Since the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the complexion of the National League West has changed. The Los Angeles Dodgers' offense has become more dynamic and more productive. Although the San Francisco Giants obtained Hunter Pence from the Philadelphia Phillies to aid their offense, the suspension of Melky Cabrera has weakened the Giants' offense.
Although the NL West has five teams, only the Dodgers and the Giants will compete for the division title. As of Tuesday morning, the Arizona Diamondbacks were only six games out of first place, but the Diamondbacks haven't played consistently this season. Although they might be able to climb back into the race, it doesn't appear to be the D-backs' year to go to the playoffs.
When many Dodgers fans heard about the suspension of Cabrera, the Giants' best hitter, they celebrated, because they think the Dodgers will be guaranteed the division title. That's foolhardy. We won't know who wins the NL West until late September.
When I heard about the suspension, my first thought was for the Giants organization. The organization shouldn't be forced to play without Cabrera. Using an illegal substance shows nothing more than selfishness by Cabrera.
If the Giants can win the division, everyone should admire the team that could overcome adversity. No one should applaud a Major Leaguer for being suspended for an illegal substance abuse. Even if the Dodgers win the West, I will wonder if they could have accomplished the feat with Cabrera playing every day.
Before Cabrera was suspended, the Giants appeared to have a competitive offense for the first time in several years. The triumphant return of Buster Posey from a possible career-altering injury has made the Giants' offense more potent. His high batting average and 19 home runs have given the Giants something that they have lacked since Barry Bonds retired. Bruce Bochy, a former catcher, has figured out how to rest Posey enough to keep him fresh and productive.
The emergence of Angel Pagan has given the Giants a quality leadoff hitter. Pagan's incredible speed has enabled the Giants to decrease their reliance on the home run. Although he has only 19 stolen bases, he can score a run from first on a double. AT&T Park isn't friendly to home runs, so having a fast player to help the Giants score without home runs is crucial.
The Giants have scored the ninth-most runs in the National League. They have the worst offense at home, but they have the best in the league on the road.
At the Trade Deadline, the Giants acquired Marco Scutaro from the Colorado Rockies and Pence from the Philadelphia Phillies. Scutaro stabilized second base for the Giants. After Freddy Sanchez couldn't play with various injuries, the Giants needed a second baseman with some offensive skill. Scutaro has hit .318 since joining the Giants.
Although obtaining Pence caught more headlines than acquiring Scutaro, Pence hasn't performed well offensively. Pence has the skills to make him a great all-around player. While in San Francisco, Pence has hit .222 and only one home run. However, his defense hasn't suffered. His speed adds another dimension to the Giants' lineup.
Although the Giants must overcome adversity to win the West, no one should count them out.
The Dodgers have performed better than many baseball people expected at the beginning of the season. Even though they played about 50 games without Matt Kemp, their best player, they hung near first place for the season. Now, after general manager Ned Colletti strengthened the offense at the Trade Deadline, the improvements don't guarantee a playoff berth.
At the beginning of the season, the Dodgers played remarkably well at Dodger Stadium. Nowadays they struggle at home while playing better on the road.
In spite of having the toughest schedule in the National League since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have played well. At times the Dodgers have frustrated everyone with their inconsistency. One week they look like they will be World Series champions, but the next they look like they belong in last place in the division. Unless the Dodgers get more consistent, they shouldn't win their division.
Before Spring Training started, the Dodgers had concerns about their offensive production. If Andre Ethier and Kemp didn't hit and drive in runs, the Dodgers wouldn't score and win much. When both were on the disabled list, the Dodgers' offense was impotent. Clearly, the Dodgers needed a more diverse offensive attack.
Colletti obtained Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins about a week before the Trade Deadline. At the time, people didn't think Ramirez would do much for the Dodgers, since his performance had declined over the last few years. Nevertheless, obtaining Ramirez gave the Dodgers and their fans hope, since the new ownership would take on salary to improve the team. Being united with Dodgers coach Manny Mota, who has known Ramirez since he was a youngster in the Dominican Republic, has helped Ramirez regain his batting championship stroke.
Ramirez has prevented the opposing hurlers from pitching around Kemp and Ethier. His five-tool skills have added excitement and made the Dodgers harder to beat.
Obtaining Shane Victorino has given the Dodgers a proven leadoff hitter, something that they have lacked for the entire season. Allowing Luis Cruz, a career Minor Leaguer, to play third base or shortstop almost every day has helped the Dodgers' offense. Now the Dodgers have a more complete lineup, preventing pitchers from walking their toughest hitters to face players who seldom get a hit.
The NL West race is the closest in baseball. Almost every day either the Giants or the Dodgers take the division lead. Many people think this race will be decided during the last weekend of the regular season, when they play a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.
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.