There's a Reason They Play the Games: NL West Look Has Changed

Ted SillanpaaAnalyst IApril 8, 2010

It made sense. And, it was true. So, it just didn’t seem like one of those observations that would give the wildly-opinionated fans who wait in the weeds, or on line four to talk to Jim Rome, reason to lash out.

“The San Francisco Giants are favored by many to win the NL West.”

That sentence prompted people to judge me a moron. One or two wrote that my credibility was on the line if I couldn’t specifically present a list of Web addresses, writers’ names and analysts’ identifications to prove I’d heard or read of many who did favor the Giants. I giggled.

Someone wrote that “on paper, it is still the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers who were NL West favorites.

A lesser man than I would’ve folded up shop and left to report Little League results in the weekly shopper.

Instead, I’ve got a piece of paper in front of me right now and it shows that the Giants are clearly the NL West favorites. And, since we’re three full games into the regular season, my paper means more that the paper used to chastise me in March.

The Giants are 3-0 after blitzing the Astros in Houston. The Dodgers are coming off two losses in Pittsburgh before beating the hapless Pirates on Thursday. The Rockies went 1-2 on the road against the Milwaukee Brewers.

On my paper, a three-game winning streak that produced a two-game lead is meaningful stuff.

Granted, pitcher Roy Oswalt, outfielder Hunter Pence, and injured slugger Lance Berkman are the only guys keeping the Astros from slipping behind the Pirates as worst of the worst. Still, playing in that oversized Little League ball park means that the Astros can hit as many 320-foot fly outs turned home runs as anybody and, thus, aren’t that easy to beat in Houston.

The Dodgers lost to Pittsburgh 5-4 in extra innings Wednesday.

It’s worth noting that former Giants’ favorite Russ Ortiz pitched two scoreless innings in relief for L.A. It’s also worth noting that on the paper in front of me, the Dodgers batting order from No. 5 through No. 8 includes James Loney, Casey Blake, Blake DeWitt, and Russell Martin.

In the light of the regular season, those four guys sort of make the Dodgers look beatable as long as a team keeps leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal off base and makes sure that Andre Either, Matt Kemp, and Manny Ramirez don’t all go 3-for-5 with four extra-base hits between them in the same game.

The Dodgers, and lots of inside baseball types, think that young left-hander Clayton Kershaw is the ace of their staff. He’s got an ace’s stuff, he just has trouble throwing it for strikes. The young flame-thrower threw 109 pitches—and just 59 for strikes. He worked 4.2 innings, walked six and struck out four. Oh, the five hits he yielded means he allowed 11 baserunners while getting 14 outs. So, if a team can handle Vicente Padilla and Chad Billingsley...who knows?

The Rockies fell 5-4 to the Brewers on Wednesday. Colorado was in the game until four relief pitchers named Coffey, Narveson, Stetter, and Villaneuva blanked them to hand things over to set-up man LaTroy Hawkins and closer Trevor Hoffman.

Colorado’s potent offense touched that murderer’s role of relievers for two hits and not a single run. Hawkins and Hoffman required 26 pitches to get the final six outs. (For you numbers guys, that’s a touch over four pitches apiece to the last six batters.)

The Giants relief pitchers aren’t any better known to most fans across the country than Cofferson and, Coffey and Naverson. The guys who decided in the offseason that the Dodgers and Rockies were favored tout the Giants pitching staff—and particularly their bullpen—to be the best in the NL West.

If Coffey and Co. can shut the Rockies down, how easily might Dan Runzler, Jeremy Affeldt and Sergio Romo get games to closer Brian Wilson?

For those who are so wrapped up in numbers and formulas to enjoy the game, this is clearly written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Loosen up. Have a little fun -- there are 159 games left in the season, OK?

We don’t really know anything about the NL West race. We just know more than we did when the majority of analysts spent the winter hunched over their computers making the Rockies and Dodgers division favorites.

No matter what we think we know, we can’t discount the notion that everything could go perfectly for the Giants (or any other team in baseball) for the first week, the first month...maybe for the first half of the season.

It’s likely that most fans would’ve argued against the idea that Edgar Renteria and Aaron Rowand would ever go 9-for-11 combined in a single game, but they did it against the Astros on Wednesay. You know what? They could do it again...and again, even!

Under the best possible circumstances, few would guess that the only runs that Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Matt Cain would give up in their first 19.2 innings would be the result of an infield error and Rowand dropping a fly ball after a long run in center field. But, those three runs Cain yielded were all that Giants starters gave up in Houston.

Take Brandon Medders out of the mix, an idea that I find very appealing, and the bullpen didn't give up a run in the band box in Houston.

No matter what my paper indicates, I know that what I think will happen might not happen at all.

Even when criticizing the silly idea that Bowker can be an everyday run producer in right field, I allow for the fact that anything can happen and maybe he will drive in two runs with a double on a Monday and then homer on a Wednesday and produce plenty.

There’s a great deal of difference between what we think and what we know for certain.

You will again read here that Buster Posey belongs in the big leagues right now, but remember that some of us realize that Molina could hit .300 and drive in 100 runs to help the club win the NL West without Posey ever playing a big league in 2010.

Having a strong opinion and all the stats in the world doesn’t mean you can ignore that we don’t know what the heck will happen in three games or three months.

We just don’t know. That’s the beauty of the whole thing.

Ted Sillanpaa is a San Francisco Bay Area sports writer and columnist. Contact Ted at: