Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Weisman's NL West Midseason Reports: Dodgers Earn a B Grade

Jon Weisman posted his NL West midseason report to, and says the Dodgers have an equal chance of excelling and imploding:

An afterthought for years running when it comes to postseason baseball, the NL West has pulled closer to its league rivals, if not ahead of them. Four of the five teams in the division are at .500 or better, and collectively the NL West is 105-81 against the NL Central and NL East.

San Diego quietly established itself as the best team in the NL in the first half of the 2007 season, leading the league in winning percentage and run differential. At the same time, the Padres are 15-15 over their past 30 games, so they aren't exactly running away with anything.

Los Angeles seems to have the greatest wherewithal to overtake the Padres, but the Dodgers' potpourri of strengths and weaknesses makes a post-All Star Break slump as likely as a surge. Arizona remains a contender, and Colorado -- yes, Colorado -- is only 5 1/2 games off the Padres' league-leading pace....

Los Angeles Dodgers (Record: 49-40, 2nd place)
Runs Scored: 400 (8th in NL); Runs Allowed: 366 (3rd in NL)

What went wrong: Three hefty contracts handed out over the offseason were busts: Jason Schmidt was lost for the season after throwing 25 2/3 innings, Juan Pierre has a .311 on-base percentage in center field and Nomar Garciaparra, a returning free agent, is a corner infielder with a 72 OPS+.

What went right: The team trails only the Padres in fewest runs allowed per game, thanks in large part to Brad Penny (183 ERA+). Russell Martin (125 OPS+) turned the sophomore jinx on its ear, becoming an All-Star catcher at 24. Luis Gonzalez (123 OPS+) showed that the offseason wasn't a total bust. And just when they needed them to, minor league callups James Loney and Matt Kemp (each with on-base percentages over .400 and slugging percentages over .500) had massive Junes.

What's next: The Dodgers return to action with three-fifths of the starting rotation (Schmidt, Randy Wolf and Hong-Chih Kuo) on the disabled list, as well as lingering offensive questions. The urge to make a trade will be fierce, though whether there is anyone worthwhile out there who can be acquired at a reasonable price is dubious. The Dodgers currently hold wild card position in the NL, but with their payroll and farm system, Los Angeles has to be disappointed not to be in first place (no disrespect to the Padres).

Grade: B