N.L. West Head to Head, Part 3: The D-Backs 

I just had a craving for Jon Miller. His voice, that is. On my radio. El Papa Malo reports from the freezing north that L'il Flemm said on KNBR that Tim Lincecum is as good as Cain right now. Remember, Flemm is an employee of the Giants. But he's also not prone to exaggeration or shameless marketing drivel. I don't care if my dad misheard. I don't care if it's bloodless propaganda planted by Larry Baer. Suddenly, I don't need any artificial stimulants to pep me up for the season. Let's play two!

But first, as Jon Miller likes to say, here come the Di-ya-mond-backs:

The projected lineups


LF Byrnes
2B Hudson
3B Tracy
1B Jackson
CF C. Young
RF Quentin
SS Drew
C Snyder


CF Roberts
SS Vizquel
1B Aurilia/Klesko
LF Bonds
2B Durham
RF Winn
C Molina
3B Feliz

Comments: I'm not sure who leads off for Arizona. Byrnes did last year, sometimes. But he really shouldn't be starting against RHP (.287 OBP in '06). If not Byrnes, maybe Hudson or Drew. Maybe Young. The Young-Quentin-Drew triad could be awesome very soon, with Jackson and Tracy and Hudson strong complements. Definitely scary in '08, but still unsettled right now. That said, the raw talent is already head and shoulder s above the Giants. If they're not as good as S.F. to start the year, chances are they will be by the All-Star break.

Rating: N at SF, O at Ariz.

The projected rotations




R. Johnson
L. Hernandez
D. Davis
E. Gonzalez

Comments: Webb and Zito have each won a Cy Young, but I'll take Webb any day over Zito. Unit or Cain: Hall of Famer on the way down, or bright young thing ascendant? Given Johnson's health (back surgery this fall -- not trivial), I'll put even money on Cain besting Johnson this year. That's not what ZIPS says, though:

RJ: 223 IP / 202 H / 27 HR / 54 BB / 196 K / 3.71 ERA
MC: 193 IP / 167 H / 24 HR / 87 BB / 174 K / 4.01 ERA

Pretty close -- which speaks just as well to Cain's precocious talent at the age of 22 as it does to Johnson's top-level longevity at 43.

ZIPS is also predicting Livan will get hammered in the desert, with an ERA nearly a run higher than Morris. He'll throw a lot more innings, but the D-Backs will need quality, not just quantity from their #3 starter. Davis/Lowry: I can't find ZIPS on Davis. Lowry's young enough to rebound from an '06 in which his strikeout rate went way down and his walk rate didn't change. He wasn't fooling many batters. Davis is 31 and got knocked around last year after two good years with the Brewers. Pitching at the BOB won't help. Now with Russ Ortiz in the mix, the $380,000 question is how good does he need to be to keep Sanchez out of the rotation? The cynic in me says 'Not very good.'

Rating: G at SF, N at AZ.

Projected Bullpens: With Tim Worrell retired, the Giant bullpen will rely even more on youth. Pencil Correia into the set-up role, perhaps as the first option to close if Benitez is traded/injured/beaten to death by his teammates. Wilson, Hennessey, Sadler, Kline, perhaps J-Sanch. Arizona has either youneverknow Jose Valverde or Jorge Julio to close, plus a lot of young guys. A total crapshoot.

Rating: N at SF and AZ.

Outfield defense: C. Young is apparently the dog's bollocks. Byrnes is more than adequate on the corner and really fun to watch run into things, Quentin is an unknown. Until the D-Back kids prove themselves, however, I'll give slight ADV: SF. Infield: Hudson is All-World at 2B, much to Webb's heavy-sinker delight. Drew got a just above-average rating from BP, which also says Tracy and Jackson are subpar at the corners. ADV: SF. Bench: Is Craig Counsell still around? No? How about Quintin McCracken?

Final comment: For Arizona as currently configured, it comes down to young hitters and one old pitcher. If the Unit hits to his statistical projections, their first three is at least the equal of the Giants'. If the young hitters mature quickly, they'll have a potent lineup. But I see them truly busting out in '08 a la Reyes/Wright with the Mets in '06. I say the Giants win 11 of 18.


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