by Christian S. Kohl
The race for the title in the NL West is currently dominated by all things California—except San Diego. The Dodgers and Giants are locked in a furious battle for league supremacy, while Arizona and Colorado sit nine games back, and the struggling Padres sit at a league worst .327 winning percentage. They have won just 18 games so far, and given their current rate, it seems more than fair to count them out of any real playoff contention this year.
The Dodgers, however, sport the best record in baseball at 34-21 and also the best percentage at .618. While they sit just a game above .500 on the road, it’s their home record that turns heads: Los Angeles is 21-9 at home. Just to offer some perspective on those numbers, Los Angeles has won more games at home than the Padres or Cubs have all season long. They have managed this due in large part to the strong performances of starters Chris Capuano and Ted Lily. With 12 combined wins and ERA’s of 2.50 and 3.14, respectively, these two offer all kinds of rotation stability for a team which in no way struggles to score runs. Los Angeles ranks second in the National League in batting average at .269, and first in the league with a .342 team OBP.
Los Angeles is definitely not hurt by the fact that eight of their players register averages of above .300. While Matt Kemp continues to dominate, the depth of the lineup is really the telling factor with this club. Kemp’s .355 average is mitigated to a degree by 28 RBI, for example, though Ethier is more than up to the task of driving in runs, already with 46. Hairston leads all their hitters with a .360 average, while Ellis and Gordon each, along with Ethier, have more hits on the season than the fearsome Kemp. This lineup features threats nearly from top to bottom, and with no place for opposing pitchers to hide, it’s no wonder this team has gotten off to such a remarkably fast start.
Nipping at their heels just 3 games behind are the equally talented San Francisco Giants. They have won seven of their last ten, although will need more than that to match the Dodgers; in the early going, however, they have given no indication they’re going anywhere in this divisional race. Their pitching staff is third best in the league with a 3.25 ERA, and is also third best limiting opposing hitters to a measly .238 average. This rotation also features balance and multiple solid contributors in Cain, Zito, and Bumgarner. Meanwhile, Cabrera, Sandoval and Pagan all own batting averages well above .300, with Buster Posey right there as well and leading the team with 6 home runs. This offense and defense also sports a wide variety of depth and options, giving opposing teams more than they can handle day in and day out.
The X-factor here for the Giants is Lincecum. He has lost his last four decisions, and his ERA has ballooned to a hefty 5.82. San Francisco has managed to get the job done without his dominant presence so far, but in order to handle the red-hot Dodgers he’s going to need to turn it on come summertime. Down the stretch, teams need that dominant, lockdown presence he has proven himself capable of being, and that’s precisely what the Giants will need from him to overtake Los Angeles. With all teams in the NL East sitting .500 or better, there’s no guarantee of a wildcard emerging from the West. The battle for the title in this division appears to already be a 2 team race between LA and San Fran. Balance and depth has kept the Giants close, but without a resurgence from Lincecum, the Dodgers flat out win too many ballgames for San Francisco to hang with them. Stay tuned to see if “The Freak” can return to his overpowering form.
Christian S. Kohl is a writer and filmmaker based in New York City. Find out more about him at DailySpew.com.