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Hey Tony, don’t mean to disrupt your prediction mojo, especially seeing as you’re always right (
Ok, so it’s not the strongest division in baseball but what NL division is? As a matter of fact, what NL team outside of the Mets (.623 winning percentage) is? The Cardinals sit on top of the Central with a .531 winning percentage, 1 percentage point higher than the Dodgers who lead the West. The Padres are second – 3 games back – with a .508 winning percentage, higher than any non-first place team in the league, which is fitting seeing as THEY LEAD THE WILD CARD RACE!
That doesn’t even cover the Giants or Diamondbacks who as the sun rises on Wednesday August 30, trail the Padres by just 2 and 3 games respectively.
I know the east coast world tends to forget us out here on the left coast, but that doesn’t mean these three teams won’t be a factor. So I thought it’d be nice to also get a look at the Western division teams vying for the Wild Card.
By all rights this team should have been done when the
Grimsley hit the fan. But somehow they
rebounded. Not the likeliest contender
but with a mix of veterans (Luis Gonzalez, Orlando Hudson, Brandon Webb and
Livan Hernandez) and some exciting young players (Stephen Drew, Connor Jackson
and Carlos Quintin), they will have to be contended
with. Their 4.63 team ERA is 9th
in the NL, lower than both the Reds and Phillies, and their team batting
average (.271) is 4th, higher than all but the Dodgers, Cardinals
and Braves (another team – only 4 games back – that
you’ve overlooked). In the month of
September, they’ll play six against
Their 3.87 team ERA for the month of August is fourth best in the NL and their pitchers’ .241 collective BAA is second. Offensively, their .270 batting average is fourth in the league for the month. They are an admittedly old team, but old necessarily means experienced. They are a collection of players who know what it takes to get it done. They have stumbled all year, yet remain just two games back. The starting pitching has been strong all season (their 4.19 collective ERA is tops in the NL as are their 821.0 IP and 7 complete games) and is coming on even stronger of late (3.00 since Aug. 13 – 11-5 since then) and the offense, led by a recently resurgent Barry Bonds, is coming alive as well.
As we get set to turn the calendar forward to September, Bonds has 11 hits in his last 22 at bats, including his first multi-home run game in two years. Omar Vizquel is batting .308/.375/.403 and has committed just 3 errors all year. Ray Durham has been having a career year (.295, 20 HR, 80 RBI) and Pedro Feliz, constantly hot and cold, has shown signs of maybe getting hot at the right time (8-for-his-last-24 - .625 SLG). But perhaps most significantly, trade deadline pickup Shea Hillenbrand has suddenly caught fire, collecting 11 hits in his last 17 at bats including 3 HR.
They’ll play three each on the road in September against the
Reds, Cubs, Brewers and
I’m sure it’s easy to forget the team that’s leading the Wild Card chase, but let me refresh you on why they are: It’s the pitching. Underrated as a pitching staff all season, the Padres have been at or near the top in team ERA all year long, and are currently tied with the Mets at 4.09 for the league lead. Their starters are a collective 5th (4.36) and the bullpen is second (3.55). More importantly, Jake Peavy has a 2.82 ERA over his last 7 starts. They are also rumored to be chasing David Wells which would add to their pitching depth, stung by the loss of Chan Ho Park.
Offensively is where they struggle, especially with Brian Giles suffering a down year. But Mike Piazza has been solid and gives them a veteran presence in the lineup that is capable of lifting the team on his shoulders on any given night. Adrian Gonzalez has had a breakthrough year and is a large reason why they are where they are. Josh Barfield won’t be the NL rookie of the year, but his numbers (.281, 10 HR, 47 RBI) have been solid. They’ll need Khalil Greene to come back healthy and hitting, though any team managed by Bruce Bochy you can rest assured will be playing hard down to the wire.
They’ve got perhaps the toughest schedule among the Western
contenders, playing all their games left against
Thanks to this year’s quirky schedule, all three of these
teams will have to face
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard lives in San Francisco and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.