With just 2 weeks remaining in the 2010 season, there is only 1 divisional race worth watching. No, it is not the AL East race between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees, because regardless of who takes the divisional crown, the other team takes the AL Wild Card. The real race comes out of the surprising NL West that has flip-flopped more times than a bad politician during campaign season. As of writing this column, the San Francisco Giants are sitting atop the division, a surprise in my opinion. The San Diego Padres sit just 0.5 games back and are just 0.5 games ahead of the ever-present and always dangerous late in the season Colorado Rockies (remember the 2007 comeback in the last few weeks of the season?). This heated 3-horse race has intrigued baseball fans across the country and in turn, is the focus of this week’s Notable Numerals. Instead of mixing in player and team level stats, this week is completely devoted to the teams. Enjoy!
League best era for the 1st place San Francisco Giants. If there is 1 statistic that sums up the reason the San Francisco Giants are in 1st place in the NL West it is their era. Going into the season, everyone knew about Tim Lincecum because of his back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, but who knew Matt Cain would be the even more dominate pitcher of the staff in 2010. In 30 starts, Cain in 12-10 with a 3.08 era, including 3 complete games and 2 shutouts. Not too shabby, eh? When you factor in the strong year for Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito (despite a 9-13 record), the Giants have a lethal combination, one that could be tough in a short series. Throw in a 43-save closer with a 1.87 era (Brian Wilson) and a handful of strong relievers and you have one of, if not the best pitching staff in baseball.
Where the Giants have struggled at times however is in the batter’s box. With 3 guys hitting below .250, the lineup is not as intimidating as others, but they have their share of pop, starting with their young phenom catcher, Buster Posey. When Posey burst on the scene this season with a 3 for 4 game on May 29th that included 3 rbis, the Giants knew they were in business. While making his major league debut last season, Posey only got the chance to play in 7 games, looking fairly unimpressive. He was determined to make this season different and has by hitting .325 with 14 home runs and 61 rbis in just 96 games. At age 23, Posey quickly became the best hitter in the Giants lineup and continues to learn and grow with each passing day.
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Batting average for the San Diego Padres, good for the 23rd in the MLB. It is amazing that the San Diego Padres are only 0.5 games back in the NL West given their poor offensive output in 2010. Similar to the San Francisco Giants, the Padres have relied on their pitching staff to carry them through this season, sitting just .01 points behind the Giants for 2nd place in team era. In terms of offensive production, the Padres are near the bottom of the league in almost every single category, making it difficult to score runs in bunches. The Padres have only 1 offensive regular that is hitting above .300 this season and that is their excellent 1st baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who is also the only Padre with more than 20 home runs on the season (29). The Padres 3 starting outfielders are hitting .211, .215 and .244, which has to be a concern if the team is able to make the post season.
In terms of pitching, the Padres have a strong starting rotation and a shut down closer. Mat Latos has been sensational in 2010, sitting with a 14-7 record and 2.84 era in 28 starts including a complete game shutout. He is the youngest pitcher on the Padres staff at age 22, so has a bright future ahead of him in the bigs. Clayton Richard and Jon Garland have both had strong years as well, posting mid-3.00 eras and winning 26 games between the 2 of them. When factoring in the 42 saves for Heath Bell, who like Wilson has a 1.87 era, the Padres are hoping to shut down the opposing offense and allow their squad to put up a run or 2 and win a low-scoring affair. The Padres have an eerily similar make-up to the Giants, except the Giants offense has a bit more umph. This race is far from over.
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Runs for the Colorado Rockies. The Colorado Rockies once again find themselves in position to have a late surge and make the post-season. The last month of the season has become the time when the Rockies play their best baseball in recent years and they are hoping these next few weeks follow that trend. Despite much of the attention sitting on the Padres/Giants battle, the Rockies are just 1 game back in 3rd place. Unlike the 2 teams ahead of them in the standings, the Rockies are an offense minded club and find themselves in the top tier of the league in most every offensive category. Led by their young star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and their stud shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies are hitting .267 as a team and have 6 guys with double-digit home run counts. Think the thin air of Colorado may play a small factor in their offensive prowess? Perhaps.
The downside for the Rockies is their pitching staff. Outside of superstar Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies starters have a 37-34 record and a 4.37 era as a group. Although those numbers are slightly inflated due to their home ballpark, only Ubaldo Jimenez is an intimidating pitcher in a short series in the post-season. There are some issues in the bullpen for the Rockies, with their closer Houston Street having a 3.65 era and allowed 20 runs in 44.1 innings so far this season. In the playoffs, there are a lot of tight games, so having a closer that allows a run almost every other inning of work has to be a concern for the Rockies. Nothing would surprise me with the Rockies in 2010, but one thing is for certain, never count them out.
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RBIs for the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3rd worst in the NL. Unlike the top 3 in the NL West, the bottom 2 haven’t had realistic dreams of the post-season for quite some time. Sitting in 4th place, the Los Angeles Dodgers have had a ton of off the field distractions in 2010, including the McCourt divorce saga that never seems to end and the injuries and buzz surrounding the never shy Manny Ramirez. The team has limped to a 73-77 record, sitting 11 games back with 12 games remaining, but it feels as if they have been out of contention for some time. The main struggle for the club this season was their lack of run production as shown by the 2 stats above, with the exception of 2/3 of their outfield (Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier).
Besides the 2 outfielders mentioned above, only Casey Blake has 10+ home runs (15) and James Loney is the only member of the team with 80+ rbis at this point in the season (81). Besides the offense, the Dodgers pitching staff has middle-of-the-road numbers in almost every statistical category, making it difficult to overcome their offensive inconsistencies. The main difference between the 1-3 teams in the division and the Dodgers is that each of the other teams has 1 strength area they excel at, while the Dodgers just sit in the middle of the pack without much spark. Being a Red Sox fan, I have seen the Manny Ramirez effect in the past and certainly believe some of the Dodgers lack of pop this season has to do with Manny’s injuries and struggles at the plate. Surprise, surprise…Manny wore out his welcome again.
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Strikeouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks to lead baseball. Oh dear, where do I begin. The Arizona Diamondbacks have been in the basement of the NL all year, collecting a 59-91 record on the season. Being the only team officially eliminated from the playoffs and sitting 25 games back in the division is certainly nothing to brag, but there have been a few bright spots this season. One of the most memorable highlights of the 2010 campaign was Edwin Jackson’s no-hitter in the end of June, but even that triumph was bizarre because he walked 8 batters in the process. On top of that, Jackson threw 149 pitches, the most for a pitcher to throw a complete-game no-hitter since 1988. It was certainly still a huge day for the Diamondbacks, but one that was as absurd as they come.
Besides the no-hitter, the D-Backs pitching staff has been horrible on the season, posting a team era of 4.89. Only 1 pitcher in the D-Backs bullpen has an era under 4 (3.86 for D.J. Carrasco) and so far this season, 28 different pitchers have toed the rubber in Arizona. The D-Backs pitching staff is 15th out of 16 teams in the NL in wins, era, hits, runs, earned runs and last in home runs allowed. Those numbers are a recipe for disaster and interim manager Kirk Gibson has had a lot on his plate to try and fix since taking over for A.J. Hinch on July 1. Unfortunately for D-Backs fans, the team is a long way from being a contender and needs a few years of strong rebuilding before the playoffs are even in the conversation.
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Tags: A.J. Hinch Adrian Gonzalez AL East AL Wild Card Andre Ethier Arizona Diamondbacks Barry Zito Brian Wilson Buster Posey Carlos Gonzalez Casey Blake Clayton Richard Colorado Rockies D.J. Carrasco Edwin Jackson Heath Bell James Loney Jon Garland Jonathan Sanchez Kirk Gibson LA Dodgers Manny Ramirez Mat Latos Matt Cain Matt Kemp New York Yankees NL West Notable Numerals San Diego Padres San Francisco Giants Tampa Bay Rays Tim Lincecum Troy Tulowitzki Ubaldo Jimenez