Tuesday, May 25, 2010
by David Newhan
As our 2010 major league baseball season continues to unfold, it has become apparent that once again, there will be drama. The most intriguing division race for me, and let’s face it (yes, I am biased and live out on the west coast), is the NL West. As we inch towards the fifty game notch, it is evident that several teams will be shooting it out for a playoff berth this summer.
Memorial Day is fast approaching and just like most everywhere else, for baseball, it marks the start of summer. Organizations are always assessing and being critical of their situation. Focusing on their needs and wants, who is available and at what price. Memorial Day gives them enough of the season to get a true evaluation of how their team is shaping up. It is a marker in which teams can poke their heads up from the rat race and take a look at what’s going on around them. At this point, the season is almost a third of the way through and you can get a feel for what your guys are going to do for you the rest of the way. That is why teams stick with veterans who have track records. Those players have proven their worth time and again. As you get into the next third of the summer and into the “dog days” later, GM’s and managers do not have to worry about players with track records. They have been there before and are not going to get overwhelmed with the situation. Their numbers, or stats, will be there in the end. It’ll all add up. As Rueben Sierra once told me, “the water will always reach its level.” When the leaves turn brown for fall, regardless of what kind of start a certain guy had, his numbers will reach close to what they normally do for a full season. Why else would Sox Nation stick with Big Papi the last two years? They know that one bad month isn’t a fair “market share” to make a valid evaluation. The season is a marathon. One week, or one month, is not enough to give you a fair assessment. When you reach Memorial Day, you finally have a real indication of where your season might be heading. Baseball is the only sport played day in day out for six months, not counting spring training, and then you get to throw all the numbers out and start fresh with the playoffs. Truly a grind physically, but even more so mentally when it comes to battling it out daily in a sport where failure is so prevalent. Thus, with Memorial Day looming on the horizon, teams can accurately decide if they are playing or folding this summer.
So, on to the wild, wild NL West. This division clearly looks like 4 out of the 5 teams will be competing all summer for the title. Since a sluggish start, the defending division champs have turned it on. GM Ned Coletti was probably ready to implode after a month in and had to vent a few of his frustrations on radio to get the attention of some of his star players. Unfortunately, triple crown threat Andre Ethier had to be put on the disabled list with a fractured finger. Nevertheless, with Mannywood back from an earlier DL stint, the line up remains solidified and strong. Leading the NL in average and scoring plenty of runs. The “experts”, though, look at a pitching staff with no clear number one. Kuroda, Billingsley, and Kershaw have all been good to this point and they have a monster in Broxton to shut the door on games. Ely has also filled in nicely while opening day starter Padilla has been shut down on the DL. Will Coletti have the economic freedom that he has enjoyed in the past to go after a Roy Oswalt, who has recently requested a trade to a contender? If so, the Blue Crew might be in business to make an extended fall run.
The Colorado Rockies are the team many have picked to go all the way to the World Series. Do they have another one of their patented winning streaks to put the division away? Everything seems to be there for them to do so. Ubaldo Jiminez is a freak at the top of their rotation. Does anyone have better stuff than he? They should get Huston Street back from the DL who will strengthen their bullpen. Tulowitzki is as athletic a shortstop as there is and equally as gifted in the batters’ box. Ian Stewart is coming into his own. Todd Helton is a leader and has career numbers that rival Stan Musial. Mora might be the best “super utility” guy around. The Rockies are athletic and experienced. It would be hard to count them out.
Pitching is imperative. But, as the Giants are finding out, you also need to play defense and hit just a little bit. The Giants have scored the least amount of runs in the NL. Some of you might say, “wait a minute, Newy, haven’t the Astros and Pirates scored fewer?” Ok, you got me. But are we really counting those two teams this year? Like I said before, it is almost Memorial Day, so let the Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman sweepstakes begin. Back to San Fran, how can you not like their pitching. The “Freak” is doing it again. Zito is looking like a Cy Youg candidate and the guy that they thought they were getting when they dropped $175 mil on him. Cain is a stud. Sanchez has some of the best left handed stuff around. Wilson can close them out. It’s tough to score when you are facing that kind of a staff for a three game series. The questions reside on the offensive side. “Kung Fu Panda” isn’t driving them out of the yard consistently and, other than Huff, Uribe, and Rowand, who all give you professional at bats, does anyone scare the opposition. The real question for me is, “ Are they athletic enough on defense to compete and support that great pitching staff”. I believe they really miss Mark Derosa and the sooner they can get him back, the better they’ll be.
Now, to the biggest surprise in the division, and maybe baseball: the San Diego Padres. The Pad Squad have done it on pitching, defense, and playing baseball the way purists like to see it be played. They have followed up a strong second half surge from last year with a great start. Designed for spacious Petco Park, they pitch and play defense well and are aggressive on the basepaths. They have more stolen bases then anyone in baseball but on top of that, they put pressure on the opposition by going first to third, and taking the extra base whenever possible. The Fightin’ Friars are a reflection of their fearless leader, and two time World Series Champ, David Eckstein. They, like him, do the little things that win ballgames. Take pitches, back up bases, hustle, hit behind the runner, bunt, aggressive base running. He has set the table for the big bopper, Adrian Gonzalez. Adrian is a bona fide 50 homer guy in any other ball park. They have a great closer in Heath Bell and lead the NL in ERA. The Padres, barring an Adrian Gonzalez trade deadline move, are the real deal and will be grinding it out all summer long.
These four teams will certainly provide drama to baseball fans all summer long. As we approach the Memorial Day third of the season mark, we can be assured that the NL West is going to be a battle that will take us deep into September before it is decided. It will be entertaining to watch who gets hot, what moves are made, or not made, and what players have the biggest impact to carry their respective teams to a division title and possible World Series.