Wow. The NL East has to be the most surprising division in baseball. Sitting on top of the heap are the Washington Nationals thanks in large part to the major’s best pitching staff. The top three arms in their rotation, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman, each has a sub-3.00 ERA. The bullpen has a solid threesome of its own in Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, and Sean Burnett. Clippard has filled in more than admirably in closer Drew Storen’s absence. They’re doing everything right in the pitching department, and they might need to keep it up in order to remain on top considering they have one of the game’s weaker offenses. Bryce Harper didn’t have to wait long to get the call, and he’s been putting up his share of highlights in the first half, most notably his hustle doubles. He’s well on his way to winning
honors. Ian Desmond doesn’t get talked about much,
but he’s one of the better all-round SS in baseball. Ryan Zimmerman has been dealing with a
shoulder issue since April but is starting to put together a Zimmerman-like
hitting streak. As a fan without a
vested interest in this division, it’s hard to not root for these guys. ROY
The Nationals are in first place, but the Mets are the most pleasant surprise in the division. Picked by most to finish last again, the Mets are currently six games over .500 and finally notched a no-hitter for the franchise when Johan Santana stifled the Cardinals June 1. David Wright led baseball in hitting for a good stretch of the first half, but the rest of the offense is more clutch than consistent when it comes to hitting. R.A. Dickey is one of the best stories of this first half. He threw two near no-hitters in back-to-back games and gave up zero earned runs for five straight starts. Can Wright continue carrying a limited offense? Can Dickey and Santana continue carrying a mediocre starting staff and shaky bullpen?
The division’s Jekyll and Hyde resides in
. The Marlins were baseball’s best team in May
but were its most awful in June. They’re
the fourth worst hitting team in the game and aren’t getting much from their
big dollar duo of Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez. Giancarlo Stanton is the lone bright spot,
but he did nearly all of his damage in a huge May. The pitching hasn’t been there. Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano, and Anibal
Sanchez all have losing records and ERAs over 3.50. Josh Johnson is looking good of late though,
but there’s just not enough around him.
And oh my is it painful to watch Heath Bell attempt to close games. Miami
Bringing up the rear are the shocking last place Phillies. They’ve looked really anemic offensively without Ryan Howard and, until recently, Chase Utley. Cliff Lee doesn’t have a single win through the first three months of the season, and Roy Halladay has been out with a shoulder injury since late May. It’s going to take a hell of a lot of magic to make them relevant in the second half.
Most Impressive Team –
Most Impressive Player – R.A. Dickey
Most Disappointing Team –
Most Disappointing Player – Cliff Lee
I see the Central as a three team race the rest of the way. The team sitting on top of the division is the Cincinnati Reds, and through no coincidence, Joey Votto is well on his way to winning his second MVP in three seasons. He’s among the league leaders in all offensive categories except steals and is the rock in the middle of a lineup with some pop. Brandon Phillips heats up with the weather, and Jay Bruce is tied for third in the NL in homers. June has been Ryan Ludwick’s best month, but if they were able to upgrade over him in left field, they might put some distance between them and the rest of the division. Johnny Cueto is having a great year and would be among the top vote getters for the half way Cy Young, but the second half of that desired deadly 1-2 combo, Mat Latos, hasn’t delivered as hoped. He’s 24th in the NL in K’s, but only two players rated higher than him have a higher ERA (Lincecum and Samardzija). He’s doesn’t look like a playoff #2 at the moment, but maybe Mike Leake is. Leake doesn’t have the Ws to show for it, but he’s been dominant in June. We know he has the stuff, but can he maintain it this year? Aroldis Champan was unhittable in April and May, so despite the recent hiccups, he’s still one of the game’s elite closers. I still see the Reds winning this division.
Last year’s champs sit in third place and are weathering more than their fair share of injuries. A significant knee injury has limited Lance Berkman to just 13 games, John Jay missed more than a month, Skip Schumaker was sidelined two weeks twice, Jaime Garcia may need shoulder surgery, and Chris Carpenter still hasn’t thrown a pitch this year. The lineup still has plenty of pop. Carlos Beltran has far surpassed his free agency expectations, and Allen Craig has been a great source of power. In addition to his defensive excellence, Yadier Molina is getting it done again offensively. Their pitching has been very unCardinal-like. Adam Wainwright hasn’t completely turned the corner, and Lance Lynn seems to be falling back to earth after a huge start to the season. Kyle Lohse has been their most efficient pitcher, but he’s never been a true stopper. Despite the offensive output, they must get better pitching if they want to have a shot at defending their title.
The Brewers definitely miss Prince Fielder. Ryan Braun has remained his typical MVP self despite the lack of adequate protection, but Aramis Ramirez isn’t making anyone forget Cecil’s son. Corey Hart provides pop, but he’s not a consistent threat. The biggest disappointment so far has been Rickie Weeks. The All Star second baseman has more strikeouts than total bases and is hitting well below .200. Zack Greinke is a stud. He just doesn’t lose at
despite its reputation as a hitter friendly stadium. If the Brewers decide to deal the impending
free agent, the Dodgers better race to the phone. Yovani Gallardo has slipped, Shaun Marcum is
dealing with an elbow issue, and Randy Wolf is just about done. John Axford makes Heath Bell look stable, and
Francisco Rodriguez is still pouting because he’s not a closer. The Brewers don’t have the firepower to make
a run. Miller Park
The Cubs are probably the worst team in baseball. Anyone worth a darn not named Rizzo or Castro will likely be dealt in the next month. That includes Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Brian LaHair. Sarlin Castro still hasn’t figured out what it takes mentally to be a star, and Carlos Marmol might be the worst closer in baseball.
Most Impressive Team –
Most Impressive Player – Andrew McCutchen
Most Disappointing Team –
Most Disappointing Player – Rickie Weeks
When trying to pinpoint the keys to
success this season, you’ve got to start with the pitching. Individual players stepping up started early
in the year when the Beard went down with an elbow injury that forced him to
undergo his second Tommy John surgery.
In his stead, Santiago Casilla has racked up over 20 first half saves,
giving him the third highest save total in the majors. Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, and Madison
Bumgarner are all worthy of All Star invites.
Cain threw a perfect game and owns a sub-1.00 WHIP, Vogelsong owns the
league’s 4th best ERA, and Bumgarner has racked up 10 wins. Don’t look now, but Tim Lincecum seems to be
finally getting it together, so that would be four studs in a rotation backed
by an improved offense. Buster Posey may
be the franchise player, but Melky Cabrera is having a better year thus far. Cabrera is showing that last year’s career
year was no fluke, as he’s among baseball’s best hitters with a .350
average. Angel Pagan has been a fine
acquisition in center field, and Pablo Sandoval is just getting back into
action after undergoing hand surgery.
When you’ve got pitching, you can weather batting slumps, but when
you’ve got this kind of pitching, it’s almost unfair. I don’t think they’ll run off and hide with
the division lead, but they’re definitely in it for the long haul. San Francisco
After owning baseball’s best record for a good stretch of the early season, the Dodgers have sputtered of late, giving up that designation as well as their hold on the division lead. You don’t have to look far to figure out why. Stud center fielder Matt Kemp has missed a large part of the first half with a hamstring injury, and there’s perhaps no other player in baseball who has such a direct impact on his team’s performance than Kemp. This team resembled the historic ’88 squad in that aside from Kemp (Kirk Gibson) the offense is without any real superstar talents and gets its wins on the strength of its pitching and various role players stepping up in key moments. Without Kemp and now Andre Ethier (oblique) this is really a toothless lineup. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be able to fix enough of the offensive holes in-season to make a championship run. Their pitching was a huge strength early on, but Ted Lilly has been dealing with shoulder inflammation, Chad Billingsley peaked four years ago, and Aaron Harang is starting to pitch like Aaron Harang. Even Clayton Kershaw hasn’t been his dominant self. The reigning Cy Young has a pedestrian 5-4 record through 16 starts and had only one dominant outing in his last six trips to the hill. I expect the ownership to put this team in the best position to be as competitive as possible, but I’m not sure it will matter unless Kemp gets back real quick.
I was high on the Diamondbacks in the preseason, and despite their third place positioning, I still think they’ll be the team to reckon with come October. They got nothing from Justin Upton over the first two months, played without Chris Young for a long stretch and Stephen Drew even longer, and have had some very inconsistent pitching from their starters. Still, they sit just a handful of games outside of first place.
has had a hot June,
but their three most dangerous offensive players have been Aaron Hill, Jason
Kubel, and Paul Goldschmidt. Hill has
hit for the cycle twice this year, and only Robinson Cano has been a more
productive second sacker. Kubel has been
a very consistent producer and looks to be making a run at topping his career
year numbers from ’09. Goldschmidt is
tied with Hill and Kubel for the team lead in homers but has 54 less ABs than
Hill and 37 less than Kubel. He’s also 8th
in the majors in total bases for first basemen despite not having been an every
day player. The key to whether or not
they can repeat as division champs will be their second half pitching, more
specifically, ace Ian Kennedy who has looked anything but this season. He posted a 2.88 ERA last year but hasn’t
seen 3.00 since April 12. Daniel Hudson
is lost for the year with an elbow injury, and both Trevor Cahill and Joe
Saunders have been too inconsistent.
Wade Miley has been a real bright spot, and phenom Trevor Bauer just got
the call. Still, a second half Kennedy rebound is key. Upton
Not a lot of good things going on in
. Troy Tulowitzki will miss at least a decent
chunk of the second half after undergoing groin surgery. Carlos Gonzalez still looks like one of the
best players in the game, but the pitching has been awful. Jim Tracy is getting a lot of heat for his
new ‘6 man 75 pitch limit’ rotation.
Aside from youngster Derw Pomeranz, there isn’t a starter on that team
I’d want taking the ball for my team. Colorado
The Padres are expectedly awful.
Houston Street has been awesome, but it’s
hard to earn saves when your team doesn’t often have the lead. No starter has 6 wins, and no hitter has 10
homers. Whole lot of nothing going on in
. San Diego
Most Impressive Team –
Dodgers Los Angeles
Most Impressive Player – Melky Cabrera
Most Disappointing Team –
Most Disappointing Player – Justin Upton