Last season, the San Diego Padres rode an exceptional bullpen, great baserunning and good enough offense/pitching to lead the NL West for most of the 2010 season. It took a ten game losing streak to miss the playoffs on the season's final day, missing out on the worst-to-first opportunity.
Holy saguaro, it is happening again. Not in San Diego, but in Arizona. The Diamondbacks finished with their second worst record ever last season, yet here they are, first in the National League West. Is this team for real?
They just might be. Unlike their 2007 division title, this team is actually outscoring its opponents, posting a run differential that is tops in the division and better than Cleveland and Milwaukee, both of whom are also division
leaders. How are they doing it?
The bullpen is a huge reason. After having by far the worst pen in MLB last season, Kevin Towers made it a priority to rebuild his relief corps. So far, it has worked like gangbusters, with this year's pen already worth 4.2 WAR more than last year's version.
The rotation has vastly improved as well, with Dan Hudson and Ian Kennedy on track to be worth 11-12 WAR combined. As Rockies pitchers' success goes, the Diamondbacks' hurlers are overlooked due to their home park. Justin Upton is having a very strong year. Miguel Montero figures to be an All-Star. Ryan Roberts has been incredible. Additionally, Fangraphs rates Arizona as the NL's top baserunning team. Baseball Prospectus has them fourth.
Arizona is not having a fluke season so far by any means. Some parts have come together better than expected, but their success so far appears sustainable, and in a very weak division, that could be enough to earn a playoff spot. That would certainly be a surprise. In March, I wrote this:
The only way the Rockies are close to them in the standings after May is a catastrophic season in Colorado.
I suppose May suffices. Colorado is still the most talented team, in my opinion, but that doesn't guarantee anything with the moderate lead Arizona has. They will be in it - the only question is where they'll end up.
NL West Report
Arizona (42-34, 1st, W3)
You Should Know: The Diamondbacks will throw a new wrinkle into the All-Star Game this year as hosts. There will be themed days surrounding the all star break, including Military Appreciation Day, Kids Day, etc.
Divisional Change: Moved into first place.
News: Josh Collmenter understands his doubters and their reasonable explanation that his success stems mostly from an unorthodox arm slot that would catch up to him. For that reason, Collmenter is eager to face opponents for a second time.
#55 / Pitcher / Arizona Diamondbacks
Feb 07, 1986
|2011 - Josh Collmenter||4-3||15||8||0||0||0||0||60.1||41||17||14||6||11||39||2.09||.86|
Wily Mo Pena had not played a major league game since 2008 with the Washington Nationals. After hitting 21 HR in 63 games for AAA Reno, the Diamondbacks decided to see what Wily Mo Pena could offer. I have always had hopes for Wily Mo specifically, as I witnessed him have a 3 HR game in person in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 2001 when I was 14.
Jon Heyman hears that 7th overall pick Archie Bradley will sign for $6-7million.
The Diamondbacks are one of five teams (three in the division) rumored to be interested in Scott Kazmir.
Transactions: Outrighted IF Sean Burroughs to AAA Reno (6/20). Called up OF Wily Mo Pena (6/21).
Injuries: RHP Sam Demel had a rehab appearance last night and is scheduled for another tomorrow. RHP Juan Gutierrez threw a simulated game yesterday and is scheduled for another Sunday.
Arizona Diamondbacks Injuries
Los Angeles (34-42, 4th, L1, 8.0 GB)
Last Week: 2-4. 1-2 vs. Astros. 1-2 vs. Tigers.
You Should Know: Clayton Kershaw became the first Dodger to strike out the side in the ninth inning of a complete game shutout since Sandy Koufax on September 9, 1965.
Divisional Change: Gained one half game in the division.
News: The Frank McCourt drama continues. Bud Selig predictably rejected the Fox deal for the Dodgers, nullifying the divorce agreement between Frank and Jamie McCourt. A go-to writer outside of California for these procedings is HardballTalk's Craig Calcaterra, former lawyer. Calcaterra ripped McCourt this week, calling the Dodgers' owner "shameless."
Everyone's favorite suggestion for a replacement owner is Mark Cuban. The owner of the recently crowned Dallas Mavericks is interest in the Dodgers, but Cuban thinks the storied franchise might be too much of a mess for him:
"It's just such a mess, right? I can't imagine that it's not going to be such a mess that it's [not] going to make it hard to turn around...You want to buy cheap and turn it into something that's worth a whole lot more. I get that, right? But if it's just so screwed up, that the pieces are so messed up, that it takes 20 years to fix..." - Mark Cuban on owning the Dodgers
Meanwhile, attendance at Dodgers Stadium is falling by the wayside.
MLBTR's Tim Dierkes did a Q&A with Jamey Carroll, who is quietly having a strong season.
#14 / Second Base / Los Angeles Dodgers
Feb 18, 1974
|2011 - Jamey Carroll||71||247||34||74||10||3||0||8||26||32||5||0||.300||.369||.364|
If his season continues, Carroll might actually earn Type B free agent status, making him all the more attractive as a trade deadline acquisition.
Transactions: Recalled C AJ Ellis and optioned RHP Ramon Troncoso (6/19).
Injuries: Activated RHP Kenley Jansen from the 15-day DL (6/18). Placed C Rod Barajas on a 15-day DL with a sprained ankle and activated LHP Hong Chih Kuo from the 15-day DL (6/19). SS Rafael Furcal took ground balls June 20. Vicente Padilla underwent surgery on his neck 6/16 and is likely out for the year Jonathan Broxton has rediscovered his mid-90's fastball in rehab assignment.
Los Angeles Dodgers Injuries
San Diego (32-44, 5th, W2, 10.0 GB)
Last Week: 2-4. 0-3 @ Twins. 2-1 @ Red Sox.
You Should Know:
Divisional Change: Lost one half game in the division.
This Week: 3 game home series vs. Braves. 3 game home series vs. Royals.
News: After having success in the bullpen, the Padres have moved Cory Luebke to the rotation.
The Padres were one of five teams known to be interested in Scott Kazmir.
Bill Center predicts that Ryan Ludwick, Heath Bell and Chad Qualls will all be traded by the trade deadline. The Phillies, Mariners and Reds have all inquired on Ludwick already.
Transactions: Optioned 2B Logan Forsythe to AAA Tucson (6/19). Recalled C Kyle Phillips from AAA Tucson, optioned LHP Wade LeBlanc to AAA Tucson, called up LHP Joshua Spence from AA San Antonio, designated OF Luis Durango for assignment and released 1B Jorge Cantu (6/21).
San Francisco (41-34, 2nd, W2, 0.5 GB)
You Should Know: Tim Lincecum had allowed 18 runs and 12 walks in his first four starts in June. He effectively shook off his struggles yesterday, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out 12 Twins. He had a similar five start struggle in 2010 and rebounded to help lead San Francisco to a title.
Divisional Change: Fell into second place, a half game behind Arizona.
This Week: 3 game home series vs. Indians. 4 game road series @ Cubs.
News: Grant decided to write The Most Inevitable Post of All-Time this week, one in which Aaron Rowand is not actually a good offensive player despite his strong start in 2011.
#33 / Center Field / San Francisco Giants
Aug 29, 1977
|2011 - Aaron Rowand||60||196||22||48||14||1||2||12||8||50||2||3||.245||.297||.357|
Transactions: Activated OF Darren Ford from the 15-day DL and optioned him to AAA Fresno (6/20). Signed C Max Ramirez (6/20).
Injuries: IF Mike Fontenot may begin a rehab assignment as early as Sunday. LHP Barry Zito is due to return Tuesday. UT Mark DeRosa has progressed to hitting off a tee (6/19). 1B Brandon Belt has had his cast removed (6/17).