...and just like I predicted, the NL West is a 4 team race. Admittedly, I didn't expect the Padres to be relevant in anything but Adrian Gonzales trade rumors, but they're sitting in 1st place with a half of a season to go. Here's what I make of the second best division in baseball, by each team:
San Diego Padres:
I, like every other person who calls themselves a watcher of baseball, am surprised that the Padres have done this well so far. I didn't think they would be pathetically bad per se, I just didn't think they could sustain themselves in this division. Well, like every good baseball analyst (if I can call myself that), I am refusing to learn my lesson. The Padres will not win this division, nor do I think they win the Wild Card. No matter how good their pitching had been (and it's been best in the league-good), their hitting is still a good 3 bats short of being good enough to win a division like the NL West. A-Gone is a superstar hitter, one who I think has MVP potential if he were in a more favorable, Ryan Howard-esque situation. Chase Headley at 3rd Base is respectable, but not dangerous. But everyone else is just, meh. This is a AAA lineup, and it's a wonder Gonzales isn't walked more. The main thing is though, I just think their pitching has overachieved. I don't think they can sustain the amazing numbers they've put up, and if the pitching can't hold the opposing team to less than 3 runs, it's near game-over for the Padres.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
After a bad April, a terrific May, a 14-13 June, and a strong ending in July, the Dodgers are sitting 2 games behind the Padres, and tied with the Rockies. The hitting is one of the best in the league, and if you account for the Coors Field factor, possibly the best in the division. They still boast the best outfield in Baseball (and that's with Manny as the worst one too), and James Loney has turned into an RBI machine. Rafael Furcal is having a Jose Reyes-esque effect on the lineup, except that he's showing he can just pick up a bat and glove and win a game on his own too. The 2nd Base triple platoon of Blake Dewitt, Jamey Carroll, and Ronnie Belliard has been solid, as has the 3rd Baseman Casey "The Beard" Blake (although it wouldn't hurt if The Beard could hit a little more). The pitching has been volatile, but has gotten the job done. Clayton Kershaw is pitching like an Ace, Vicente Padilla is pitching like an opening day starter since his return from the DL. Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley have filled in the other two spots well enough. Bills in particular has shown up when he's been needed, which is great to see. He really seems to have his confidence back. Elymania is likely over, but when a 5th starter ever becomes really important, please let me know. The bullpen has 3 excellent arms in Belisario, Kuo, and Broxton (He of the Broxtonian Democracy as I've begun to call it), and a bunch of other guys who only pitch when the Dodgers are getting blown out or are blowing another team out. The Bullpen is a place to watch. This team should win the division though, I think they're too talented not to. The only impediment I see is that they have the toughest 2nd half schedule in baseball based on winning percentage.
The Colorado Rockies:
I'm really not sure what to make of the Rockies at this point. They seem similar to the Dodgers in that their batters are carrying the team. Ubaldo Jimenez has been flat out Jaw-dropping, although he has struggled lately, but the rest of the rotation is just a bunch of other guys. Their hitting has been amazing though, especially Carlos Gonzales. They are typically a second half team though, so they are a team to watch out for. The back end of their bullpen is very good, but like the Dodgers, the middle relief has been suspect. At the moment, they are tied with the Dodgers, so anything's possible. If the Dodgers can't win the division, I think it's because of these guys.
The San Francisco Giants:
Boy, talk about overrated. There were people who picked this team to win the division rather easily. Tim Lincecum has been merely great, rather than his usual amazing, Matt Cain, although he has good numbers, can't seem to ever get a win. Jonathan Sanchez has been quite good, and Barry Zito is starting to look less like an overpaid pitcher. Their hitting is still awful though. Aubrey Huff has been a pleasant surprise for the Giants, but Pablo Sandoval has been pretty bad. Pat Burell is back in the NL, so I guess he could be serviceable. Buster Posey will eventually be a good hitting catcher, but it won't happen this year. Brian Wilson is a great closer, one that no team or fan could complain about, but getting to him seems to be difficult for this team. This team needs another bat, probably a Middle Infielder or an Outfielder, but even then, I wouldn't trust them to be any higher than they are now. I wouldn't say they are over or underachieving either, I just don't think they're that strong of a team.
This team though, has UNDERACHIEVERS written all over them. I'm actually pretty angry, because this team, on paper, has a lot of talent. The Starting Pitching hasn't been bad, especially when you factor in where they pitch. The hitting hasn't been bad either, even though Justin Upton sure took his sweet time to start hitting. Sure, they are going to set the Team Strikeout Record this year, or at least they probably will, but is anyone really surprised by that? I mean, Mark Reynolds could probably set that record on his own. I do realize they have had the worst bullpen in the league, but they still should have done better than this. I actually feel bad for former manager A.J. Hinch, as it seems that his players gave up on him pretty fast. I liked Hinch, and I hope he has success finding another job quickly, because he isn't that bad. Joe Torre or Bobby Cox wouldn't do much better with that Bullpen.
I apologize for the Wall-of-text-ness of that post, but I really wanted to elaborate. Again, I think the Padres are due for a minor fall, but in the NL West, that'll lead to a 3rd Place finish behind the Rockies and Dodgers. Now, if they (or even the Giants) trade for a big bat, such as Adam Dunn or even David Dejesus, the landscape changes rather quickly.