San Diego Serenade

Friday, May 27 2005 @ 03:00 PM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

When I am king
you will be first against the wall
With your opinion
which is of no consequence at all

Gosh, things really aren't going as most of us expected.

San Diego	28	19	.596	-	16-4	12-15	232	205	
Arizona		28	20	.583	.5	15-10	13-10	212	238	
LA Dodgers	24	22	.522	3.5	12-11	12-11	225	230	
San Francisco	23	23	.500	4.5	14-12	9-11	207	226	
Colorado	14	31	.311	13	10-11	4-20	207	261	
1. San Diego Padres

The Padres have been hot for a month now- they went 9-3 these last two weeks, and last night's thrashing of Arizona behind the great Jake Peavy's two hit shutout moved them back into first place. They have won 19 of their last 25 games, and have still played more road games and fewer home games than anyone else in the division. In fact, no one in the major leagues has played fewer home games than the Padres; however, only the Orioles and the Marlins have managed even one more home win than San Diego, and both required an extra seven games. Their shortstop has already been on the DL, along with one of their top three starters; now their second baseman will miss at least two months. It doesn't seem to faze them a bit.

They have scored more runs than the other four teams, and allowed fewer. The San Diego offense is actually second in the league in runs scored, behind only St. Louis - despite Petco's well-known history of playing as a pitcher's park. As you can no doubt tell, I am really impressed with this group. Well, gosh - they've just played .760 ball for the last four weeks. What's not to like?

No one bat is carrying the offense, although Ryan Klesko and Brian Giles, as you might expect, have been the most productive hitters. Both have rounded into form after a somewhat slow start. Klesko has now surpassed his 2004 HR total, but last year seemed like an aberration anyway. Obviously, losing Mark Loretta is not a good thing. Still, Loretta and Sean Burroughs haven't really made a big contribution to this year's offense - the two of them have done little this year besides hit singles. They have a grand total of eight extra base hits between them. Last year, Loretta hit 47 doubles and 16 HRs - he goes to the DL with 5 doubles and 0 HRs. The Padres got by without shortstop Khalil Greene for a couple of weeks; Loretta will be out longer than that, but they should be able to cope.

They've been able to cope with the fact that the pitching hasn't quite rounded into form yet. Oh, Jake Peavy has. Last night, with a tired bullpen needing a rest, he stepped up with his first career complete game, deliberately eschewing the strikeout so he could work deeper into the game. He fanned only two, but needed less than 100 pitches to dismiss the Diamondbacks, and still has 73 strikeouts in 72 IP this year. He has won each of last three starts, and allowed exactly 1 run in 24 innings. Adam Eaton also won his three starts, and now sports a nifty 7-1 record. The rest of the rotation has been unsettled: Tim Redding was terrible, and went on the DL; Brian Lawrence has struggled all season. Woody Williams hasn't pitched since May 2 since injuring his oblique taking batting practise. Williams is now throwing off a mound, and may return within the next two weeks. Rookie Tim Stauffer has been fine in his three starts, and Darrell May has been making spot starts as required; but the return of Williams will mean a lot to this staff. The bullpen has been superb, but Bochy has had to lean it a little more than he'd likely prefer.

The Padres are currently 3-3 on a 9 game road trip, that concludes this weekend in San Francisco. After that, they finally settle in to play three straight series at home. This will be the first time that's happened this season. The 10 game homestand will open with 4 games against the Cubs, followed by three apiece with Cleveland and the White Sox.

2 - Arizona Diamondbacks

Maybe it's time to stop waiting for the wheels to fall off this wagon.

Last time, I noted that the D'Backs were heading for a challenging two weeks - a 10 game road trip, followed by a set at home against the red hot Padres. They stepped up to the plate, people. They took 3 of 4 in Colorado, and 2 of 3 in both Houston and Detroit. They split the first two games against San Diego, before losing last night's rubber match which was also a showdown for the division lead....

Arizona has still given up more runs than they've scored. In the last two weeks (13 games), they scored 63 runs and allowed 74. They won 8 of those games anyway. This looks flukey, and perhaps it is. But Arizona doesn't have a phenomenal record in 1 run games: by my count, they're 11-7. However, in just four of their losses, they were outscored by the mind-boggling total of 49 runs (11-60): 16-6 on Opening Day, 16-2 on May 8, 18-3 on May 13, and 10-0 last night.

It's still early enough that this has skewed their runs for and against significantly. The Diamondbacks may very well be better than their runs scored and allowed would suggest. But we all know that one of the characteristics of truly good teams is an ability to beat the other fellows senseless. Arizona's largest margin of victory is six runs. So their record in games decided by 7 runs or more is 0-4. If someone is going to get beaten really black and blue, it's going to be the Diamondbacks. Which is troublesome. But on the other hand, it is just four games we're talking about.

Troy Glaus has cooled off a little bit, but he still kicked in three homers over the last two weeks. And Craig Counsell, who has been on base non-stop all year long, has finally started scoring runs. Luis Gonzalez and Chad Tracy have been dependable, although Shawn Green still hasn't really gotten his bat going yet.

After a rough start, Javier Vazquez has been utterly dominating. In his last 7 starts, he is 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA, with 44 Ks and 4 BB in 54 IP. He hasn't walked a batter all month (five starts). Brandon Webb was still unbeaten until last night's game. Webb is 0-1 in his three matchups with Jake Peavy, but has won his 6 of his other 7 starts. Brad Halsey started two of the afore-mentioned blowouts, but most of the carnage was actually absorbed by the bullpen. Halsey and Shawn Estes have both been fine. Russ Ortiz is still scuffling a bit, but he did collect a couple wins on the road trip. Brandon Lyon and Lance Cormier have been lights-out at the end of the game. Kerry Ligtenberg... not so much. In his third and fourth outings in Arizona, Kerry gave up 12 hits and 12 earned runs in a total of 2.2 IP. Which raised his ERA from 3.86 to 23.40, and he didn't appear in a game for next 10 days. He resurfaced last night to work one inning and allow two runs. Which actually lowered his ERA. Ouch.

Upcoming is a three game set at home against the reeling Dodgers. Then it's on the road to play the Mets and Phillies, before they come home to host Minnesota.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Well, this was bad. The Dodgers dropped 8 of 12 and tumbled out of the division lead all the way to fourth place. They crawled back into the third place with last night's win over the Giants. What the hell happened?

Part of the problem was that they were playing some pretty good teams. They lost 2 of 3 in four straight series: first to Atlanta, then Florida, then the Angels, and finally the Giants. All teams with winning records - the first three are all tied for their division lead, in fact.

OK, fair enough - except the first three series were also played at Dodger Stadium, and each time it was the visitors who came in and laid down the law.

What happened? Well, some guys stopped hitting. Completely. Jeff Kent went 6-48 (.125); J.D. Drew went 10-46 (.217); Hee Seop Choi went 6-29 (.207). The three of them combined to hit 1 homer these last two weeks. Milton Bradley has been steady and dependable (Milton Bradley? Steady?), Cesar Izturis keeps hitting lots and lots of singles, and the quasi-regular bench guys like Ricky Ledee and Olmedo Saenz have been much, much better than anyone could have imagined. Ledee had a huge game-winning pinch hit last night. But the Dodgers need to get their big bats going again. Good news: Jayson Werth made his season debut this week.

What else happened? Well, the pitching has gone in the tank. Derek Lowe was the only starter to win during the past two weeks, and Lowe and Brad Penny are only guys in the rotation who have been above average. Penny was in line to win last night's game, before Brazoban blew the save and vultured the win. Odalis Perez had at least been average, disappointing as that might be. But now Perez is on the DL. Jeff Weaver has been bad, and Scott Erickson has been just awful, but with Perez out they apparently have no better idea than to keep giving them the ball. The bullpen, which had been solid, generally imploded over the last two weeks. Yhency Brazoban was one of the major culprits; still, for the most part, Brazoban has done a fine job filling in as the closer. He now moves back into a setup role. The return of Eric Gagne, who saved his first game last night, should have a ripple effect throughout the staff. The Dodgers are surely hoping that it will shorten the game a little, so that they can get the ball away from their starters a little quicker. Which has been how Tracy has had to play it this year. Over the last two weeks, it looks like the bullpen began to crack a little from the strain.

The Dodgers head into Phoenix for three with the Diamondbacks, and for reasons that surpasseth all human understanding, Scott Erickson is scheduled to start the Sunday game. Dodger pitching has come to this? Then it's back to Chavez Ravine for a 13 game home stand. Milwaukee and Detroit will be the first visitors.

4. San Francisco Giants

The Giants went 7-6, and are still hanging around .500, still waiting for Barry.

The shiny happy day for the Giants was 24 May, which is a date of great significance anyway. It is, after all, the birthday of Queen Victoria, Bob Dylan, and my own mum. All of that doubtless meant little to the Giants. Instead, they were pleased to see a) Barry resume rehabbing his knee; b) Jason Schmidt come off the DL to win his first game in six weeks, and hit a home run as well, just for fun.

Two weeks ago, it was impossible not to notice that centre fielder Jason Ellison was hitting .394 - Ellison went 7-41, and lost 86 points off his average. That was quick. However, Moises Alou banged four homers in the past two weeks; he and Pedro Feliz have been leading the offense. Edgado Alfonzo arrested his slide, and chipped in with a nice two weeks as well.

The Giants' starters are mostly a bunch of soft tossers who don't strike out people and can't go deep into games, and are, in fact, more likely to lose than to win. And so Felipe Alou has been leaning rather heavily on his bullpen as well, and Scott Eyre, Matt Herges, Jeff Fassero (!), and Tyler Walker have done some good work for him. Walker is replacing Benitez at the end of games.

The Giants had won four in a row, before falling to the Dodgers last night. They're 4-2 on the current homestand, which wraps up with three games against the Padres this weekend. The Giants then visit the Phillies and Mets as part of a six-game road trip; they return home to host a couple of AL Central teams, Cleveland and Kansas City.

5. Colorado Rockies

Are the Rockies still in the league?

Oh. Do we actually have to talk about them?

I suppose. And Clint Hurdle is still on the job! It's easy to make fun of Clint, but maybe we should cut him a little slack. On Wednesday, the Rockies lineup featured six rookies, two second year players, and Todd Helton. So, really, what can you expect?

Clint Barmes hit .237 over the last two weeks, which dropped his AVG 51 points. The good news is that he's still hitting .344. Barmes, Todd Helton, and Brad Hawpe have been the only guys who contribute much to the offense at all, at least until 3B Garrett Atkins came off the DL. Atkins hit .341 with 4 HRs since last we spoke.

On the mound, Shaun Chacon lost his last two decisions, but continues to pitch very well. And Jeff Francis, a rookie in Coors Field, has been very good as well.

The Rockies successfully opened a four game set at Wrigley Field Thursday afternoon, as Jason Jennings won his first game in more than a month. When they're done with the Cubs, they begin a 13 game homestand. Which should give Helton, Barmes, and Hawpe a chance to welcome a few pitchers to the wonders of Altitude.