by Robert Ferringo - 03/27/2006
You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.
That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Twilight Zone!
OK, so the National League West isn't exactly a vortex or a spacial void. In fact, that intro makes it sound a lot more entertaining than it will actually be. But I refer to it as the Twilight Zone because it's littered with aging veterans in the final days (or twilight) of their illustrious careers.
The locker rooms in this division will likely reek of Tiger Balm and moth balls. Indeed, whichever club finishes the regular season with the least amount of games lost to injury should be the one playing in October.
Last year's National League West was one of the worst divisions in baseball history. At one point, it looked as if the representative in the playoffs would actually have a losing record. I truly expect it will be nearly as putrid this season, but I do think that the Dodgers have the tools to be a legitimate playoff team.
Here's one man's look at the NL West:
NATIONAL LEAGUE WESTLOS ANGELES DODGERS
2005 Record: 71-91 (fourth)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 6/1
Odds to win World Series: 12/1
Wins Over/Under: 85.5
Strengths: I love the Dodgers pitching staff. From top to bottom it grades out as one of the top six in MLB. Danys Baez should be outstanding in the setup role, and Eric Gagne should be back at full strength. Rafael Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra bring ability and winning experience to a lineup that was short on both. As long as Furcal has a designated driver, he'll be all set.
Weaknesses: There are question marks in the outfield, and injury probabilities with J.D. Drew and Nomar Garciaparra. There isn't a whole lot of depth here, so if one guy goes down then it could be a patchwork lineup trying to support the pitching.
Outlook: Pitching wins banners, and I think the Dodgers have the best all-around staff in the division.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
2005 Record: 82-80 (first)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 16/1
Odds to win World Series: 40/1
Wins Over/Under: 77.5
Strengths: Two ex-Mets - Mike Piazza and Mike Cameron - fill two needs that the Padres had. The outfield - Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko and Cameron - is quite potent. Their front-end starters are very good, and, even at 38, Trevor Hoffman is still one of the more reliable closers in the league.
Weaknesses: They're old. And age means injuries. And injuries mean losses and excuses. Of the top 30 players in their organization, 12 of them have nine or more years of experience.
Outlook: The defending NL West champs have a posted win total of 77 this year. That shows you how much they've improved.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
2005 Record: 75-87 (third)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 7/1
Odds to win World Series: 20/1
Wins Over/Under: 83.5
Strengths: Their one-two punch of Jason Schmidt and Matt Morris is as good as any in the bigs. Having Barry Bonds settles the lineup, and should help the numbers of guys at the top of the order.
Weaknesses: I see an old, slow, ready-to-break-down team. Their roster features seven players age 38 or older, and two more that are over 35. Also, you can never count on Awful Armando Benitez to close out any pressure-packed game.
Outlook: The bad karma surrounding Bonds should be too much to overcome. Now that he's off the juice I don't expect him to be the one-man team that he was circa 2001. I don't think I see a .500 club here.
2005 Record: 77-85 (second)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 28/1
Odds to win World Series: 100/1
Wins Over/Under: 74.5
Strengths: They have several young, live arms with which to build around. Brandon Webb, Brandon Lyon and Brandon Medders have two things in common. They each have a pretty boy/surfer name and they each have a chance to be very good.
Weaknesses: Besides Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green, I don't see anyone on this roster that can manage over 15 home runs. In fact, I see a roster stacked with fringe Major Leaguers.
Outlook: I know they're playing the whole pitching-defense angle, but eventually you have to be able to score. Their pitching is good, but not that good.
2005 Record: 67-95 (fifth)
Odds to win NL Pennant: 70/1
Odds to win World Series: 200/1
Wins Over/Under: 68.5
Strengths: When I find one, I'll let you know.
Weaknesses: When Byung-Hyun Kim and Jose Mesa are two of the five best pitchers on your team, you are in a lot of trouble.
Outlook: These guys might be the worst team in baseball. It seriously looks like Todd Helton got demoted to the minors when you look at the clowns he's playing with.
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The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's baseball picks service.