove.  Most people do not know this unless you look at his numbers, but Lee’s ERA tends to jump up and down every season. 

From 2004, his first full year in the majors, his ERA was almost five and a half, then the next year it was 3.79, then 4.40, then 6.29, then 2.54.  It has only been the last three years that Lee has been able to post consistent numbers.  

Out of his nine career seasons, he’s only been able to stay healthy in the majors for five. 

In 2008, Lee won an incredible 22 games, only losing three.  Unfortunately, Lee hasn’t really posted numbers anywhere close to this before.  His best season before that was in 2005, when he went 18-5.  Overall, Lee is a very good pitcher and can boost any team’s rotation.

Oswalt or Lee would be great additions to the Dodgers and could possibly help them in a World Series-run this fall. 

It is not certain if the Dodgers will indeed trade for one of them because it will be hard for a team like the Astros or the Mariners to trade their ace (although the Mariners have three potential ace-caliber pitchers including Lee, Bedard, and Hernandez) and it will be hard for the Dodgers to let go of potential young stars in the making.

My opinion: If you ask me, I would rather trade pitching prospects for Oswalt only because the Dodgers already have a young core of pitchers including Kershaw, Billingsley, Ely, and Monasterios.  Adding a well-known, consistent, veteran like Oswalt will only help the Dodgers develop these young pitchers. 

As of now, the Astros do not want to trade Oswalt, but they might change their mind if the right package arises around the right time.  If the Dodgers do make a deal, I’d expect it to be on July 31 as always, and we’ll only know last second what Colletti and McCourt pull out of their sleeve.

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Wade LeBlanc Puts Up Blanks on the Scoreboard

No, Wade LeBlanc didn’t throw his teammate Kyle Blanks on the score board although that actually might help.  This may be a just a glitch in the universe, it may be luck, or it may actually be the real thing.  Wade LeBlanc has been lights out and has helped the Padres actually have a winning record for once. 

I know what you’re thinking. “This is just the beginning of the year and none of this will matter come the All-Star break.”  You may be right or you may be wrong.  Either way, this kid cannot go unnoticed for what he has accomplished so far this season.  He’s doing well right now, so lets look at what he has done in his three-year career.

Leblanc, who will be 26 at the end of the season, first made the major league roster in 2008, pitching in five games and starting four of them.  His ugly 8+ era and more walks than strikeouts led him nowhere.  Although after a first sour cup of coffee, LeBlanc returned in 2009 looking for vengeance. 

He started in nine games and pitched pretty well considering how wild he was.  He hit 4 batters and walked 19 while striking out 30.  He still went 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA.  His numbers are drastically improving and this year may be the year the Padres will have their “Jake Peavy” ace in the rotation.  

If this is the year that Wade shows his true potential, then his numbers are already proving it.  In the month of April, Wade started 3 games with 2 wins and a 0.52 ERA.  His strikeout to walk ratio fell off the table and is 4 to 1, compared to 3 to 2 last season.  He has only allowed one run in 17.1 innings!  His only downfall this year is the number of hits he has allowed which has amounted to 18.  

Wade LeBlanc has plenty of time in his young career to either fall off the boat and into the depths of the minor leagues, or grow and become one of the more dominant pitchers in the division or even league.  Quite frankly it’s way too early in the season to know how Wade will do or the Padres for that matter.  It doesn’t hurt to get off to a good start though. 

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