Thursday, July 16, 2009

Midseason Report: NL West

Pour me some DeKuyper, folks. It's All-Star Break time, and that can only mean one thing. Actually, it could mean 100 different things, but who's counting. The one thing that's certain is that this feature will not drag into September this year. You can take that to the bank. Unless it's Sunday. And then you can't, 'cause it's closed, and this feature might run into September.

Anyway, we're kicking things off with some National League West action, and we had to settle for Dodger fan Johnny Utah once more because Humberto was busy stabbing white devils somewhere in the parking lot of the confines. Seriously, though, we're stoked to have Johnny back on bored, and you can peep our interview, just past the jump.

Bankmeister: So, Johnny. The National League West has been a bit of a surprise for a number of reasons through one half of 2009. But before we get to the juicy stuff, let's start with the crusty bottom of the bun known as the San Diego Padres. I didn't imagine that they would fare too well this season, but they've really outdone themselves cruising into All-Star week. As of today, they're 14 games under.500 and a solid 18 games back of your division-leading Dodgers. What's the problem with this team? Is it pitching? Hitting? Defense? A combination of the three? Do you know anything about their front office? Tell us, when you're done jerking it to your Steve Garvey Padre Fathead, what you know about baseball in the Whale's Vagina.

Johnny Utah: Thanks, Mister. And for the record, I use the Jergens to the sweet cookie duster of one Davy Lopes. The biggest problem with the Padres are those God-awful camouflage unis they wear on occasion. Come on, have some respect. Go back to the gold and shit brown.

Sorry, I'll get serious here. First what's good about this pathetic team. Adrian Gonzalez is putting up solid power numbers. He hasn't had spent any significant time on the DL in his young career, which makes him decent trade bait. Heath Bell is a stud, and will be a formidible closer for the next several years.

Now the bad. Davey Boy Eckstein is leading the team in hitting with a paltry .267. Suffice it to say, you don't hit, you don't score runs, you don't win. Whatta concept.

With a team ERA of 4.64, they prove they are incapable of keeping runs off the scoreboard. Even one time stud, and staff "ace" Jake Peavey is struggling with an ERA around the 4ish region....Don't know much about the front office in the Whale's Vajay-jay as you affectionately refer to it. But, they need to get their shit together before they become the Pirates of the NL West. Just brutal.

B: Yeah. Heath Bell and Adrian Gonzalez is about all I could tell you about this team myself. To say that your club is last in the league in runs, hits, team average, and RsBI is not bragging rights in my book. Surprisingly, they're only 10th in home runs (they have 76, compared to the last-place Mets), which is great, but they might want to try and get a guy or two on base before going deep. As far as pitching, having a hurt Peavy isn't doing them any favors, especially considering that their entire rotation (right now) is just plain awful. A 5-7 Kevin Correia, a 1-3 Josh Geer, a 4-7 Chad Gaudin, and a 1-0 Josh Banks won't win you many games in AAA, let alone the bigs.

This team doesn't appear to have any decent hitting or pitching in their system right now. Are they drafting poorly? An organization in need of change? If memory serves, they haven't been good for some time.

JU: Not true. They won the west in '06 and I'm pretty sure they won 90 games in '07. So this is a team that has just gone down hill quickly. Good assessment of the farm system. They don't have anybody on the triple A Portland Beavers hitting over .280. Also, the single A affiliate plays in Ft. Wayne Indiana. Easily the armpit of America.

The way I see it, this team and entire organization needs a serious overhaul. They lack leadership and personality. It's tough to say they haven't drafted well. In my opinion baseball is the toughest sport to assess talent at the high school or college level.

B: No, I know. They were in that one-game playoff with the Rockies in October 2007 as well, but they had that good year and 2006. Between those campaigns and their heydays of the early 80s, though, I only remember spotted success.

How about Arizona, though? Did you expect them to be almost identically as bad as San Diego at the halfway point? They're allowing fewer funs than the Pads and even scoring more, but they, as of today, have one more win than the Whale, and only a half-game lead on them.

JU: No, I'm surprised the D-Bags are playing so poorly. I really thought they would be at least contending for the West. They have always been one of those teams that seem to find a way to win. Very weak bullpen...

B: Fair enough. Let's talk Colorado Rockies. What do you make of their atrocious start, and impeccable turnaround? How much of it do you attribute to the Clint Hurdle/Jim Tracy firing/hiring?

JU: I was very surprised by the poor start. Let's face it, they have a preetty decent line up that can score 6 runs a game. Especially in the little league park known as Coors Field. Which, by the way, is my favorite stadium to enjoy a game.

You pretty much have to assume that the turnaround is attributed to the exit of Hurdle. Clint had over welcomed has stay. Had they not made that run at the end of '07, he would have been on the unemployment line. Jim Tracy was a great hire/promotion from bench coach. He had early success with the bums in the early to mid 2000s, and knows what it takes to win in the wild and wacky West.

B: I understand that the firing/hiring has given this team a spark, perhaps even the motivation they needed to start playing the baseball they're capable of. I also understand that this roster already had a decent number of guys that can hit for power, but how do you explain the pitching? This rotation looked absolutely fucking hideous at the start of the season, and I don't mean to imply that they're all rolling along at Cy Young pace, but they've done something right. Just look at their numbers through the first half:

Aaron Cook: 8-3, 3.98, 55-34 (SO-BB) through 108 innings
Ubaldo Jimenez: 6-9, 3.81, 101-46 through 115
Jason Marquis: 11-6, 3.65, 58-40 through 123
Jason Hammel: 5-4, 4.43, 61-21 through 89
Jorge de la Rosa: 6-7, 5.21, 99-46 through 96

Is that not impressive? Three guys over .500, three guys with under-four E.R.A.s, all five with respectable ratios and a team average of 106 innings per starter? Plus an All-Star appearance. And they play in a hitter's park, right? Please, explain this to me, Johnny.

JU: Yes, it is impressive. Jason Marquis has been the real surprise. His career was seemingly finished after a few mediocre years with the Cubs and Cards. Apparently he changed his delivery over the off season making his sinker much more effective. Obviously this has paid off with 11 wins and an All-Star appearance. Again, the bullpen is killing this team with several inflated ERAs. Middle relief has not fared well. Closer Huston Street has been solid with 22 saves. So, it seems they lose steam in the 6-8th innings.

B: While the San Francisco Giants are still seven games back of Los Angeles, they've also managed to win 10 more than they've lost. What's been the secret to their success? Offensively, they're not running away with any statistics. In fact, they're far down in the bottom hafl in many categories. They don't score a ton, they certainly don't hit for much power, and they don't exhibit blinding basepath speed. So, it's pitching, then, right? They have a National League best 3.51 E.R.A., they more than double everyone else in the league with 13 shutouts, and the same can be said with (eight) complete games. Defensively, they appear to be right around the middle of the pack. So, has average hitting and fielding, along with superior pitching been the Giant recipe? Does any of it have to do with a couple of exhausted clubs in the division? How long can San Francisco make a push with these efforts?

JU: The Giants as you said are relying mainly on pitching. Lincecum is putting up retarded numbers. It looks like he is pitching out of his socks with every delivery. I really like this kid's style. Matt Cain has put up equally as impressive numbers, although he is allowing a freakishly high amount of HRs compared to his ERA (11 HRs/2.38 ERA). The Big Unit hasn't had a great year, but respectable 45-year-old giant (pun intended).

Indeed their success can be somewhat attributed to a weak division. But mainly it is the quality of the starters. You don't have to score much to pick up wins when you have a few quality starters. The occasional no-hitter by a virtual unknown doesn't hurt. As long as they stay healthy, the Giants will ruffle some feathers and vie for the wild card.

B: Okay. Well, I think there's a team you've perhaps been looking forward to discussing: your Los Angeles Dodgers of Californaheim. Generally speaking, this team, assuming the second half of the season plays out similarly to the first, looks borderline frightening, which is unfortunate in that I predicted them to come in second in the division. That, of course, was only because they didn't have Seth fucking Smith on their team. but anyway, last year was tooth and nail down the stretch for them and the Diamondbacks. This year, Manny or no Manny, they've really taken care of business. Will it last? To what do you attribute their success, even during Manny's 50-game absence?

One of the most interesting things to me about this team -- again, going back to last year -- was that it appeared that pitching might handcuff them in the end, and one could make the argument that it did in October. What's their X-factor this year? Why have they been so tough? Are they that good? Is it a weak division?

Also, do you think this club would fare equally well in the American League? And, did you agree with Manny's being able to rehab in the minors?

JU: Why yes, I have been looking forward to talking about the boys in Blue! The success of this team is no fluke, and will last the remainder of the season. Hell, if they play .500 ball the rest of the way they would be around 90 wins. I think that is good enough to win the West. But, I also don't see them letting up anytime soon.

Their success is a combination of several things. Joe Torre is the perfect guy to keep Manny from, well, being Manny. Don Mattingly is the hitting coach, has taught the younger guys (Kemp, Loney, Ethier) patience at the plate. That was something that cost them down the stretch last year.

The biggest reason for their success is solid defense. They are second in the NL in fielding percentage. Not many errors with this bunch. I do think they are that good and the best record in baseball seems to prove it. It's tough to say if they would be that great in the AL. They historically have a bad record in interleague play (9-9 this year) But, Im sure that Mr. Torre would find a way to get these guys playing Big Ball if they did play in the AL.

The whole Manny deal? I'm torn. In a way I don't think he should have been able to rehab in the minors. A suspension is just that. Of course I'm glad he was able to dust off the spider webs and get his JuJu back. And yes, he was on maternity leave.

(video courtesy of the Global Sports Fraternity)

B: Fantastic. Care to make any division-winner predictions? Playoff scenarios? Who takes it all? I know you got it in you.

JU: Naturally. All righty, last year I predicted Philly over the White Sox in the series, so I was half right. I'm gonna say division winners: Tigers, Red Sox, Rangers, Phils, Brewers, Dodgers. Wild cards: Angels and Cards. ALCS: Sox over Angels, NLCS: Dodgers over Phillies. Yes, boys and girls we finally get a Mannywood return to Boston. In the end, the boys in Blue hoist the hardware.

B: Thanks for visiting with us again, Johnny. We look forward to talking some football with you in about two and-a-half months when the Chiefs prepare to visit Philadelphia, and come out with a win.