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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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9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Squirrelmetrix

It seems like quite a race in the NL West. I agree with you that Garret Anderson needs to go. It's pretty clear he is done and Xavier Paul is capable of doing more than GA can do now. I don't see any of these four teams dropping out for a while.

Jul 15, 2010 08:44 AM
rating: 0
 
wonkothesane1

I disagree with the assessment that Padres should add a bat. They got to first place with pitching and defense and some of that pitching was a little lucky. Their strand rate is unsustainable and you are starting to see struggles from guys like Clayton Richard, Luke Gregerson and Kevin Correia. On top of that Mat Latos is going to have his innings limited. It makes more sense to add arms and preserve what they have rather than chase down 1 extra WAR that would come with adding an .800 OPS bat (whatever that means anyway since OPS could be an on base guy or a slugging guy, which provide two different amounts of value).

Jul 15, 2010 10:40 AM
rating: -1
 
FLeghorn

I, for one, would love to see the Rockies trade Hawpe for a useful arm. He's had a nice career here, but it's clearly time for Seth Smith to be given the everyday outfield spot and let Hawpe move on to greener pastures, where a DH spot awaits him ( He'd be a good fit with the White Sox, yes? ).
I watched the Padres play the Rox the weekend before the ASG, and while I give them credit for playing hard, I just look at that lineup and shake my head ( even as they are scoring 8 and 9 runs in two games here ). I swear to god, Scott Hairston batted cleanup. Scott Hairston. They are a very chippy team, aside from Adrian G's legitimate greatness, but I can't imagine that this will continue much longer. Plus, I also wonder about their bullpen holding up for a whole season. Gregorson got walloped here twice, and it looked like Adams hurt himself. With Latos on innings watch, I just don't see it happpening.
I feel better about the Rox chances now than I did a few weeks ago, but the back end of the rotation is really poor right now. Francis is, understandably, limited, and Cook is a fifth starter at best. Hoping De La Rosa can come back to last year's form is a tough thread to hold on to. But I'm not sure what else they can really do about it.

Jul 15, 2010 14:11 PM
rating: 1
 
OonBoon

The Pads should take a page out of Billy Beane's playbook and trade for right-handed dynamo Kevin Kouzmanoff. As miserable as he's been this year, his OPS is 75 points higher in the 2nd half. The A's and Pads have already demonstrated a willingness to trade guys back and forth to each other. Aaron Cunningham would be a good low cost guy to take over in LF for the A's.

Jul 15, 2010 15:11 PM
rating: 0
 
OonBoon

And Torre needs to go. He's turning into Joe Morgan in his old age. Of course, we all knew this the moment Russell Martin stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th inning down by 5 in the last game of the World Series, with Hammerin' Jim Thome suckin on some chaw on the pine, playing tiddlywinks with Tommy Lasorda, or whatever guys with 564 homers do when they're sitting in the dugout.

Jul 15, 2010 15:17 PM
rating: -1
 
vtadave

Yeah that was an epic World Series the Dodgers appeared in last year.

Jul 15, 2010 20:46 PM
rating: -1
 
OonBoon

D'oh! NLCS, World Series same difference.

Jul 15, 2010 21:29 PM
rating: 0
 
pobothecat

Interested to see the mentions of Gregerson. What's happening here? Superhuman until ten days ago --- then mush. Saw a scouting mention here somewhere that said he wasn't throwing slider for strikes. Whatever the reason, my point is this: if he and Mike Adams --- oblique problem --- suddenly aren't there, this team could go bad in a hurry. With Latos now DL'd, would anyone be surprised to the Pods go 2-8 coming out of the all-star break?

Jul 15, 2010 16:19 PM
rating: 0
 
BobbyRoberto
(907)

"The Rockies are the only unabashedly run-scoring team in the division, and their scoreboard onslaught begins with a quintet of talented outfielders."

I respectfully disagree with "unabashedly run-scoring team" and "their scoreboard onslaught."

They are a run-scoring team at home:

270 runs (1st in NL)
5.7 R/G
.299/.370/.484, .854 OPS

On the road, away from Coors, they are NOT an "unabashedly run-scoring team":

160 runs (14th in NL)
3.9 R/G
.235/.309/.369, .679 OPS

Their offense, away from Coors, is one of the NL's worst.

In actuality, their pitching has nearly the same ERA at home (4.06) as on the road (4.03), despite pitching their home games at Coors Field.

The Rockies are 31-16 at home and 18-23 on the road, but their "road woes" are due to a lack of hitting, not pitching.

Jul 16, 2010 18:16 PM
rating: 1
 
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