Last one of these bad boys. Enough prologue, let's get crackin'.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers, 46-24
2. San Francisco Giants, 37-31
3. Colorado Rockies, 36-33
4. San Diego Padres, 30-38
5. Arizona Diamondbacks, 29-41
Biggest Surprise: Every team in this division has a good candidate for this award, so let's go in order. The Dodgers' Orlando Hudson has had a surprisingly strong year at .309/.382/.453; the second baseman is known mostly for his glove, but this year he's increased all his triple slash numbers to go along with his sturdy leather. People knew Pablo Sandoval was good, but not this good, this fast; the dude's putting up a star-caliber .338/.386/.543 line. He's not the most patient guy at the plate, but his ability to put the bat on the ball is outstanding. Oh, and Barry Zito has been serving notice that he's not actually dead yet. For the Rockies, we're going to give it to Jason Marquis. He always seemed like the weak link on the Cubs rotations of the last two years and his 3-year/$21 million dollar deal looked incredibly foolish coming off a season where he'd posted a plus-6.00 ERA. After two years of utter average-ness (100 ERA+) in the Windy City, he was traded to Colorado, where mediocre pitchers traditionally go to die. And yet...Marquis has thrived. He's posting a 123 ERA+, which would be a career best if not for 120 innings of 128 ERA+ ball he threw 8 years ago. Adrian Gonzalez deserves mention for his work in San Diego. He's been one of the most underrated players in the lig for the last few years, but OPSing 1.000+ while in one of the Majors' toughest hitting environments has drawn attention, as has his 23 HR. For the DBacks, Justin Upton has put up a performance commensurate with his status as one of the most talented prospects in recent history. Only 21, he's flashed the power (near-1.000 OPS) and speed (9/11 SB) that makes him a 30/30 - or even 40/40 - threat.
Biggest Disappointment: For all the excellent performances the division's seen thusfar, there must be some pretty bad ones to explain the low quality of this fivesome. And, indeed, there are! In LA, Russell Martin's been shoddy, slugging .302 and, according to scouts, looking pained and slow on the basepaths and behind the plate. Edgar Renteria was supposed to be rejuvenated by a return to the NL; if rejuvenation means .249/.312/.311, then we shudder to think what he might look like in the AL. Well, actually, we might have a perfect example right in the division: Brian Giles has been the worst player in MLB so far, with a .191/.277/.271 line that makes him almost 2 full wins worse than your average minor leaguer. Garrett Atkins was supposed to be a star at third base for the Rox; his numbers the last few seasons suggested that he was one of the better regulars at the position. This year, however, he's tumbled to a .207/.288/.310 showing. As for the Diamondbacks...well, anyone besides Dan Haren and Justin Upton is a good choice. Brandon Webb's been hurt, but that in and of itself is a diappointment for one of the most consistent pitchers in the league. Chris Young has done a lot to make us believe that his near-30/30 campaign two years ago was a fluke; .204/.272/.380 will do that to a promising young talent. The offense as a whole has been horrendous all year; only Upton and Mark Reynolds save it from being epochally awful.
Moves That Should Be Made
- The Dodgers can just sit pretty. They've got the league's best run prevention unit, have one of its best sluggers coming back from suspension soon, and have a stacked lineup from top to bottom that'll only get better if Russell Martin bounces back. There's a reason they have the best lineup in baseball.
- The Giants have no shot of catching the Dodgers. Let's just be honest. The pitching's been as expected with Lincecum, Cain, and, yes, Zito holding down the fort. The lineup has been predictably bad, though Sandoval, Aaron Rowand, and Bengie Molina have been producing very well. But, given GM Brian Sabean's past transgressions in the trade and free agent market, we'd rather they not do anything than to do something rash. They're not competitors, but there's no need to disband.
- The Rockies went on an 11-game winning streak and still found themselves 10 games out of the division. That says a lot about them and the teams they're chasing. They'd be best served to trade Huston Street to a team with bullpen issues. The Indians don't have much to give back, but they're in a winnable division and have a chance to upgrade their biggest weakness.
- We don't even know where to start with the Padres. They lost the chance to trade off their best asset in Jake Peavy since he's probably out for the year. We suppose their next best trade chip is closer Heath Bell, who's been superb. But, as with the Rockies, this team is not good enough to need an elite closer. We say, trade him to the Phillies for Lou Marson. The Pads need a catching prospect, and the Phils are going to need some help at the back end of their bullpen unless they believe Brad Lidge is totally healed up. Call us skeptics, but we don't think all is well in Philly's pen.
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- There's not much the DBacks can really get up to, trading-wise. They're not about to trade guys like Dan Haren or Brandon Webb, Max Scherzer's too young/good, Upton's untouchable, and their other hitters/pitchers just aren't that good. We suppose Jon Garland might fetch some organizational arms if a contender needs an innings eater at the back of their rotation, but that's really all we can offer.
The Dodgers are the clear favorites here. There's almost no shot that they lose their death grip on the division title. The Giants have made strides this year, that's for sure, but until they get some lineup help, this is just not going to be a super-competitive team. Great pitching only takes you so far. The Rockies have the lineup pieces, and Dexter Fowler's going to be a stud, but beyond Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, and, yes, Jason Marquis, there's not a lot going right for them pitching-wise. Manny Corpas is getting elbow surgery, further thinning their pen that already lost one of its more talented members in Taylor Buchholz; they need to flip Street for some high-upside arms. The Padres are just awful everywhere except at first base and left field. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best players in the division, and we still hold out faith for Chase Headley and Kyle Blanks, the newly called-up 6'8'' 280-pound manchild. Unfortunately, when your only good players play first base, left field, and closer, you're a team in trouble. The Diamondbacks are troubled by a similar lack of talent. They expected their pitching triumvirate of Haren, Webb, and Scherzer to keep them in games, but no amount of great pitching can hold up this bad of an offense for a full season. Add in Webb's injury, and you're talking about a disaster of a season. That said, we think they still have more going for them than the Padres, so at least they won't finish in the cellar.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. San Diego Padres