Los Angeles Dodgers
After an unconventional start to the season that has seen the Dodgers play nearly twice as many games away from Chavez Ravine as they have in it, including traveling to another continent, Don Mattingly has to be happy with the 9-5 record his squad has compiled thus far.
The Dodgers aren't just overcoming a difficult travel schedule, however. They're also coping with the loss of ace Clayton Kershaw, with Zach Greinke picking up the slack to the tune of three wins in his first three starts. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren have also come up big, combining for four quality starts and four wins in seven appearances.
It also hasn't hurt that Adrian Gonzalez is hitting everything in sight out of the park and Juan Uribe is defying his abysmal .300 career OBP by hitting .379 in 58 at-bats this season. (Though he somehow has yet to draw a walk–when pitchers remember they can get Uribe out without throwing the ball in the strike zone, expect him to come back down to earth.)
As far as Kershaw's injury, the left-hander's timetable looks very promising. He threw 26 pitches in a bullpen session on Tuesday, going at nearly full speed from the stretch and the windup. There's not a whole lot of info about the situation, but Kershaw sounded relatively confident, via ESPN's Mark Saxon:
It feels like we're getting close, but I don't know for sure. We're trying to raise the ceiling a little bit every day.
The NL West is never a fun division to play in, but when Kershaw is healthy and throwing as he's capable, the word "despair" takes on a whole new meaning. If the Dodgers can maintain a spot at the top of the division without their ace, just imagine how good they can be with him. Scary thoughts indeed.
San Francisco Giants
We're not even 1/10 of the way through the season and it's already becoming apparent that the NL West will be a fun division to watch this season. The Giants and Dodgers are currently deadlocked atop the division after the former edged the latter in a 12-inning affair at AT&T Park on Tuesday night, giving San Francisco a 3-1 advantage in the season series. Remember, we're just getting started.
The Giants have yet to face Kershaw, but that doesn't mean we should overlook the team's unwarranted offensive explosion. Currently sitting seventh in the majors in runs scored, hot offensive starts by Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt and Madison Bumgarner (yes, MadBum) have created surprising offensive momentum for a team that was expected to struggle to score runs consistently.
Even in light of the hot start, however, the Giants have some legitimate concerns going forward. After Bumgarner and Tim Hudson, the rotation has some serious question marks. Can Tim Lincecum settle down now that he won't have to face Paul Goldschmidt until mid-June, or will he continue to struggle with his command? Will Ryan Vogelsong continue to pitch like he did in the early 2000s with the Pirates, or can he revert back to his 2011 and 2012 levels of dominance? That doesn't even address the issue of Matt Cain, the Giants' supposed ace who can't seem to consistently put up quality starts. The right-hander took a tough-luck loss on Saturday after pitching brilliantly over seven strong innings, though Giants fans will want to see more of the same before the verdict is out on Cain.
In short, it wasn't quite how they drew it up, but in a reversal of roles, the Giants offense has become their strong suit and the team has won nine of its first 14 games. Even so, it'll be up to the pitching to turn it around if this team wants to contend with the Dodgers and their $216 million payroll.
It's Troy Tulowitzki's world and we're living in it. When he's healthy, the best shortstop in baseball can do it all. He can field:
He can hit:
And he can field some more:
But even with his hot start, Tulo hasn't been the best player on his team this season.
Indeed, there are hot starts, and then there's what Charlie Blackmon is doing. An overlooked outfielder who figured to earn the majority of his plate appearances off the bench to begin the season, Blackmon has made a name for himself with 22 hits in his first 47 at-bats, solidifying his spot in the starting lineup for the time being.
Blackmon's hot start has helped propel the Rockies to a run total that ranks third in the majors this season, but that hasn't translated into wins. Colorado, sitting at 7-8 on the season, is putting up a very Rockies-esque season: first in the majors in batting average, 27th in ERA.
We've seen this pattern before–elite offense, abysmal pitching. But before you write the Rockies off, consider this: Even with a severely underperforming bullpen and pitching staff, Colorado is just one game below .500. It's fair to say that Jorge De La Rosa's 9.69 ERA has nowhere to go but down, and the same can be said for Matt Belisle, Chad Bettis and Wilton Lopez, who all have struggled out of the 'pen so far. As the Rockies have shown, sometimes a top offense can compensate for a lackluster pitching staff, and as Colorado's struggling pitchers return to normality, this could be a team to watch out for in the National League.
San Diego Padres
Just as the Rockies are doing what they usually do, the same came be said for the Padres. It's easy to get excited when examining the team's pretty-looking 3.02 ERA, which includes some Cy Young-caliber performances from Andrew Cashner.
But then there's the issue of the offense. Only the Royals have scored fewer runs than the Padres this season, with a .283 team OBP not exactly helping matters. This pretty much says it all:
Some pegged this Padres squad as a sleeper team before the season, a claim that certainly has some merit. But as long as Jedd Gyorko, the Padres' newly-designated $35 million infielder, continues to post a .512 OPS and Chase Headley continues to be even worse, this lineup isn't going anywhere. Will it be another season of wasted elite pitching, or can the Padres turn it around and make some noise in the division? We've seen nothing to prove that it won't be the former.
If the Rockies think their pitching is struggling, they needn't look far for consolation. One could throw out any number of adjectives to describe the DBacks' starting rotation this season: atrocious, putrid, dreadful, egregious...you name it!
Sample sizes are fun, aren't they? In case you were wondering, yes, Arizona is dead-last in the majors in ERA, at 6.14, which goes a long way toward explaining the team's 4-13 record. Incredibly, the Diamondbacks have received two quality starts in 17 games this season (yes, you read that correctly), a rate that obviously figures to improve. But just how much better can Arizona's rotation get? Cahill has already been demoted to the bullpen, and McCarthy could be next if he doesn't figure out what's wrong. It's hard to even figure out where to begin with Bronson Arroyo and his 9.95 ERA.
So, while the offense has been serviceable thanks to Paul Goldschmidt's ability to pick up right where he left off from last season and Mark Trumbo's six homers (albeit with a .197/.250/.493 slash line), the pitching will have to do a complete 180 if this team wants to even think about making a run this season.