It’s a shame that one of the power trio in the NL West (Dodgers, Rockies, D-Backs) will be one-game-and-done in the postseason. All have championship contender potential and should grow stronger in the second half.
Last week, I wrote a column about the Giants becoming the worst team in baseball and how their season’s rock bottom (to date) came in a walk-off loss after coming back from eight runs down in Colorado. The eight games since have yielded precisely one win. Wednesday night’s 11-inning soul crusher followed by Thursday’s 12-11 loss at the hands of the rebuilding Braves continued the thread.
For the Giants, the 2017 season has provided at least weekly reminders of what once was and is now seemingly is lost for good. This week San Francisco hit a milestone and sprinted past the 20-games-out marker. A team’s point of no return when reached before the break.
Yesterday, I had lunch with an old friend and die-hard Giants fan who said he’s been ignoring his MLB package due to the Giants’ slide. The only point of intrigue remaining for him this season is in the form of what, if any, players/contracts the Giants can shed by the trade deadline. He had newly acquired closer Mark Melancon, starters Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore as well as position players Denard Span, Eduardo Núñez, Brandon Belt and even fan favorite Hunter Pence in his crosshairs.
He also, as fans do in down seasons, looked up the ones that got away. He deployed a particular kind of masochism in reading aloud the slash line of Adam Duvall, the Reds’ young, slugging left fielder who hit 33 home runs last season during his first full MLB campaign. This year, he’s got 16 thus far along with a robust 48 RBIs and .277 average. Duvall also plays left field and Giants faithful, when on the warpath, love to point out that they haven’t seen a formidable bat or left field glove in the lineup since no. 25’s hasty exit from the game in 2007.
In 2015, San Francisco dealt Duvall and pitcher Keury Mella to the Cincinnati in exchange for a two-month rental (much of it spent on the DL with a strained hamstring) of starter Mike Leake.
My buddy sighed, put his phone away, then scooted me out of the booth to get a vanilla cone because sadness can sometimes only be cured by softserve.
I get it, it sucks. When your team is bottoming out, it’s depressing. No shiplap, open concept or center island can save this Giants house in disarray.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to watch.
Atop the standings of the NL West are arguably the three best teams in today’s MLB, and maybe the best divisional power trio of the last decade—or longer. The Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks all have winning percentages above .600 and have been swapping first-place positions like seats at a cake walk since early April.
Such a top heavy single division is relatively unprecedented, or at least once-every-couple-decades rare. Since divisional play began in 1969, one league has had three .600 teams only three times (2002 AL, 1998 NL and 1977 AL). Right now the NL team closest to the trio in the Wild Card hunt is the reigning World Series champs Cubs. They are 8.5 games out.
…And the scary part is all three teams aren’t yet playing up to full potential.
Wednesday night, the Dodgers moved back into first with their 47th win over the Mets. Metropolitans fans who stayed up late to catch the West Coast nightcap would’ve seen some pretty signature Dodger baseball at Chavez Ravine. On-again Yasiel Puig hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning, then took more than a half-a-minute to round the bases. Later, the Cuban national had words with Mets first baseman Wilmer Flores and the Dodgers’ bullpen went into shut-down mode for a SoCal breezy 8-2 win.
As they close in on the 50-win mark, the Dodgers have won four-straight division titles and at least 91 games each of those seasons, but have yet to advance past the NLCS during that run. Thanks to a trio of surging hitters led by rookie surprise Cody Bellinger, second baseman/SS Chris Taylor and everyone’s favorite hot corner ginger Justin Turner, Los Doyers are the odds-on favorite to end up atop the best division in baseball yet again—and that’s without the services of Adrian Gonzalez (back problems).
Colorado’s offense is rocking steady with the All Star-worthy play of Charlie Blackmon and Mark Reynolds. Yet Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu are each coming off early season struggles at the plate and seem to be moving toward their 2016 numbers.
Arizona batsmen Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are central to the D-Backs early success especially with A.J. Pollock having missed nearly two months with a groin injury, but the rest of Arizona’s bats aren’t yet fully woke either. If and when they get some run production behind Zack Greinke (8-4, 3.14 ERA), Robbie Ray (2.87 ERA) and Zack Godley (2-1. 2.14), Arizona looks to move up from the 8th best offense in the game to the top three.
Rookie Rockies starters Antonio Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman and Kyle Freeland are taking their lumps here and there (Hoffman recently got smacked around by the D-backs) but hold fast to winning records and ERAs hovering between 3 and 4…no small feat at Coors Field. And that’s sans the services of ace Jon Gray (broken foot) and no. 2 guy Chad Bettis (testicular cancer) both are set to be back in the young guns’ rotation sometime around the break. Throw in 27-year-old veteran Tyler Chatwood and you suddenly have a rotation of a half dozen of the best (and youngest) in the game.
The Dodgers’ more seasoned starters are starting to show some consistency led, as ever, by the indomitable Clayton Kershaw who had some early long-ball surrendering (17 thus far this season) hiccups but seems to be getting in his groove at the right time. Kershaw’s efforts are buffeted by mostly blister-free Rich Hill (4-3 4.73) and steady performers Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda. Hyun-jin Ryu’s Thursday performance vs. the Mets (five hits, two runs in five innings) is the Dodgers’ biggest bit of bottom-of-the-rotation good news. If Ryu can shore up that fifth spot or, more likely, if LA chases down an inning-eater acquisition at the deadline, they may finally have the front line five to get them to Joe Buck territory in the fall.
All three NL West teams have a healthy number of interleague games left on their schedule and while the AL continues to dominate the NL overall in interleague play, the top three NL West have laid waste to foes who happen to employ the DL this season with a cumulative winning percentage at almost .700. The Dodgers, with 15 interleague games remaining, would seem to be the beneficiaries of second-half scheduling using out-of-league play to create separation within the division.
Giants fans should take note they have 14 more opportunities to catch the Dodgers, Rockies or Diamondbacks in action at AT&T this season. Rather than bemoaning their team’s current straits, they should find comfort in seeing what rebuilding efforts—using their own winning blueprint—can yield. It’s nice, after all, to watch young and exciting teams at the ballpark. And on the shores of China Basin especially, it’s not too difficult to squint and imagine what once was possible not so long ago and what could be again, someday.