We now hop over to the NL West, which was the closest 1-to-4 race among all divisions - San Diego finished 10 back of division winner San Fran. The teams finished in the same order as Season 15's, but big win gains by both the Dodgers and the Padres tightened things up last year.
San Francisco (87-75, 8th in runs, 9th in ERA): returns mostly the same roster that won 87 last year. Perennial Cy Young contender (and 2-time winner) Luis Contreras headlines the staff; B.C. Arroyo, Kent Rolison and Matt Kieschnick form one of the best late-inning relief trios around. On offense, C Edgar Torres and RF Erik Jackson are the main run producers. They'll get a big boost when they bring up SP Ichiro Hara (Sea 14 IFA) and RP Lariel Blanco (Sea 14's #13 overall pick).
Colorado (83-79, 2nd in runs, 13th in ERA): had wholesale free agent losses, most notably SP Roberto Jacquez and RP Branch Cepicky. They countered with their own free agent signings (RP Bum Mercedes, RP Alex Smith, SP Octavio Boliver, SP Tommy McIntyre) and rookie promotions (SP Juan Javier, Sea 11's #46 pick), but I don't think those guys are the caliber of the lost pitchers. They have bats galore, led by RF Mark Payton (.298/68/152 last year)...lotta 13-12 games from the Rockies this year.
Los Angeles (82-80, 14th in runs, 6th in ERA): had a quiet off-season after posting a nice 14-win improvement last year. These guys need to find 3 or 4 hitters somewhere. 2B Carlos Melendez is a good bat, but the rest of the lineup is mostly under .310 OBP. The pitching starts but certainly doesn't end with SP Todd Leon (#2 in Major Leagues' career ERA) - Enos Campbell and Jorge Marichal are solid starters and closer Minnie Greenwood is money. To top it off, Season 13's #1 overall, SP Del Redondo, is chomping at the bit in AAA. How'd you like to be the team facing Leon and Redondo twice each in a 5-game series? But they have to GET to short-series land...here's a crazy idea: trade Redondo for TWO top hitting prospects. I think that's probably doable.
San Diego (77-85, 13th in runs, 8th in ERA): Coming off a 16-win improvement, the young Padres had no significant free agent losses (although they did waive last year's best SP, Alex Rosado, apparently for salary cap purposes) They clearly need more offense, and they could very well get it from the 2nd-year quartet of 1B Dwight Loney, LF Nate Hood, CF Rico Guillen, and RF Babe Brett. The starting staff is unspectacular, but adequate for their big ballpark. The stars of the staff are relievers - Wascar Hernandez, Tori Broome, and FA Branch Cepicky.
Forecast: I just don't see anyone improving enough to challenge the Giants, who will pick up their 3rd straight division title. I like the Dodgers for 2nd - watch out if they can score a wild card (but I don't think they will - see NL East). The surging Padres may well challenge for awhile and will finish a close third. The Rockies will struggle with pitching and fall to 4th.