MLB In Full Bloom - Padres Preview - 3/7//2014

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25– Number of days until Opening Day

 58,682 – Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

San Diego Padres Preview

Key Additions: Seth Smith, Josh Johnson, Joaquin Benoit

Key Departures: Luke Gregerson, Jason Marquis, Clayton Richard

The NL West was terrible last season. How bad was it? In mid-June, the Padres were one game out of first place. But San Diego eventually finished 16 games behind the Dodgers, only two ahead of the last-place Rockies. It's possible the division could end up with the same results this year, though almost every team made improvements. The Padres made a couple of key additions that could pay off nicely. But above all, the Padres must get through the season relatively injury-free and PED suspension would be ideal.

OFFENSE: The Padres were a below average offensive team in 2013. They finished in the lowest third of the National League in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage. Chase Headley's drop-off in the middle of the lineup did not help matters, but the Padres also lost Yasmani Grandal and Everth Cabrera for 50 games for PED suspensions.  In addition to the PED suspension, Grandal is recovering from a late season ACL tear (and subsequent surgery) last year, but should be ready to go early in the season. The Padres need him to produce 2012 type numbers offensively and a bounce back year from Headley will boost the Padres offense. Second baseman Jedd Gyorko flew under the radar in 2013 with 23 home runs and had a solid rookie campaign.  Like many Padres, Carlos Quentin dealt with at least one injury, while serving an eight-game suspension for his role in the bench clearing brawl with Zack Greinke in the first two weeks of the season. Despite a bad knee and a strained left shoulder, Quentin still managed to hit 13 home runs last year and can still be productive. This offense needs another productive lefty bat and they are hoping Seth Smith can fill that need for them.

STARTING PITCHING: Left-hander Eric Stults was the only Padres starter to log over 200 innings in 2013. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are the other two returning starters, though Ross may continue to be used as a swingman. Rounding out the rotation will be Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson. Kennedy is quickly distancing himself from his excellent 2011 season after having posted two consecutive years with an ERA above 4.00. Both his walk and home run rates have risen in each of the past two years. Johnson is also a rebound hopeful candidate, but has a few more factors working in his favor. His 2013 season was awful on the surface, but he still struck out a batter per inning. Getting him out of Toronto and into a pitcher's park could result in a return to his productive days with the Marlins.

BULLPEN: Despite losing Luke Gregerson, the Padres' bullpen looks like it could be an above average unit in 2014. Huston Street will be joined by former Tiger Joaquin Benoit to form one of the more experienced setup-closer combos in baseball. Street posted a 2.70 ERA and 33 saves in 2013. Alex Torres and Nick Vincent will also make up a bullpen that should be solid this year.

2014 PREDICTION: The Diamondbacks have created some distance between them and the Padres with their additions this offseason. The Padres could compete with the Diamondbacks and the Giants for second place in the NL West seems if their veterans produce as expected and injuries don't become a major obstacle. A .500 season might be the best this team can hope for, but that could be enough to challenge for the league's second wild-card bid if many things go right.

Final Record: 81-81 (4th Place NL West)

MLB In Full Bloom - Rockies Preview 3/6//2014

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26– Number of days until Opening Day

 56,224 – Number of signatures at www.budweiser.com/openingday to make Opening Day a National Holiday

Colorado Rockies Preview

Key Additions: Justin Morneau, Drew Stubbs, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Barnes, Jordan Lyles, Franklin Morales, Boone Logan

Key Departures: Yorvit Torrealba, Todd Helton, Dexter Fowler, Rafael Betancourt, Drew Pomeranz, Jeff Francis, Jonathan Herrera

The big question mark facing the Colorado Rockies this year is can they finish .500? Rockies manager Walt Weiss led the Rockies to a 10-win improvement (64 wins to 74 wins) last year, but it wasn’t good enough to prevent the Rockies from a second straight last-place finish in the National League. With Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies have two of the best players in the game, but we saw once again last season that it’s difficult to rely on either of them to stay healthy. Colorado was actually five games over .500 as late as June 11. Neither guy has played 130 games or more in the same season since they have been with the Rockies.

OFFENSE: The lineup from top to bottom can put a lot of pressure on their opponents. Along with Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, the Rockies have Wilin Rosario, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and Nolan Arenado that can provide some pop. Morneau hasn't been the same player since he missed the end of the 2010 season with a concussion. Hindsight is 20/20, but the Rockies probably would have been better served to pony up the money for Kendrys Morales. If the Rockies line-up can stay relatively healthy, they should score a lot of runs.

STARTING PITCHING: What can the Rockies get out of their starting rotation? Pitchers that have success in Coors Field must have fastball command and keep it down in the strike zone. Unlike most teams, the Rockies do not have a set starting rotation on paper. There are at least seven pitchers that include  Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin (health issue), Brett Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, Juan Nicasio, Jordan Lyles, and Franklin Morales that will start at least one game. Christian Friedrich is another candidate for the rotation. Chacin is already dealing with a shoulder strain and if the Rockies lose him for an extended period of time, it will be extremely difficult on this staff. This rotation is full of question marks with very few answers.

BULLPEN: The Rockies bullpen is interesting with LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan joining Rex Brothers. Brothers is a quality reliever and now they have some additional options for the later innings. The Rockies' bullpen allowed the highest ERA in the National League in 2013, but the combination of Adam Ottavino and Brothers was surprisingly effective in the eighth and ninth innings. Ottavino allowed a 2.64 ERA, while Brothers held opponents to a .209 batting average and struck out over a batter per inning with a 1.74 ERA. Hawkins has been tabbed as the Rockies closer, but Brothers proved he can get the job done last year with 19 saves in 20 opportunities. Matt Belisle will also see plenty of innings.

2014 PREDICTION: The Rockies could be an interesting team if things break right, but you could say the same thing for a lot of teams. I like what they are doping as they are finding pieces. Progress is being made, but not enough progress in 2014 is being made in Colorado. As it stands, there are too many questions here. Fifth place, NL West.

Final Record: 74-84 (5th Place - NL West)

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