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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Bi-Weekly Review: N.L. West
The N.L. West through April 20th.
San Francisco Giants
Business as usual in the West to start the season, as the Giants and Diamondbacks battle it out at the top. Oops, scratch that last part. The aging Arizona squad has gotten off to a terrible start, and it’s the surprising Colorado Rockies who pose the most serious threat to Barry Bonds and Co. in the early going.
The club by the bay has been firing on all cylinders from day one. Despite the loss of closer Robb Nen, most likely till the All-Star break or possibly longer, and the slow start of newcomer Edgardo Alfonzo, the Giants are playing excellent baseball. Led by the age-defying Bonds (.286/.500/.694) and Benito Santiago (.340/.397/.566), and accompanied by small-sample wonder J.T. Snow (.385/.475/.596), Ray Durham (.289/.396/.467), and Jose Cruz Jr. (.294/.429/.574), San Francisco is scoring plenty of runs for what has turned out to be a pretty strong pitching staff.
Jason Schmidt has picked up right where he left off in 2002, striking out more than a batter an inning and generally being tough to hit. Newcomer Damian Moss likewise is giving hitters fits. He’s also walked more than he’s struck out, which is never a good sign. Youngster Kurt Ainsworth has been predictably unpredictable, alternating between brilliance and ineffectiveness (it’s such a fine line). Kirk Rueter continues to confound and frustrate sabermetricians everywhere by posting a 2.74 ERA despite just three strikeouts in 23 innings. Logic dictates that hitters will catch up to him at some point; of course, logic has dictated that throughout his entire career and he’s managed to be roughly a league-average pitcher for 10 years despite striking out 4.25 batters per nine innings, so maybe not. Meantime the bullpen, thanks to the efforts of Joe Nathan, Tim Worrell, and Felix Rodriguez, has performed admirably despite the absence of Nen. And of course everyone’s favorite pitching prospect, Jesse Foppert, is up and in the rotation, at least for now.
Out in Denver (which at least is further west than Atlanta ever was), the Rockies are up to their usual shenanigans: dominate at home, flail on the road. The difference, so far, is that they’re not flailing too badly.
Todd Helton (.324/.465/.647), Chris Stynes (.288/.408/.559), Preston Wilson (.338/.410/.635), Jay Payton (.320/.378/.573), Larry Walker (.288/.397/.591), and pretty much anyone who can pick up a bat are leading the offensive charge. Even Charles Johnson, who got off to a putrid start, is starting to hit (.357/.471/.714 last week).
What’s interesting is that the Rox are getting some decent pitching, although not necessarily from the expected sources. Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings is off to a poor start (a somewhat alarming 31 hits in 19 innings), as is closer Jose Jimenez (a seriously alarming 22 hits in 9 1/3 innings). Youngster Shawn Chacon and journeyman Nelson Cruz are pitching well, although it’s hard to imagine Cruz enjoying much long-term success at Coors with such low strikeout numbers (six in 21 2/3 innings). Out of the bullpen, the big bright spot has been Steve Reed. Returning for his second tour of duty with the Rockies, Reed, the one man who appears to have thoroughly mastered the art of pitching in Denver, has his ERA below 2.00 three weeks into the season. Small sample to be sure, and his peripherals aren’t great, but he’s got a history there. Plus he’s fun to watch pitch.
Denny Neagle (elbow) is expected out till the latter half of May. Denny Stark (there’s gotta be a joke in here somewhere about a Grand Slam breakfast) is also on the shelf thanks to a torn lat muscle.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Up in LA, the Dodgers are getting no offensive production. Shawn Green (.325/.395/.481) and Dave Roberts (.313/.396/.425) are the only regulars with OPS over 800. And Roberts’ entire game is based on beating the ball into the ground and running like crazy. Paul LoDuca (.292/.361/.385) and Brian Jordan (.268/.350/.423) have been treading water, and everyone else has been a complete zero.
The good news for the Dodgers is that virtually the entire pitching staff has enjoyed success thus far. Hideo Nomo is off to a good start, and Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort are bouncing back well from injuries, although both are still (understandably) a bit rusty. Among relievers, pretty much everyone has contributed. Eric Gagne is demonstrating that last year was no fluke, while Paul Shuey and the nimble-footed Guillermo Mota both have ERAs under 1.00 (although neither has been anywhere near as dominating as Gagne).
San Diego Padres
Down south (geographically and in terms of standings) in San Diego, the Padres got off to a decent start before stumbling badly in Denver and falling into a last-place tie. After a very slow start thanks to nagging back problems, Ryan Klesko is locked in and hitting the ball hard (.283/.358/.467 overall; .381/.409/.667 last week, although some of that was at Coors). Ramon Vazquez (.281/.432/.375) is drawing a ton of walks (second in the league only to Sammy Sosa) and re-establishing himself at shortstop. After a terrific start, rookie right fielder Xavier Nady has cooled off a bit (.260/.325/.411 overall; .100/.217/.100 last week), as has Rondell White (.250/.314/.484). Sean Burroughs (.167/.259/.292) is off to a slow start.
The pitching has been very hit-or-miss. Brian Lawrence, Adam Eaton, and Jake Peavy are all looking good at the front of the rotation. Last year’s wunderkind Oliver Perez alternately isn’t able to find the plate or finds too much of it. None of the starters, save Lawrence, has been terribly efficient, which has placed quite a strain on the bullpen. Nominal closer Brandon Villafuerte has struggled with his command. The rest of the ‘pen has been reasonably effective despite being overused.
Catcher Gary Bennett, leveled by the Dodgers’ Jordan in a play at the plate last week, is on the DL with a sprained right knee.
In Arizona, Bob Brenly’s worst nightmare has come to pass. Both Curt Schilling (appendectomy) and Randy Johnson (knee) are ailing. Schilling is expected to make his next scheduled start against Florida, while Johnson is actually on the DL. The good news for the Diamondbacks is that rookie Lyle Overbay (.340/.386/.566) is off to a strong start, as are vets Chad Moeller (.314/.364/.490) and Luis Gonzalez (.338/.420/.620). The bad news is, aside from Craig Counsell (.286/.385/.375), nobody else is getting it done at the plate.
In the pitching department, Johnson was struggling mightily (8.31 ERA over three starts, 10 ER in one game) before landing on the DL. Schilling has been so-so, although his peripherals are strong and he’s a stud, so don’t expect that to continue. The conversion of Byung-Hyun Kim has been a mixed bag. Kim is pitching reasonably well, but he’s not nearly as dominant as a starter as he was out of the bullpen. Still not sure that was a great move for Kim or the Diamondbacks, but it’s early. Mike Koplove and the oft-injured Matt Mantei have anchored a mostly lackluster relief corps.
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