.764 OPS (4th in the NL), 3.77 ERA (2nd in the NL)
The long-awaited breakout season of Andruw Jones (a baseball-best 27 homers) couldn't have come at a better time. He's also getting help from youngsters like Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson, while Marcus Giles (.304, .384 on-base) and Adam La Roche (.275, with 11 homers) have been steady. Shortstop Rafael Furcal -- when he gets on base -- has a league-leading 29 steals. Rookie Kyle Davies (4-3, 4.32 ERA) has been manna from baseball heaven. But the hero of the first half is All-Star, former closer and medical marvel John Smoltz (9-5 in 19 starts, with a 2.81 ERA in 131 1/3 innings pitched).
Experiments with veteran outfielders Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi failed. New closer Dan Kolb (three early blown saves, a 5.56 ERA) has bombed. Leadoff man Furcal struggled in the first two months of the season, and is just over a .300 on-base percentage. A foot injury to the team's best hitter, Chipper Jones, set the team back (he's been out since June 6). And the rotation was cut at the knees with injuries to John Thomson (finger), Mike Hampton (forearm) and Tim Hudson (a muscle in his side).
Hampton and Hudson will return soon, and Jones to follow shortly after. GM John Schuerholz has probably backed off his search for a corner outfielder, content to let the rookies go. Will that be enough? Well, they have won 13 straight divisional titles.
Grade: Exceptional effort under duress -- B+
.749 OPS (7th in the NL), 4.81 ERA (13th in the NL)
Six hitters have at least 10 homers apiece, making the D'backs third in the league in homers (with 102). Three pitchers (Brandon Webb, Brad Halsey and Javier Vazquez) have shown signs they can dominate. The team finally signed holdout draft pick Stephen Drew in June, just before the deadline.
Rarely do the pitchers actually dominate, which accounts for the team ERA. Free-agent signee Russ Ortiz (4-6, 5.88 ERA) pitched poorly, then went on the DL with sore ribs. Shawn Estes is there, too, with a stress fracture in his foot.
This team spent big in the offseason on acquisitions like Ortiz and Troy Glaus (19 homers), and all they can say is they're still on the deck of this Titanic called the NL West. Don't be surprised if the owners try to pull a big trade before July 31. One right move could go a long way in this division.
Grade: An iceberg around the corner? -- D
.772 OPS (2nd in the NL), 4.37 ERA (10th in the NL)
The NL MVP resides, at least for the time being, at first base in Chicago. Derrek Lee (.378, 27 homers, 72 RBIs) has carried the Cubs and has people thinking Triple Crown. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez (.298, 19, 57) has been quietly good as well, and outfielder Jeromy Burnitz has provided pop (14 homers, 48 RBIs). Shortstop Neifi Perez (Neifi Perez?) has filled in admirably. Starter Carlos Zambrano has been better than most realize (88 hits in 114 2/3 innings). He and old man Greg Maddux (8-6, 4.67 ERA) have been there while everyone else has stumbled. The Cubs have found a closer, it seems, in Ryan Dempster (13 saves in 13 chances). And Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are healthy -- for now.
Injuries to shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and pitchers Prior and Wood took the heart out of the team. Centerfielder Corey Patterson (.270 on-base) was so disappointing as a leadoff man the club sent him to the minors. Lee's shoulder is acting up. Still, the Cubs were hanging close until an eight-game swoon in early July took its toll. The sweep of the Marlins before the break helped, though.
The Cubs have a lot of games against Houston and St. Louis in the second half, and they've played both of them even. A little setup help in the bullpen would go a long way, and a good leadoff man in front of Lee and the bangers would certainly make a difference. If Prior and Wood are healthy -- and Lee, which is key -- that's one thing. If not, lights out.
Grade: Too hurt, too far to go -- C-
.779 OPS (1st in the NL), 5.60 ERA (16th in the NL)
With all this good, you wonder if anything is bad in Cincinnati. All-Star shortstop Felipe Lopez (.304, 14 homers) has been a find, Ken Griffey Jr. has been relatively healthy (and hit 17 homers), Sean Casey continues to swing well (.313), Adam Dunn continues to pound (23 homers, with 94 strikeouts) and Joe Randa had a nice half (.300, 12 homers, 45 RBIs).
Notice no mention of pitching or anything else? The Reds cut loose longtime closer Danny Graves, demoted outfielder Austin Kearns, fired manager Dave Miley, swiped a couple of clubhouse recliners and free-agent signee Eric Milton -- who was supposed to be the staff ace -- had an ERA near 7.00 and gave up 30 home runs. Thirty!
The rumblings in Cincinnati are the Reds are up for sale. FOR SALE: Oldest BB franchise, located in quiet Midwestern city. Great history. Cozy newish park with vw of river. Nice unis. A fixer-upper.
Grade: Should be condemned -- F
.748 OPS (8th in the NL), 5.41 ERA (15th in the NL)
Brian Fuentes (12 saves in 14 tries, and a .197 average against) is funky and effective. Young shortstop Clint Barmes showed us he could play (.329 in 54 games), as has rookie third baseman Garrett Atkins (.306) and rookie outfielder Brad Hawpe (.295). It's like a slumber party in Coors Field these days.
The problem is, with a young, wild and ineffective pitching staff, the Rockies' good hitters go to waste. Plus, there was that deer thing with Barmes (don't ask). And the one veteran everyone looks to, Todd Helton, is hitting nearly 50 points below his career average (he's at .288) and only has 10 homers.
Ride it out. The Rockies have committed to the young guys, which means centerfielder Preston Wilson is probably on his way out via a trade. The Rocks, if you can stomach it, are about to get younger.
Grade: Young team plays like it -- F
.750 OPS (6th in the NL), 3.93 ERA (6th in the NL)
The D-Train, rubbery lefty Dontrelle Willis (13-4, 2.39 ERA, five complete games), has lit up the franchise again. Willis and another young All-Star, Miguel Cabrera (.333, 17 homers, a .958 OPS), are the faces of this franchise. Free-agent signee Carlos Delgado has added the power (18 homers, 66 RBIs) the Marlins needed. And Luis Castillo (a .426 on-base percentage) has been his usual stellar self. Todd Jones took over a shaky closer position and has performed well (13 of 15 chances).
Injuries again have de-railed starter Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett (5-5, 3.33 ERA) is all over the place and all over the rumor wires and leadoff man Juan Pierre (.314 on-base) is starting to get untracked (.342, with a .405 on-base in July). Something also happened to third baseman Mike Lowell (.226). The Marlins were swept by the Cubs going into the break.
Expect the Marlins to do something to shake up this sputtering team. Burnett's becoming a free agent, so he could go. Lowell could be replaced. The Marlins have too much talent to do what they did in May and June (13-14 both months). They have to keep up with the Braves and hope the Nationals falter.
Grade: Should be much better -- C
.723 OPS (16th in the NL), 3.89 ERA (4th in the NL)
A second-half surge sent them into the playoffs last season. They are finally in position to do the same in '05. Saturday, they reached .500 for the first time since they were 8-8 on April 22. All-Star Morgan Ensberg (.290, 24 homers, an OPS near 1.000) has been a major factor, along with the return of Lance Berkman (.330, five homers, 27 RBIs in June and July) and the always-steady Craig Biggio (.288, 13 homers, a lot of plunks). But the pitching of the starters -- especially Roger Clemens (20 earned runs in 122 innings), Roy Oswalt (12-7, 2.45 ERA) and Andy Pettitte (a 3.09 ERA) -- and the bullpen backed by Brad Lidge (20 saves in 23 chances) has done most of the heavy lifting.
Longtime backbone Jeff Bagwell couldn't take the pain in his shoulder any longer, so he had what probably was season-ending shoulder surgery. That 15-30 record on May 28 is a big hole to climb out of. The trade rumors surrounding Clemens were a midseason hassle.
Does GM Tim Purpura want to mess with success by monkeying around at the trade deadline? Probably not. With that pitching, and with improved hitting, in that ballpark, the Astros will make a strong run in the second half, and maybe sneak into wild-card contention.
Grade: They've done it before -- C+
Los Angeles Dodgers(40-48)
.740 OPS (11th in the NL), 4.53 ERA (12th in the NL)
Jeff Kent has had a good first half with his new team (.304, 15 homers, 60 RBIs). He's one of four players (with J.D. Drew, Hee-Seop Choi and Milton Bradley) with at least 10 homers at the break. Antonio Perez (.319, .388 on-base percentage) could be a good fit at third.
If it weren't for bad luck, the Dodgers wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Or an arm. They've had enough bad breaks for the whole division. J.D. Drew is down with a broken wrist. Closer Eric Gagne (elbow) is out for the year. Bradley hasn't played since late May because of a bad finger. Third baseman Jose Valentin, who was to have replaced Adrian Beltre, blew out his knee in late April and won't be back. Shortstop Cesar Izturis has a balky hamstring. Lefty Odalis Perez has made 10 starts because of a sore shoulder. And those are just a few of the problems. Add to that the ineffectiveness of starter Scott Erickson and so-so years from Brad Penny, Jeff Weaver and Derek Lowe and this is what you get.
GM Paul DePodesta will pull off something. His reputation rides on it. It wouldn't hurt, though, for him to get a handle on that injury list first so he knows what he needs. A hint: Start with starters, find a big bat and go from there.