When the season began, the National League West seemed to have the makings of a wild, three-team race. That race is now down to two, and it might not be all that wild as teams resume play Friday after the all-star break.
San Francisco, bolstered by the acquisition of right-hander Johnny Cueto, and fielding a deep, versatile lineup, is on pace for 103 victories. The Dodgers are hanging tough, but they must generate more offense and learn how to win on the road if they’re going to challenge their hated rivals.
The Diamondbacks? The would-be contenders are perhaps baseball’s biggest disappointment. The Rockies and Padres? As usual, their future looks brighter than their present.
Here’s a look at each teams’ prospects:
Giants: For just the second time in the franchise’s San Francisco era, the Giants hold baseball’s best record at the all-star break. Cueto has pitched four complete games and left-handed ace Madison Bumgarner has three. It’s a powerful one-two punch.
Despite injuries to four key players — Hunter Pence, Joe Panik, Matt Duffy and Angel Pagan — the Giants keep finding a way to win. In shortstop Brandon Crawford and catcher Buster Posey, the Giants have two of the most dynamic players in the National League.
The biggest concern is a bullpen that sports a 3.87 ERA, the highest this decade. Manager Bruce Bochy’s relievers have already blown an NL-high 17 leads in the sixth inning or later. The good news is that right-hander Sergio Romo is back from the disabled list.
Dodgers: They’re chasing their fourth consecutive division title, but scores of injuries have left the Dodgers feeling blue. However, a strong top of the rotation and a terrific bullpen make the Dodgers playoff contenders, though catching the Giants will be difficult.
L.A.’s offense — hello Yasiel Puig, are you there? — needs some power. The Dodgers rank 12th in the NL in batting average (.241) and 13th in slugging (.393). The outfield, as a whole, has not been very productive.
The good news is that left-hander Clayton Kershaw comes back soon from his back injury, and another Cy Young Award is on his horizon. Japanese rookie Kenta Maeda is 8-6 with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP and has been a solid second banana. Shortstop Corey Seager looks like the NL rookie of the year.
Next to Kershaw, the team’s MVP has been its near impenetrable bullpen. Led by closer Kenley Jansen, relievers have a combined 2.83 ERA, the best in the majors.
Rockies: Inconsistency is their trademark. A string of strong starts is often wiped out by poor performances by relievers. And vice versa. A 16-hit landslide victory at Coors Field is too often followed by a five-hit, 8-3 defeat.
Manager Walt Weiss says his second-half rotation — Jorge De La Rosa, Chad Bettis, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Tyler Chatwood — is the best he’s had during his tenure. Indeed, the starters’ ERA has improved each month — from 5.60 in April to 5.51 in May, 4.68 in June and 3.98 in July.
Myriad problems need to be sorted out in the bullpen, but once it gets healthy, it could improve. In Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon and rookie shortstop Trevor Story, the Rockies can hit homers. But they are 0-43 when trailing after seven innings (a sign of a team that doesn’t know how to win), and they’re once again struggling on the road, as their .690 OPS — on-base percentage plus slugging percentage — (12th in the NL) illustrates.
Padres: The Padres have gone from a win-now team to a win-down-the-road team. They have already dumped right-hander James Shields’ contract on the White Sox and traded reliever Fernando Rodney to Miami for pitching prospect Chris Paddack. Now there are rumors they might trade all-star lefty Drew Pomeranz.
To really start from scratch, they would love to unload outfielder Matt Kemp, who’s owed $21.75 million a year through 2019. He’s 31 and owns the sixth-worst on-base percentage in the NL, so the Padres would have to eat part of his contract.
Meanwhile, San Diego is investing heavily in youth and international players. All-star first baseman Wil Myers, finally reaching his potential, is now the foundation of the team.
Diamondbacks: Arizona seemed snake bit from the very beginning, when star outfielder A.J. Pollock fractured his elbow while sliding headfirst into home plate in the team’s second-to-last exhibition game. It has been mostly downhill from there. Shelby Miller, acquired from Atlanta for a king’s ransom, is 2-9 with a 7.14 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP.
The good news is that ace Zack Greinke has turned things around. He had a 5.26 ERA after his first eight starts, but won seven straight starts, and he had a 2.26 ERA over his nine final starts of the first half. He should be off the DL soon. Young third baseman Jake Lamb leads the league in slugging percentage and has hit 20 homers.