Will we ever see the Giants coming?
The team Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy put together since saying goodbye to Barry Bonds is the only National League team to win the World Series twice within three seasons since the Big Red Machine, yet the Giants somehow seem cuddly, not menacing. They appear beatable right up to the time they get the 27th out and storm the mound.
The hitters who face Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong will tell you there was nothing fluky about how the Giants throttled the Tigers last October and the Rangers in 2010. But Clayton Kershaw and the big-spending Dodgers will be the talk of Arizona, not the Giants.
If Don Mattingly can get Matt Kemp to hit like he did in 2011, maybe it won't matter that the left side of the Dodgers infield is a mess and that Josh Beckett loves his fried chicken and beer. But the Dodgers and Diamondbacks know they have to go through the Giants to get anywhere, and Buster Posey is waiting for them.
Last year: 94-68. Won six elimination games against the Reds and Cardinals to reach the World Series, and Barry Zito beat Justin Verlander in Game 1 en route to a sweep of the Tigers.
Manager: Bruce Bochy is as good as it gets at knowing his players and how they fit together. He's entering his seventh season in San Francisco and should control his future.
Key reinforcements: OF Andres Torres, RHP Ramon Ramirez.
Gone, not forgotten: RHP Brian Wilson, OF Melky Cabrera, IF Ryan Theriot, IF Carlos Sanchez, RHP Guillermo Mota.
Big fun: Having turned down a spot on Team USA for the World Baseball Classic, NL MVP Buster Posey should be at full strength when spring training begins.
Big worry: A heavy 2012 workload took a toll on Madison Bumgarner in the playoffs. How will Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong be after throwing a combined 463 innings last year?
Last year: 86-76, as midseason trades bringing Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett and Brandon League couldn't improve a 43-40 record after June.
Manager: Don Mattingly enters his third season under the gun after a buildup that has seen the payroll go from $120 million in 2011 to about $213 million this year.
Key reinforcements: RHP Zack Greinke, LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, IF-OF Skip Schumaker, IF Alfredo Amezaga, C Ramon Castro.
Gone, not forgotten: OF Shane Victorino, RHP Joe Blanton, RHP Todd Coffey, LHP Randy Choate.
Big fun: There will be stiff competition for the No. 5 starter spot, as no team has more depth in the rotation. The cast behind Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley includes Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly (possibly behind after a shoulder scope in September) and Ryu.
Big worry: Ramirez must prove he still can play shortstop, just as Carl Crawford is under the gun to show the $102.5 million left on his contract is more than a tax GM Ned Colletti paid to get Gonzalez and Beckett.
Last year: 81-81, with Daniel Hudson's injured shoulder and Josh Collmenter's sophomore slump sabotaging the rotation.
Manager: Kirk Gibson didn't look nearly as smart in 2012 with an injury-ravaged team as he had in his managerial debut in 2011, when the Diamondbacks grabbed a playoff spot.
Key reinforcements: 3B-OF Martin Prado, OF Cody Ross, RHP Brandon McCarthy, SS Cliff Pennington, RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Heath Bell, LHP Tony Sipp, C Rod Barajas, 3B Eric Chavez, 1B-OF Eric Hinske.
Gone, not forgotten: OF Justin Upton, OF Chris Young, 3B Chris Johnson, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Matt Albers, C Wil Nieves.
Big fun: Adam Eaton, 24, who has a .355 career average in the minors, could be the igniter Young never became because of his high strikeout totals.
Big worry: With Hudson out for the first half of the season, the Diamondbacks need McCarthy to start fast after a fractured skull ended his 2012. His fragile shoulder bears watching as closely as whether he'll flinch on comebackers.
Last year: 76-86, but a 42-33 second half built some momentum for this season.
Manager: Bud Black remains entrenched despite a .477 career record, with GM Josh Byrnes exercising 2014 and '15 options on Black's contract after last season.
Key reinforcements: RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Freddy Garcia, RHP Fautino De Los Santos, IF Cody Ransom.
Gone, not forgotten: RHP Jason Marquis, RHP Cory Burns.
Big fun: With Chase Headley coming off a breakout season and he and Carlos Quentin committed for two and three years, respectively, the Padres are building some offensive identity after finishing in the bottom half of the NL in scoring for eight consecutive years.
Big worry: Catcher Yasmani Grandal's development is being slowed by a 50-game PED suspension to start the season.
Last year: 64-98, with injuries costing Troy Tulowitzki significant time for the fourth season in the last five.
Manager: Walt Weiss, popular in Denver after a four-year run playing for the Rockies in the 1990s, was coaching high school baseball in 2012 and has no big league coaching experience.
Key reinforcements: LHP Wilton Lopez, C Yorvit Torrealba, RHP Chris Volstad.
Gone, not forgotten: 1B Jason Giambi, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, LHP Matt Reynolds.
Big fun: Catcher Wilin Rosario (a Rockies rookie record 28 homers last season) and second baseman Josh Rutledge might not need long to hit their way out of the bottom of the order.
Big worry: The health of Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa, along with the development of lefty Christian Friedrich, is critical as the Rockies scrap the four-man rotation for a more traditional arrangement.