Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw has become one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last few years and the question is if he can lead his team to a championship. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Dodgers Best Of West

Seems as if I’ve twice heard Don Mattingly trying to tamp down expectations for his Los Angeles Dodgers this season, which seeing as how management has spent a gazillion dollars to upgrade the team talent that’s not only hard to do, but foolish to do. Managers frequently say they play the cards they are dealt and it looks to those of us gazing upon LA from a distance that Mattingly has a full house.

Yes, we get it that the San Francisco Giants are the defending World Series champions and have won two titles in three years and that they play in the same National League West Division as the Dodgers, but it’s terribly difficult to repeat and the Dodgers are loaded. It’s not as if Mattingly is blending his freshman class into the frontcourt, the Dodgers are built to win now. It’s not mandatory that they win the division crown during the regular season, but they had better make the playoffs or Mattingly will be fired. They’d also better do some winning in the playoffs or Magic Johnson will stop smiling.

The Dodgers have the goods for success, including the bankrolls of an ownership group including Magic. Clayton Kershaw is the ace of the pitching staff and Matt Kemp would be the ace of anyone’s outfield. Recent additions Adrian Gonzalez, Zach Greinke, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford can add star power and just power to the Dodgers’ lineup. The only problem is they are not all healthy. Greinke just came up with some kind of elbow twinge which could impinge on his early-season pitching. Ramirez is out for weeks following torn thumb-ligament surgery and Crawford spent his entire employment with the Boston Red Sox injured.

While the Dodgers will become the darlings of the Hollywood set and get all kinds of publicity as player fortunes ebb and flow, the Giants will keep up their steady work. No team remains static and San Francisco seemed to get all of the breaks it needed last year in the post-season, too, but overlook them at your peril.

Examining the Giants’ lineup piece by piece it seems the the sum of the whole is more impressive than the individual components. Outside of catcher Buster Posey, who is one of the gems in the sport, the remainder of the lineup doesn’t blow anybody away. Yet guys like Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro come through in the clutch. The starting pitching, anchored by Matt Cain, is exceptional. One would think a team that lost its closer, Brian Wilson, would flail around in the bullpen, but manager Bruce Bochy pushed all the right buttons and Wilson wasn’t even missed.

The biggest question for San Francisco is what the deal is with righty Tim Lincecum. Can he regain his Cy Young form? Will he become a spot starter, middle reliever, or just how will he be used?

Whatever I say about the Arizona Diamondbacks will be wrong. Whenever I think they might challenge for the division lead they plummet into mediocrity. Whenever I think they might threaten to finish last, they challenge for the title. This year I am going to predict mediocrity and that’s because I don’t see much hitting to count on in the day-to-day lineup. How much will Adam Eaton help? After a 22-game cameo last year he was supposed to be the next big thing, but he has an elbow problem that is supposed to bench him for weeks. What kind of year will Justin Upton have? Who is Paul Goldschmidt. The Diamondbacks’ pitching should be better than their hitting, but that doesn’t says much.

The main thing the San Diego Padres have going for them besides sunshine is that the Colorado Rockies are in the same division. I think it’s finally too late to re-activate Tony Gwynn so when I look at the projective starting lineup I mostly see a hitting wasteland. Third baseman Chase Headley is the best regular, but he has a broken thumb. Other than that several of San Diego’s regulars may be guys who showed flashes with other teams, but were shipped out of town.  The Padres’ opening-day starter is scheduled to be Edinson Valquez who was the odd man out in the Cincinnati Reds’ rotation.

Then there are the Rockies. It should be a rocky summer for the Rockies. I’d like to see a healthy Todd Helton have one more excellent season before he calls it quits. Troy Tulowitzki anchors shortstop. Carlos Gonzalez is the future of the franchise, but it’s hard to say that about anyone in the pitching rotation. Colorado had the busiest bullpen in the universe in 2012.

This is how things look in the National League West Division for 2013: 1) San Francisco Giants; 2) Los Angeles Dodgers; 3) Arizona Diamondbacks; 4) San Diego Padres; 5) Colorado Rockies.

Tags: Arizona Diamondbacks Colorado Rockies Los Angeles Dodgers San Diego Padres San Francisco Giants

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