National League West forecast 2014
Manager: Don Mattingly, fourth season, 260-225, .536
GM: Ned Colletti, ninth season
2013: First (92-70); won NLDS over Atlanta, 3-1; lost NLCS to St. Louis, 4-2
Nothing like a season-opening journey to Australia to test a team's resolve. But the Dodgers didn't look any worse for wear in sweeping the Diamondbacks in the two-game series Down Under -- and it's going to take more than 32 hours of round-trip flying time to slow down the defending NL West champs. With $216 million invested in this year's payroll, it's again World Series or bust, and the biggest concern is preventing any of the most important pieces from breaking along the way.
The rotation is ridiculously talented with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu at the front. For the game's end, closer Kenley Jansen is about as good as it gets. As for the lineup, it's about staying healthy, and Yasiel Puig already was complaining about a number of supposed ailments -- real or imagined -- after the two games in Sydney. Reining in the skilled but volatile Puig has seemed like a full-time job for manager Don Mattingly, who has plenty of other stuff to do for a team with sky-high expectations. A year ago, Mattingly's days appeared to be numbered after a 16-22 start that had them in last place in mid-May. But after the stunning turnaround, and a failed trip to the NLCS, Mattingly secured a three-year contract extension, adding stability to a franchise that has the money to buy everything else it needs.
Speaking of cash, the Dodgers have to decide how much Hanley Ramirez is worth. The shortstop was limited to 86 games last season because of a shoulder injury, but during that abbreviated stretch, Ramirez batted .345 with 20 home runs and a 1.040 OPS. Still, the Dodgers have moved slowly on a possible extension with Ramirez entering his walk year. It's possible LA is using that as motivating factor to squeeze another MVP-caliber season from Ramirez.
Manager: Kirk Gibson, fifth season, 290-279, .510
GM: Kevin Towers, fourth season
2013: Second (81-81)
Outlook: Losing Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery was a tough blow to absorb in spring training, and especially for a club lacking in rotation depth. Trading for Mark Trumbo adds another nice offensive piece to perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt.
Manager: Bruce Bochy, eighth season with Giants, 579-555, .511
GM: Brian Sabean, 18th season
2013: Fourth (76-86)
Outlook: New season, but mostly the same faces for the Giants, who will try to make a playoff run with a very similar core from the 2012 title team. Tim Hudson is back in the Bay Area -- except on the other side -- and should be a nice complement to a familiar rotation of Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum and Vogelsong.
Manager: Walt Weiss, second season, 74-88, .457
GM: Dan O'Dowd, 14th season
2013: Fifth (74-88)
Outlook: The Rockies' big offseason move was to sign LaTroy Hawkins, at age 41, to be the closer for a team coming off two consecutive last-place finishes. If this begins to look like a third, that could put Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez on the trading block.
Manager: Bud Black, eighth season, 540-595, .476
GM: Josh Byrnes, third season
2013: Tie-third (76-86)
Outlook: A sluggish start by the Padres could put Chase Headley back in play before the trade deadline. But if they do show promise, Ian Kennedy and the newly-acquired Josh Johnson should be two of the bigger reasons for it.
LENNON'S BEST OF THE NL WEST
Best everday lineup: Dodgers
Best player: Paul Goldschmidt
Best power hitter: Paul Goldschmidt
Best overall Hitter: Hanley Ramirez
Best in the clutch: Paul Goldschmidt
Best baserunner: Hunter Pence
Best infielder: Nolan Arenado
Best outfielder: Gerardo Parra
Best catcher: Buster Posey
Best starting pitcher: Clayton Kershaw
Best reliever: Rex Brothers
Best closer: Kenley Jansen
Best pitch: Clayton Kershaw's curve ball
Manager: Bruce Bochy
General manager: Kevin Towers
Stadium: Dodger Stadium