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The best thing anybody can say about this division is that it's hard to predict. Call it parity or mediocrity, but at least three teams have a shot. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Giants have more than enough pitching to win 84 games -- that's all it took for the Dodgers last season -- but do any of them have an offense? The Dodgers and D'backs are favorites because their young hitters are farther along than San Francisco's, but then again, the Giants were one of few teams to make significant strides this winter. Out west, it doesn't take much.
Location: Tucson, Ariz. (Cactus League)
2008 record: 82-80 (2nd, NL West)
Winter grade: B
While fans mourn the departure of Randy Johnson, the starting rotation is in fine shape with the addition of Jon Garland. Like a lot of teams, the D'backs did not make major improvements this offseason, but they also did not fall off very far. Besides signing Garland to replace Johnson, they tabbed second baseman Felipe Lopez to replace Orlando Hudson. They were not as successful filling holes in the bullpen, where closer Brandon Lyon and set-up man Juan Cruz left as free agents. Tom Gordon and Scott Schoeneweis are decent additions to pen, but they are not anchors anymore.
Key question: Where will they turn for relief?
The Diamondbacks have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, which is convenient, because those starters are going to have to go deep into games. Despite the additions of Gordon and Schoeneweis, the Arizona bullpen remains somewhat suspect, with Chad Qualls closing and Tony Pena and Jon Rauch setting him up. Qualls is an elite set-up man, but he's not known as a closer, and the team doesn't have many attractive options if he falters. As good as the D'backs will be at the start of games, they had better be prepared for some nervous ninth innings.
Prospect to watch: Max Scherzer, SP
When the former first-round pick arrived in Arizona last season, he went 0-4 (with a 3.05 ERA), suffered from shoulder inflammation and was sent back to the minors. This year, the Diamondbacks are pegging Scherzer as their fifth starter, so they can periodically skip his turn in the rotation and keep his innings down. If Scherzer stays fresh, he has the stuff of a No. 1 starter, not a No. 5.
Position battle to follow: Eric Byrnes vs. the outfield
Arizona's projected outfield includes Conor Jackson in left, Chris Young in center and Justin Upton in right. That leaves no room for Byrnes, who was the team's most productive offensive player two years ago, but missed most of last season with a tear in his hamstring. Byrnes will use this spring to show that he is healthy, and likely force his way back into the lineup.
Scout's take: "As of today, I'd say they are the team to beat. They have offensive question marks, but the best pitching top to bottom, and certainly the best 1-2 starters. Offensively, a lot depends on the continued development of Upton, Young and Stephen Drew. With Mark Reynolds, the home runs are nice, but he's not the offensive player those numbers make him look like. I think that's still kind of a hole for them. To me, Lopez is a downgrade over Hudson. Everybody knows about Hudson's defense, but he's one of those glue guys who kept the clubhouse loose."
Location: Tucson, Ariz. (Cactus League)
2008 record: 74-88 (3rd, NL West)
Winter grade: C
On top of losing their closer (Brian Fuentes) to free agency and trading their best hitter (Matt Holliday) to Oakland, the Rockies learned that Jeff Francis will undergo surgery on his shoulder that will likely keep him out for the season. To protect themselves, they acquired Jason Marquis for the back end of their rotation. They also replaced Fuentes with Huston Street, who was part of the Holliday trade. As difficult as it was to part with Holliday, he is a free agent after this season, and the Rockies could not let him go without getting something in return.
Key question: Can this starting rotation keep up with the others?
The NL West doesn't have much, but it does have starting pitching. The Rockies' rotation is a lot deeper than it used to be, but without Francis, it will be hard to match up with the rest of the division. Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez will have to go against the likes of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. The Rockies are also susceptible at the back end, where they are counting on Marquis, Jorge De La Rosa, and about six candidates competing for the No. 5 spot.
Prospect to watch: Carlos Gonzalez, CF
Vaunted young players do not usually move around this often. Last offseason, Gonzalez went from Arizona to Oakland in the Haren trade, and this offseason he went from Oakland to Colorado in the Holliday deal. Gonzalez did not fare that well offensively in his first big-league trial -- he hit .242 in 85 games with the A's last season -- but he should be much more comfortable at Coors Field.
Position battle to follow: Left field
Replacing Holliday is nearly impossible, but those vying to do it include Gonzalez, Seth Smith, Jeff Baker and Ian Stewart, who backs up Garrett Atkins at third base. The favorite seems to be Smith, a pinch hitter extraordinaire who batted .323 at Class AAA Colorado Springs last season and played some centerfield after he was called up by the Rockies.
Scout's take: "I put them toward the bottom of the division. If Francis is gone for the year, they go from a respectable rotation to below league average. Cook is great, but Ubaldo is still very unproven. Marquis will eat innings, but I wouldn't even bet on him posting an ERA in the 4s at Coors Field. I see Street having a tough year in that ballpark as well, though their bullpen is one of the stronger ones. They obviously have a huge offensive hole to fill in left field. None of those guys will put up half the power that Holliday did."