The National League has baseball’s best division race and two red-hot races for individual awards. Here’s nine thoughts on the NL landscape with 6 ½ weeks to go in the regular season…
*There’s no topic in baseball more important to me right now than that Cincinnati Reds’ ace Johnny Cueto get his due as the Cy Young frontrunner. He’s got an ERA of 2.05 while pitching in an extreme hitters’ park. Clayton Kershaw has been fantastic, at a buck-78 ERA and a no-hitter, but also pitches in Dodger Stadium. The battle between Cueto, Kershaw and Adam Wainwright in St. Louis for the Cy Young is a true battle, and the media’s love affair with Kershaw shouldn’t blind them to that.
*The difference in the NL MVP race might be the Miami Marlins’ bullpen. Miami rightfielder Giancarlo Stanton should be the frontrunner, with his .395 on-base percentage/.563 slugging percentage and 31 home runs that tie him for the league lead. What’s going to cost him is if the Marlins come up short in the wild-card race—and if that happens, blame the bullpen, with their 17 blown saves and 12th-place NL ranking in save percentage.
*Stanton is part of a trend where a lot of MVP-caliber talent in the National League is on bad teams. We can include two great first basemen, Anthony Rizzo in Chicago and Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona. Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was leading this list until being recently sidelined for the year. San Diego Padres’ outfielder Sean Smith is having a surprise big year. We might want to reconsider the notion that an MVP has to come from a playoff team—this is an individual award, and it’s nice for the individual to actually have a year worthy of the honor.
*There’s no division race better than the NL Central, with the Milwaukee Brewers up two games on St. Louis and 2 ½ on the Pittsburgh Pirates. This could end up a war of attrition—the Cards have already lost Yadier Molina and Michael Wacha until at least mid-September (and that’s being optimistic). The Pirates just put Andrew McCutchen on the disabled list. And while not as flashy, don’t overlook the importance of a fragile Brewer staff losing starter Matt Garza for a little while, right when Garza had gotten on a roll.
*There’s one pitcher in the National League who is tied with the Cueto/Kershaw/Wainwright trio for wins, at fourteen. The name? It’s Wily Peralta in Milwaukee, with a 3.46 ERA to go with it. Whether Peralta, a live young arm with great stuff, can pitch well down the stretch is the biggest factor—beyond health of the contenders—in deciding whether the Brewers hold off the Cards and Pirates.
*And the third big factor in this NL Central race is the bullpens. Milwaukee and Pittsburgh both have problems here, ranking 9th and 10th in the league in save percentage and being below 70 percent at closing out their chances. St. Louis is up at 77 percent, but that’s still just 8th in the NL.
*One team without any bullpen problems is the Washington Nationals. The Nats have Rafael Soriano to close the door, to go with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen right in front of him, all with sub-2.00 ERAs. Washington has relievers for their fifth and sixth options that would get immediate prominence on the staff of any of the NL Central contenders. Washington is a nice all-around team, but it’s this pen that’s the biggest reason for their comfortable six-game lead in the NL East.
*It’s been nice watching the overachieving San Francisco Giants hang in the NL West race all year, but it appears the raw talent of the Los Angeles Dodgers is finally taking over, as the Dodgers have nudged out to a 5 ½ game lead. San Fran is still very much alive in the wild-card race, but they needed the breaks to go their way to beat the lavishly funded Dodgers, and those breaks have been anything but kind in Frisco.
*If you ever doubt the importance of park effects on player stats, take a look at the collective examples of the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres. The Rockies, in the ultimate hitters’ park of Coors Field, are first in the NL in runs scored and last in ERA. The Padres, in the ultimate pitching environment of Petco Park, are first in ERA and last in runs scored. Parks matter. And whenever I bring this subject up, I’m bringing it back to use as evidence for why Johnny Cueto is better than Clayton Kershaw. Let those two pitchers change parks for a season, and it would no longer be a debate.
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ANALYSIS & HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE FROM AROUND THE SPORTS WORLD
If there was any hope for some extra drama in the National League playoff race, this week pretty much eliminated it. There are still six teams vying for five spots, and when the Washington Nationals were swept by the Atlanta Braves, it not only furthered the Braves’ chokehold in the NL East, it realistically took the Nats off the list of wild-card possibilities.
It’s that second wild-card spot that could still promise some drama. Right now, Cincinnati is holding it, but the Reds are drifting out of the NL Central race—now seven games back of the Pittsburgh Pirates—and the Cincy season is now becoming more about whether they can hold on and get into the playoffs.
Johnny Cueto still has no timetable to begin a throwing program or make a rehab start, and the Arizona Diamondbacks are within 4 ½ games of the Reds for the last postseason berth. Arizona came up with two clutch wins over Tampa Bay this past week, keeping them in the mix for both the wild-card, as well as being 5 ½ back of the still-blazing hot Los Angeles Dodgers.
Los Angeles, whose current hot streak was the subject today’s MLB coverage, took three of four in St. Louis this week, and now gets ready for a weekend series with Tampa Bay that will draw Fox coverage on Saturday and ESPN on Sunday night. The Cardinals join the Reds in being NL Central teams that seem to be struggling to hang on, but St. Louis won a key early-week series against Cincy, and the Redbirds have a comfortable 7 ½ games lead for a wild-card berth.
The Pittsburgh Pirates continue to sport the best record in baseball, though Atlanta is now within a half-game after their 13-game win streak. Pittsburgh took advantage of a schedule sequence against Colorado and Miami over the last week and went 5-1.
The Pirates have a four-game cushion in the NL Central, and now make a road trip to play the Rockies this weekend. After that it’s a big three-game series in St. Louis with the Cards trying to keep the division title in play.
One thing to keep an eye with Pittsburgh—closer Jason Grilli’s potential return from the disabled list has been pushed back into September. Even if the bullpen can’t continue to hold up without him I can’t see a collapse like that of 2012, but it’s going to take everything the Buccos have in their arsenal to beat out St. Louis and get automatic passage into the Division Series.
The National League playoff race stands in sharp contrast to where the American League is at right now. While the AL has nine teams within five games of postseason play, the NL has only six, and it’s looking like the prime drama is going to be the fight in the NL Central to see which team at least earns automatic passage into the Division Series.
What’s taken place in Pittsburgh this week has been positively eye-opening. Even as I’ve come around to believe in the Pirates, I certainly wasn’t expecting them to take the first four games of a five-game set against the Cardinals, with the finale taking place as this post goes online Thursday night. Pittsburgh has moved out to a 2 ½ game lead over the Redbirds.
Cincinnati has slipped six off the pace, and I think we can cautiously eliminate the Reds from the division championship radar. It’s the same rationale I used in this afternoon’s MLB coverage on the American League, with regard to the Baltimore Orioles. It’s not that the Reds’ margin is impossible, but they have two teams to pass, and both teams happen to be the best in the league overall.
The Reds do continue to hold down the second wild-card spot, and they’ll get their crack at St. Louis in a big weekend series. Win or lose tonight, the Cardinals have to stop the bleeding, as they’ve lost seven in a row in road games against the Braves and Pirates.
Atlanta has blown the NL East wide open, and now has an eleven-game lead on the Washington Nationals. I stuck with my Nats pick in this division longer than most, but even I’m throwing in the towel now. The Braves will spend the next two months playing for the top seed in the National League and sorting out their pitching rotationin light of the season-ending injury to Tim Hudson. They’ll be in Philadelphia on the weekend, and one of the new starters, Alex Wood, will pitch on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
The National League West offers the best chance for drama. The Los Angeles Dodgers are 2 ½ up on the Arizona Diamondbacks right now, with the D-Backs going to Boston for the weekend while the Dodgers play the Cubs, that gap could widen. But Arizona looks like they’ll get Brandon McCarthy back in the rotation for the weekend with Trevor Cahill soon to follow. Meanwhile, the Dodgers can’t get Matt Kemp healthy, as he won’t be activated from the disabled list in spite of being eligible.
Up to now, we’ve assumed that Los Angeles and Arizona would not have a wild-card fallback, but the Cardinals ‘losing streak and the Reds having injury problems of their own—no word on when Johnny Cueto might be back—the Diamondbacks are in striking distance, at 3 ½ games.
Today is the second part of a two-part series looking at how each team in baseball is performing in relation to the expectations assigned them in Las Vegas at the start of the year—specifically their Over/Under number on win totals. You can read the overview of the American League from yesterday and today we wrap it up with a look at the National League, along with revisions on playoff predictions. A link to each team’s preseason preview from March is included…
Washington (49-34): A preseason expectation of 84 wins was cautiously optimistic, as the betting markets seemed to like the Nationals. That’s been justified, as the current pace has Washington winning 96 games, taking the NL East and grabbing the #1 seed in the National League playoffs (a prize that means homefield all the way through, now that the NL has won the All-Star Game and homefield for the World Series). But what happens if they follow through on their threat to shut down Stephen Strasburg? Washington’s pitching is good enough and their cushion large enough that they still clear the Over in any case, and probably by a comfortable margin. The big debate is going to be Strasburg’s use in the postseason.
Atlanta (46-39): I liked the Braves at the opening number of 86.5, and they’re on pace for 88 wins, so I suppose I should be happy. But I just haven’t liked the way this team’s pitching has come together—or not come together as the case may be, and now being without Brandon Beachy for the entire second half is going to make it tough for Atlanta to cash in on the Over.
NY Mets (46-40): On a pace to win 87 games after a preseason expectation of 72, the Mets are the second-biggest overachiever in the National League. It’s almost impossible to fathom a collapse so big it would push the team Under, but the Mets have their sights on a bigger prize, and it would help a lot if Chris Young can stay healthy and be a reliable middle-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Miami (41-44): Like Washington, the market was cautiously optimistic about Miami’s chances, pegging them at 84. But the Marlins have flipped that on its head, and the current pace has them losing 84, while winning only 78. A midseason trade acquisition of Carlos Lee only makes sense when you consider how bad Gaby Sanchez had been at first base. It’s not likely to help the Marlins substantially turn the corner.
Philadelphia(37-50): Betting numbers are notoriously conservative, because while the significant surprises get the media attention, the vast majority hover around fairly predictable numbers. Which makes it almost impossible to underperform by 23 games, which is what Philly is doing. A 92.5 win expectation—pretty reasonable given all the pricey vets on the roster—has given way to a 69-win pace and the possibility that Cole Hamels is heading out of town.
Pittsburgh (48-37): If Philly is underperforming by 20 games, there’s got to be a counterweight to that somewhere and it’s across the Keystone State in Pennsylvania. Apparently, the smart money thought Pittsburgh’s 2011 collapse in August and September was the real thing, while their four months of contention were a mirage. Maybe that will be the case again this year, especially if the front office doesn’t give should-be MVP Andrew McCutcheon some help in the lineup. But the Pirates were pegged at 73.5 wins in March and the current pace has them at 92 wins, helping the Bucs nudge out Baltimore for biggest overachiever of the year.
Cincinnati (47-38): Give Dusty Baker and his stars credit. The Reds had fairly high expectations, at an 88-win number and they’re on pace to nip out the Over, with a 90-win season. The offense is still too dependent on Joey Votto, and to a lesser extent Jay Bruce, but they have players capable of being better in the second half.
St. Louis (46-40):The market was looking for the Cardinals to come down after their epic World Series run, the retirement of Tony LaRussa and the loss of Albert Pujols, so this 87-win pace is still enough to beat the expectation by three games. The downside is that Chris Carpenter won’t be back at the end of this month as expected, or for the rest of the season.
Milwaukee (40-45): After all the injuries and the horrid first halves from Rickie Weeks and John Axford, the Brewers should probably be grateful to be on pace for a 76-86 season. But with an initial number of 85, their bettors need the Crew to step it up, particularly the two aforementioned players. And if Zack Greinke gets dealt, the season becomes a downward spiral.
Chicago (33-52): The Cubbies are on pace to lose 99 games, and the 63-99 record would leave them a hefty 11 games back of expectations. And we haven’t even factored in the seemingly certain trades of Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster and the possible moving of Bryan LaHair. A lot of Cubs fans make their way to Vegas, either traveling from the Midwest or from snowbird locations in Arizona and they bet their team loyally. You can tear any Over tickets up now.
Houston (33-53): Houston was only expected to win 64 games, and they’re only two back of the number, and they’ve shown promise in spurts through the first half, coming off a 56-106 disaster in 2011. If they don’t trade Brett Myers or Wandy Rodriguez I think they’ll hit the Over and probably by several games. But I find it hard to think Houston doesn’t get good offers for its closer and veteran starting pitcher and if that happens I doubt the fate of bettors who took the Over will weigh too heavily on anyone’s mind.
Los Angeles (47-40): I thought the 81-win benchmark Vegas set for this team was wildly optimistic. But the joke, as it usually is, is on me, with the Dodgers on pace for 87 wins. They’ve been scorching hot and they’ve been ice cold, depending on the month, so we now we have to see if they can stabilize and be consistent as Don Mattingly pushes his team for a playoff berth.
San Francisco (46-40): Nothing like hitting the number on the head, as the Giants are exactly on pace for their 87-win projection, the only team to be literally on the money. Let’s give this team credit though, because I don’t think anyone expects them to meet expectations with Tim Lincecum being one of the worst pitchers in baseball during the first half.
Arizona (42-43): For the first half as a whole, their 80-win pace is a disappointment, given the expectation was at 86 and the Diamondbacks were coming off an NL West title in 2011. But the worst baseball was played early and unless they trade Justin Upton, as inexplicable rumors suggest, they’ll have a winning season and probably clear the number.
San Diego (34-53): When you only have one noteworthy position player, third baseman Chase Headley, and your pitching is a relative disappointment, given the vastness of your park, then a 63-99 pace is what you get and with the Padres 10.5 games below expectations, the Under here is all but locked.
Colorado (33-52): After a .500 expectation that matched the Dodgers, the Rockies are a disaster, and their own pace is also at 63-99. It speaks volumes to how much Philadelphia is underachieving, that even a disaster like Colorado couldn’t join the Phils in the (-20) area based on performance to the number.
Speaking of disasters, let’s look at my preseason playoff picks in the National League, which started with a Milwaukee-Miami wild-card game. I suppose both are close enough and have had enough go wrong that a second-half run is feasible, particularly for Miami, who’s not going to be selling off any major parts. Then I had Atlanta, St. Louis and Arizona winning their respective division. I could be right with the Cardinals, but the pick was made on the expectation of Carpenter coming back. Without that, I’m giving the nod in the Central to Cincinnati, who passes punchless Pittsburgh. I noted my problems with Atlanta above and give Washington the benefit of the doubt to hold their lead. I’m not backing off in the NL West, where I think the Diamondbacks are going to turn it around.
Then the wild-cards? I’m going with San Francisco, who I expect to go to the wire with Arizona, and then I’m going to get a little stubborn and stick with Miami. The Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers and Braves all fade in the second half.
That then sets up a bracket of Miami-San Francisco, with the winner to play Washington, while Cincinnati and Arizona hook up in another Division Series. Pending what they decide to do with Strasburg, I give the Nats the favorite’s role in the National League thanks to their pitching and the presence of Davey Johnson and would pair them up against Texas in the World Series.
As we hit interleague action in MLB this weekend, everyone has 35-plus games behind them and we’ve covered a little more than 1/5 of the schedule. TheSportsNotebook continues its evaluation period that’s going on this week. This post focuses on the National League. Please also check the American League overview from earlier today and the individual reports that were run yesterday, with an All-Star ballot put together for both theAL & NL.
Atlanta (23-14): Whether you believe in the Braves for the long haul or not, at least we know they didn’t drag the residue of last September’s collapse with them into 2012, the way a team from up New England did. The Braves have bashed their way to the top of the NL’s toughest division, 2nd in the NL in runs scored thanks to a lineup that’s getting contributions up and down—no one’s been a star and no one’s been an easy out, so it’s very feasible that Atlanta will be an offensive force this year. The starting pitching just has to get better though. Even with Brandon Beachy dazzling with a 1.60 ERA, Mike Minor has been a huge disappointment in his first full year as a starter and the middle three—Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson and Randall Delgado are floating around the high 3s, which isn’t bad, but given the higher standards that exist in the National League for this stat, it’s not championship-level either.
Washington (22-14): The starting pitching has had to carry Washington, with the bullpen hit hard by injuries to Brad Lidge and Drew Storen and that’s likely to persist until at least the All-Star break. Then there’s the whole problem with the offense, which is 14th in the league scoring runs and with Jayson Werth out for the year and Danny Espinosa having come down to earth after such a good year in 2011, the Nats are not likely to see significant improvement here. Even if Ryan Zimmerman heats up at third base—and he will—Adam LaRoche is way over his head right now, so that cancels each other out. But when you have Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmerman you have four extraordinary young arms. When you have Edwin Jackson you have a reliable stabilizer. And when Davey Johnson is your manager you know he doesn’t need that much of an opening to produce wins. Washington might not continue their current 98-win pace, but they’re here to stay in the division and playoff races.
NY Mets (20-16): It’s nice to see this team off to a good start after enduring so many rough headlines because of the Madoff ownership situation and it’s even nice to see Johan Santana pitching well. But don’t get any ideas. The pitching overall is still a real weak point and that was even before Mike Pelfrey was lost for the year. The offense has overachieved to date, ranking 6th in the league in scoring runs thanks to David Wright having an MVP-caliber season and Daniel Murphy being a big contributor. But they need substantial improvement from Lucas Duda and Ike Davis if the offense is going to keep hitting. I think a more realistic goal for this team is to beat their preseason Las Vegas Over/Under win total of 72 and by that measurement they’re off to a very good start.
Miami (19-17): Ozzie Guillen’s troops are coming hard, having gotten through the rough first month and now having played their way back into the race behind strong pitching, with Anibal Sanchez being the best and Mark Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano all having good years. Now the offense has to work its way into form. Giancarlo Stanton has got his power stroke back and Jose Reyes is getting on base. Omar Infante is having a tremendous season at second base. That will come down to earth, and when it happens Hanley Ramirez has to get his bat in gear and on the pitching side Josh Johnson has to get back in rhythm.
Philadelphia (18-19): Carlos Ruiz and Juan Pierre are the only Phillie players getting on base with any regularity and Hunter Pence and Ruiz are the only ones driving the ball with any power. Shane Victorino has tailed off sharply after a good start and believe it or not, even the pitching only ranks in the middle of the National League in ERA. It’s hard to pinpoint one area in particular, other than middle relief. Otherwise it’s most a series of pitchers—Cole Hamels excepted—being just a bit below their norm. I’m sure Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee will soon join Hamels in churning out Cy Young-caliber starts, but at this point in the season it’s fair to say that for as many bad predictions as TheSportsNotebook makes, going hard against the Phils in the NL East—and to even miss the postseason entirely—doesn’t look too bad right now.
St. Louis (21-15): A deep and talented offense has ripped the ball left and right and scored the most runs in the National League, even with Lance Berkman on the disabled list. Given this team has put runs on the board for three straight years, there is no reason to think that will change. The pitching is a mystery right now. St. Loo is getting great work from Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook. But Adam Wainwright is really struggling in his attempt to come back from the elbow surgery of last spring , Jaime Garcia’s seen his ERA gradually nudge upward over 4 and Chris Carpenter is still out and now his return is pushed back to late July. To top it off, the bullpen depth isn’t there. I’m not necessarily saying the Cardinals won’t win the division, but it’s definitely not the runaway they were making it look like early.
Cincinnati (18-17): The Reds are top-heavy when it comes to their personnel. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are getting it done in the everyday lineup, while Johnny Cueto looks like a Cy Young winner in the rotation and Bronson Arroyo’s having a solid year at #2. Aroldis Chapman is good for a lockdown three outs of the bullpen. But they can get enough help? Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart’s bat goes in and out, while Brandon Phillips—whose bat is desperately needed—has been mostly out. In the rotation, Mat Latos has to take his 4.54 ERA and knock a run off it. Then Dusty Baker has a challenge in putting together the bullpen around Chapman. I think the Reds are one of baseball’s most interesting teams going into the summer.
Pittsburgh (17-19): We always knew Erik Bedard could still pitch if he stayed healthy. He’s healthy, so is his 2.57 ERA and the Pirates have the NL’s third-best pitching staff, thanks also to James McDonald and a very good bullpen. What they can’t do is score. At all. Andrew McCutchen is having another All-Star year in the outfield, but to say he lacks help is a woeful understatement. The Pirates might as well have the pitcher’s spot up with the other eight positions in the order for all the help the everyday players are giving. Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones are the prime culprits and they have to hit if this team is going to finally finish on the right side of .500.
Milwaukee (16-20): Don’t think this is about Prince Fielder’s being absent, or Ryan Braun no longer having his alleged steroids. Braun is having a big year and along with Jonathan Lucroy has helped the Brewers stay in the NL’s upper crust on the offensive side. The pitching is awful, with presumed ace Yovani Gallardo and closer John Axford being the biggest culprits. Zack Greinke has pitched well and Shaun Marcum has bounced back from a terrible finish to 2011, but unless one of these two are on the mound a disaster seems imminent. And now that Alex Gonzalez is gone for the year at short, the defense is going to suffer. The early season hope of 85 wins—the Las Vegas betting number—looks like a pipe dream right now and the current pace of 72 looks painfully realistic.
Houston (15-21): A recent slide took the shine off what had been a nice start for the Astros and they’re current pace would set them at 68 wins by season’s end. That would still exceed expectations and while I don’t think Houston will many games, the rebuilding project deserves some good marks for the pieces that are coming into place. Jose Altuve is a nice second baseman swinging a good bat. Jed Lowrie has been solid since coming over from Boston. The young pitching shows continued promise, with Bud Norris and Lucas Farrell, and veterans Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers—the latter in the closer’s role are pitching extremely well and enhancing the value they can bring back at the trade deadline. Houston’s moving to the American League next season and if the team is looking for the start of a new era, the early returns are positive.
ChiCubs (15-21): It has to suck to be one of the top three starters on the Cubs. If you’re Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza or Jeff Samrdijza you’re having a perfectly good year, but there’s no offensive help and no bullpen help. Bryan LaHair is the main bright spot of the offense, hitting 10 home runs in his rookie year. Starlin Castro’s been decent at short and can kick it up a notch, but beyond that David DeJesus’ ability to get on base is all that’s left. Perhaps the bullpen will work out now that Carlos Marmol has been removed from the closer’s job, but this is still hit and miss. On three days out of five the Cubs can compete for seven innings. The other two days and the other two innings? Not so much.
LA Dodgers (24-12): Is this the best team in baseball? That’s one the standings tell us in mid-May. The Dodger resurgence has been keyed by an offense that not only has Matt Kemp picking up right where he left off in what should have been an MVP year in 2011 (for reasons having nothing to do with Ryan Braun’s alleged and never proven steroid use), but Andre Ethier is having a big year, while young catcher A.J. Ellis is off to a blazing start. Clayton Kershaw looks poised to make a run at a second straight Cy Young Award. Now the problems—the bullpen has good setup people, but closer Javy Guerra has been inconsistent, and how much longer can Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly keep their ERAs in the low 2s? Eventually Chad Billingsley’s going to have to come closer to resembling Kershaw than looking like a #4 starter. I’ve got the Dodgers in a group with the Orioles—I respect what they’ve done and they are definitely better than expected, but let’s hold off on the postseason plans.
San Francisco (18-18): The Giants are what they are—good pitching, lousy offense. But thus far the pitching has been merely good and not excellent, which isn’t enough to compensate for the lack of a meaningful offensive attack. Tim Lincecum is the main culprit, with a 5.77 ERA. He looked to be coming around before again stumbling his last couple times out. The everyday lineup really needs Pablo Sandoval to come back strong from his hand injury early next month, because right now left fielder Melky Cabrera is the only one keeping the lineup afloat. The problems with this team are real, but if you’re worst concerns surrounding Lincecum and Sandoval you at least have good reason to be optimistic about the future.
Arizona (16-21): As the record shows the Diamondbacks aren’t hitting on all cylinders, or even a few right now. They need Chris Young in centerfield and starting pitcher Daniel Hudson back from the disabled list. Eventually they need Stephen Drew to make it back from the surgery he had on his ankle last July. So to a certain extent, Arizona has an excuse. But Justin Upton’s having a terrible year and while the starting pitching hasn’t been bad—Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Joe Saunders have all been decent—none have excelled, the way Kennedy did a year ago on his way to 20 wins. I think this team can get it turned around, as they get healthy and Upton gets hot. Whether they get an uptick in the three pitchers mentioned will decide if they can push back over the top.
Colorado (14-21): You would expect a team playing in Coors Field to be strong on scoring runs and less so at stopping them, and the early returns bear that out this year. But there are some underlying factors worthy of note. Even though the Rockies’ have the league’s third-best offense, it’s top-heavy with Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer being the only ones having really good years. While you can certainly expect Troy Tulowitzki to come around, the lack of depth in the offensive attack suggests it will be tough to carry this high level of success much farther. Pitching-wise, there’s not much reason to think the staff with the league’s worst ERA will get much better this year, but the Rocks are doing the right thing and at least choosing to struggle with young pitchers with an upside. Alex White, Drew Pomeranz and Christian Frederich are all getting a trial by fire in big leagues and that will only help in the years to come.
San Diego (13-24): The play of Chase Headley and Yonder Alonso at the infield corner spots is all the Padres have to hang their hat on in the everyday lineup. Edinson Volquez—who came over with Alonso in a deal with the Reds for Latos, a trade looking positively one-side for the Pads right now—is having a sound year, and even Jeff Suppan is finding a career revival in Petco Park. But on the subject of Petco, a good staff will have a team ERA better than sixth in the National League in this place, and that’s where San Diego is right now. Perhaps the return of starter Tim Stauffer from the DL will give them a boost, but when your success to this point has fallen this heavily on Suppan I think it tells you a lot about your long-term chances.
MAY MULLIGANS: The preseason picks here at TheSportsNotebook were Atlanta, St. Louis and Arizona to win divisions, with a Miami-Milwaukee wild-card game. I’m going to stay patient with Arizona and see what happens between now and the All-Star break. They’ll play better and the Dodgers will come down to earth, and I’m not sure what to think about San Francisco yet. I’m certainly sticking with Miami. As for Milwaukee—well, in honor of the June 5 gubernatorial recall election that’s happening here in Wisconsin where I live, I’m recalling the Brewers, and replacing them with Washington. The NL East will sweep the wild-card spots this year.