Alex Ferguson looks at the National League’s first half of the season….A
Millwaukee Brewers (as of last Tuesday 48-35)
Led by Prince Fielder and Bill Hall, the Milwaukee Brewers have been on fire for most of the first half of the season, taking a 5-1/2 game lead over their rivals in the National League Central. For a side which has spent the last decade or so in the MLB mire, this is one of the great revivals in recent baseball history.
San Diego Padres (47-35)
Helped by a resurgent pitching staff including Chris Young and closer Trevor Hoffman, the Padres currently own top spot in a wide-open National League West division. They’ve proven their mettle in scoring victories against some of the American League’s best teams, and they are tough to beat on the road. If they make the playoffs, this is definitely a team to avoid.
Arizona Diamondbacks (47-38)
Another team battling for supremacy in the National League West, the D-Backs are above .500 in wins, led by the hitting exploits of Eric Byrnes, who leads the team in all categories. Brandon Webb has proved that last year was no fluke with eight wins, and if Randy Johnson gets through the rest of this season without another stint on the disabled list, then the Diamondbacks have a killer 1-2 punch. Closer Jose Valverde (26 saves) has also been exceptional.
New York Mets (46-36)
Suddenly, all that money that General Manager Omar Minaya has spent on Mets is coming good. Jose Reyes is one of the most exciting players in baseball, combining great hitting with wonderful speed. We like what David Wright does everyday at third base, and although Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado have underperformed this year, their pitching – which is in the top two in ERA and batting average against – has been sensational. And Pedro Martinez is yet to come back. Look out.
LA Dodgers (48-36)
The LA Dodgers are playing like the World Series contender people thought they were at the start of the year. The starting pitching – led by Brad Penny is strong, and their bullpen, helmed by young star Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito is pretty wonderful. Hitting wise, they might not be wonderful (10th in the NL in runs), but they are good enough. Watch out for this lot come playoff time.
Atlanta Braves (43-41)
It’s funny, because on paper the Braves haven’t been anything special. Sure, John Smoltz has been wonderful on the mound (9-4, 2.98 ERA), but Tim Hudson hasn’t. Chipper Jones has led the way in terms of batting average, and Jeff Franceour’s hit over 53 RBIs, but the performance of perennial hitting star Andruw Jones (.201) underpins that there is much work to do. Still, they are only four games behind the New York Mets – with many, many games to play.
Philadelphia Phillies (42-42)
With Ryan Howard on the team, everyone was going to pay attention to the Phillies this year. After a slow start, Howard’s lived up to the hype, clubbing 19 home runs. Chase Utley’s leading the hitters with a .319 batting average, but unfortunately for the Phils, their pitching’s been horrible. It doesn’t help when you have a park that’s a launching pad for the long ball, though.
Colorado Rockies (41-43)
The record’s not bad, and nor are the Rockies, if we’re honest. They’ve taken five out of six from the Yankees and Red Sox. If they hadn’t lost nine out their last ten games, then they’d be right there challenging for supremacy in the AL West. But if top firstbaseman Todd Helton goes, all this might change.
Florida Marlins (39-45)
With most of the young talent having flown the nest, the Marlins are going backwards – seemingly intentionally. Dontrelle Willis (7-7, 4.65 ERA) hasn’t been wonderful on the mound – even if Miguel Cabrera (.329, 17 HR, 58 RBI) and Josh Willingham (.272, 10 HR, 51 RBI) have been. Expect both to fly the nest after the All-Star break.
Houston Astros (37-47)
Well, they are missing Roger Clemens now, aren’t they? Even with life after Roger, Houston still has enough players (Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio, Carlos Lee, Roy Oswalt) to make a run for the title. But with the ‘Stros 11½ games out of the first place at the moment, that seems unlikely.
Washington Nationals (33-50)
So, the Nationals are once again at the bottom of the NL West. Is anyone surprised? Apart from Dmitri Young, who is hitting the skin off the ball at the moment, the rest of the team – on both sides of the ball – has been pretty ordinary. When will the ownership put money into this once proud franchise?
Pittsburgh Pirates (36-47)
A nondescript team doing nondescript things. Jason Bay and Chris Duffy give us some reason to be excited, but the rest of the team really doesn’t. Sorry.
Chicago Cubs (42-40)
This might be a little harsh for an about-even team just a few games off the pace in the run-in for the AL Central, but when you’ve spent $200 million on constructing a team that simply hasn’t performed, why not give it a below-par grade? More embarrassingly, this ’07 team – even if it makes the playoffs – will be more remembered for fighting with themselves (Catcher Michael Barrett vs Pitcher Carlos Zambrano) than for their team. Urghh.
St Louis Cardinals (37-43)
Oh, how the mighty fall, eh? The World Series champs had one of the worst starts in baseball during the April months and haven’t been a lot better. While Albert Pujols is just beginning to warm up after a cold start to the year, the rest of the Cards’ hitting is still in Spring Training mode. The pitching’s not much better. It’ll be a miracle if they make it to the postseason this year.
Cincinnati Reds (32-51)
The saving grace for this team is that Ken Griffey Jr’s having fun hitting home runs again. In fact Junior’s swing is about the only graceful thing about these Reds, who are on course to lose 100 this year.
San Francisco Giants (35-46)
Yeah, we know. Barry Bonds is only a few home runs away from Hank Aaron’s home run record. But unless he, free agent star Barry Zito and the rest of his teammates can produce day in, day out, this will be a terrible year for Giants Nation.