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NL First Half Review

13 Jul

by Steve Farace

NL East

 

Philadelphia Phillies (57-34) – 1st Place

 

The Phillies have been exactly what everyone expected. Their offense has not been as impressive as it has in years past, but boy has the pitching made up for it. Just think about a team that has to play these guys and face a combination of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt (when healthy) and Cole Hamels. It has to be one of the more daunting tasks in baseball. There really should be no reason that they shouldn’t clinch yet another NL East division title.

 

Atlanta Braves (54-38) – 2nd Place

 

The Braves have had timely hitting and outstanding pitching so far this year and that is why they sit only 3.5 games behind the Phillies at the break. Jair Jurrjens has pitched out of his mind this year with an ERA below 2.00. They have also accomplished a lot even with Jason Heyward having a tough sophomore season that has been filled with inconsistency and injuries as well as Dan Uggla playing like utter garbage. This team is showing just how important pitching is. Their bullpen has been solid as well, being anchored by Greg Kimbrel who has been a shutdown closer this year. All things considered, these Braves should be good enough for the Wild Card this year.

 

New York Mets (46-45) – 3rd Place

 

Similar to the Red Sox, the Mets got off to a horrible start of 5-13. Since then, they have gone 41-32. As good as that record is, they have been inconsistent. They have won 4 or 5 in a row only to lose 3 or 4 in a row, which is why they have struggled to get too far over the .500 mark. Think about where this team could be with a healthy David Wright and Ike Davis. What about Johan Santana? This could be a different story if those guys were all healthy. Their MVP and possible MVP of the league has no doubt been Jose Reyes. This guy has been an absolute animal in every category. The Mets are going to need to find a way to pay the man! Right now, the Mets are overachieving when you look at their lineup. They have already traded K-Rod and Carlos Beltran won’t be far behind. That being said, the Mets will finish respectively in 3rd place this year.

 

Washington Nationals (46-46) – 4th Place

 

The Nationals have had an up and down season. They had a flash of brilliance under Jim Riggleman and then he resigned out of the blue and they have been playing .500 baseball ever since. They brought in a blast from the past, Davey Johnson to try to keep the team afloat and he has done just that. The injury to Ryan Zimmerman was a big blow to this team and since he has returned he really hasn’t been the same player. They had an injury to Adam LaRoche, but a huge revelation in Michael Morse. He has played great baseball and has been a complete surprise after getting off to a horrible start. They are still just not a good enough baseball team to do any damage. They will be fighting with the Marlins to stay out of last place.

 

Florida Marlins (43-48) – 5th Place

 

The Marlins have to be the winner of the “collapse of the first half” award. Well there isn’t an award for that, but if there was one the Marlins would win it hands down. There really wasn’t one thing that happened that sent the Marlins into the tailspin that saw them go from ½ game out of first place to the cellar of the division. It always seemed as though when their pitching was on they would lose 1-0 or 2-1. When their hitting was on they would lose 9-8. They just couldn’t get the two sides going at the same time. Then their manager steps down and they bring back a blast from the past. Do they really think an 80 yr old manager is going to be able to help them? Well, so far so good. Hanley Ramirez has apparently awoken and little by little so is the rest of the team. They are, for the most part, young and inexperienced and that will be what they must overcome in the future. They finished the 1st half on a high note, albeit against the Astros. It looks like it will be a tough year overall for the Fish.

 

NL Central

 

Milwaukee Brewers (49-43) – 1st Place

 

If only the Mets were in this division.

 

The Brewers are a team that can flat out hit. With Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder in the middle of that lineup they will never have problems scoring runs. Their pitching has been doing much better as of late and they will need Greinke to turn it around to stay in first place. Greinke might have a winning record, but with an ERA over 5.00 there has to be some luck involved. Yovani Gallardo has been very consistent besides a few bumps along the way and their bullpen has been strong. It will be interesting to see how Francisco Rodriguez fits in now that they have acquired him from the Mets. Only time will tell but I believe they will battle it out with a couple of other teams from the division for the top spot.

 

St. Louis Cardinals (49-43) – 1st Place

 

I have no idea how this team is in first place. They lost their ace Adam Wainwright for the year and they even lost Chris Carpenter for a while. Then came the big blow – they lost Albert Pujols to a broken wrist. They good thing was that he is a freak of nature and was back on the field in 17 days. Is that crazy or what? Well let’s talk about what went right for this team in the first half. One name comes to mind and that name is Lance Berkman. This guy was supposed to be washed up after last years season with the Astros and Yankees. Instead he leads the league in homeruns and has been amazing all year long. The question is can he keep it up and help Albert keep this team afloat. I’m not so sure, but they will battle it out with a couple of other teams but I don’t think they have what it takes this year and next year has a lot to do with where Albert ends up.

 

 

Pittsburgh Pirates (47-43) – 3rd Place

 

WOW! HOLY CRAP! UNBELIEVABLE!

 

The Pirates have been nothing short of what they are – a talented team that was waiting for it all to come together. They have a good mix of pitching and hitting and that my friends, is the secret to winning baseball. They are just a game out of first place and that is monumental for this team. Usually we are counting how many games they are in last place by. Clint Hurdle has this team playing good baseball. They have a couple of holes in their lineup and in their defense and pitching, but most teams do. They have a lockdown closer in Joel Hanrahan so they really have no worries with a lead in the 9th. Mccutchen has been an All-Star through out the entire first half and he should continue that trend for the remainder of the year. The Pirates aren’t going to win the division, but I think this is just the beginning for this team.

 

Cincinnati Reds (45-47) – 4th Place

 

There is no reason the Reds should be in 4th place at this point in the season. They have the lineup and they have the pitching to be able to contend and win this division. Their closer is another story but we have seen more and more Chapman sightings lately. This is a team that is clearly underachieving and is capable of making a run at any moment. Luckily for them, they are in a division where 2 games under .500 equates to only 4 games out of 1st place. Jay Bruce has been absolutely tremendous for this team as he is finally showing what he is capable of. Joey Votto is having another good season and so is Brandon Phillips. They have a problem in the leadoff spot with Drew Stubbs. He strikes out way too often and many times is not able to set the table for guys that are a bit further down in the order. I think this division comes down to the Reds and the Brewers. If either team wants to go to the playoffs they are going to have to win the division because the Wild Card looks to come out of the East for sure this year.

 

Chicago Cubs (37-55) – 5th Place

 

The Cubs should be thanking their lucky stars for the Astros. If not for them they would be in last place. This team is a mess right now and there really is no reason for hope. No reason for hope unless of course you believe the rumors that they could get either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols. I just don’t see them giving either one of those guys a reason for coming. Albert is a proud man that wants to be on a winner and Prince has too much fun on the field to want to go to a losing team. Their pitching and hitting is below par and they have a long road to recovery that seemingly hasn’t even been built yet. If there is a bright spot it is definitely Starlin Castro and how well he has played. He needs to improve his defense, but who cares if he can hit.

 

Houston Astros (30-62) – 6th Place

 

What an ugly first half of the season! Their pitching (even the pitchers that were supposed to be good) has been awful and so has their hitting and defense. All those bad things add up to one bad team. I do feel badly for Hunter Pence. He is a good solid player and he looks like he wants to have fun playing the game, but when you are 19 games out of first place and 32 games under .500 it is really hard to have fun.

 

NL West

 

San Francisco Giants (52-40) – 1st Place

 

The Champs find themselves in a very familiar place – in first place. They have had their ups and downs this year, but they have settled into a nice little groove out west. They are trying to fight off the Diamondbacks for the top spot in the division and currently sit 3 games up. It has been a let down year so far for Aubrey Huff who was a huge part of the Giants success last year. Pablo Sandoval has more than made up for it as it looks like he is back to his normal self after a down year last year. Do you think the 45lb weight loss had something to do with it? However, let’s not focus on the offense of this team, as it would be nowhere without its outstanding pitching. Yes, it has been outstanding despite Tim Lincecum having a mediocre first half of the year. Matt Cain has been great for the team and so has fellow All-Star Ryan Vogelsong. They should have enough pitching to hold off the Diamondbacks for the division title.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (49-43) – 2nd Place

 

Here is another surprise in the NL. There was talk at the beginning of the year about Justin Upton possibly being traded at the deadline if the Diamondbacks are way out of it. That isn’t exactly what happened and it is actually quite the opposite. They are within striking distance of the division and the Wild Card and they show no signs of slowing down. They have a potent lineup and a man in the middle named Justin Upton who can hit the ball 7 miles (well not exactly but very close). They just need their pitching to hang in there and let the offense run the show. They will likely miss the playoffs this year, but like the Pirates this is just the beginning for them.

 

Colorado Rockies (43-48) – 3rd Place

 

It is very tough to win with your star player injured. It is even harder to win with your top 2 guys injured. Now add to that the fact that your ace is not nearly the pitcher he was a year ago and you have yourself a 3rd place team that is 5 games under .500. Tulo, Cargo and Ubaldo have not been themselves this year, whether it is because of injury or because of lack of production. They should be thankful that they are getting good production from others like Jhoulys Chacin (better than his 8-7 record) and Ty Wigginton. Ubaldo has pitched better but he needs to get back to his 2010 form for the Rockies to make a run. It just doesn’t seem to be their year, but never count this team out.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers (41-51) – 4th Place

 

This team is just a mess, both financially and on the field. It is a shame though, because Matt Kemp is playing out of his mind and if the Dodgers were in contention he would be the clear favorite for MVP. Andre Ethier has been good as well but the power numbers have disappeared (hopefully his 2 homerun performance before the break is a sign of things to come). Kershaw has been great for them at the front of the rotation and Billingsly has pitched better than his 8-7 record would indicate. The bullpen has been a mess and their closer situation has been an absolute joke. I didn’t think I’d be saying this but they could be fighting the Padres for the cellar of the NL West.

 

San Diego Padres (40-52) – 5th Place

 

Adrian Gonzalez must be thanking his lucky stars that he is now a Red Sox. Pitching is what the Padres need to be a decent team and their ace Mat Latos has been shaky at best. Their offense is a disaster (only the Mariners have scored less runs than them) but the fact remains that their pitching has let them down. In the ballpark that they play in you can understand the low scoring part of it, but not the less than stellar pitching also. This is going to be a long road back to decency for the Padres but they should be happy to have the Dodgers as company near the bottom.

 

Midseason Awards

 

MVP – Jose Reyes

 

Cy Young – Roy Halladay

 

Rookie of the Year – Danny Espinosa

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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in Baseball, Sports, Steve Farace

 

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