NL West Problem: Wide Open Out West

Ah, injuries.  The great equalizer.  We can painstakingly research players in the division, project regressions, predict breakouts and busts.  Even if you miraculously nail every one of those aspects, the end result in the standings may be completely incongruent to your oracular vision.  Injuries can happen to any player, at any time, and oftentimes have no warning signs.

Except for a few scattered predictions that the Dodgers would win the division this season, every prediction had the Rockies or Giants ending up on top in the NL West.  So far this season, both squads asserted themselves as a true contender, taking over a three game lead for several days.

Then the Rockies lost their most valuable pitcher on the season...for the season.  Two days later, the Giants lost their everyday catcher and cleanup hitter, potentially for the season.  Jorge de la Rosa and Buster Posey are not the most talented players for their individual teams, but they might be the most difficult to replace.  

How can Brian Sabean replace an every day catcher, let alone face of the offense and cleanup hitter?  He can't.  There is talk the Giants might make a run at Ivan Rodriguez, and while he might be better than Eli Whiteside, he's 39 and hitting just .205/.256/.342.  How can Dan O'Dowd replace a top of the rotation lefty with a mid-90's fastball and elite change-up?  He can't.  The Rockies promoted AA prospect Juan Nicasio, and while he might one day be a #2 pitcher, it is tough to know what to expect from him, even if he sticks more than one start.

NL West Standings

W L PCT GB STRK
San Francisco 27 22 .551 0 Lost 3
Arizona 26 24 .520 1.5 Won 3
Colorado 24 25 .489 3 Lost 3
Los Angeles 22 29 .431 6 Lost 1
San Diego 20 30 .400 7.5 Won 1

(updated 5.26.2011 at 9:48 PM MDT)

The end result is the top two teams in the division left reeling, while the two closest trailing teams are getting healthy.  The Diamondbacks have won 9 of 10 to take over second place.  The Dodgers have gotten shortstop Rafael Furcal back and will be getting third baseman Casey Blake back soon.

This division is wide, wide open.

 

Take the jump for news on all the teams.  

NL West Report

Arizona (26-24, 2nd, W2, 1.5 GB)

Last Week: 6-1. 3-0 vs. Twins. 3-1 @Rockies.

You Should Know:  Three teams in MLB have won 8 of their last 10, but the Diamondbacks are hotter than them all.  They have won 9 of 10 and 11 of 13.  

Divisional Change: Gained 2.5 games and moved into second place.  Arizona was 5.5 games back and in fourth place fourteen days ago.

This Week: 3 game road series @ Astros.  3 game home series vs. Marlins.  Game 1 of a four game home series vs. Nationals.

News:  The Diamondbacks surprised when they signed Russell Branyan.  Then they surprised by putting him on the MLB team and not starting him.   Now, they have released Branyan after quite the pedestrian start to the season.

Russell Branyan

#39 / Arizona Diamondbacks

6-4

230

Dec 19, 1975

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Russell Branyan 31 62 4 13 5 0 1 2 7 20 0 0 .210 .290 .339

After being DFA'd over a week ago, Armando Gallaraga cleared waivers and accepted a AAA assignment in Reno.  Despite that, the Diamondbacks are still seeking rotation depth to stash in AAA.

Arizona is expected to fill up on college pitching in with their 3rd and 7th overall picks in next month's draft.  That certainly puts Danny Hultzen in their crosshairs.

AZSnakepit manager Jim McLennan tried to describe the happiness Buster Posey's injury brought him.  That involved trying to parse the difference between celebrating the actual injury and celebrating the end result of the injury - that the only team ahead of them in the division just got weaker.  You can bet the article wasn't well received, even by Diamondbacks fans.

Transactions:  Activated IF Melvin Mora from the bereavement list and DFA'd Josh Wilson (5/23).  Called up RH Kam Mickolio from AAA Reno (5/24).  Josh Wilson claimed off waivers by the Brewers (5/25).  Recalled LH Zach Kroenke from AAA Reno (5/25).  

Injuries:  Placed RH Sam Demel on the 15-day DL with shoulder tendinitis (5/24).  Placed RH Juan Gutierrez on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation.  1B Juan Miranda is day-to-day with wrist soreness.  LHP Zach Duke made a rehab start Tuesday and could return to the rotation this weekend.

Arizona Diamondbacks Injuries

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Zach Duke hand 03/22/2011
Geoff Blum knee 03/22/2011
Juan Gutierrez shoulder 05/25/2011

Day to Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Juan Miranda other-excused 05/26/2011
Star-divide

Los Angeles (22-29, 4th, L1, 6.0 GB)

Last Week: 2-4. 1-2 @ White Sox.  1-2 @ Astros.

You Should Know:  The Rockies aren't the only team who seems to lose close games late.  Los Angeles lost two walkoff games in one series this week.

Divisional Change:  Lost one game in the division.

This Week:  3 game home series vs. Marlins.  3 game home series vs. Rockies.

News:   Bob Nightengale tweeted that making the May 30 payroll date (Monday) was never an issue, but having the funds to pay June 15's payroll will be.  Bill Shaikin, however, wrote that Frank McCourt still needs about $10million to make payroll.  Shaikin further points out that $6mil in deferred payments must be paid out to Manny Ramirez by the end of June, making the next payroll cycle an even larger hurdle.  What a mess.

Manny Ramirez

#24 / Los Angeles Dodgers

6-0

225

May 30, 1972

Tim Dierkes previewed Ned Colletti's contract decisions this offseason, and it isn't a rosier picture for Dodgers fans.  Eleven Dodgers will be free agents, not including three who might need to be replaced should their options be turned down, seven will be getting raises in arbitration.  Then recall that each contract signed last offseason got a rather large spike in the second year of the contract.  Yeah.

Matt Kemp hit his 100th career home run this week.  

Injuries have ravaged the Dodgers this season.  As Eric Stephen noted earlier in the week:  ""The Dodgers used at least 3 of their planned starting 4 infield for just 14 of (their first) 47 games this season."

The family of Bryan Stow has sued the Dodgers, but that lawsuit is "not a slam dunk."

Al Yellon figured out the solution to Frank McCourt.  You can read it at this link.  It's one of those trendy blogs all the kids read.

Just after Jorge de la Rosa was pronounced out for the season, the Dodgers called up Rubby de la Rosa, keeping the DLR equilibrium intact.  I hope I wasn't the only one who assumed Rubby (pronounced like the July birthstone) was a lefty.  For a scouting report on him, check out TrueBlueLA.

Transactions:  Called up Rubby de la Rosa from AA Chattanooga (5/24).  DFA'd RH Lance Cormier.  Signed RHP Ian Snell.

Injuries:   Activated SS Rafael Furcal from the disabled list (5/22).  Rod Barajas is day-to-day with a sore wrist; an MRI was negative.  3B Casey Blake started a rehab assignment and could return tomorrow.  RF Andre Ethier could return to the lineup tomorrow after missing most of last week with a back bruise.  Blake Hawksworth started a rehab assignment Tuesday.  Placed 2B Juan Uribe on the 15-day DL with a strained hip flexor.

Los Angeles Dodgers Injuries

Questionable

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Andre Ethier elbow 05/26/2011

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Casey Blake elbow 04/25/2011
Jonathan Broxton elbow 05/04/2011
Hong-Chih Kuo other-excused 05/10/2011
Blake Hawksworth groin 05/11/2011

Star-divide

San Diego (20-30, 5th, W1, 7.5 GB)

Last Week: 1-5.  0-3 vs. Mariners.  1-2 vs. Cardinals.

You Should Know:  

Divisional Change:  Lost two games in the division.

This Week: 3 game road series @ Nationals.  3 game road series @ Braves.  Game 1 of a four game home series vs. Astros.

News:   Aaron Harang is having a nice bounceback season for the Padres.  If you ask Padres beat reporter Corey Brock,  Harang's success is due to an uptick in velocity.  In 2009, his average fastball was 90.4mph.  In 2010, it was 90.5mph.  This season?  90.1mph.  Yeah, right.  Velocity.  My money is on Petco Park, where 25 of his 61.1 innings have come.

Aaron Harang

#41 / Pitcher / San Diego Padres

6-7

260

R

R

May 09, 1978

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2011 - Aaron Harang 5-2 10 10 0 0 0 0 61.1 64 29 27 7 18 43 3.96 1.34
The Padres are well on a track to be sellers at the All-Star Break, so Tim Dierkes broke down the potential pieces San Diego could offer.  Oh, and before I forget, I must provide you with that weekly link about Heath Bell potentially being traded.
San Diego is committed to building from within right now in spite of their surprising 2010 campaign.  As such, Jed Hoyer is in no hurry to promote first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is just toying with the Pacific Coast League.
After failing to sign their first round pick in 2010, the Padres have 6 of the first 58 picks in the upcoming amateur draft.

Transactions:   Optioned OF Will Venable to AAA Tucson and called up CF Blake Tekotte (5/23).  DFA'd RH Sam Deduno.  Acquired cash instead of a PTBNL to complete the Jason Bartlett trade.

Injuries: Orlando Hudson left Wednesday's game with a groin strain.  C Nick Hundley is working on strengthing his intercostal sandwich so he can return in early June.  LH Joe Thatcher will begin throwing in a couple weeks.

San Diego Padres Injuries

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Nick Hundley oblique 05/05/2011

60 Day DL / Out for the season

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Joe Thatcher shoulder 03/22/2011
Mike Baxter thumb 03/22/2011

Star-divide

San Francisco (27-22, 1st, L3)

Last Week: 3-3.  3-0 vs. Athletics.  0-3 vs. Marlins.

You Should Know:   

Divisional Change:  Gained one game lead in the division.

This Week:  3 game road series @ Brewers. 4 game road series @ Cardinals. 

News:  Forget the dual sweeps and first place standing.  Absolutely nothing happened with the Giants last week except for Buster Posey's gruesome injury.  At least, that's how it appears.  Posey will likely require surgery to repair torn ligaments and a broken leg.  If all goes perfectly, he might return in time for October.

Buster Posey

#28 / Catcher / San Francisco Giants

6-1

220

R

R

Mar 27, 1987

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Buster Posey 45 162 17 46 5 0 4 21 18 30 3 0 .284 .368 .389
While McCovey Chronicles' writer JT Jordan analyzed how losing Posey would affect the Giants (he presumes three wins lost), Grant Brisbee was angry and immediately called for a rule change, desiring measures to better protect catchers from being tackled at home plate.  As Jon Heyman writes, a rule change is quite unlikely, and the Giants must turn to replacing Buster Posey in the lineup.
Options that have surfaced thus far are trading for Ivan Rodriguez and coaxing Bengie Molina out of retirement.  Molina recently said he'd be open to returning to San Francisco.
In the meantime, Giants fans will get a wash of minor leaguers.  With Posey, Mike Fontenot and Darren Ford all going on the disabled list yesterday, Brian Sabean called up a slew of youth.  Brandon Belt (who has been burning through the PCL) was called up again.  He could play first base with Aubrey Huff sliding to third.  Or Belt could play corner outfield.  
29-year-old catcher Chris Stewart has been in AAA for six seasons after first reaching the level in 2004 with the White Sox.  The Giants are his fifth organization, and Stewart really is just a placeholder on the roster until something better comes along.  Essentially, he's their Paul Phillips.
The most aggressive move was with 24-year-old shortstop Brandon Crawford, who was the 12th (BPro) or 6th (BA) best prospect in the system prior to the season.  After returning from injury, he played just 14 games in High-A this season before getting the call.  He played 79 games in AA last season and sports a relatively uninspiring .270/.336/.412 career minor league line.  He's a very good defensive shortstop, but San Francisco shouldn't be expecting anything from his bat.  Questions surrounding his bat have been posed for his career, but this jump almost ensures some struggles.  
Very recently, Ken Rosenthal suggested the Giants would be patient with the struggling Miguel Tejada.  It is difficult to decipher their plans as of now, but one could see a Huff-Crawford-Sanchez-Belt infield with Tejada on the bench.  Bruce Bochy could formulate about 385 different defensive lineups with his roster, so whoever hits will likely play.

Transactions:   DFAed RHP Henry Sosa and IF Ryan Rohlinger (5/26).  Called up SS Brandon Crawford, C Chris Stewart and 1B/OF Brandon Belt (5/26).

Injuries:   Placed C Buster Posey on 15-day DL with a broken leg and torn ligaments (5/26).  Placed IF Mike Fontenot on the 15-day DL with a groin strain (5/26).    Placed OF Darren Ford on the 15-day DL with an ankle strain (5/25).  RH Santiago Casilla is now rehabbing in AAA Fresno.  3B Pablo Sandoval has gripped a bat and played catch.  Barry Zito threw a simulated game Tuesday, and Mark DeRosa will meet with a wrist specialistsoon.

San Francisco Giants Injuries

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Barry Zito foot 04/17/2011
Mike Fontenot groin 05/26/2011
Pablo Sandoval hand 04/30/2011
Darren Ford ankle 05/23/2011
Buster Posey ankle 05/26/2011

Day to Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Aaron Rowand back 05/26/2011
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