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July 15, 2007
NL, Second Half
A little late to truly be a commentary at the half, my take on what the next 2.5 months will bring in the National League…
Was: New York Mets
The Braves have hung around with four regulars or semi-regulars posting sub-.330 OBPs, including the greatly disappointing year they've gotten out of Brian McCann. An offense that is sixth in the league in runs could actually improve if McCann and Andruw Jones could just approach their projected 2007 lines down the stretch. A straight comparison to the Mets favors the latter slightly, mostly due to the Mets' left side of the infield and middle relief. As was the case in the late 1990s, this could come down to head-to-head play.
Until the Phillies can build a bullpen out of anything, they can't hang with these two teams. I truly wonder what the NL East would have looked like over the past six years had the Phillies been able to generate any kind of live arms as an organization to pitch the late innings for them. I'm not saying they have to be the Twins or Angels; I'm saying that finding one guy every two years or so to strike out eight men a game and post an ERA under 3.50 would have made a huge difference in their present pennant "chase."
Aaaaaaand…: The Braves have the two best catchers in the division. How often does that happen?
Was: Milwaukee Brewers
To their credit, the Brewers have done a good job of getting the guys who can play on the field. Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun are on the team, and Corey Hart has become pretty much an everyday player. That's good roster management, and if they do win this division, that will be a big reason why.
For their part, the Cubs have made their own in-season adjustments, albeit with less success. They abandoned the idea of Alfonso Soriano as a center fielder, but eventually came around to the idea Felix Pie wasn't the solution, either. Cliff Floyd has earned more playing time, contributing some desperately-needed OBP. Geovany Soto has been recalled to replace the patchwork Rob Bowen/Koyie Hill platoon that has been a disaster in the wake of the Michael Barrett trade.
The Cubs' biggest edge is the rotation. They have five starters with ERAs in the threes, and they get a quality start most days, turing the game over to a passable bullpen. They've been a bit weak from the left side, as Neal Cotts and Scott Eyre have struggled, and while they're deep from the right side, only Carlos Marmol has been genuinely dominant. The gap between the Cubs' run differential and their record is part luck, but also reflects a bullpen that has failed them at times.
Aaaaaaand…: The Cardinals will finish above .500, and inspire a host of Labor Day stories about their chance to repeat.
Was: San Diego Padres
Realistically, there's not much difference among the D'backs, Padres, and Dodgers. I'll make the above prediction, but over half a season, pretty much anything could happen.
NL Wild Card
Was: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Padres have an even better bullpen, although their offense is down a couple of notches from last season. (It's not just a park effect; their .255 EqA is 12th in the NL.) Adding Michael Barrett and Milton Bradley should improve the situation, but Barrett has yet to walk as a Padre, and Bradley went kerplunk after about 16 minutes in San Diego. The Padres could still bring in someone from the outside-Adam Dunn has been mentioned, although he's a brutal fit for this park-and as long he draws breath, Kevin Towers will be a threat to improve his squad.
The Braves might be a factor in this race as well. The Padres and Dodgers are both better teams, but the Braves probably have more room to improve, realistically, as so many of their big hitters have underperformed or missed time.
Was: Jake Peavy
With all that said, Prince Fielder is the popular favorite. He basically has Justin Morneau's case from last year, when Morneau wasn't one of the ten most valuable players in the AL, but nevertheless won the MVP by having lots of home runs and RBI for a playoff team. Fielder has the HRs and RBI, is an even better story than Morneau, and may not need the Brewers to make the playoffs to end up with the hardware. He's down the list in VORP and WARP, but we saw last year how little that can matter. This will be one of the bigger stories of the second half.
NL Cy Young
Was: Jake Peavy
NL Rookie of the Year
Was: Hunter Pence