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BASN’S Diamond Dish, Part II – The National League
BASN’S DIAMOND DISH, The NL
By Anthony McClean, Editor-in-Chief, Emeritus
NEW HAVEN (BASN):Welcome to the unofficial midpoint of the 2015 baseball season.
While most teams have already surpassed the halfway point of their 162-game campaign, the numerically challenged folks at MLB have traditionally dubbed the All-Star break as the “middle of the season”.
To keep with that tradition, we here at BASN will use this break to hand out some grades for your favorite teams. In doing that, we’ll also try and give you a peek on what the second half holds for these squads as well.
Yesterday, we looked at the American League clubs. Today, we take a look at the National League. Teams are listed in the order of their place in the standings at the All-Star break.
Washington Nationals (48 – 39)
Despite the slow start, despite the injuries (Rendon, Werth, Zimmerman, Span, Strasburg), despite 20 errors by Ian Desmond, the Nationals are still the team to beat in the East. All-Stars Bryce Harper and Matt Scherzer have both upped their game and literally have put this team on their collective backs. However — fairly or not — this team is sitting in the category of the Peyton Manning Colts before they won a Super Bowl. They will ultimately be judged on what they do in the postseason. Two division titles and two first round exits will do that in a very demanding sports town.
New York Mets (47-42)
Doesn’t that 13-3 start seem like ages ago? Ironically, if not for that start, the Amazins’ would not be just two games behind the Nats in the standings. It’s painfully obvious to a lot of Met fans that the team will keep teasing them all year because of the talented rotation (5 man or 6 man) that they put out on a nightly basis. It’s also painfully obvious that the lineup is screaming for a big bat (or two) if they wanna make a serious postseason run. Will management stop crying poor and spend some bucks on improving the club or will they keep trying the baffle the fans with bullshit? That’s going to be the difference between a happy recap or more gnawing of teeth and dirty looks at the family pet.
Atlanta Braves (42-47)
When Atlanta unloaded Craig Kimbrel and Justin Upton just days before the start of the season, it send a clear message to their fan base that the team was knee deep into the rebuilding mode. However, management got taken aback when the Bravos actually opened the season very successful. It lasted until early May when the rest of the league (and division) started to figure them out. They’d make another run early in June, getting within two games of the top spot in the East. But just after that, they’d fall off again and were up and down all the way to the break.
Miami Marlins (38-51)
The promise of an improved Marlins squad went south very early and it cost manager Mike Redmond his job. GM Dan Jennings was brought in and things didn’t change Miami’s fortunes either. Subsequently, injuries to All-Stars Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon would further the team’s slide. Not to mention the drop off from the starting rotation and bullpen. Over the years, we’ve seen this franchise make some late season runs after miserable starts. I don’t think we’ll be seeing that this season.
Philadelphia Phillies (29-62)
Let’s face it, we all knew that the Phanatics were going to be godawful this season. Quite frankly, the only team in baseball that’s worse is the train wreck known as the Oakland A’s. The only real mystery left in this season is whether Mssrs. Papelbon, Howard, Hamels, and/or Utley will all be ex-Phillies by the time of the trade deadline. The youngsters have actually played fairly well considering the grueling on-the-job training they’ve experienced. Needless to say, Philly is in serious “men at work” mode (you might have to throw in Jeff Francoeur as well).
St. Louis Cardinals (56-33)
Every spring, we think this is the year that the Birdies will fall off. This is the year where the rest of the division will catch up them. This is the year where they struggle to reach the postseason. Well boys and girls, St. Louis literally keeps flipping us the bird — again. Not only are they atop the Central, they have the league’s best mark even after a dismal weekend in Pittsburgh at the end of the break. Even the loss of Jason Wainwright hasn’t slowed them. The acquisition of Jason Heyward has not only helped them and the Braves, it’s given them even more depth. They may not like ‘em much in Cincy, but they’re still the gold standard in the Central and possibly beyond.
Pittsburgh Pirates (53-35)
After literally sleepwalking through the early part of May, manager Clint Hurdle read his players the riot act. Not being afraid of “keepin’ it real”, Hurdle’s much needed rant was just what the doctor order for the then struggling Buccos. Since May 6th, they’ve gone a Major League best 35-13 and have solidly put themselves back into contention. And it’s how they’re doing it that’s been the most impressive part. It all includes 25 comeback wins, 13 wins with three runs or fewer, 13-2 in their last 15 one-run games, and six straight extra-inning wins. Despite the Cardinals refusing to go anywhere, if there’s a team to keep an eye on in the second half, it’s Pittsburgh.
Chicago Cubs (47-40)
Like many MLB teams, the Cubbies are trying to make a move in the standings while also determining what their young talent is capable of. Two years ago, they had seven of the top 50 prospects in the game. Now more than half of them are either currently on the roster or have spent a brief time on it. They’ve also gotten some key contributions from their veterans as well. But make no mistake, this is a young team that’s still learning how to win in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. Joe Maddon has pushed all the right buttons so far, but I get the feeling that this team is still a year or so away from really making some noise in the Central.
Cincinnati Reds (39-47)
The expectations in Cincy going into the season were high even though they struggled most of last year. It’s been a very up and down season for the Redlegs which leaves them in baseball’s “friend zone” heading into the second half. They’re probably not going to win the division, but they’re good enough to contend for a possible wild card berth. But does management feel the same way. The “experts” say that guys like Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce are likely to get moved before the trade deadline. Trading either one or both would be telling the fans that they don’t think they can contend this year. It may also mean that manager Bryan Price may not be back next year as well.
Milwaukee Brewers (38-52)
Where do we start with this team? A 5-18 start cost their manager his job. The majority of their lineup (i.e., Lucroy, Gomez, and Gennett) has either been injured and or playing hurt most of the year. They’ve lost their home-field advantage (an MLB worst 16-28 at Miller Park) and the pitching staff has allowed an MLB-high 72 homers. A few years back, they let Prince Fielder walk without making a legitimate contract offer. To me, the beginning of the slide began right there. Yes, Fielder has changed teams since then. But the Brew Crew hasn’t gotten better. At the very least, Milwaukee has fallen and it may take a few years before they get up.
Los Angeles Dodgers (51-39)
While the phrase “they’re doing it with mirrors” is a bit old and hackneyed, in many ways it perfectly describe what the Dodgers have been doing this season. While Zack Greinke is playing for a new deal, Clayton Kershaw has been struggling most of the season. Not to mention the fact that the lineup — other Adrian Gonzalez — has had a roller-coast year as well. It may not be fair, but of all the teams in first place at the break, L.A. may be the most vulnerable. Especially when you know the defending champs are just sitting a few games behind you.
San Francisco Giants (46-43)
They may not be in first place — at least not now — but when you win three crowns within the last six years, you learn not to sleep on Bruce Bochy’s squad. They’ve had their injuries (i.e., Cain, Pence) and inconsistencies, but here they sit right in the thick of another postseason run. You get the feeling that they and the Dodgers will be going at it tooth and nail for the West for the rest of the year. However, the Giants have the confidence and experience to say “let’s just get in and worry about it later”. Barring a massive falloff or another key injury, we’ll likely see this team again this October in some capacity.
Arizona Diamondbacks (42-45)
When Dave Stewart (GM) and De Jon Watson (head of baseball operations) were both hired last September, I made it a point to closely follow the D-Backs once the season started. Last year at this time, Arizona was 16 games under .500 headed into the break. So there has been some substantial improvement, but the team is still some fine tuning. Between All-Star Paul Goldschmidt and promising rookie Yasmany Tomas, the building blocks are there. A much more consistent pitching staff needs to be developed before they can truly call themselves contenders. Like many other teams in the league, Arizona is a work in progress.
San Diego Padres (41-49)
About two years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays made a big splash at the Winter Meetings and were anointed as the team to beat in the AL East. We all remember how that movie ended. Fast forward to last winter as Padres’ GM A.J. Preller was hailed as baseball’s newest “super genius” for all of his moves. So far, the Padres are looking like the poor man’s version of the Toronto sequel. While the Will Myers injury has been a factor, the biggest problem has is a lack of chemistry and terrible defense. Those two factors led to Bud Black losing his job, but will the “super genius” keep his after winning the off-season and not the real season?
Colorado Rockies (39-49)
I have always considered Colorado as a good softball team playing in a imperfect baseball world. So when their offense struggles, they look even more dreadful. The overall pitching has always been an issue. But to make matters worse, the Rockies don’t even dominate at Coors Field anymore. A 21-24 mark at home just adds to the laundry list of problems this team is facing. Don’t be surprised if they become the Rocky Mountain edition of the Phillies and start unloading players and salaries. They’re not just rebuilding, they’re literally building from scratch.