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July 15, 2010

Mid-season Prescriptions

NL West

by Tommy Bennett

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Padres

The most surprising team in baseball has a tough high-wire act to keep up. They have scored the fewest runs in the division (not entirely surprising given their home park) while allowing the fewest runs in all of baseball. The team is designed to wring every last run prevented out of their cavernous outfield by letting their pitchers put the ball in the zone and relying on a strong outfield defense to catch them. What this team needs is a player can help put crooked numbers on the scoreboard. Other than Adrian Gonzalez, the three players who have manned the corners for the Padres have a combined .249/.311/.384 batting line. By dangling a member of their feared reliever corps, the Padres should try to swing a mid-level corner bat who can post just the second OPS over .800 on the team.

Rockies

By adjusted win-loss record, the Rockies are the best team in the division. They’ve faced tougher than average opponents and yet have still managed to hang on to a share of second place with the Dodgers. The Rockies are the only unabashedly run-scoring team in the division, and their scoreboard onslaught begins with a quintet of talented outfielders. Of those five, only Ryan Spilborghs is a true right-hander. Dexter Fowler bats switch, while Brad Hawpe, Seth Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez are all pure lefties. That’s a crowded picture that can’t quite capitalize on platoon splits. At the same time, the rotation—led by Ubaldo Jimenez but with strong performances by Jason Hammel and Jhoulys Chacin—could use a boost at the back end. It remains to be seen if Jeff Francis can fully recover from his various shoulder injuries and prove effective in the long term. One creative solution would be to deal one of the left-handed bats in exchange for a more effective fifth starter. Hawpe is making $7.5 million this year and his contract includes a $10 million club option for next year, so he makes a good candidate for trade with an AL team who can hide his sub-par defense in the DH slot.

Dodgers

After standing pat this offseason—failing to address their lack of effective back-of-the-rotation starters—the Dodgers find themselves hanging tough in a tight division race. They can thank the heroics of young lefty Clayton Kershaw, that scion of consistency Hiroki Kuroda and the reemergence of the effective Chad Billingsley. The performances of Vicente Padilla and John Ely have been acceptable, eliminating what looked like a pressing off-season need. But the Dodgers have squandered the opportunity to score more runs, for example, giving 139 plate appearances to Garrett Anderson, whose .182/.197/.280 line has cost them more than a full win when judged against a replacement player (we’ll call him Xavier Paul). Of course, that same extra win would put the Dodgers in first place in the wild-card race. The Dodgers should designate Anderson for assignment and give his plate appearances to some combination of Paul and Reed Johnson. That simple move alone might improve the team by the same amount that acquiring a new fifth starter would.

Giants

The Giants did overperform in the first half, thanks to their surprisingly soft schedule. They faced the worst hitters of any team in the division even as they faced the second-worst pitchers of any NL West team. But the Giants have surprised many with their resurgent offense, led by Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, and the recently acquired Pat Burrell. Even with their big bopper, Pablo Sandoval, struggling to post a .266/.325/.387 line, the Giants have averaged an extra 0.4 runs per game this year than they did last year. Given that their young starters (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez) have again been so successful, and their bullpen has again been very effective, the Giants should focus on further improving their offense. With the intended off-season fix, Mark DeRosa, out for the remainder of the season following wrist surgery, help will have to come from without. It’s unlikely Sandoval will scuffle this badly again in the second half, so if the Giants can add a bat to replace some of the plate appearances given to Nate Schierholtz or Travis IshikawaDan Uggla ought to remain a target—they will score enough runs to let their pitching staff do the rest. That might prove easier said than done, though. The Giants lack the kind of top-tier minor league talent that would entice potential trade partners.

Diamondbacks

If you were going to wave the white flag from the mountaintops, there is no better way to do it than to fire your manager and general manager simultaneously in the middle of the season. Nevertheless, that is what the Diamondbacks have done, placing the interim regime firmly in sell-now mode. Theirs is a brutally miserable bullpen that has cost them countless close games this season, so no trades will come from there. Their best trade chips are Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche, and no doubt plenty of teams will be interested in acquiring either. The Diamondbacks should seek risky but high upside prospects—at the lower levels of the minors if necessary—in return for those two. Trading Dan Haren remains a possibility, but it would have to be an overwhelming offer to induce interim GM Jerry DiPoto, who is no doubt risk-averse playing with somebody else’s money, to bite.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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