Last time I had a look at the Snakes offense, which wasn't a team strength last year. This time I look at their pitching, which was a strength. This is the last of the NL West contending opponent previews here are Dodgerama --- be sure to check out the Rockies preview from last week and the Padres preview from two weeks ago.
Brandon Tyler Webb
2.84, 3.59, 3.54, 3.10, 3.01: these are the earned run averages of Brandon Webb in the first five years of his career.
3.44, 3.55, 4.34, 4.06, 3.34: these are the ground ball to fly ball ratios of Brandon Webb in the first five years of his career.
12, 17, 21, 15, 12: these are the number of home runs Webb has allowed in each of the first five years of his career.
12, 24, 30, 29, 20: these are the number of ground ball double plays Webb has induced in each of the first five years of his career.
As far as I can tell Webb has never had a serious injury at the big league level in five years.
Daniel John Haren
Haren isn't the extreme ground ball pitcher that Webb is, but he does have better control. And that's all I want to say about Haren. The subject of Webb and Haren being at the top of the Snakes rotation is very depressing one for Dodger fans, especially since it seems like Haren may be the guy who puts the Snakes over the top this year.
Douglas P Davis
I think the Snakes are going to get a 4.5 ERA from Davis this year. The last two years he's basically been a 200 inning, 100 walk, 150 strikeout pitcher, which is serviceable but nothing special. I guess it's possible Davis could recapture his form of 2004 and 2005, when he had the best years of his career with a strikeout to walk ratio of 2:1. If he could do that, the Snakes would have a fearsome rotation. I see no reason to think he will, though. In fact, I think it's more likely that instead of improving he just turns up ineffective this year. Davis is 32 and the trend over the last few seasons isn't good.
Micah Burton Owings
Owings is a much more likely candidate for improvement than Davis. He could end up with a 4.0 ERA, which would be a great number from the back of the rotation. Back when Davis and Owings were the 2 and 3 starters for the Snakes, their rotation didn't look so good. Yes, they won a division with that rotation, but regardless of whatever magic the Snakes were able to put together last year, be it bullpen voodoo or just plain luck, Davis and Owings aren't what you want in your second and third best starting pitchers, especially on a team that isn't so great offensively. But a rotation where Owings and Davis are the 4 and 5 can be very good indeed. Half of that change is getting Haren, and the other half will depend on Randy Johnson being healthy and effective.
You can't realistically expect to win more than half the games Davis and Owings pitch with the offense the Snakes have. So they have to try to win the division with the starters who are better than those two. If that's just Webb, that's going to be pretty hard, as good as he is. If that's Webb and Haren and a healthy Johnson, well --- watch out for the Snakes.
Randall David Johnson
Randall isn't fully healthy yet, or at least he isn't ready to pitch in the regular season yet. But he's getting close. The Snakes will use Edgar Gonzalez in the rotation for the first two weeks, after which Johnson is expected to be ready. Gonzalez is one of those guys who is making the roster as much on the strength of his being out of options than on any excellence he has shown at the big league level.
Randall had 72 strikeouts with just 13 walks in 56.2 innings pitched last year. He can still bring it. I just wonder if he can hit triple digit innings this year. Johnson has never been the most durable pitcher around, with plenty of stints on the disabled list, though to be fair he's also had plenty of full, healthy seasons in his career. But he's going to be 44 this year. On his creaky old back may rest the playoff chances of the Snakes. Unless Webb and Haren are so good that the Snakes don't even need Johnson. We'll see.
Valverde, the excellent closer of last season, is gone. But the superb supporting quartet of Cruz, Slaten, Lyon, and Pena are back. Slop up men Nippert and Medders are also back, unless they are cut. But these are back of the bullpen men. It was the front five of the 'pen that were so good for the Snakes last year, and though Qualls has replaced Valverde, the hopeful and naive assumption is that front five figures to be excellent again.
But as jaded baseball fans everywhere are aware, few relievers are a sure thing. Both Lyon and Cruz have multiple +6.0 ERA seasons in their work histories. Pena came up in 2006, was bad, then last year was good. Slaten was a rookie last year: good first year, kid. Now do it again. I'm guessing that two of these four will turn up snake eyes on the snakes and regress into Nippert-land. As for the new guy Qualls, I kind of think the Astros should have just kept him instead of trading him and change for Valverde. I wouldn't be surprised if Qualls is better this year than Valverde, who as recently as 2006 had a 5.84 ERA.
I don't think the Snakes are going to have as good a 'pen this year as last year. This means that the starters have to be much better than last year, which is likely. It also means that the Snakes probably can't depend on having a winning record if they're outscored again.
As much as I detest the Snakes I guess I'm picking them to finish in first place. This is a team that figures to have a better offense and starting rotation than last year, when they finished first. I think the Dodgers have more potential than the Snakes, but until I see the team run out the strongest lineup they can consistently, and stay mostly healthy, I'm picking the Snakes.
For the record, if I put on my optimistic fan hat I think the Dodgers will win 95 games and take first place.
So here is my projected standings for the NL West:
Snakes --- 90-72
Dodgers --- 89-73
Rockies --- 88-74
Padres --- 82-80
Giants --- 11-150*
*One Giants game is rained out and not made up.