Entering the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the San Francisco Giants by a half game and the Arizona Diamondbacks by four games. Since the middle of June, the Dodgers have been floundering, yet they stayed atop the National League West. However, the competition within the division will be tougher in the second half.
Entering the weekend series with D-backs, the Dodgers should have been able to bury them. They lost three out of four games with their best starters pitching. Now the Arizona has a real chance to win the division after an abysmal beginning to the season.
The D-backs don't have the same caliber pitching staff as the Dodgers or Giants, yet they can score runs and have an intensity that the other teams don't have. Although pitching is crucial, a team cannot win unless it can outscore its opponent. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles have difficulty doing this on a consistent basis.
All three teams which will vie for the NL West title have experienced injuries to significant players. These injuries have affected the race, but these teams have gotten or will get most of these important players back. Getting them on the field will make the competition for the division tougher and more exciting for the fans.
At the end of April, the D-backs didn't seem to have a good team. Their pitching staff wasn't performing the way it did last year when Arizona won the division. After a torrid beginning to the season, Chris Young injured his shoulder and missed a month. Upon his return, he needed time to regain his offensive production. Justin Upton has battled a horrendous slump throughout the season. Shortstop Stephen Drew couldn't return from a devastating ankle injury until a couple of weeks ago.
Now the Diamondbacks have received better pitching, keeping them in many games and allowing the offense to score enough to win. After a rough April, Paul Goldschmidt, a rookie first baseman, has become an excellent offensive producer. Young has found himself. Upton still struggles offensively, yet on Sunday he had three hits against one of the best pitching staffs in the league. Drew has helped stabilize the infield defense while providing another dimension to the lineup. During the series with the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks capitalized on most of their scoring opportunities.
The Giants have suffered many injuries to players who figured to be vital to their effort, but Bruce Bochy has found players elsewhere who can fill in for them. After Pablo Sandoval returned from a broken bone in his left hand, the Giants' offense began to click. Losing Freddy Sanchez for the entire season to back surgery hurt, but Ryan Theriot has played well at second base. Losing their closer, Brian Wilson, to Tommy John surgery was a blow that most teams couldn't recover from, but the Giants found an effective reliever to close victories. If the Giants can keep Matt Cain pitching the way he has so far this year and get Tim Lincecum back on track, they will be the team to beat in the West. Watch for San Francisco to be active at the Trade Deadline, looking for ways to improve their offense.
When the season began, almost no one thought the Dodgers would challenge for the division title. After all, the team had been sold recently and emerged from bankruptcy in April. Although on paper, the Dodgers looked like a mediocre team, they had the best record in the Major Leagues until the middle of June.
Every player in the Opening Day lineup, except A.J. Ellis and Clayton Kershaw, has been on the disabled list. Matt Kemp has missed more time than he has played. Now Andre Ethier is on the disabled list. Without Kemp and Ethier, the Dodgers have little power.
Their pitching has kept the team in the race. Although Kershaw has not been as good as he was last year, he has pitched well enough to be an All-Star. Despite having a miserable start on Sunday, Chris Capuano has the most wins for the Dodgers. Chad Billingsley continues to be inconsistent, frustrating Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. Ted Lilly went on the disabled list with a shoulder problem in early May, but Nate Eovaldi has performed well in Lilly's absence even though he hasn't won a game. Aaron Harang has given the Dodgers innings. Although general manager Ned Colletti wants to obtain another starter by the Trade Deadline, the Dodger starting rotation is not the problem.
Los Angeles' bullpen has been in flux but excellent. The return of Ronald Belisario and the emergence of Kenly Jansen at closer have helped the bullpen deal with injuries. This week Javy Guerra returned from a knee injury. Even though Colletti wants to acquire another reliever, the Dodgers should be fine with their bullpen.
The return of Mark Ellis from a serious leg injury will help the Los Angeles offense. His unselfish play helps his team create scoring opportunities. Without a bona fide leadoff hitter since Dee Gordon dislocated his thumb, the Dodgers will still have difficulty scoring. Getting Kemp and Ethier back will help but won't solve the problems. The Dodgers need a third baseman and left fielder who can hit. If they don't get them, they probably will sit at home in October watching the playoffs.
The NL West will provide an exciting divisional race.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.