The National League West Is A Blob At The Bottom

It wasn’t supposed to be a gaggle of teams fighting for second in the N.L. West, but that’s what it is. Here’s what the last two months have in store.

Are the Los Angeles Dodgers that good? Hell yes, they are. But, every really good team has a skid sometime in the year. Remember 2017? The Dodgers went 1-16 in September after threatening to surpass just about every won-loss record in baseball. They still went to the World Series.

Injuries are the bugaboo for any team and this team is no different. Closer Kenley Jansen hasn’t looked right, starter Rich Hill is on the 60-day Injury List with a forearm, utility stud Chris Taylor took a heater off the wrist, and now starter Ross Stripling and Kike Hernandez have tweaked…something.

Still, the Dodgers –post-triage– are still mashing, even as Cody Bellinger slowly comes down to earth. He should still hit .300 for the year, but the average has slowly wilted. Infielders Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Max Muncy should provide enough consistency while Alex Verdugo and Matt Beaty continue their awesome rookie campaigns. They have a big enough lead, they can limp into the playoffs and go far with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and Kenta Maeda on the mound. It would be nice if they had a catcher who could hit consistently and if Maeda would finally start pounding the long ball (All kidding aside, he actually has been great at the plate: .294 average with two doubles.)

UPDATE: Cue catcher Will Smith who torched the Nationals for six RBI while going 3-for-3 after his call-up from AAA.

Forecast stays the same. Dodgers take the whole thing.

According to ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, the last team to make the playoffs and get to .500 this late in the year was the 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates and they did it in their 116th game. According to The Spitter’s Bob Moffitt, the San Francisco Giants finally made it to .500 in their 98th game this year.

After spending most of the first half in the basement, they’ve gone on a tear, 18-5 in the last month. A couple of players have emerged as potentially bonafide major-leaguers. Infielder Donovan Solano is hitting .336 –70 points above his career average. Alex Dickerson is hitting .405 since the Padres unloaded him. And I believe in backup catcher Stephen Vogt.

And the old guns who were heroes in the World Series runs of the past have all collectively caught fire. Catcher Buster Posey, shortstop Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt are all hitting for average in July. Even third baseman Evan Longoria, who many had given up for dead has hit .400 this month.

But, there is reason to have doubt about their likelihood of making the postseason. They are an absolutely tremendous story… but are they really better than Milwaukee? Than St. Louis? Than Washington? Probably not.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see them drop into the basement again.

Gosh, the San Diego Padres weren’t over-hyped or anything were they? Manny Machado was never going to be enough to get this team out of mediocrity and into the playoffs. But this team is certainly getting better and next year might be the year they challenge for the N.L. West title.

People may forget that Fernando Tatís was a pretty good ball player. They may never forget that Fernando Tatís Jr. In a division that also features Alex Dickerson and Alex Verdugo as up-and-comers, Tatis’ numbers are superior: .330 BA/17 home runs. What’s striking is that he’s their best hitter, even though Manny Machado was supposed to be. Machado is beginning to remind me more of Reggie Jackson in that he’ll hit a mistake out of the ballpark but you can get him out. It looks like he should’ve stayed in the American League.

And why is nobody talking about Frannil Reyes? This kid has 42 home runs in his first 500 career at bats. I know the ball is juiced, but holy cow that’s phenomenal. Eric Hosmer has been solid at first and when you add Hunter Renfroe, you’ve got a pretty potent top-five lineup. That makes Machado’s 266 batting average even more puzzling.

On the mound it looks like the Padres found a #1 starter in Chris Paddack (2.84 ERA in 17 starts with a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and maybe a #2 in Cal Quantrill (son of 13-year-MLB vet, Paul).

In between the starters and All-Star closer Kirby Yates, are three pretty good guys and then a lot of ERAs 5.00 and above. You can’t live there and hope to win.

Maybe next year.

Down in Arizona, Ketel Marte has been great and performed way beyond expectations when you consider that he has doubled his career home run (it was 22) and is hitting 50 points better than his career average. As for the rest of the team there are a lot of guys who are heading .260 or .270. They’re solid but not spectacular. If you could put some pitching with them you basically have the 210 2012 and 2014 giants: find a way to make the playoffs and put all of your eggs in the basket of two starters. Zach Greinke is one. Who’s the other? Luke Weaver? In 11 starts he’s got an ERA of three but that’s a run and a half below his career average. If he stays hot, great. Maybe it’s Alex Young (2.38 ERA in just five starts). Otherwise you’re looking at Robbie Ray and he’s a .500 pitcher who would be fine as a #3 in a playoff rotation or long relief. Middle relief is one place where Arizona has strength. six pitchers out of the bullpen have ERA‘s under 3.80.

Forecast: Arizona keeps plugging along and stays in contention for the last Wild Card spot. Doubt the make it, but if they do, they could go far.

Up in Colorado, the lowest ERA for a starter: 4.05 for Jon Gray. The other starters: 5.00, 6.30, 7.00. Everyone will talk about the need for the Rockies to put the balls in the freezer to have any hope against the air and the juiced ball.

I don’t know if they have to figure out their farm system/player development to get better pitchers, or if they need to re-evaluate how they call games at home. The ball still spins at high altitude, and should actually spin more with less resistance, but what it doesn’t do is drop as much because of reduced gravity.

If I were the pitching coach, I would forget about downward movement and focus a lot more on side-to-side to get hitters out. It’s the same idea: use the fastball to set up an off-speed pitch that starts in the same location and moves one way or the other at reduced velocity. Curve balls only serve one purchase: to make the scoreboard numbers change for the opposing team.

Also, I don’t care how badly Kyle Freeland is pitching, he should not have an ERA of 7.00 when he’s striking out twice as many as he is walking. It’s a Coors Field miracle that three of the four with the terrible ERAs have a winning record.

By the way, too early to start the “Scott Oberg for Cy Young” campaign? It will never happen, but with a .172 batting average against and a 1.65 ERA in 42 games as a reliever it should. That’s extraordinary domination.

Colorado should be in the playoff run come September. They have the offense and middle relief. Maybe the opener and a new strategy is the key. If they don’t do something they are toast.

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