June Boom: NL West Flexing Its Muscles

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June Boom: NL West Flexing Its Muscles
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Prior to June, the NL West was considered one of the weaker divisions in baseball.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have clearly been the class of the division, but after losing four out of five games this past week, they have allowed the San Francisco Giants to close the gap in the division to seven games and the Colorado Rockies move to within eight-and-a-half games of the first place Blue Crew.

The San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks continue to slip further towards the bottom of the league.

Aside from the lowly Nationals, the Diamondbacks have the fewest wins in all of Major League Baseball. The Padres aren’t much better, as they are tied for fifth worst in wins with the Cleveland Indians.

On Sunday, I took a look at the Dodgers and how they project for the remainder of the season, so here’s a check-in with the Giants and Rockies.

 

San Francisco Giants (41-34)

The pitching duo of Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and surprising youngster Matt Cain have propelled the San Francisco Giants into the NL Wild Card lead.

Lincecum is now 8-2 after getting off to a rocky start this season. He has thrown two consecutive complete games and has surrendered just one run over the course of those two outings. He leads the major leagues with 132 strikeouts.

But Cain has been otherworldly. He has posted a 9-2 record and a 2.57 ERA in 2009. In the past two seasons leading into '09, the 24-year-old right-hander posted a forgettable 15-30 record.

The Giants were in desperate need of help at the back end of their rotation after Jonathon Sanchez struggled through the beginning of the ’09 season.

Newly plugged-in fifth starter Ryan Sadowski threw six innings of shutout baseball in his first start of the season. If he can be effective, it could be a good complement to the strong one-two punch of Lincecum and Cain.

The real question will be if the stagnant Giants offense can scrap together enough run support for their stellar pitching staff.

Pablo Sandoval has been a steady presence in the lineup with his .336 average. He is also tied for 10th in the majors with 23 doubles. He hit a scorching .389 in June and hit eight of his 11 home runs this past month.

Thirty-five-year-old Randy Winn and Randy Johnson are providing the veteran presence for the hitters and pitchers, respectively.

Winn, a former All-Star, is hitting just .265, but has been productive for the most part when the Giants have needed it. He could be an integral piece in helping a young Giants team stay strong as the season progresses.

The Giants must find another bat to plug into the everyday mix if they want to contend down the stretch and make a run at the playoffs.

Expect the Giants to stay in the hunt for the Wild Card throughout the season and perhaps make the playoffs as the fourth NL team.

 

Colorado Rockies (40-36)

The surging Colorado Rockies have moved closer to the Dodgers. On Jun. 3, the Rockies sat 15.5 games out of first place. After dropping the first of a three-game set to the Dodgers last night, they are now just eight-and-a-half games back.

New manager Jim Tracy has led the Rockies to a 20-4 record since he took over for Clint Hurdle. The team was clearly out of sorts under the direction of Hurdle, and Tracy has sparked a fire under what was an awful team for the first two months of the season.

Brad Hawpe is having an incredible season. Long talked about as trade bait during the slow start for the Rockies, Hawpe is now the driving force in the middle of their lineup. He ranks 11th in the majors with his .327 average and has provided multiple clutch hits for the Rockies thus far in ’09.

Troy Tulowitzki has finally found his swing and has been on fire to lead the Rockies offense lately.

Tulowitzki hit .200 in April and .242 in May, but he has batted .321 in June with seven home runs after hitting five combined in April and May. He has been the key to their lineup, as he is hitting .341 when the Rockies win and a laughable .167 in Rockies losses.

But the Rockies have a long way to go in order to keep pace with the Dodgers and Giants.

They have a team ERA of 4.45. Sure, that number might be lower if they didn’t call Coors Field their home, but it is what it is. It will be difficult for them to contend in a division that boasts the two best ERAs in the majors, as the Dodgers and Giants are tied for best in the bigs with a 3.61 ERA.

In fact, the best ERA for a Rockies starter is 3.75 for Ubaldo Jimenez. Compare that to the Dodgers rotation, where Hiroki Kuroda holds the highest ERA for a starter at 3.77.

Jason Marquis, despite being 9-5 and the proclaimed ace of the staff, has a 4.22 ERA and has a career trend of falling off in the second half of the season.

The Rockies, although they have picked up the pieces and turned what would have been a lost season into a potential playoff berth, just don’t have the pitching or depth to maintain down the stretch.

I would expect them to regress as the summer months wear on and fall a number of games behind the second place Giants.

 

Outlook

The NL West, in just one month’s time, has become one of the strongest divisions in baseball.

Look for the Dodgers and Giants to make a run at the postseason, but don’t expect the Rockies to keep up the pace they have set under their new skipper.

I think that if the Giants can acquire a big bat before the trading deadline it could solidify them as the NL Wild Card team, but if they can’t find someone to plug in, they could be in some serious trouble.

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