Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pennant Fever - NL West

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-Digger's Daily-

Welcome to my final August installment of pennant fever blogs. Time to shift focus to the NL West. Joe Torre's Los Angeles Dodgers have been dominating play. San Francisco is the NL's surprise team thanks to a splendid 1-2 rotation knockout punch. Colorado has been surging after firing Clint Hurdle. Cellar dwelling Arizona has much work to do before they return to respectability. Here's how I see things shaping up the rest of the way.

Los Angeles Dodgers (69-47) owned baseball's best record most of the year. They remind me of Torre's young Yankees teams from the 90's Series winning years. LA has been in control only having trailed for six days way back in April. Dodgers are very deep and continued piling up runs even when Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games. Fundamentally sound team ranking near the top in NL team stats - fielding (2nd), batting (1st) and pitching (2nd). A complete team effort without prima donna type clubhouse distractions. Torre kept these guys focused during the Manny PED suspension saga. It's been all business this year as LA seeks a return to World Series play for the first time since 1988. Only stretch drive weakness seems to be 5th starter and a lackluster beginning to this month (5-8). Very young nucleus (Loney, Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Billingsley, Kershaw, Braxton) almost guarantees success for many years to come. Torre needs to keep this team focused over the final 6 weeks. NL's top team.

Colorado Rockies (64-52) were struggling (18-28) before Hurdle was fired and replaced by Jim Tracy. They've gone 46-24 since to firmly plant themselves in the thick of pennant fever. Colorado has climbed into the Wild Card lead and trail LA by only 5 games. Everyone expected the Rockies to hit well in the thin air of spacious Coors Field. However, it's been pitching which has turned the Rockies season around (Jiminez, Cook and a career year by Marquis). Offense has been getting it done from top to bottom. I believe they have what it takes to make the playoffs. But, I can't see them going to far as pitching matchups will hurt them in post season play. LA, Philadelphia and St. Louis sport far more talented pitching staffs. Sometimes all it takes is a hot team to advance and nobody knows this better than the Rockies. Their incredible finish to the 2007 is still fresh in their minds. Watch out LA... these guys may do it again!

San Francisco Giants (62-53) are NL's surprise team of 2009. Not many expected good things from this team which had baseball's weakest lineup coming out of spring training. Starting pitcher and last seasons Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (12-3, 2.19, 205 K) has been sensational again in '09 and appears well on his way to bring home the hardware once again. This kid is the real deal. #2 in SF's rotation is Matt Cain (12-4, 2.44) who is giving Lincecum a run for his money. These two are clearly the reason why SF is challenging (currently 6.5 behind LA). On offense, it's only Pablo Sandoval who is putting up good numbers (.329, 33 2B, 17 HR). Giants offense doesn't scare anyone. They've only scored 4 or more runs in 11 of their past 29 games. One game over .500 in past 39 contests and probably won't keep pace with other wild card contenders unless opponents stumble. San Francisco's future is bright if they can add a few hitters.

Prediction: LA, Colorado, SF. I'd like to see Torre's Dodgers vs his old Yanks in the World Series. Colorado will give LA a run for their money. I see them as NL Wild Card team which doesn't bode well for Phillies fans since I predicted Atlanta to win East. We'll soon see how it all plays out.

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