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The State of the National League West, Part 2

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Continued from yesterday....

The Los Angeles Dodgers
2010 record: 80-82 (4th place)
2011 Estimated payroll: $101 million

Strong work, Agent Ned. For a while you had us worried you were playing a dangerous double game: trading Milton Bradley for Andre Ethier, trading Andy LaRoche for Manny Ramirez. Winning the division in 2008 and 2009. It was too much, too soon, and we thought perhaps they had turned you. But now we understand the Manny gambit: tease the greater Southland, force them to bow down to a manchild, then, crash -- pull the franchise down into a flaming pile of molten polyester dreadlocks. Brilliant.

This winter you have continued to please The Director. Sure, you can't help but have a couple strong young pitchers. Clayton Kershaw could win a Cy Young soon, and on any given day Chad Billingsley will throw a two-hitter. Garland, Kuroda, and Lilly, with Padilla as insurance, are a respectable back half of the rotation.

But your bullpen is the perfect foil. Broxton no longer strikes fear, Kuo can't pitch very often, and new expensive guy Matt Guerrier is, well, a $12 million 32-year-old middle reliever who strikes out about 5.5 batters per 9 innings. Unless Broxton regains his beastly ways, this is not a shut-em-down bullpen. (Though watch for Kenley Jansen, who got a sniff of the bigs in 2010. He'll probably be in the bullpen in early 2011, perhaps poised to take over closing duties.... Ned: Jansen must be dealt with.)

On the hittin' side, the Dodgers still don't have a left fielder, unless you count Eugenio Velez. Rafael Fur --ouch!-- is good unless he's --ow!, and James Loney's power is AWOL, last seen wearing a daikon/sea salt cleansing mask at a West Hollywood day spa. Instead of Russell Martin, there's Rod Barajas. Matt Kemp is a dog and people in LA hate him and, when you've had all you can stands and can't stands no more, Agent Ned, please send him to the Giants for Michael Sandoval, what they call a "change of scenery" trade. Juan Uribe will continue to hit big home runs and be underrated, but he won't make up for the other holes in this lineup. There aren't any blue-chip position prospects in the upper minors, so what you get for the 2010 Dodger offense is either what you see on the 40-man roster or what Agent Ned can scare up in trades or free-agent leftovers. Your mission is on course, Ned. Commence Operation Ironglove Von Pickoff!

Kneejerk January assessment: If Broxton rebounds, Kuo becomes a force, and the rotation shines, the Dodgers could stay in a lot of ballgames and contend long enough for Agent Ned to make in-season moves to bolster the offense. (Or to upgrade the bullpen with Octavio Dotel.)

The San Diego Padres
2010 Record: 90-72 (2nd place)
2011 Est. Payroll: $42 million

Despite my growing Latos intolerance, I'm the first to admit the Padres can pitch. You can quibble about young guys fading down the stretch in the heat of a pennant race, but the Padres matched the Giants arm for arm in 2010 and are likely to do it again this year.

And now for something completely different: A team that's as likely as not to bat Orlando Hudson third and Ryan Ludwick cleanup. It's not quite as bad as batting, oh, I don't know, Bengie Molina cleanup, but when Adrian Gonzalez went to Boston and in stepped Kyle Blanks and Brad Hawpe, let's just say opposing pitchers felt the way oil companies did when George W. Bush staffed up the Department of the Interior. Wait, that's not quite right, because Bush staffed Interior with former oil executives, and the Padres aren't putting former pitchers at first base. But compared to Adrian Gonzalez... well, you get the picture.

Kneejerk January Assessment: Remember the first seven games against the Padres last year? Remember how you felt after this game? Good. Hold onto that. Save it somewhere in your bile duct. Because at some point next year, when you see a Padres lineup and laugh a jaded little laugh, burp up a glob of that bile, sit up straight, and yell for the Giants to put their cleats on those bastards' throats.     

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