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Second-Half Prospectus

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.

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