Results tagged ‘ Troy Tulowitzki ’

Trout’s mom: ‘I’m really going to miss Torii’ …

TROUT-TORIIThere are a lot of pictures at Mike Trout‘s parents’ house in Millville, N.J.

To his mom, Debbie, this is the favorite.

It’s hanging in a frame downstairs, in the basement Mike has turned into his own personal “man cave,” and autographed with silver Sharpie by the two of them.

This is a snapshot of Mike’s first Major League game on July 8, 2011, taken just after Mike raced to the wall to make this running catch.

But the significance of this photo lies in the man standing to Mike’s right, Torii Hunter, who took Mike under his wing basically since the moment he was drafted and is now gone, signing with the Tigers to a two-year, $26 million contract over the offseason.

“I’m going to miss Torii,” Debbie said. “I really am going to miss Torii. He was just absolutely wonderful to Mike.”

“Not only did he help him with his approach to the game, but all the little things that people don’t realize when you get up there as a 20-year-old kid — how to behave in the clubhouse, what time to get there,” Mike’s father, Jeff, said. “He’s counseled Mike on nutrition, how to take care of his legs, how to take care of your body, how to handle fans, how to handle the autograph thing. He really has been a really, really positive influence on Mike.”

Hunter was one of the first players Mike met after being the Angels’ 25th overall pick in 2009. The Angels invited him to take batting practice at Angel Stadium, Hunter introduced himself and the veteran outfielder stayed in touch with Mike as he was coming up through the system. Hunter bought Mike a suit shortly after he came up to the big leagues, tipped clubbies for him and even paid for his parents’ dinner when he spotted them at a restaurant one night. The two still stay in touch.

Shortly after Hunter signed with the Tigers, Mike’s mom sent him a tweet (her handle: @DebbieTrout27) …

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! Mike has learned from the Best!!!We will miss you but see you in Detroit!!!

Hunter’s response (via @toriihunter48) …

no mama! Thanks to u for raising such a great kid. He was easy to work with and talk to. @Trouty20 is a special kid

“He was a great mentor, and we appreciate everything he did,” Jeff said. “Hopefully some day Mike can do the same for a young player coming up.”

“That’s right,” Debbie added, “because that’s what it’s all about. But I’m really going to miss Torii.”

We ran a story today on Mike’s hometown of Millville — the impact it’s had on his life, the way it has rallied around him these last nine months and how, in some ways, things can never be the same again there. Here are some additional notes …

* The Angels have not begun talks with Mike and his representatives with regards to a long-term extension, sources have said. The club is past the point where it can get him to agree on an Evan Longoria-type deal — six years, $17.5 million, agreed on when he first arrived in the big leagues.

Big-market clubs, as a general rule, can opt to wait a little longer to sign controlled players to a long extension because they aren’t scared by looming arbitration. And by waiting, they minimize the risk for nine figures at such a young age. Normally it’s the small- to mid-market teams that do it in the pre-arbitration years (think Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez) because it’s one of few ways to assure a star player doesn’t leave via fre agency.

Also, the competitive balance tax accounts for the average annual value of a contract, not the year-to-year price point. So, for example, if Mike signs a 10-year, $200 million contract that’s typically backloaded into his free-agent years, the $25M AAV is factored into the “now payroll” for the CBT. So, even if that contracts pays him only $1M in 2013, the Angels are paying taxes as if that were a $25M deal. That gets to be very pricey when you have other massive deals (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, etc.).

In short, the Angels’ thinking is: What’s the rush? They’ll get there at some point. They’d sure like to.

* Mike isn’t too thrilled about being relegated to left field next season, several people close to him say. No surprise. (How would you feel if you were told to switch positions after being the MVP runner-up?) But Mike has made no mention of his displeasure to Angels management, simply telling them he believes he’s a center fielder but will do what it takes to help the team win.

The Angels remain committed to putting Peter Bourjos in center and Trout in left for a vast majority of the 2013 season – unless Bourjos struggles offensively again. They like the alignment because Bourjos is also an elite-level defensive center fielder – some would say he covers more ground than Mike – and Mike has more experience in left field. Also, staying away from center will only limit the wear and tear on Mike’s legs long-term. Being a left fielder, however, could cost Mike some money, especially in arbitration. It’s highly unlikely that Mike attains Super Two status, so he probably won’t reach arbitration until after the 2014 season.

* Here’s a running joke around Millville: The city doesn’t have any maternity hospitals, so every woman in this city gives birth in Vineland, which just so happens to be their heated, neighboring rival. That was no different for Debbie Trout on Aug. 7, 1991, when Mike was born. And because of that technicality, every Mike Trout baseball card and bio page lists his birthplace as Vineland, N.J. (The grainy picture below is from his freshman year of high school.)

IMG_1753Millville folks don’t generally find that very funny, as you might imagine.

“Yeah, but he never spent no time there,” Millville Mayor Tim Shannon bellowed. “Soon as he was born, we brought him back!”

* Jeff and Debbie point to the July 10 All-Star Game in Kansas City as the moment they realized their lives, and especially Mike’s, would never be the same again.

At about 2 a.m., while the Trouts were celebrating Debbie’s 50th birthday at one of The Capital Grille’s private rooms, fans were still parked outside waiting to hound Mike for autographs as soon as he stepped out. At that point, he and his family were led out the back – where Charlie Sheen was coming in, and sparked a short conversation with Mike.

“That’s when we realized things had changed forever, for us and for Michael,” Jeff said.

Added Debbie: “We no longer were coming in through the front door.”

Alden 

6 Divisions in 6 Days, Day 5 …

Leading up to Opening Day, I’ll roll out an All-Star team for each of the six divisions in baseball — that includes a manager, a starting nine (with a DH also for the National League), three starters and two relievers. One catch: Each team must have at least one representative, and the skipper doesn’t count. Feel free to submit your own lineups below. I’d love to see how yours differ.

Day 5: NL West
Either of the five teams in this division could win it, and I would not be surprised.
Manager: Bruce Bochy, SFG
Lineup
Dee Gordon, 2B (LAD)
Carlos Gonzalez, LF (COL)
Matt Kemp, CF (LAD)
Troy Tulowitzki, SS (COL)
Justin Upton, RF (ARI)
Andre Ethier, DH (LAD)
Pablo Sandoval, 3B (SFG)
Yonder Alonso, 1B (SDP)
Buster Posey, C (SFG)
Rotation
Clayton Kershaw, LAD
Tim Lincecum, SFG
Matt Cain, SFG
Bullpen
Brian Wilson, SFG
J.J. Putz, ARI
Alden  

Game 17: Angels-Rockies …

Angels (9-6-1)

Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Torii Hunter, RF
Vernon Wells, LF
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Peter Bourjos, CF
Bobby Wilson, C
Ervin Santana, SP

Also pitching: LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Isringhausen, Kevin Jepsen, Francisco Rodriguez

Rockies (8-7)

Dexter Fowler, CF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Carlos Gonzalez, LF
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Todd Helton, 1B
Michael Cuddyer, RF
Ramon Hernandez, C
Casey Blake, 3B
Juan Nicasio, SP

Also pitching: Esmil Rogers, Josh Roenicke, Carlos Torres, Zach Putnam

Some notes from Mike Scioscia‘s morning meeting with reporters …

  • Jeremy Moore‘s hip hasn’t recovered to the level he expected, and now the likely scenario is surgery that should put him out 3-5 months — Scioscia said nothing has been decided yet. I’ll have more on that soon.
  • Mike Trout (virus/shoulder tendinitis), Kendrys Morales (left ankle) and Maicer Izturis (right leg) will play in a Minor League game while the team is in Salt River Fields today. Mark Trumbo will do defense only at the Angels’ facility.
  • Here’s what Scioscia said about how Morales looked facing velocity for the first time a few days ago: “He had no problem with velocity. I mean, he laid off some pitches that were close. I think there were some sliders under his swing that he laid off of. Right now, with pitchers trying to get their command fine-tuned, as far as the Major League pitchers, guys are going to be hitting their spots more, and I think that’s what Kendrys needs. He’s going to have probably 13, 14 at-bats under his belt from camp games and he’ll play with us tomorrow. There’s only so much you’re going to get from facing Minor League pitching. You have to face Major League pitching, and even in Spring Training, these guys in the back end of spring are really starting to fine tune some stuff. Just like a player who’s on rehab — rehab serves a purpose, but the only way to get acclimated to Major League pitching is to hit Major League pitching. So you can take 50 rehab at-bats, and there’s still things you’re going to have to work through at the Major League level. With Kendrys, right now, he’s swung the bat, has had no problem hitting from either side, seeing velocity. The next step is going to be getting into a Major League environment in a Spring Training game and going from there.”
  • Jerome Williams (left hamstring) is expected to get off the mound mid-week, as he indicated Sunday.
  • Bobby Cassevah (right shoulder) is expected to get into Cactus League games for the first time in the next couple days.
  • The Angels have their scheduled off day on Wednesday, so some guys will be playing in a Minor League game at the Tempe Diablo Stadium complex. Garrett Richards will start, Brad Mills will probably pitch and some position players will see action.

Some Angels links from Sunday …

Some AL West links …

  • It’s a new beginning for Neftali Feliz
  • Heard of Tom Wilhemsen? He’ll probably be the Mariners’ setup man. And they like him.
  • A’s reliever Joey Devine will start the season on the DL

And the Heat pulled away from the Magic late on Sunday to win their 13th straight at home. This time, Dwyane Wade was the closer.

Alden

Too many All-Star no-shows? …

PHOENIX – All-Star Game managers Ron Washington and Bruce Bochy took on a tall order leading up to the Midsummer Classic, and it didn’t end when they submitted their roster selections more than a week ago.

The need for a wide array of substitutions has provided quite the juggling act.

In the week since Major League Baseball announced the players who would make up the National League and American League squads for Tuesday’s 82nd All-Star Game at Chase Field, 17 replacements have been named – 10 in the AL and seven in the NL – including five for the starting lineups.

A lot of those who bowed out of the All-Star Game did so because they pitched on Sunday and were thus ineligible (like Justin Verlander, James Shields, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain and Cole Hamels); and others are either on the disabled list or sporting serious injuries that have kept them out (like Jose Reyes, Ryan BraunShane Victorino, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez and Placido Polanco).

Then there are others like David Price, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter – nursing current or past ailments, but not the type that have necessarily put them on the shelf in recent days.

“It’s kind of sad, especially since over the last couple of years it’s been known that this game is going to dictate home-field advantage in the World Series,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, who was selected by Washington to be one of the AL’s coaches. “I can’t speak for people, only they know their own situations, but the fan voting and the player voting, I think it’s very important, and it’s kind of, in a way, disappointing not to see some of those guys. But, again, I can’t speak for those guys that are hurt.”

One of Acta’s players benefited from an absence, as Asdrubal Cabrera was able to get the start at shortstop with Jeter out. With the left side of both teams’ infield dropping out, Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen and Troy Tulowitzki also got starting nods in place of players the fans voted in.

For the most part, players feel fans just need to accept the fact that last-minute things happen.

“The biggest responsibility for the player is to the teammate he’s playing for,” Rangers DH Michael Young said. “Obviously they have a great responsibility to the fans, but I’m sure they’re taking their fans and their cities under consideration when they make decisions.”

“There are factors right at the end that force them to not come,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko added. “People just have to understand that.”

Few players seem to soak in the spotlight of the All-Star Game more than David Ortiz, who will captain the AL squad in the State Farm Home Run Derby and is usually in a playful mood at this time of year. No matter how many times he takes part in this event, the All-Star Game never seems to get old for “Big Papi.”

With black sunglasses, a sharp-looking suit and what seemed like a permanent smile, Ortiz said he believes all his peers share those sentiments.

“Everybody likes to come to the All-Star Game,” he proclaimed. “There’s not one player who wouldn’t like to be here. This is something that every player is looking forward to do. So I’m pretty sure that those guys who have dropped out, they have a reason. It could be injuries, or personal problems. This is like a family thing right now. Everybody wants to bring their family around here, their kids to hang around the players, to put a good show for the fans because the fans spend tons of time voting for you.”

– Alden 

* Filed this week: A look at who could be next to 3,000 hits; Thornburg aims to make impact on Brewers; Astros prospect Altuve not short on talent

My AL & NL lineups differ from yours …

… But only slightly.

See, I never expect perfection when so many fans from so many different places and with so many different biases vote so many times. But, I gotta say, the 32.5 million of you who voted this year didn’t do half-bad. Of course, I would’ve made a few changes.

Here’s my lineup …

American League 

Catcher- Alex Avila, Tigers: Easy choice. Joe Mauer has barely played, Carlos Santana has struggled, and Russell Martin‘s production at the plate went south after a hot start.

First base- Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox: Another no-brainer. He’s fitting in perfectly at Fenway, and if not for a man named Bautista, he’s the best hitter going.

Second base- Robinson Cano, Yankees: Something tells me he’ll be dominating this position for years to come.

Third base- Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: Solid, healthy year — and you can’t say the same about Evan Longoria.

Shortstop- Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians: I’m sorry, but you can’t pick Derek Jeter (pictured above by The Associated Press). I could understand if this was his final year and you want to send him out a la Cal Ripken Jr. But Cabrera has been an offensive and defensive key for the thriving Indians.

Outfield- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Um, yeah, he’s good.

Outfield- Curtis Granderson, Yankees: Off to one of his best starts while looking very good in that 2 hole.

Outfield- Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: He’s providing what Boston needs from him — getting on base, stealing bases and serving as a steady presence at the top of the order — while putting up power numbers to boot.

Designated hitter- David Ortiz, Red Sox: “Big Papi” needed a good start in his walk year, and he has it.

National League 

Catcher- Brian McCann, Braves: Unreal that he’s made it to six straight All-Star Games and hadn’t started one until this year. Glad that will change.

First base- Joey Votto, Reds: He’s the reigning NL MVP and is off to another great start even if the power numbers aren’t where they were at this point last year. (I know what you’re thinking, but keep reading.)

Second base- Rickie Weeks, Brewers: All-around solid year, and Chase Utley is still working his way back.

Third base- Aramis Ramirez, Cubs: Having a solid year, and for some reason very few realize it.

Shortstop- Jose Reyes, Mets: No doubt about this one. Not sure why it took him so long to pass Troy Tulowitzki.

Outfield- Ryan Braun, Brewers: One of baseball’s best keeps getting better.

Outfield- Matt Kemp, Dodgers: He’s the first half’s NL MVP if not for a guy named Reyes. Looks like a change in managers has done him well, for whatever reason.

Outfield- Lance Berkman, Cardinals: Didn’t expect him to have the first half he’s had, but glad to see I was wrong.

Designated hitter- Prince Fielder, Brewers: Not fair? Hey, it’s my lineup!

– Alden 

** What I wrote this week: Fielder at ease in his walk year; Yankees haven’t stopped winning since being swept by the Red Sox. 

Too early for MLB power rankings? …

I don’t think so. 
All the big free agents — minus Rafael Soriano — have signed, and it seems every team is pretty much set for the start of Spring Training. It has been an amazingly surprising offseason, with Jayson Werth signing with the Nationals, Cliff Lee going to Philly, Carl Crawford now with Boston, the Angels missing out on everyone, the Yankees staying quiet, and Dan Uggla getting the kind of money I never thought he would land. 
That means a lot has changed since the end of the 2010 season. 
So, let’s get to it … 
* 2010 records are listed in parenthesis

A-Gonz.jpg1. Boston Red Sox (89-73):
The Red Sox have the best lineup in baseball after adding Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (pictured right, by The Associated Press), they have a very good bullpen after key offseason additions, and their rotation is very deep. But they’ll have to stay healthy — something that didn’t happen last year. 

2. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65; lost in NLCS): The old saying says, “You’re only as good as your next day’s pitcher.” If that’s the case, put the Phillies in the World Series right now. Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels is arguable the best rotation foursome in baseball history. And their offense is still scary. But the bullpen, as usual, is a question mark. 

3. San Francisco Giants (92-70; won WS): They’re the defending champs, and their pitching staff is as good or better than anybody’s in baseball. But can their spare-parts offense carry them deep like it did last year? Hard to believe they can repeat without a more-consistent bat. 

4. Texas Rangers (90-72; lost in WS): Not being able to get Lee hurts, especially when considering pretty much everybody in that rotation outperformed last year. But their starting staff is still solid, their bullpen is very good and, after the addition of Adrian Beltre, they have one of the best offenses in baseball. 


5. Atlanta Braves (91-71; lost in NLDS)
Filling the big shoes of Bobby Cox is a whole lot easier when inheriting a team like this one. Fredi Gonzalez has a dynamic lineup, especially with the addition of Uggla – though they’ll regret that extension — plus a solid rotation and a really good bullpen.  

6. St. Louis Cardinals (86-76): I expected the Cards to be a lot better than they were last year, and I don’t expect them to disappoint again this year. Lance Berkman could end up being a liability in right field, but if healthy, he can give them a big middle-of-the-order bat. Regardless, two dynamic duos — Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright — should lead to title contention.  

7. Milwaukee Brewers (77-85):
It took a major toll on the farm system, but the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum give the Brew Crew one of the best 1-thru-5 rotations in baseball. And Prince Fielder is still there. The Brewers will be legitimate title contenders.   

8. Colorado Rockies (83-79)
The Rockies have a bright future with Troy TulowitzkiCarlos Gonzalez and possibly Ubaldo Jimenez – if he agrees to an extension after the 2011 season — locked up. Their present looks very good, too. They have great depth, a solid rotation and a good lineup. Lots to be excited about in the Mile High City.

9. Chicago White Sox (88-74)
Looks like the South Siders are going for it all this year after signing Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko – or perhaps they’re setting it up so that Ozzie Guillen is the main culprit if they don’t win it all in 2011. Regardless, they have a power-packed offense and some nice arms. It’s up to Ozzie to bring it all together.  

10. New York Yankees (95-67; lost in ALCS)The Yankees have issues, yes — they’re aging, they have holes in the rotation and the bullpen is spotty. But they’re still the Yankees. And as long as Alex RodriguezDerek JeterRobinson CanoMark TeixeiraCC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera are there, they’re a major threat.  

11. Cincinnati Reds (91-71; lost in NLDS): The Reds were a surprise team last year, but I don’t think they did enough this offseason to stay on top. Their pitching staff is still deep and talented, but they needed to make bigger moves this offseason — mostly on offense — to take the next step, especially when considering how much better the teams in their division got. 


12. Detroit Tigers (81-81): Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit were big pickups, and the Tigers will compete in the American League Central all the way through. But it’s a tough division.  

13. Minnesota Twins (94-68; lost in ALDS)
The Twins always seem to find a way, and they’ll be fine again if they resign Carl Pavano and Jim Thome (as expected). A healthy Justin Morneau will be huge, too. But their bullpen took a major hit, and while the White Sox and Tigers got better, they really didn’t. 


14. Oakland Athletics (81-81):
This is my surprise team of the year. Billy Beane has established a phenomenal young pitching staff and a great defensive team. If only they could’ve acquired a couple of the big bats they needed. (I give their stadium a lot of the blame for that.)  

15. Chicago Cubs (75-87)
The Cubs sure look like they’re going for it by trading for Matt Garza, signing Kerry Wood to a two-year deal and giving Carlos Pena $10 million. On paper, they look good. But that seems to be the case a lot in the Windy City, and somehow it never comes to fruition. Why should I believe otherwise now?  

16. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (80-82): It has been a very disappointing
offseason for Angels general manager Arte Moreno, who lost out on Crawford and Beltre despite badly needing offensive help. They have potential in their rotation and a good bullpen that will be great if they get Soriano. But it seems they took a step back this offseason.  

17. Los Angeles Dodgers (80-82):
The Dodgers still have pieces in that lineup that can do some things, as well as a deep rotation. Don Mattingly will keep them relevant in his first year on the job. 

18. San Diego Padres (90-72):
This was the kind of reality Padres faithful expected, even after a surprising 2010 season that should’ve led to a playoff berth. No Gonzalez, and Heath Bell is a very likely Trade Deadline chip. But they still have a great pitching staff and a very good defensive team. I just don’t know where their offense will come from.  

19. Tampa Bay Rays (96-66; lost in ALDS): It’s a different Rays team now, with no Crawford, Soriano, Benoit, Pena or Garza. But that’s a savvy front office, and their array of young players give them a great future once again. But it’s a retooling year in Tampa Bay. And they won’t be as relevant in the AL East as they have been.  

20. Florida Marlins (80-82): The Marlins needed bullpen help, a catcher and another arm for the rotation this offseason and got all of that. They also have a great bunch of young position players and two franchise-type guys in Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson. But it looks like another .500 year in South Florida. Nothing more, nothing less.  

21. New York Mets (79-83): The Mets have toiled in obscurity this offseason, and maybe that’s a good thing. This is a year about finding out their identity and improving for the future — not competing.  

22. Washington Nationals (69-93): Mike Rizzo lost out on Lee, and he overpaid enormously for Werth. But they vastly improved their defense (with Werth and Adam LaRoche), have a nice lineup and boast a few nice, young pitching arms. D.C. is still on its way to becoming a place where free agents will actually want to be at some point.  

23. Baltimore Orioles (66-96): O’s look to have a pretty impressive lineup, but they need a lot more pitching — especially in the bullpen — to compete in baseball’s toughest division.  

24. Toronto Blue Jays (85-77): They’re another team that had its bullpen get completely stripped, and I don’t expect Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells to equal their 2010 season and keep them competitive. Not a bad rotation, though, and Alex Anthopoulos has made some nice forward-thinking moves thus far. 

25. Houston Astros (76-86): Brad Mills led the Astros to an impressive second half last year, but they have a long, long way to go.  

26. Seattle Mariners (61-101): The M’s were a big disappointment last year, and they will struggle once again in 2011. 

27. Arizona Diamondbacks (65-97): Kevin Towers has gone to work on retooling that dreadful bullpen, but there’s a lot more work to be done in Arizona than that.  

28. Cleveland Indians (69-93): Indians are still waiting for the young players they got back from trading two Cy Young Award winners (Sabathia and Lee) to come through. Until that happens, they’ll go nowhere. 

29. Kansas City Royals (67-95): With the pieces they have in their farm system and in the big leagues, the Royals seem set up to be a competitive team as soon as 2012. But not in 2011. 

30. Pittsburgh Pirates (57-105): The Pirates have issues. Their Major League roster is unimpressive, and their farm system isn’t great. All they can hope to do is avoid another 100-loss season.  

– Alden Gonzalez

6 Divisions in 6 Days: NL West

With this being the final week of Spring Training (crazy, right?), I figured it’d be justified to take a look at all 30 clubs and examine where they stand, what they need and where it looks like they’ll finish heading into the 2010 season. So, leading up to Opening Night between the Red Sox and Yankees, I’ll touch on one of the six divisions each day Monday-Saturday. Today, Day 5, we look at the National League West …


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for manny_ramirez_dodger.jpg
Dodgers: They’ve gone backwards a bit, which is what makes this one of the most evenly matched divisions in baseball. But the Dodgers are still a big threat. Yeah, Manny Rarmirez‘s best days are behind him. And, sure, having Vicente Padilla start on Opening Day doesn’t say much about your rotation. But the Dodgers’ lineup is solid, with a still-very-productive Ramirez and up-and-coming studs in Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin and Andre Ethier. The rotation has some nice young arms in Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. And the back end of that bullpen is very good with George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton. Other clubs in this division are starting to catch up, but you still have to look out for the Dodgers. 

Rockies: Last year, Jim Tracy was a miracle worker with the way he turned them into a playoff team after taking over for Clint Hurdle. In his first full season as manager in Colorado, he’ll direct a very formidable bunch once again. First off, that bench is the best in baseball — and it’s not even close. As reserves, the Rockies have established everyday players like Miguel Olivo, Melvin Mora and Jason Giambi, and other solid pieces in Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith. Think benches don’t matter much in baseball? They’re crucial throughout the aches and pains of a 162-game season, and this one will be huge in boosting the Rockies. As for the starting lineup, there’s nice pieces in Dexter Fowler, Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki, but they won’t hit much for power. The rotation is good, but not great. And I still have doubts about whether Huston Street (who will start the season on the disabled list) can be relied upon as closer for a full season. Still, the Rockies will be in the hunt all year. 

Giants: The Giants step into the 2010 season with the same problem — offense. Let’s get the obvious positives out of the way first. With Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito, their rotation is one of the best in baseball. And Brian Wilson is a solid closer. (The rest of the bullpen doesn’t really matter, since starters will be going seven or eight innings for most of the season, anyway.) But will they hit? I don’t think so. They went into the offseason knowing they needed more punch in the lineup, but all the Giants ended up with was Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa. That’s not enough. They’ll need Aaron Rowand, Pablo Sandoval and Freddy Sanchez to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and that’s never a good sign. As was the case last year, pitching will keep them in it. But they’ll need a Trade Deadline move for a big bat if they want to get over the hump. 

Padres: They’ll finish last in the division, but the Padres, I believe, are on the upswing. I don’t foresee Adrian Gonzalez — very affordable this season, and with a very affordable club option for 2011 — being traded during the regular season, and Kyle Blanks is a nice counterpart in the middle of the lineup. They also have some nice, young position players in Tony Gwynn Jr. and Everth Cabrera. Heath Bell is a top-tier closer. And the rotation isn’t too bad, with Jon Garland, Chris Young, Matt Latos, Kevin Correia and Clayton Richard. They’re a rebuilding team, and they don’t have nearly enough to compete this year — or even next year. But I think they’re on their way up (with or without A-Gonz). 

Diamondbacks: If Brandon Webb is healthy and right, the D-backs — losers of 92 games last season — could end up being the most-improved team in baseball. With Dan Haren and new acquisition Edwin Jackson, they can have a very nice top three in that rotation. But how and when Webb returns from shoulder surgery will be critical, of course. The bullpen isn’t great, but I like their offense. I love Justin Upton. Combine him with Mark Reynolds, newcomer Adam LaRoche, a healthy Conor Jackson and a Stephen Drew who should be better, they’ll be much more improved scoring runs. But even with the Webb of 2008, I felt this team would fall just shy of the postseason. Without him in top form, they’ll struggle to finish at .500.
NL West champion: Dodgers

– Alden Gonzalez
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