This past week’s MLB coverage at TheSportsNotebook has been focused on basic statistical snapshots of each division as we go into the All-Star break after Sunday’s games. That process concludes today with a look at the NL West.
As with the other divisional summaries—the American League ran in the first part of the week, and the last two days have covered the National League’s East & Centraldivisions—we sum up each team according to six core stats. On offense, it’s runs scored, and the two key components of that, in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Pitching is broken down into both starters’ ERA and bullpen ERA, and also includes the percentage of save opportunities each team has cashed in.
We then list a couple notable individual performances, be they good or bad, and conclude with some general thoughts on each team.
Arizona Diamondbacks (49-44)
Starters’ ERA: 11th
Bullpen ERA: 5th
Save Chances: 26/45
Notable: Paul Goldschmidt is putting together a run at the NL MVP, with his stat line of .398 OBP/.564 slugging and 23 home runs. We can’t go positive on the pitching side—Heath Bell and J.J. Putz have combined to go just 20-for-30 on their save chances.
Comments: The dichotomy between bullpen ERA and the ability to close saves is striking, and a reason I chose to look at these two stats separately. Arizona clearly has relievers who can pitch, and either get them in a position to win, or keep them close if they fall behind early. But in a world where an average team will close about two-thirds of their save chances—with closers being at 90 percent or higher—Arizona is trying to win a division with a 57% save rate.
Los Angeles Dodgers (46-46)
Starters’ ERA: 4th
Bullpen ERA: 13th
Save Chances: 25/41
Notable: Andre Ethier’s .352 on-base percentage is pretty good, but his .388 slugging percentage is a big problem for a team that needs power. There’s no problem with anything about Clayton Kershaw, and his 1.98 ERA in 19 starts. Other than the fact he’s only 8-6. Get the guy some run support.
Comments: We’ve got another team with a strange statistical anomaly. Normally, on-base percentage is the stat that tracks the closest with runs scored. Yet the Dodgers are one of the best in the NL and putting runners aboard, while being the worst at the only thing that ultimately matters and that’s bring them in. That’s why I felt Ethier’s numbers, which sum up the team-wide dilemma, were the most notable. An optimist would argue—with considerable justification—that if you give it the entire season, the runs scored will eventually start to move closer to OBP and the Dodgers just need to keep doing what they’re doing.
Colorado Rockies (45-49)
Starters’ ERA: 12th
Bullpen ERA: 11th
Save Chances: 18/28
Notable: Even with Troy Tulowitzki pulling a DL stint, he and Carlos Gonzalez have combined to hit 41 home runs and both are slugging over .600. On the pitching side, we know the Rockies aren’t very good, but at least in Tyler Chatwood—2.74 ERA in eleven starts—they have a piece to build around.
Comments: I give Colorado credit for hanging this close to .500, but with this pitching, a 75-win season would still be a significant accomplishment.
San Francisco Giants (42-50)
Starters’ ERA: 13th
Bullpen ERA: 4th
Save Chances: 22/31
Notable: Pin the problems with power on Pablo Sandoval and his miserable .312/.390 stat line. And pin the problems in the starting rotation a lot of places, but nowhere more than Matt Cain, with his 5.06 ERA in 19 starts.
Comments: What kind of odds could you have gotten that, at the All-Star break, the Giants’ starting rotation would have a worse collective ERA than their counterparts in Colorado? It doesn’t even require any adjustment for park effects—the San Francisco rotation is worse than Colorado’s strictly on its face. I don’t think too many people thought this was an unbeatable World Series champion, but who expected this?
San Diego Padres (41-53)
Starters’ ERA: 14th
Bullpen ERA: 6th
Save Chances: 21/31
Notable: I’ve got to go negative here. Chase Headley, after a great year in 2012, has a stat line of .326/.364. And Edinson Vasquez has been a train wreck in the rotation, with a 5.33 ERA in 19 starts. I’m emphasizing the negative, because there have been some nice developments in San Diego this year and if core veterans like this could even be mediocre, the Padres could be in contention.
Comments: Just as we’re shocked that Colorado’s starting pitching is a little bit better than San Francisco’s, we can also be stunned that the Padres’ offense is slightly more productive than that of the Giants. And once again, it doesn’t require any sabermetricky stuff about how hard Petco Field is to hit in and adjusting for that. The Pads are just flat-out scoring more runs than the Giants.
THE VIEW FROM VEGAS
The emergence of Yasiel Puig and the steady rise of the Dodgers through the standings make it unsurprising that the betting world is back in love with Los Angeles. They are a 4-5 favorite to win the West, with Arizona at 3-2. If you still believe San Francisco can turn it around, you can get a 7-1 price tag on their chances of finishing first and Colorado is 12-1. The Padres are a 25-1 longshot.
The top of the National League’s East & West divisions go head-to-head to start off the week in baseball and we’re six weeks out from the finish line. Washington meets Atlanta, and in an even bigger series the Los Angeles Dodgers match up with San Francisco. TheSportsNotebook previews these, and the rest of the early week in the MLB playoff race…
San Francisco-LA Dodgers: A 5-0 win over Atlanta behind Chad Billingsley capped an excellent road trip for the Dodgers, as they went 5-2 against the Braves & Pirates. San Francisco, dealing with the suspension of Melky Cabrera, was able to right the ship with a series win at San Diego over the weekend and comes into Los Angeles just a half-game back. As of today neither the Dodgers or Giants are in the wild-card game, so the NL West is shaping up as the “win it or go home” division. The two rivals will be on ESPN tonight (10 PM ET) with a battle of lefties, Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw. For all the concern of San Francisco’s offense, the pitching is 13th in the National League in ERA for the month of August and in that regard, they need a good outing from Tim Lincecum on Tuesday.
Atlanta-Washington: With a five-game lead, Washington has a chance to break open the NL East race in this home series, and they have Stephen Strasburg on tap for Tuesday. Atlanta’s still four games up for a wild-card spot although after last year’s collapse, I don’t think anyone is going to get too comfortable—particularly with St. Louis being one of the teams in the rearview mirror.
Baltimore-Texas: What a clutch series win for Baltimore over the weekend in Detroit, after dropping the opener to Justin Verlander. The Orioles’ pitching is fourth-best in the American League this month, thanks primarily to the work of the stellar bullpen. But don’t overlook emerging starters like Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman, who pitch Monday and Tuesday nights. The Rangers are still in command of the AL West, but need to see something positive from Ryan Dempster in tonight’s opener.
NY Yankees-Chicago: With their lead over Tampa trimmed to five games, the Yankees can’t get too comfortable ,and with the White Sox lead over the Tigers at two games, the thought of comfort has never crossed their minds. Chicago, with its offense just 10th in the AL in runs scored this season, will welcome Paul Konerko back from the disabled list in a series they’ll need to score some runs if they hope to compete. Tuesday’s game, featuring Ian Nova and Francisco Liriano on the hill will be a battle of pitchers with great raw stuff, but of whom you’re never sure what to expect.
Other series involving contenders…
Cincinnati-Philadelphia: Other than an inexplicable hiccup earlier in August when they were swept at Milwaukee, the Reds have played dominating baseball this month and still have a comfortable 6.5 game lead in the NL Central, with the offense ranking fourth in the league in runs scored. The Phillies haven’t fallen apart since dumping Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton in trades and are playing competitive, respectable baseball. The finale of this four-game series on Thursday features Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels.
St. Louis-Houston: The Astros fired manager Brad Mills, and I think that’s fair. It’s one thing to say no manager was going to contend with this team. It’s another thing to say no manager could win more than 32% of his games, which is what the Astros have done this season. And in either case, I think this team has enough talent to at least play competitive, if not contending baseball. Now they see if they can play spoiler against St. Louis, who is two back in the wild-card race after losing a 19-inning epic against Pittsburgh yesterday.
Pittsburgh-San Diego: James McDonald ended his pitching slump for Pittsburgh on Friday with a clutch 2-1 win on Friday night in St. Louis, a game that could end up being a turning point for the season if the Pirates make the playoffs, given that it set up a series win. McDonald goes again on Wednesday, while A.J. Burnett pitches Tuesday. Tonight’ s opener is anyone’s guess as Pittsburgh pieces its staff back together after the 19-inning win yesterday.
Kansas City-Tampa Bay: We knew the Rays were playing well, but the four-game sweep that hung on the Los Angeles Angels this weekend was stunning. Tampa, along with Baltimore, is still only a half-game up on Oakland for the wild-card berths, but still with an outside chance at running down the Yankees in the AL East. They’ve got Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and James Shields lineup here, as they set the stage for a four-game series against the A’s that starts on Thursday.
Minnesota-Oakland: The A’s swept Cleveland this weekend as they swing the bats well in August. Oakland’s offense is sixth in the AL this month scoring runs and the pitching remains its usual stellar self. As mentioned just above, this is a stage-setting series for the big four-game battle in the Trop starting on Thursday.
LA Angels-Boston: It’s debatable if you still want to call the Angels a contender, after the wipeout at the hands of Tampa has left them 4.5 games back for a wild-card. In of itself, that’s manageable, but they’ll have to catch three teams. The biggest impact of this series will be a chance for Red Sox fans to see the only team who can rival theirs when it comes to disappointment.
You never want to make too much of any regular season series, but it is early August and the fact the Los Angeles Dodgers just dumped two straight home games to the Colorado Rockies, with the series finale going tonight is about a big a disappointment as you can have for this time of year. Its part and parcel of what’s been a disappointing home stand for the new-look Dodgers and all the veterans they’ve brought in for the stretch drive.
Hanley Ramirez got his Dodger career off to a sterling start with a game-winning home run against San Francisco, but the overall body of work of 50 at-bats out west shows him hitting .240 with that initial long ball being the only time he’s left the park. Shane Victorino, brought in from Philadelphia at the deadline has only had a week with the club, so it’s certainly unfair to judge the move at this time. But the change in scenery didn’t inspire a Kevin Youkilis-esque return to form for the outfielder, as he’s just 5-for-25 in Dodger Blue.
The best of the new acquisitions has been Joe Blanton, the veteran righthanded starter, who pitched well in a Sunday win over the Chicago Cubs. But Blanton came at a price. To make room for him on the roster, Los Angeles set down Stephen Fife, a young pitcher who’d posted a 2.16 ERA in three starts. Shipping Fife back to Triple A to pave the way for a veteran with a 4.52 ERA is the worst kind of thinking any team can have at the trade deadline, much less one that was committed to building for the long haul when the season began.
Los Angeles is still just a game and a half back of San Francisco, as the entire NL West seems to be wallowing along and playing itself out of the wild-card picture. The Dodgers are four back of the Atlanta Braves for the second wild-card spot, although the margin in the loss column is five.
There is good news in Dodgerland, so it wouldn’t paint an accurate picture if I dwelt on short-term negatives. Matt Kemp looks like the Kemp of the early season. 22-year-old catcher A.J. Ellis continues to hit well, and even though Andre Ethier’s power has been down since the All-Star break, he’s got a .354 on-base percentage and when good hitters keep getting on base, the power usually comes back.
Even better is the work of Chad Billingsley. The inconsistent righthander has been brilliant of late, with a 0.59 ERA in his last three starts. If Los Angeles can get him pitching like a top-of-the-line starter and pair him up with Clayton Kershaw, they can survive a fairly pedestrian division race. The Dodgers need Billingsley, but the jig appears to be up for Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, each of whom have ERAs in the high 4s since the break.
Ultimately though, Los Angeles shoved all its chips on the table to win this year and I don’t think Magic Johnson’s ownership group had a one-and-done wild-card loss in mind. This team needs to at least win the NL West or at least win the wild-card game.
Los Angeles leaves for a ten-game road trip that includes a big four-game set in Pittsburgh, games that will be vital if the Dodgers are going to have any kind of wild-card possibilities down the stretch. When they return home San Francisco will be waiting. Unless Hanley, Victorino and a recently inconsistent bullpen (Kenley Jansen has blown three of last nine save chances) get in gear, the win-now mindset is going to blow up.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been like the horse who hangs back and hangs back as the race in front of the develops. The spectating public isn’t watching them when two horses (in this case Los Angeles & San Francisco) are running neck-and-neck ahead of them. Then suddenly the horse hanging back gets the inside rail and makes a hard push. That’s exactly what the Diamondbacks have done, as a sweep of the Dodgers this week pulled them to within two games of the lead in the NL West.
On July 15, Arizona had finished being swept by the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley to open the second half and a four-game series in Cincinnati that threatened to bury them was ahead. But Arizona managed a split against the otherwise blazing hot Reds, and then came home and started their push. A nine-game homestand against Colorado, Houston and the New York Mets produced a 7-2 record. In the meantime, the Dodgers swept the Giants and enabled both Arizona and Los Angeles to move up the standings at a time when Frisco was threatening to open up some space. Then Arizona turns right around and delivers the aforementioned sweep of LA. The sequence of NL West matchups could not have gone any better for Kirk Gibson’s team, who made their division title push a year ago about this time and now threaten to do it again.
The downside to this Arizona hot streak is that is driven heavily by offense, especially hitting for power, which is the least sustainable attribute. Pitching and plate discipline never slump and while these have been strengths—and the reason I think Arizona is going to continue to play well, it’s the long ball that’s carrying the D-Backs. Jason Kubel hit 11 home runs in July alone, while Miguel Montero and Paul Goldschmidt popped four apiece. Goldschmidt’s pace will continue and might even improve, but Montero probably cools a little bit and I think it’s safe to say that Kubel won’t continue on a 66-HR pace.
But even if Arizona doesn’t score more runs than every other team in the National League, like they did in July, there’s no reason that can’t continue the kind of productivity that has them fifth in runs scored for the season as a whole. Aaron Hill is having a great year at second base. Chris Young, after being injured and then slumping in the first half, started to pick it up last month. Even though the batting average was just .227, the walks were up, as was the slugging percentage. I think Young’s best months are ahead of him, and I think the same can be said for Justin Upton and Stephen Drew. The D-Backs wisely held on to Upton at the trade deadline and even though he’s slugging just .394, he’s capable of the kind of hot streak that can carry a team for several weeks. Drew is finally back after ripping up his ankle in the summer of 2011, and though he is not hitting yet, the shortstop has just 88 at-bats under his belt. Give him some time to get into a groove and he’ll at least get on base consistently.
Arizona’s pitching improved a little bit this past month—the 8th best in National League ERA for the season, they were up to sixth if we focus strictly on July—and that small improvement is sustainable and can itself be improved on. The starting pitching was consistent, but nobody was in an unhittable zone. Gibson moved Josh Collmenter back into the rotation, where he posted a 3.00 ERA in four starts. The move enabled young Patrick Corbin go to the pen where his 2.08 ERA in July adds him to a pen that includes David Hernandez, Brad Ziegler and newly acquired Matt Albers, all of whom have ERAs under 3. They set the table for J.J. Putz, who has 19 saves and a 3.71 ERA, but is capable of doing more. Whomever is on the mound, Arizona is a comfortable sixth in the NL in cashing in its save opportunities.
What the Diamondbacks need is for Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill or Joe Saunders to really have a get-on-my-back and I’ll carry you kind of month. All have been respectable, but none have been outstanding—in fact 12-game winner Wade Miley has been Arizona’s best starter in 2012. If the vets can smell the stretch drive, Arizona’s going to be tough to stop.
The Dodgers and Giants made the big splashesat the trade deadline, but the same thing happened last year. All the talk in 2011 at this time was whether San Francisco’s acquisition of Carlos Beltran made them the team to beat in the NL as a whole. No one gave Arizona a second thought. Then the Diamondbacks charged up the inside rail and won the race going away. Even if the home run surge of July 2012 doesn’t continue, there’s no reason the winning surge can’t.
What had to happen finally did happen, and it’s that the Los Angeles Dodgers have come back to earth and the race is on in the NL West. San Francisco, at 30-24, is coming off a week where they first won a series against Arizona, then took advantage of playing the Chicago Cubs and delivered a three-game sweep. Coupled with a slump by the Dodgers, Frisco is back within three games of the lead and there’s no reason to think this is just a flavor-of-the-week type thing.
Doing with pitching has been the San Francisco way in recent years and the 2012 is the same, with the third-best ERA in the National League counteracting the negative effects of an offense that’s better than just four NL teams. But the ’12 staff is doing it in spite of a terrible first 2 ½ months from Tim Lincecum and a season-ending injury to closer Brian Wilson. The Giants were known for the bullpen depth and it has paid off in spades this year. Santiago Casilla stepped into the closer’s role and has nailed 14/15 save chances with a 1.54 ERA. Since Casilla was already one of the NL’s top setup men this wasn’t much of a surprise. What’s been critical is that his replacements have been excellent. Clay Hensley’s ERA is a buck-77, Jeremy Affeldt’s at 2.55 and Sergio Romo is a surreal 0.51. The basic principle of beating the Giants remains—you better do it in six.
And even with Lincecum struggling, getting a lead off the starters is still not easy. While we can certainly point out Matt Cain having another stellar season or Madison Bumgarner continuing to be reliable, or Ryan Vogelsong showing last year was no fluke, let’s single out Barry Zito. The lefty has tapped into a fountain of youth somewhere and is 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA. Given how little was expected of the man on the 10th anniversary of his 2002 Cy Young Award in Oakland, it’s fair to say that Zito has covered for Lincecum to this point.
Offensive depth remains a substantial problem. The burden of carrying the lineup falls on Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera. The latter’s .413 on-base percentage and .548 slugging are one of the great revelations in all of baseball thus far. Not only can that not keep up—even though Cabrera is a good baseball player who will have a good year—but the drop-offs from the haves to the have-nots in this order are dramatic. While San Fran has benefitted from a nice year from Angel Pagan in center (.354 OBP) and can hope for Brandon Belt to improve at first (good plate discipline for the kid turns a .230 batting average into a .347 OBP), there’s no reason to think Joaquin Arias, Emmanuel Burriss, Brandon Crawford or Gregor Blanco will be anything but huge liabilities. Therefore the return of third baseman Pablo Sandoval from the DL this month will be a badly needed shot in the arm. Sandoval, one of the best offensive third baseman in the NL, had a .357/.537 OBP/Slugging line when he went out and he’s got the pop to make scoring runs a little easier.
Ultimately though, when you pitch like San Francisco, you’re going to be okay for the long haul. As last year demonstrated, it doesn’t make you immune to a September slump, but you’ll at least have a shot. That’s what the Giants have now and they won’t disappear any time soon.
Around the rest of the NL West…
LA Dodgers (33-21): I’m thinking right now of the 18-point lead the Boston Celtics built on the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs last night. As a Celts fan, I knew it was great, but I also knew deep down it wouldn’t last and that eventually we needed to make some plays to win a tough one. That’s the mindset Dodger fans have to be in right now. They enjoyed being at high tide, but now the race is tightening and the injuries are adding up—Matt Kemp is going to be out until at least mid-June, according to the injury report and all anecdotal reports say it will be longer. Ted Lilly will miss a couple starts with a shoulder problem. It’s well past time for Chad Billingsley to stop pitching like a back-end starter (4.09 ERA in a pitcher’s paradise).
Arizona (25-29): The Diamondbacks are a lot like the Angels were a couple weeks ago. You could see they were playing better, that they had stopped the bleeding, but a real move up the standings hadn’t yet come. LAA got it put together recently and Arizona now has the chance to do the same. They’ve gotten good years from Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt, and now Justin Upton and Aaron Hill need to get their bats going. On the pitching staff, Daniel Hudson has only made five starts due to injury and has a 4.65 ERA in that quintet. He needs to pitch better, as doe Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill. All of which is very possible, so a team that’s gone 9-6 since its low point in mid-May can get back in striking distance.
Colorado (23-30): I ripped this team apart a couple weeks ago, so now I have to come back and eat crow. The Rockies’ offense has gotten unleashed and is now the top run-scoring machine in the National League. Carlos Gonzalez is batting .332 with 14 home runs. Troy Tulowitzki has to make a brief stop on the DL with a groin injury, but is finally swinging the bat well. Michael Cuddyer has been productive and Dexter Fowler’s .400/.582 line is almost as stunning as what Cabrera is doing in San Francisco. The problem is closing out their chances to win games. While closer Rafael Betancourt is fine, the rest of the bullpen is an astonishing 1-of-11 on save chances.
San Diego (18-37): Offensively, they rely on Yonder Alonso, Chase Headley and Will Venable. The problem with this is nothing against those players, especially Alonso who is proving to be a nice line-drive hitter with a good career ahead of him. The problem is that none of them hit for power and the rest of the offense is awful. As for the pitching…in a series with the Cubs last week, they not only lost all three, but gave up an average of eight runs a game. What else needs to be said?
I was going to make the focus of this week’s NL West report the LA Dodgers’ series in Arizona that started last night, with the Diamondbacks looking to try and reverse course before this race gets completely out of hand. But then I figured we have plenty of time to either celebrate the Dodgers or talk about the D-Backs. But what about at the other end of the division? I didn’t expect Colorado to be good, but they’ve really stepped it up in May and have “caught” San Diego for last place coming into today’s games. What’s up in Denver?
Let’s start going after baseball’s feel-good story in Jamie Moyer. In his last five starts, he’s worked an average of five innings a pop and his ERA is 6.12. The ERA for the year is 4.99. It’s time to do the Kerry Wood thing in Coors Field—just let Moyer come in, get an out , give him a big round of applause for his career and then give these starts to younger arms. Wiley veterans good for a few decent innings and some intangible quality belong on contenders, not rebuilding staffs. Wiley veterans with ERAs over 6 belong in an ESPN analyst’s chair. Preferably the one currently being filled by Rick Sutcliffe on Monday night.
Offensively, the American League imports of Marco Scutaro at second base and Michael Cuddyer in right field haven’t panned out. Cuddyer had a decent start that’s kept his slugging percentage a decent .459, but that’s been on a downward trend of late. Troy Tulowitzki got off to a slow start, although his bat is starting to warm up a bit now. And Todd Helton is a disaster at first base. A bad season in general got even worse this last week when he got just one single in 19 at-bats. The best thing Helton can do for his team right now is just have a nice two-week hot streak, persuade some contender desperate for an extra bat that he’s still got something left in the tank and had Colorado a prospect as part of summer deal.
The bullpen has zero depth. Rafael Betancourt is handling the closer duties well, but a closer on a team that can’t hit, has no starting pitching and no bridge to the ninth inning is about as valuable as a vice-presidential choice on a third-party political ticket. He might look good, he might genuinely be good, but his actual job has no real value.
What Colorado does have is some young pitching to build around. Juan Nicasio, who goes tonight in Miami, has gradually improved as the season has gone on. Alex White has been able to shut down weak lineups in outings against San Diego and Seattle. Drew Pomeranz has shown some potential. If the team could pick up another young arm in the summer trade sweepstakes and then just keep veteran Jeremy Guthrie, they’ve got the makings of a staff. Right now though, the good people of Denver are better off focusing on the coming NFL season with Peyton Manning.
Around the rest of the NL West…
LA Dodgers (29-13): There’s been a James Loney sighting in Dodger Stadium! That might not be up there with a Brad Pitt sighting when it comes to excitement, but it means a lot if you’re a Dodger fan. Loney has an OBP of .375 and a slugging percentage of .609 over the last week, stepping up to hit just as Matt Kemp went to the disabled list. The rest of the team has followed suit, including veteran pickup Bobby Abreu who’s playing left field. The entire pitching staff is locked in, with Chris Capuano beating Arizona last night 6-1. This weekend the Dodgers swept St. Louis, last week they won two of three from San Francisco and are off to a good start against Arizona, so they’re beating the teams they need to beat.
San Francisco (22-20): As long as Tim Lincecum keeps struggling there’s going to be problems, and the ace went a combined 11 innings and gave up 8 runs in starts against Colorado and Oakland—not exactly offensive behemoths. And even Tampa Bay doesn’t need its starting third baseman back from the disabled list worse than Frisco needs Pablo Sandoval. The offense can only be carried by Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey so long.
Arizona (19-24): Chris Young is back from the disabled list, but has gone just 3-of-16 as he struggles to get back in the groove. Along with Gerardo Parra and Aaron Hill, this trio is holding down an offense and not letting solid hot streaks by power hitters Paul Goldschmidt and Justin Upton be as potent as they otherwise might. The starting pitching is struggling too, with Kirk Gibson having to give regular starts to 22-year-old lefty Patrick Corbin. He’s had his ups, but given his youthful inconsistency, surely Gibson did not want Corbin as the man on the mound last night. Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill also got hit hard in their last outings. If nothing else, after the Dodger series, the D-Backs host Milwaukee, in the rivalry of which 2011 Division Series team is a bigger disappointment early in the year.
San Diego (16-27): The Padres have started to play a little better. They survived an East Coast swing, going 2-3 at Washington and Philadelphia, then came home and went 3-2 against the Dodgers and Angels. Clayton Richards and Anthony Bass have been extremely sharp their last two starts. But the offense can’t survive on Yonder Alonso and Will Venable alone. Chase Headley has to start hitting again and they really need Carlos Quentin, who just started rehab, back from the disabled list.
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.
It’s fair to say there are no truly big baseball series in May, but it’s also fair to say that some are bigger than others, and surely one of those that at least catches the eye is the one starting tonight between the Giants and Dodgers in Los Angeles. The NL West standings show LAD holding a four-game lead over San Fran. TheSportsNotebook takes a look ahead at this series, as well as the rest of the division…
Both Los Angeles and San Francisco are swinging the bats better than expected, ranking sixth and ninth in the National League respectively when it comes to scoring runs. But the Giants have lost third baseman Pablo Sandoval—as has my Fantasy team—to a broken bone in his hand. Buster Posey, whose overall numbers are good, has been in a funk for the past week. Ultimately the problem San Francisco is dealing with is that they don’t get runners on base consistently. Their respectable results in scoring runs have been more about hitting for power, both home runs and into the gaps thus far. That’s less likely to sustain itself over the long haul to begin with, and even less likely without Sandoval, the team’s most complete offensive player.
As long as we’re on the subject of unsustainable, we may as well shift over to Los Angeles centerfielder Matt Kemp. His start to the season is in the stratosphere, with a MLB-leading 12 home runs, a .470 on-base percentage and .816 slugging percentage. You can believe in Kemp—I thought he should have been NL MVP last year—and still acknowledge that these numbers will come down and pretty sharply, just bringing him back to the human race. Someone is going to have to pick it up. And someone who’s started is shortstop Dee Gordon, who hit .316 the first week in May, including three doubles and a home run. The Dodgers are also getting surprising production from the unrelated Ellis boys—second baseman Mark and catcher A.J. might not hit for power, but they churn out on-base percentage. Finally, we come to Andre Ethier, the rightfielder who is Scottie Pippen to Kemp’s Michael Jordan, and Ethier is swinging a good bat right now.
The bullpens are a little iffy both ways right now. Santiago Casilla has become the closer for the Giants in the wake of Brian Wilson’s season-ending injury and is doing an admirable job, But the team hasn’t taken advantage of its formidable bullpen depth to get the job done in front of the closer. Los Angeles is the reverse—Kenley Jansen and Josh Lindblom are pitching well in setup, while Javy Guerra has been inconsistent at closer.
Therefore the attention shifts, as it should with these two teams to the starting pitching. The matchups for this series are as follows…
Mon: Barry Zito-Ted Lilly Tue: Ryan Vogelsong-Clayton Kershaw Wed: Tim Lincecum-Chad Billingsley
All three LA pitchers are having good years, as is Zito. Vogelsong, and especially Lincecum, got off to slow starts, but each has settled down their last three outings. Thus, we can conclude we’ll get good-pitched games, and the spacious environment of Dodger Stadium will only aid that. All six pitchers are averaging about six innings a start, and with the bullpens question marks, the series can be won by the starter(s) who picks his team up and just gives one extra inning above the average and gets the pen into the eighth, where the depth issues won’t be so evident.
The only this series is really landscape-altering is if it’s a sweep either way—the Giants could pull to within one and send the message that the race is on, or fall seven out and have their back to the wall quickly. But even if it follows the norm and goes 2 of 3 either way, both teams are likely to be fighting each other for some type of playoff position throughout the year, be it one of the two wild-cards or an NL West crown. The wins you get now are the ones you don’t sweat in September.
Here’s the rundown on the other three teams in the NL West. Their records are in parentheses and by way of comparison the Dodgers are 18-10 and the Giants 14-14…
Arizona (14-15): I continue to believe that Arizona can’t be unhappy. They survived a 10-game Eastern road swing with a 5-5 record and they host San Francisco on the weekend with a possible chance to move into second. The start of the week won’t be easy with St. Louis in town. Just last week, TheSportsNotebook discussed the problems the D-Backs were having at the corner infield spots. As though responding to criticism, young first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, opened up, hitting .333 over the past week and third baseman Ryan Roberts went 4-of-14 with a home run. Cody Ransom, who can bounce between third and short, continued to hit well, going 5-for-14 with a couple home runs. I’ll be sending a bill to Kirk Gibson for my motivational ploys.
Colorado (12-15): A series win over the Dodgers early last week proved to be just a drop in the desert, as the Rockies’ pitching was quickly hit hard by Atlanta in a three-game sweep over the weekend. Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton are slumping—Helton particularly slow, and Carlos Gonzalez has the burden of carrying the offense. This team needs to get its pitchers healthy, especially Jorge de la Rosa and Jeremy Guthrie. The bright spot is young Drew Pomeranz, with four starts and a 4.05 ERA, including a strong outing against Los Angeles last Wednesday.
San Diego (9-20): The Padres have some guys hitting, with Yonder Alonso spraying the ball, and Cameron Maybin and Chris Denorfia both looking in rhythm, but none have home run power and other than Edinson Volquez, the pitching shows no signs of coming around. The Padres play the Rockies at home to start the week, so just as there’s a key series at the top, we also have one at the bottom as San Diego tries to avoid making last place a settled issue in this division.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have managed to keep the ship afloat in the NL West as they try and ride out the Dodger wave in the early part of the season. After losing three straight series, the Diamondbacks bounced back over the weekend by taking three of four in Miami and now continue their Eastern swing with trips to Washington and New York (the way the schedule works out, if there’s any hockey fans on the D-Back roster, they could see the Capitals-Rangers series in both cities and do a little advance scouting if Phoenix ends up playing either team in the Cup Finals. But I digress.). Arizona is 12-11, but with some issues to work out and decisions to make at the corner infield spots as we head into May.
Arizona got a surprisingly good, albeit inconsistent, year at third base from Ryan Roberts a year ago in their run to the NL West title. Towards the end of the season they brought up 24-year-old Paul Goldschmidt at first place and he showed real promise as a power threat at first base. Both are struggling in the first month of the year, hitting below .200 and no signs of an emergence from the slump. Manager Kirk Gibson has already started to give some of Roberts’ playing time to 36-year-old Cody Ransom, who’s been the team’s hottest hitter over the last week. The manager is less inclined to take away at-bats from a developing player like Goldschmidt, but with a quality veteran like Lyle Overbay on the bench—and hitting .313 in the chances he gets—Gibson’s hand might be forced. This isn’t a rebuilding team where you develop the kid at the expense of the veteran. This is a team with a real shot to win the National League pennant and everything has to serve that goal.
Gibson can count his blessings—he’s got viable options for his slumping starters, and in the case of Ransom he can also play shortstop if Roberts starts to hit and Stephen Drew can’t make it back from last summer’s ankle surgery as planned. The original return date for Drew was late April. If your calendar reads the same as mine, we’ve passed that date and he’s still not back, and I don’t know how far you can go with Willie Bloomquist at short. What it all adds up to its lot of decisions to be made regarding the infield spots in Arizona as they continue to get their lineup settled and wait for the Dodgers to come back to earth.
The coming week will be about jousting for position in the division, as next week features some early showdown series, with the Dodgers hosting the Giants on May 7 and Frisco continuing their road swing by going to Arizona. Here’s a summation of where the rest of the NL West stands…
LA Dodgers (16-7): They won three straight pitchers’ duels from first-place Washington over the weekend. The offense is starting to come back to earth, and if the Dodgers are going to score runs over the long summer months, one player to look at is rookie shortstop Dee Gordon. He’s got the speed to create opportunities when bats are silent, but at the .125 on-base percentage he compiled last week. Gordon is a work in progress with his bat, and there’s nothing wrong with where he’s at right now, but it’s also a reason to keep expectations for the Dodgers reasonable in spite of their good start.
San Francisco (12-10): With eight wins in their last thirteen games, the Giants are doing what the D-Backs are trying to do and that’s just hold steady and let the Dodgers come back to the pack. Tim Lincecum gave eight shutout innings his last time out, giving strong hope that his early struggles are a thing of the past. Buster Posey continues to carry the offense and continues to need help.
Colorado (11-11): The Rockies have been hovering on .500 the whole month and have home series with the Dodgers and Padres this week. Colorado got it off to a good start by beating up LA’s Aaron Harang on Monday night and with a good outing by Juan Nicasio, perhaps he can join Jamie Moyer in being a decent starter. Carlos Gonzalez swung as a hot a bat as there was in the division over the last week, with a n average of .423 and four home runs—a big reason Colorado led the NL in runs scored in that timeframe. But how realistic is it for an offense to maintain that pace?
San Diego (7-17): Bud Black’s team has still yet to win a series. Yonder Alonso started to hit last week, but Chase Headley went into a slump, so whatever the name of the player is, it seems the Padres will only have one hitter producing at a time. The team has to hope Edinson Volquez’s strong showing in his last start marks a turnaround for him.
The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2012 MLB season. Just getting a new owner would have, in of itself, made the season for Dodger fans. But then you get Magic Johnson as the leader of the new ownership group, with a $2.1 billion price tag that reaffirms the value of your historic franchise? Then add to the fact your current team is winning games, rolling to a 13-5 record coming into Wednesday’s action. It can’t get much better for Dodger Nation. The question now is how much of this is sustainable.
L.A’s offense is being upheld by familiar pillars, as Andre Ethier is off to a solid start, slugging .565 and Matt Kemp is off to an otherworldly stuff, having already homered nine times, delivering on on-base percentage of .513 and a slugging line of .924. And this while playing their home games in a park that’s notoriously pitcher-friendly. Veteran second baseman Mark Ellis is setting the table, with a .375 OBP. On the pitching side of the equation, Clayton Kershaw has followed Kemp’s path of building on a phenomenal ’11 with an even better start to ’12. The young lefthander has four starts and a 1.61 ERA. In the bullpen, Javy Guerra has quickly answered a key question mark regarding the closer’s role by nailing down seven of his first eight chances.
But before TheSportsNotebook joins the giddiness we have to point out some less pleasant facts. While Chad Billingsley is being praised by pundits for his nice start to the season, I have to note that a 3.04 ERA is nothing special when pitching in Dodger Stadium—it’s certainly not bad, but for LA to contend, they either need Billingsley to step it up still further or build a rotation where 2 thru 5 are all in that low 3s neighborhood. And the rotation after Billingsley is struggling. First baseman James Loney has been struggling so long he ceases to be a disappointment, and Juan Rivera is also off to a slow start. So the question is this—we know the Dodgers are going to cool off a bit, because no one plays at a 13-5 pace all year anyway. But will the cool down just bring them to back to the pack—they currently hold a 3.5 game lead, while still keeping the team in the race. Or will this just be the kind of start that’s quickly forgotten as the team falls out of contention. The answer to that lies as much with Los Angeles’ competition as it does with the Dodgers themselves, so on that note, let’s continue the first of what will be our regular weekly tours through the NL West…
San Francisco (9-8): Tim Lincecum has been positively awful out of the gate, with his 8.20 ERA in four starts, but the rest of the team is coming together pretty nicely. Barry Zito’s pitched very well and new leftfielder Melky Cabrera is showing he can be the pesky table-setter the Giants need him to be. Buster Posey is showing why the Giants missed him so much last summer, hitting for average, drawing for walks and driving it for power, while Pablo Sandoval is off to an All-Star caliber start. Manager Bruce Bochy can be further pleased with the hot start of Nathan Schierholtz. Some of this will cool down, but the anticipated turnaround from Lincecum will cure a lot of ills. The issue is going to be handling the transition in the bullpen now that Brian Wilson is gone for the year. Bochy has talented arms to work with, as depth was always this area’s calling card, but he has to get everyone situated in new roles. I expect San Fran will be fine, but the issue will be how quickly they get to fine. On Friday, Frisco starts a nine-game homestand against beatable opponents, so now’s the first chance to tighten that gap with the Dodgers.
Arizona (9-9): If you’re a Diamondbacks fan I think you have to be pretty happy. The back end of your starting rotation looks like a mess, you’re getting nicked up with injuries and your young corner infield talent isn’t hitting, but you’re still .500 and only four games back of the hottest team in baseball. New acquisitions Aaron Hill (who came over at the trade deadline last year) and Jason Kubel (who’s literally new) have picked up the offense, while Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Joe Saunders provide a balanced top three in the rotation. The concern? That the slow starts of third baseman Ryan Roberts and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt aren’t flukes, but signs that each is overrated. I like both, but neither has the track record that makes a turnaround something to simply assume. Another more immediate concern? A ten-game road trip out East that could turn the standings into a bigger concern if the D-Backs can’t at least tread water.
Colorado (8-8): The Rockies may be hanging at .500, but this pitching rotation is an absolute mess. Jamie Moyer is more than a great human interest story, in being the oldest pitcher to win a game at age 49. He’s the ace of the staff. If you’re a Colorado fan that ceases to be amusing. Rafael Betancourt has stabilized the closer spot, converting all five chances at a 1.29 ERA, but what good does that do if the rotation can’t get him the ball?
San Diego (5-13): We’ll sum up the Padres with this—they rank 7th in the National League in ERA. Which doesn’t sound too bad in a 16-team league, but when you play in a park so vast that Babe Ruth probably hits only 25-30 a year, it’s nowhere near acceptable. Clayton Richard, who needs to be a top two starter, has a 5.11 ERA after four starts, and if I was a sabermetrics guy, I’d immediately be running numbers to see what that would be if he pitched in a place like Philadelphia or on the north side of Chicago. Offensively, third baseman Chase Headley is showing he’s the real deal, with a .423/.581 line. While the offense has to be granted tolerance for park effects, it’s surely disappointing that top prospect Yonder Alonso is only hitting .196 with no home runs. He was a key part of the deal that sent starting pitcher Mat Latos to Cincinnati and closer to home one of my sleeper picks in a Fantasy League draft. I’ve cut him loose. The Padres need to make it work with him.