Sometimes I like to show my age.
The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.
Look who's on top in the NL West.
WEST W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA Arizona 14 8 .636 - 9-3 5-5 100 105 Los Angeles 13 8 .619 .5 5-3 8-5 114 94 San Francisco 10 11 .476 3.5 8-6 2-5 107 108 San Diego 9 13 .409 5 5-3 4-10 98 101 Colorado 6 13 .316 6.5 5-6 1-7 100 125Any surprises here? Well, yeah.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
In our Diamondbacks Preview, you may recall that one of our hotshot Box rookies dismissed the D'Backs as a disgrace, and wondered "what it must be like to have to cheer for these guys." Well, the Snakes have the second best record in the entire league, which isn't making me look very good. But it's still early, I say. They've actually allowed more runs than they've scored (whereas Milwaukee and Houston, both several games below .500, have scored more than they've given up.)
They've been lucky, in other words.
But a few things are going well. The offense has been much improved over last year, and Troy Glaus and (gulp) Craig Counsell have had a lot to do with that. Neither of them has hit for much of an average, but Counsell gets a walk almost every game (.425 OBP) and Glaus bangs out an extra-base hit (.643 slugging) almost every game. Chad Tracy has provided a little pop as well, and Luis Gonzalez has been solid. Tony Clark, playing part-time, is off to a hot start. Furthermore, Jose Cruz has been out of the lineup for most of the first month, and Shawn Green hasn't really gotten his bat going yet.
On the mound, Brandon Webb pitched well last year, although it was hard to tell. This year, he's pitching better and getting rewarded: 3-0, 2.63. Javier Vazquez has scuffled a little, but Russ Ortiz and Shawn Estes have both been fine so far. The two surprises on the staff are a couple of American League refugees who may have found a home in the desert. Brad Halsey, yet another young pitcher who couldn't get a decent shot with the Yankees, is 2-0 3.21 and sports a nifty 18-2 K/BB ratio. And Brandon Lyon, the former Blue Jay, leads the known universe with 10 saves in 11 tries and an impressive 1.42 ERA. Lyon has been supported mainly by Mike Koplove and Brian Bruney.
They've been lucky, but they're rolling right now. They’ve won 6 straight, and are coming off a sweep of the Dodgers in Los Angeles that vaulted them into first place. Tonight they open a three game set with San Diego - Webb against Peavy in the opener. Then they have a 10 game home stand against San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Washington. I look at the opposition, and I think, "bloody hell! These guys will probably still be in first place two weeks from now, when the next Update is due." I'm just glad I don't have to explain away the White Sox...
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers charged out of the blocks like a person on fire ("When you are on fire, people get out of your way" noted Richard Pryor.) After winning 12 of their first 14, they have cooled off considerably. This was to be expected, although dropping 5 of 6 to Colorado and Arizona is always depressing in my book.
The hot start was keyed by the big-time production they were receiving from their new second baseman. I have no idea what cap they're going to make Jeff Kent wear at Cooperstown, but he seems bent and determined on getting there. Kent's main accomplice so far has been Mellow Milton Bradley, but there really isn't a hole in the lineup. Cesar Izturis has just 4 walks and 4 extra base hits, but he is hitting .340. Hee Seop Choi at least isn't embarrassing himself this year, and that means he won't get benched for weeks on end, and should get a chance to actually produce. Jose Valentin is hitting just .222, but is still getting on base more than any starter on the team not named Kent.
But the pitching, with the exception of Derek Lowe, hasn't been so great. The problem is not so much the bullpen, even though Eric Gagne hasn't appeared in a single game yet. Brazoban has been finishing games, Schmoll and Sanchez and Wunsch are doing fine getting the game to the closer. The problem is Jeff Weaver and Scott Erickson. Weaver should improve, but there's a large fork sticking out of Scott Erickson's back. He's made 4 starts, lost two of them, sports a 7.20 ERA and struck out 4 batters in 20 IP. The Dodgers have basically gone with four starters because of off-days so far, and now Brad Penny is back. But as long as Scott Erickson is starting games...
Well, they have a golden opportunity to stop the bleeding right now. The home stand continues with six games against Colorado and Washington. Then it's off for a week in the midwest against Cincinnati and St. Louis.
3. San Francisco Giants
OK, Barry Bonds hasn't played yet. Their other ancient outfielder, Moises Alou, hit the DL a few games into the season. And now the man at the end of the bullpen, Armando Benitez will be out for an extended period of time. This is what happens when you place your faith in elderly athletes.
The Giants have been win a couple (longest streak: 3) and lose a couple (longest streak: 3) since the season began. They're hanging in there because Jason Schmidt always gives you a chance to win, and the team bullpen has been deep and solid. Starters not named Schmidt have gone 3-9 so far, but the relief corps has picked up 5 wins and lost just once. Still, it's a very mediocre looking rotation, is it not? Kirk Reuter and Brett Tomko and Noah Lowry. Reuter and Tomko don't strike out anybody - they've walked more hitters than they've struck out - which puts a lot of pressure on the defense, and a lot of pressure on the bullpen because you can't go deep into games pitching like that.
At the dish, Pedro Feliz is making the most of his opportunity and they're going to have trouble getting him out of the lineup. When a guy has 21 RBI in 21 games, you keep running him out there. The unexpected return of Edgardo Alfonzo, whose body has been inhabited by an unknown imposter these last few years, has been the best news. Actually, this guy might be the imposter - the original Edgardo was never this good. Marquis Grissom and Ray Durham are hitting like they should be playing in old-timers games, but a couple other pensioners, Omar Vizquel and J.T. Snow, are doing graybeards everywhere proud. Especially Omar.
You have the feeling that this team is desperately hanging on by the fingernails. Waiting for Barry. They're still hanging in there, but for how much longer? The schedule gets tougher, too. So far they've played twice as many games at home as an the road. They're on the road now, visiting Pittsburgh and Arizona. Then they come home to host Washington and Pittsburgh.
4. San Diego Padres
The Padres have stunk on the road - they were swept in Dodger Stadium, they were swept in Arizona, they lost two of three in San Francisco. They've played 14 games on the road, and just 8 at home. Hence, fourth place.
No one is off to a hot start. Which is strange - doesn't everybody have someone hitting .330? None of the Padres' regulars are hitting .290 - Sean Burroughs leads the way at .288, and Burroughs has exactly one extra base hit. Brian Giles and Phil Nevin are both hitting .224. Mark Loretta has gone back to being Mark Loretta. Which leaves Ryan Klesko and Xavier Nady to lead the offense.
But Jake Peavy doesn't need much in the way of run support. Peavy looks awesome so far - he seems bent on tearing the NL apart. In 27 IP, he's whiffed 34 and walked 5. His ERA is 1.30. If you get a chance to see him work, grab it. Adam Eaton has been very good as well - very good in the way normal regular pitchers are good. Peavy is coming from some other dimension right now. Woody Williams should be OK, but Lawrence and Redding - a collective 1-7, both with ERAs above 7.50 - have to be better.
The Padres have Arizona and Colorado coming to town, and then go off on their mid-western swing through St Louis and Cincinnati. Someone has to start hitting, and they have to start winning a few games on the road.
5. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are still recovering from that first disastrous road trip. After splitting a pair at Coors against San Diego to start the season, the Rockies visited San Francisco and Arizona, and went 0-6. Nine games into the season, they posted a 1-8 record, which is always discouraging.
The Rockies team ERA is 6.59, which almost seems normal for them. It's not, really - historically, the Rockies have posted ERAs of around 5.20 during the Coors ERA - only the 1999 group was actually above 6.00 (and that was despite a truly outstanding season from Pedro Astacio.) Still, any pitcher who keeps his ERA below 5.00 is getting it done, and Jeff Francis and Jason Jennings are both getting it done. Shawn Chacon, last year's disastrous closer experiment done with, has pitched very well in his three starts. Joe Kennedy has been beaten senseless, but I think he'll be reasonably OK. The bullpen has been really horrible - Brian Fuentes has been decent, and everybody else has been... indecent. Recommended for Mature Audiences.
The Rockies offensive plan amounted to Todd Helton and a bunch of kids who have never proven anything at the major league level. What the hell, if you're trying to establish yourself as a hitter, what better place than Coors Field. And while Helton is off to a fairly ordinary start, shortstop Clint Barmes has been sensational. He's a shortstop hitting .421 with power. Can't complain about that. And he's an old rookie, so I like him already. The prospects for long-term stardom are not great, I know, but the immediate payoff is fun. Right? Brad Hawpe looks like he's here to stay in right field.
It's a free swinging bunch of fellas. Helton is the only one who has drawn more than five walks. Helton and Barmes are the only ones with OBP much above the league average. And Preston Wilson, Hawpe, and Barmes are the only hitters with more than one homer.
The Rockies have fought the league to a draw since the Road Trip From Hell, although they have yet to string together as many as three wins in a row. However, almost all of this encouraging .500 ball came at Coors Field, and now the elements are conspiring against them. They just had most of a home stand against Florida wiped out, and tonight they set out on a 9 game road trip through Los Angeles, San Diego, and Miami. If this goes the way the first one did, we will have 2005's first managerial change before the next NL West Update. And then they come home to play the Braves...