The Dodgers made the playoffs last season even though injuries limited star OF Matt Kemp and SS Hanley Ramirez to 159 games combined. That opened the door for rookie OF YasielPuig (.319 average, 19 HRs) to shine. With that trio and 1B Adrian Gonzalez (100 RBIs), L.A. has an explosive lineup. The pitching staff is as dangerous as it gets, featuring a pair of aces in 2013 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw (MLB-leading 1.83 ERA and NL-leading 232 strikeouts) and Zack Greinke (15–4, 2.63 ERA). Health is the Dodgers' main concern. If their stars stay on the field, they will win the World Series this fall.
The 2012 World Series winners took a nosedive in the standings last year, but they have what it takes to get back to the top. Star OF Angel Pagan (15 triples in 2012) is healthy after missing 91 games in 2013 with a left hamstring injury.
The Giants have a young nucleus that includes C Buster Posey (.294 average), the 2012 NL MVP. The team has also found a gem in 24-year-old pitcher Madison Bumgarner (13–9, 2.77 ERA), who will take pressure off star Tim Lincecum (10–14). New SP Tim Hudson adds veteran experience to a staff that had a 4.37 ERA last season, seventh-worst in the majors.
The Diamondbacks are thrilled to have found a franchise player in Paul Goldschmidt. The 26-year-old first baseman led the NL in home runs (36), RBIs (125), and slugging percentage (.551) in 2013. New OF Mark Trumbo (34 HR, 100 RBIs with the Angels) adds another powerful bat to the lineup.
The key to Arizona's season is its pitching, which was average last season. Signing SP Bronson Arroyo (14–12 with Cincinnati) gives the Diamondbacks a durable starter — he has averaged 207 innings per season since 2004. Archie Bradley, a 21-year-old top pitching prospect, should make his major league debut this year.
For San Diego to have any shot at reaching .500, 1B Yonder Alonso (45 RBIs in 97 games) and 3B Chase Headley (13 HRs, 50 RBIs) must have breakout seasons. The rest of San Diego's lineup is average. The pitching staff also lacks a star.
Last season, Eric Stults led the team with only 11 wins, though Andrew Cashner (3.09 ERA) was better than his 10–9 record. That's why San Diego took a gamble by signing injury-prone SP Josh Johnson (2–8 with Toronto), who has topped 100 innings in just four of his nine seasons. If the one-time star can regain his old form, he could be the ace that this staff desperately needs.
The Rockies are coming off two straight last-place finishes, and their pitching staff ranked last in the NL in ERA (4.44) and strikeouts (1,064) in 2013. SP Jorge De La Rosa (16–6) and JhoulysChacin (14–10) were the only hurlers to have solid years. Colorado didn't add much to its staff aside from 41-year-old closer LaTroy Hawkins (13 saves).
On offense, the Rockies' biggest weapons are OF Michael Cuddyer (NL-leading .331 average), OF Carlos Gonzalez (.302, 26 HRs), and SS Troy Tulowitzki (25 HRs, 82 RBIs). The team is hoping 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau can take on a leadership role.
Photos: DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (KERSHAW), CSM/LANDOV (LINCECUM), MIKE EHRMANN/GETTY IMAGES (GOLDSCHMIDT), EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES (CASHNER), GARRETT W. ELLWOOD/GETTY IMAGES (CUDDYER)