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July 21, 1999
NL West Notebook
San Francisco Giants (50-38, division leader)
With the return of both Bill Mueller and Barry Bonds from long injury-related layoffs, everything is falling into place for the division-leading Giants. As with most of Dusty Baker's squads, the offense is paving the way for success--the team's 495 runs scored are good for third in the National League.
In particular, the team has been enjoying excellent seasons from second baseman Jeff Kent (.294/.376/.508, .303 Equivalent Average), center fielder Marvin Benard (.298/.362/.456, .283 EqA) and supersub F.P. Santangelo (.281/.460/.410 with 41 walks against 139 at-bats). Ellis Burks, J.T. Snow, Brent Mayne and Rich Aurilia are also having fine campaigns, but nobody on the Giants offense has really been playing over his head. As long as the team stays healthy, the offense should remain one of the best in the league.
Pitching is another matter; after starting strong, Chris Brock has been combustible over the last two months, Mark Gardner has struggled all year, and "ace" Shawn Estes has been mediocre. Gardner and Estes have shown some signs of snapping out of it of late, and young Russ Ortiz has been strong all year, but the Giants could certainly use another starter in their quest for the division title.
Look for General Manager Brian Sabean, who has shown no reluctance to make moves down the stretch in the past, to deal for one of the starters (Kenny Rogers, Livan Hernandez, Kevin Appier, Alex Fernandez, Justin Thompson) being shopped. Fernandez would be a great fit here, especially with the strength of the Giants bullpen, which has been effective again this year. The pen ranks seventh in the majors in Relievers' Run Expectation, led by strong campaigns from John Johnstone and Diamondback castoff Alan Embree.
The Giants probably won't be getting any help from the minors; they don't need hitting, and top prospect Jason Grilli isn't helping himself out with a 5.03 ERA at Fresno, and 20 taters allowed in only 96 2/3 innings.
Arizona Diamondbacks (48-41, 2nd place, 2 1/2 games behind)
Hmm... how best to say this without sounding like I've got something personal against the team....
They didn't need a closer as bad as they thought they did.
No team has ever needed a closer as badly as the Diamondbacks thought they did, in fact.
They've got one now in Matt Mantei, and to be fair he should help nail down more close games than the inconsistent Gregg Olson had. Of course, Vlad Nunez had been pitching about as well as Mantei this season, so maybe the Diamondbacks should have considered letting him take a crack at the job, especially considering he was the secondary prospect given up for Mantei.
Diamondback management sees the division slipping away, but in dealing for a closer they've ignored the team's bigger problem: the three prime engines of the offense--Jay Bell, Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams--are all slowly settling back to earth.
Like the Giants, the Diamondbacks aren't afraid of making a deal. The danger here is that they don't recognize what they need to do to improve the team. The easiest thing they could do would be to move Tony Womack to a team that salivates over stolen bases and platoon Dave Dellucci and Bernard Gilkey in right field, instantly turning a huge weakness into a solid plus. Since the D'Backs went out of their way to get Womack in the first place, and since he hasn't played any worse than he did in Pittsburgh last year, the chances of them doing this are slim.
Diamondback pitching has been as good as anyone could reasonably have expected it to be this year, but without some offensive help, look for the team to fall further back in the second half.
San Diego Padres (43-43, 3rd place, 6 games behind)
The Padres have been playing some inspiring baseball despite Tony Gwynn's lengthy stint on the DL. Led by new right fielder Reggie Sanders (.303/.401/.556, .322 EqA), who is outhitting last year's hero Greg Vaughn by a mile, the team is 20th in baseball in EqA. Yes, that's actually impressive considering the firepower they lost in the offseason.
One key has been Carlos Hernandez' knee injury, which kept the incumbent catcher out of the Padres' plans this year and gave more playing time to Greg Myers, Jim Leyritz, Phil Nevin and Ben Davis, all of whom are better players than Hernandez. After a slow start, Damian Jackson is hitting well and stealing bases, though his defense at shortstop has been inconsistent. Center fielder Ruben Rivera has struggled to hit for average, but has put up runs with good power and plate discipline. He's basically doing an off-year Greg Vaughn imitation in center field. But with much better defense.
The pitching has been a plus, with Andy Ashby, Sterling Hitchcock, and Woody Williams all turning in good campaigns. The team could use a reliable fifth starter, and the recent emergence of Brian Boehringer could fill that need. The pen hasn't been as strong as last year, with stalwarts Trevor Hoffman and Danny Miceli regressing from their 1998 performances. Setup man Donne Wall has been reliable.
The Padres are already doing the right thing by giving Davis a long look at catcher, and so far he's been adequate with the bat and brilliant defensively. With both Sanders and Gwynn in the outfield, the backup outfielders are going to see a lot of playing time, and outfield prospects Gary Matthews Jr. and Mike Darr have already seen action in San Diego this season. The Padres might benefit from giving Eric Owens' backup spot to Matthews, who wasn't overmatched in his brief major league audition this year (.315 EqA).
Colorado Rockies (40-46, 4th place, 9 games behind)
The Blake Street Bombers are stumbling, and skipper Jim Leyland is making threatening noises about "tearing down the nucleus" if something doesn't click. In fact, this is probably the best idea Leyland has had since he decided to let John Wehner sign with another team.
The problem with the Rockies is that their core just isn't as good as it looks, and the quicker they foist the geezers off on the Mariners or the Angels, the sooner they can get around to making moves that will amount to something for the franchise. Leyland has made veiled threats in the direction of Darryl Kile, Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette: exactly the guys he should ship off to the highest bidder.
Except for right field, manned by All-Star Larry Walker (.377/.444/.737, .323 EqA), there isn't a position the Rox couldn't use some help at. Bichette, Castilla, Todd Helton and Darryl Hamilton have all been varying shades of terrible this season, and the catching platoon of Kurt Manwaring/Henry Blanco doesn't look good to anyone but Bob Gebhard.
Colorado could use a pitching transfusion if they hope to contend, but at this date, in this situation, what's the point? Bring in Ben Petrick to catch and finally place Manwaring on the waiver wire. Try to foist off the execrable Neifi Perez on someone who isn't paying attention, deal all the old guys you can and you've done the best possible thing for this organization.
Leyland is likely making noises for the wrong reason; he's hoping to spur a team with to the postseason that was never all that good to begin. There's no chance of that, so the sooner the Rox face the music, the better.
Los Angeles Dodgers (39-47, 5th place, 10 games behind)
This team is a mess. Davey Johnson isn't getting his trademark sterling efforts out of these Dodgers, and unrest is brewing in the City of Angels. Raul Mondesi is complaining about this and that, a predictable response to a performance like this:
BB AVG OBP SLG April 16 .264 .377 .563 May 11 .305 .368 .667 June 8 .211 .279 .326 July 4 .212 .289 .242
He's hacking, and while it is kind of amusing to listen to him try to shift the focus somewhere else, it isn't like someone's hitting .210 for Raul. He's a big boy, and he's doing it all himself.
Johnson has been making some strange moves with his lineups lately, such as batting Mondesi leadoff, and Todd Hundley second. But it doesn't matter what he does with the hitters when his pitchers are giving up as many runs as Carlos Perez, Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort have been coughing up. These guys have been pathetic thus far. None of them show any signs of snapping out of their funk, so if the Dodgers are serious about salvaging the rest of the season, they've got to pick up some pitching help somewhere.
I wonder what Hideo Nomo is doing these days?
If you're a realist, you don't expect this team to pick up enough games on the Giants, Diamondbacks and Padres to give it any chance of postseason play. All three of these teams are pitching and hitting better than the Dodgers, and nine games is a lot of territory to cover.
During the Pastaman's brief, destructive regime, the farm system was severely diluted, and there isn't much help at Albuquerque this year. The team should be playing catching prospect Angel Pena at catcher as much as they can, and either phasing out the old guys out or dealing them for whatever they can get. That includes honorary old guy Hundley, who has developed a nasty habit of turning singles into doubles--defensively.
It's kind of sad that a team whose farm system has produced players like Peter Bergeron, Roger Cedeno, Paul Konerko and Dennis Reyes has been reduced to seeing if the likes of Todd Hollandsworth have anything to offer next year's squad. That's the boat the Dodgers are in right now.