MLB Midway Point: The N.L.
National League Mid Season Report
By Chris Cause
So its one half down, one half to go and some things haven’t changed: Pedro Martinez & Barry Bonds don’t have jobs, the Natinals can’t spell, draft, or trade, and the Pirates want to be a minor league training facility for the other 29 teams. Looking back at my pre-season predictions for the NL East, NL Central and NL West, let’s find out which ones have a chance and which are dead in the water…
This division is up for grabs, thru under-performance, over-performance, injuries, and lack of a powerful team. Overall, these are going accordingly. I went with the Phillies and they are in first, 4 games ahead of Florida. Phillies fans have to be ecstatic over what they’ve gotten from free agent signing Raul Ibanez, but their pitching has been abysmal. Injuries and ineffectiveness by Cole Hammels to Brad Lidge to Brett Myers have the Phils on the hunt for arms. (Roy Halliday would have the same impact on this division that Manny Ramirez did on the NL West last year. And this won’t be the last time Halliday’s name gets mentioned here.) The next 3 teams, Florida, Atlanta & New York are basically a coin flip right now – all within 1 1/2 games of each other and all with negative run differentials. The least likely to emerge from them is the Marlins, who simply have too many question marks. Josh Johnson’s return is a nice story, but it isn’t enough, since Cameron Maybin isn’t ready, they have no one to close, and Ricky Nolasco forgot how to pitch for the 1st 2 1/2 months. And they should just quit playing all together if Hanley Ramirez’s hip is injured seriously. The Braves finally gave up on Jeff Francoeur. At least they got a motivated Ryan Church, who is 2 teams away from completing the NL East SuperFecta and is dying to stick it to the Mets. Both teams are hoping that swapping outfielders will shake things up. It’s a low risk, low reward move that most likely won’t do much to affect either team. The Braves need to find a spark and score runs consistently. The Mets need to hire Wolverine as an assistant trainer and try to harness his healing powers, because until they’re off the DL, they are in real trouble. And do we need to discuss the Nationals? Didn’t think so.
Sticking with the pick: Yes. I still say the Phillies take the NL East. And I’m sticking with my 2) Braves, 3) Mets, 4) Marlins picks too.
Prediction that might sound like I know what I’m talking about: Mets – “This team may need to be blown up.”
Prediction that makes me look like an idiot: Marlins – “Cameron Maybin will be great. Ricky Nolasco is a solid major league starter.”
Now here was a division winner I was sure of. The Cubs. Who knew Lou Pinella’s old school yelling act would wear on a locker room, Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano would have meltdowns, and Aramis Ramirez and Rich Harden would get hurt? Oh, anyone could? But seriously, who thought Alfonso Soriano would bat under .240? With everything that has gone wrong for this team, and its been a lot, they are still only 3 games out of 1st. That is because their rivals, the Cardinals, have taken advantage of opportunity and surged to the top of the division. (I had them finishing 3rd.) We could talk about run differential, Ryan Franklin locking down the closer role, or the emergence of Colby Rasmus and Skip Schumaker as everyday players as the reasons why the Cards are on top. But c’mon… Albert Pujols is…um, pretty good. (By the way, why is anyone pitching to him? Riddle me that?) And here’s the 2nd time I’ll mention Roy Halliday. Wanna face Roy Halliday and Chris Carpenter twice each in a post season series? Yikes! Now the Reds are interesting. I really thought they would make a move this year. They are in 5th place, but only 4 1/2 out. And that’s with Edison Volquez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Joey Votto missing time with injuries. They’ll have all 3 back in the second half, but now Jay Bruce breaks his wrist, so he’ll miss time. The Reds needs to make a move. (Matt Holliday would sure look good in left at the Great American Small Park…) The Brewers are holding on much better than I expected, but even Ryan Braun agrees with me on their pitching. And hey JJ Hardy, feel free to start a hitting streak anytime you’d like. Anytime now… What’s cute is how the Astros still think they’re in it. Yes, they are 4 games out and yes, they are still trotting out Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz as starting pitchers. (But fans of baseball in 1999 are really excited.) And will the last Pirate who started the year on the roster please turn out the lights? Thanks.
Sticking with the Pick: No. While I think the Cubs will make a run, I picked them to be the runaway winner here and that isn’t happening. They may eek it out, but it’ll be hard to crow about that. I still think the Brewers fade and the Reds rise, although I may be a year early on Cincy. But a summer of Cubs-Cards down to the wire? Now that’s good Midwestern baseball.
Prediction that might sound like I know what I’m talking about: Cardinals – “And Tony [LaRussa], along with pitching guru Dave Duncan, finds a way to get the most out of every single guy.”
Prediction that makes me look like an idiot: Tie. Cubs – “…but one thing’s for sure, they will win the NL Central.” Brewers – “Every day, manager Ken Macha and the Brew Crew should thank God that the Pittsburgh Pirates are in their division to provide a soft landing in the Central and prevent a last place free fall thud.”
I was sure the Dodgers would win this division. The route? So I was a little off on that. Manny Ramirez was thought to be the end all and be all of this line up. And then he’s gone for 50 games. And the Dodgers ADD to their division lead! Now again… playing in the worst division in baseball helps. But perhaps, (and I can’t tell you how hard this is to say…) Joe Torre needs more credit for keeping this team together and playing well. Well, that credit will be put to the test now that Manny’s back. Look for the Dodgers to make a move or two this month and maybe there will even be a Jason Schmidt sighting, since he is currently making Carl Pavano’s Yankees contract look shrewd. But looking to the playoffs, could the Dodgers pull off Halliday and go back-to-back years with THE Difference Maker Trade of the year? It not only makes them even better, it would stop the Phillies or Cardinals from getting him. And that all but guarantees them a trip to the Series. Scary. The Giants are hanging in there, behind, you guessed it, their pitching staff. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are All-Stars (despite Cain’s replacement after getting the liner off his arm Saturday). Randy Johnson and Barry Zito have been serviceable and Jonathan Sanchez got taken out of the rotation, but looks to be safely back for a while with his latest decent outing. (Sanchez was actually the subject of trade rumors since he’s been so bad. And his Dad had never seen him pitch. So he goes to his start against the Padres last week and naturally, Sanchez comes within an error of tossing a perfect game. He just needed his father to see him pitch! Why didn’t the pitching coach think of that?!?! The Giants should have him room with Papa Sanchez from now on.) If San Fran’s line up wasn’t truly horrendous, they could really make life difficult in the Wild Card chase. Now the Diamondbacks are another story. As soon as Brandon Webb went down with arm trouble, not only did my pick for NL Cy Young go with him, so did the hearts of every D-Back player, it appears. Dan Haren is pitching almost better than anyone else in the league and barely gets 2 runs to work with. It’s like the whole team has given up. Except for Justin Upton, who must have gotten word that I dumped him in the Wheelhouse League when he was batting .138, not playing every day, and looked destined for the minors. So thanks for turning it around and getting to the All-Star team, Justin. Well done! Where would the Rockies be without Jason Marquis? (Bet you never thought you’d see that sentence in print. Except for the newsletter of the eventual slow-pitch softball team Marquis will be headlining in 5 years.) Clint Hurdle is out as manager. Jim Tracy comes in and they rip off another ridiculous streak, reminiscent of the legendary 2007 run. As a guest analyst on MLB Network, the newly unemployed Hurdle was asked what’s going on out there. His reply? “Me. I must have been terrible.” Alright, that’s not true. It’s what I was thinking, as he said, “Jim Tracy has them playing really hard.” (Admit it. My answer was better.) Colorado is miraculously 5 games over .500, with a winning record at Coors Field AND on the road, and is one of only 5 teams in the NL with a positive run differential. All that, and they are still 9 games behind the Dodgers, who were without their best player for 50 games. Gotta love the NL West! And good to see the Padres have rounded into the form I thought they’d have in the preseason.
Sticking with the Pick: With a Brock Lesnar like Death Clutch. They were the best coming in, the best while missing their best player for 50 games, and still the best at the break in this division. No pick I’m more sure of. (Its almost like I’m ASKING to make this my season’s end prediction that makes me look like an idiot…)
Prediction that might sound like I know what I’m talking about: Tie. Dodgers – “Matt Kemp, Andre Either, James Loney, and Russell Martin complete one of the most dynamic lineups in the NL.” Giants – “Quietly, the Giants have a pitching staff you don’t really want to face.”
Prediction that makes me look like an idiot: Diamondbacks – “Look for this team to contend for years.”