This may very well be the toughest division in baseball in 2012. Not because of the strength of the teams, but because all 5 teams have a legitimate shot at the division crown. 4 different NL West teams have made the playoffs in the last 3 years alone. The lone outlier is the Padres, who came within 2 games of the division title in 2010. In 2011, the D-backs captured the west, and its very possible they do it again in 2012. Keep an eye on the NL West in 2012.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks (projected record: 92-70)
Ian Kennedy, is very solid from top to bottom. The top 3 is great, with three no.2 type starters in Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and the newly acquired Trevor Cahill. Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter, who each posted at least 2.4 bWAR last season, fill out the rotation. If an injury were to occur in the rotation, one of Trevor Cahill or Tyler Skaggs could easily fill the role. The only real question mark besides Stephen Drew is the bullpen. The bullpen was good last season, thanks to a J.J. Putz revival, but can he and the rest of the staff do the same in 2012?
Bottom Line: Coming into 2012, the Diamondbacks are the best team in the division, but can this young team repeat?
2. San Francisco Giants (projected record: 89-73)
Just 2 years removed from a World Series championship, the Giants are still a strong contender. The pitching staff is fantastic as always. Brian Wilson leads one of the best bullpens in the National League. Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner are all Cy Young Candidates. Ryan Vogelsong could provide yet another all-star starter if he can repeat his remarkable 2011. At the 5th spot is the overpaid Barry Zito. As much as it pains Giants fans to hear it, he is actually still a serviceable starter. The offense could be better than it previously has, but it still is rather weak. Posey and Sandoval are both legitimate all-star type bats, but its a steep decline after them. New additions, Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, could help aid the offense in 2012.
Bottom Line: The Giants pitching will carry them into contention. They should be in the hunt for the division, but the wild card is more likely.
The next 3 teams on this list were very difficult to rank. You could put them in any order, as they each have a slight shot to compete in 2012. I settled on this order after much debate.
3. Colorado Rockies (projected record: 83-79)
Just 3 years removed from their 3rd playoff berth in franchise history, the Rockies were a hot pick coming into last season, but proved to be rather lackluster. The Rockies made 2 kinds of deals this offseason. They acquired young flyball pitchers (Chatwood, Moscoso, Guthrie, etc.) and also brought in a plethora of veteran position players (Scutaro, Blake, Hernandez, and Cuddyer). The offense has a solid player at every position, although only 3 of their starting position players are under the age of 30. The rotation is young, but it has potential. Chacin is a very good pitcher who profiles as a no.2, and Guthrie is a solid innings eater. Chatwood and Alex White each could be no.3 starters if they reach their potential. Stud pitching prospect, Drew Pomeranz could be up mid-season to aid the rotation.
Bottom Line: The Rockies have the potential to be a contender this year, and could surprise many. I think they're more of a 3rd place team, but the NL West is so hard to predict, that they at least have a chance to beat out the Giants and D-backs.
4. San Diego Padres (projected record: 79-83)
The Padres are probably the toughest team to predict in the Majors. The rotation is made up of basically 5 no. 4 type starters, but it still could be among the league's best. Pitching will never be a problem for them in Petco. The offense is improved from last season and should be league average. The addition of Carlos Quentin really helps. Yonder Alonso and Cameron Maybin should also anchor that lineup for years to come. I'd also watch for Chase Headley as he is a potential breakout candidate.
Bottom Line: This team very well could end up contending, but right now ill play it safe and put them in 4th.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers (projected record: 78-84)
The Dodgers are extremely thin on the offensive side of the ball. They have Kemp, Ethier, and a potential stud in Dee Gordon, but other than that, they're made up of replacement level players. A lineup with AJ Ellis, Juan Rivera, Mark Ellis, James Loney, and Juan Rivera shouldnt strike fear in anybody. Matt Kemp is an MVP caliber player, but the Dodgers have little protection around him which could lead to less at bats. The pitching is actually fairly good. They have the defending CY Young winner in Clayton Kershaw, who at 23 could be poised to improve. Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly are each solid middle of the rotation innings-eaters. The additions of Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang give them added rotation depth. The rotation could carry them to a .500 record.
Bottom Line: The Dodgers arent anything special on offense, but the pitching is good. I could see them finishing as high as second if everything goes right for them. Right now they look like more of a team that will hover around .500 to me.