This is the second of three parts grading each National League team on their first half performance.
Florida Marlins – The Marlins have passed the Washington Nationals for futility in the National League East. They are mired in last place, five games under .500 and 14 games out of first. And that was after they had won seven of their last ten games. Florida is the third worst in the league in run differential with a -44. Their team batting average of .245 puts them in the bottom third in the NL and The Fish are below league average in OPS, SLG, OBP, HR, Hits, and K's. The obvious culprit has been Hanley Ramirez, whose line of .242/37/8/46/15 is well below what his draft price expected. Things were much worse at the beginning of July as Hanley was languishing with a .222 BA. The third base troika of Emilio Bonifacio, Greg Dobbs, and Wes Helms hasn’t provided much except some batting average boost and 16 stolen bases from Bonifacio. The youngsters Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison, and Mike Stanton have played well and have 43 homers between them but they can’t be expected to carry the whole load by themselves. They should provide the Marlins with a solid core for years to come. John Buck provides some pop behind the plate with ten home runs but is a batting average drain.
Marlins pitchers were led by Josh Johnson, who was outstanding up until he was sidelined with a shoulder injury and Florida is hoping he can get back sometime after the break. Ricky Nolasco is having what is easily his best year since 2008 and is tied for the team lead in victories among starting pitchers with six. Anibal Sanchez – also with six wins to his credit – has increased his strikeout rate by better than two per nine innings and is fanning better than a batter per inning. Both have performed well over the first half. At the other end of the spectrum are Javier Vazquez and Chris Volstad – both of whom have five wins versus eight losses and don’t get many strikeouts, hovering near the 6.00 K/9 mark. Vazquez has not had a resurgence back in the NL as many expected he would and is languishing with a 1.51 WHIP and 5.23 ERA. Leo Nunez is having another very good year finishing off games, converting 25 of 28 save chances, and stands to shatter his season record 30 saves from 2010. Edward Mujica and Mike Dunn are both having good years vulturing six and five wins respectively.
GRADES: Pitching – (B-); Hitting – (C+)
Houston Astros – Meet the new doormats of the National League. The Astros are a very bad team and it’s reflected in their pitiful 32 games below .500 record at the midway point. Houston has the fewest home victories by a good margin compared to any other team in the league and their run differential of -106 is the worst in baseball. The Astros have one of the better team batting averages in the NL but are below league average in runs scored. Although they play in a good hitter's park, Houston doesn’t have many home run hitters and have only managed 50 on the year – second from the bottom in the NL. Second from the bottom is also their position in drawing bases on balls. When they are on base, Astros baserunners steal a good number and are second in the league in stolen base percentage – they just have to figure out how to get across home plate. Hunter Pence is their undisputed offensive leader with a team best in BA, HR, RBI, OPS, and OBP among those with a qualifying number of at-bats. Pence, with 11 homers, is the only player on the team with double-digit long balls. Carlos Lee has pitched in seven while Chris Johnson has six. Pence is hitting a torrid .323 and Brett Wallace and Michael Bourn are each batting at least .285. No other regular is hitting above .268. Bourn leads the team with 35 steals in 39 attempts – a 90% success rate.
On the mound Wandy Rodriguez leads the team with six wins but the best starting pitcher has been Bud Norris with a 1.25 WHIP, 3.46 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 112 innings. But Rodriguez and Norris are both on their way to career highs in home runs allowed, having given up 13 and 11 respectively. Both, however, pale in comparison to the 23 Brett Myers has surrendered which accounts for much of his 4.88 ERA. J.A. Happ has started 18 games but hasn’t had much success either with a 1.57 WHIP and 5.76 ERA to go along with 13 home runs allowed. In eight starts, prospect Jordan Lyles has shown flashes of what he can do but has a long way to go. Mark Melancon has taken over the closer duties from the injured Brandon Lyon but there just aren’t many save chances on a team as bad as the Astros and he has only converted six of nine – not a good percentage.
GRADES: Pitching – (F); Hitting – (F)
Los Angeles Dodgers – There is a lot of turmoil surrounding the Dodgers with the McCourt divorce, et al and it is showing in the standings with Los Angeles mired in fourth place, ten games under .500 and 11 games out of first. The Dodgers are one of a handful of teams with losing records both on their home field and on the road. They do an average job of getting on base but are near the bottom of the league in scoring runs and driving runners in. Dodger hitters also have a good eye at the plate, striking out one of the fewest times in the NL. When they get on base, they are apt to try to steal an additional base, with the fourth highest total in steals, and are very successful – 81% of the time. However, power is not a big part of their game with only 63 homers on the year. Matt Kemp is the biggest offensive threat and is having an outstanding bounce-back campaign with 22 homers and 27 steals in 30 attempts to go along with a .313 BA and team high 67 RBIs. In fact, Kemp is the only Dodger with double-digit homers. Andre Ethier is hitting for average but is light on power with only nine home runs to this point. James Loney has been and still is a well below average offensive first baseman with only four dingers on the year with a .268 BA. Tony Gwynn Jr. has the second highest total stolen bases on the team but will stand to lose playing time to the recently acquired Juan Rivera. Juan Uribe has been a major disappointment with only four homers and a .207 BA after hitting 24 homers and batting .248 for the San Francisco Giants in 2010.
Dodger pitching has been middle of the pack for the NL – they are not really good or really bad at most any statistical category. Except, that is, for save opportunities where they have the fewest in the league and second fewest number of saves. Jonathan Broxton leads the team with seven but is on the DL. He hasn’t pitched since May 3 and is questionable for the rest of the year, leaving the back end of the bullpen in a state of flux. In the starting rotation, Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda have been very effective, with the lack of a reliable offense betraying them on occasion. Chad Billingsley has given up more line drives than usual and, as a result, his hits allowed is up as is his bases on balls, resulting in a 1.40 WHIP. Ted Lilly has regressed some, allowing better than a hit per inning while striking out 2.5 fewer hitters per nine. Rubby De La Rosa has pitched nicely filling in for Jon Garland, who is done for the season.
GRADE: Pitching – (C-); Hitting – (D)
Milwaukee Brewers – Milwaukee finds themselves tied for first place in the Central Division on the strength of being 19 games over .500 at home – quite the opposite of their road record of 13 games under. The 405 runs the Brew Crew have scored are the fourth highest in the league but they have given up 406 to their opponents. They hit for a pretty good average and have the most home runs in the NL. Ryan Braun has been a five-category stud, hitting .320 with 16 homers and 19 steals while Prince Fielder leads the team with 22 homers and 72 RBIs. Rickie Weeks is on pace for 30-plus homers; however, his seasons of 20-plus steals could be over, as he had only 11 last year and has seven to date in 2011. Jonathan Lucroy is hitting for average and providing some pop behind the plate. The left side of the infield – Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt – has been a black hole with a combined .230 BA and ten home runs.
Milwaukee has a team ERA of 4.06 which is high – even for an American League team where the average is 3.88, and their BAA of .253 is right at league average. They are the third best in the NL in allowing bases on balls and striking out opposing hitters. Yovani Gallardo leads the team with ten wins in 19 starts and has struck out a team high 104 hitters. It was widely thought Zack Greinke’s arrival in Milwaukee would put them over the top. He has shown flashes of brilliance but has been very inconsistent as his 5.45 ERA indicates, even though his strikeout rate of 11.99 K/9 is a team high. Shaun Marcum has had the best peripherals with a 1.13 WHIP and 3.39 ERA in support of seven victories. Randy Wolf has pitched satisfactorily on the way to a 6-6 record, but Chris Narveson, even though he has a positive 6-5 record, allows too many baserunners and hence, a 4.75 ERA. John Axford is doing well finishing off games with 23 saves in 25 chances. The rest of the bullpen hasn’t been as effective, especially with setup man Takashi Saito spending so much time on the DL and only appearing in five games.
GRADES: Pitching – (C); Hitting – (B+)
New York Mets – The Metropolitans have been a bit of a surprise as they have managed a winning record despite being three games under .500 at Citi Field. They are in third place in the division but are well behind the division leading Philadelphia Phillies and runner-up Atlanta Braves. New York has done a good job hitting for average and getting on base and scoring runs but is sorely lacking in power as their 58 homers are third from the bottom in the NL. A resurgent Carlos Beltran leads the team with 13 and is hitting .285 but stolen bases are no longer a significant part of his game as he has only three. Jose Reyes has maximized his trade value, if management decides to go that route, with a .354/32/3/65/30 line. Ike Davis (seven home runs, .302 BA) and David Wright (six homers, nine steals, .226 BA) have spent significant time on the DL. Jason Bay has contributed six home runs and eight stolen bases but is only hitting .237 on the year. Angel Pagan is second on the team with 18 steals but only gets on base at a .326 clip.
Mets pitching has done better than expected considering they have gone without ace Johan Santana for the entire season and Chris Young (who had been pitching very well) for all but four games. They are middle of the pack in ERA, strikeouts, and BAA but team OBP is at the high end of the scale. Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese, and Chris Capuano each have eight wins to lead the team. Niese also leads the team with 92 strikeouts. R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey round out the rotation and have losing records. Gee is the only starter with a below 1.32 WHIP. Francisco Rodriguez has saved 23 of 26 opportunities but is a prime trade chip with a huge $17.5 million option if he finishes 55 games this year. The rest of the bullpen – particularly Taylor Buchholz, Jason Isringhausen, and Pedro Beato – have pitched well.
GRADES: Pitching – (C+); Hitting – (C)
Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies rule the roost in the National League with the best record at 57-34. Philadelphia is the only team in the NL with a win percentage over .600 and has a league best run differential. They are, in fact, the only NL team to allow fewer than 300 runs. Surprisingly, however, the Phils are only about a league average offensive team. To their credit, they put the ball in play, having struck out the fewest times. Ryan Howard leads the team with 18 homers and 72 RBIs. Jimmy Rollins has hit more homers and stolen more bases than he did last year. Chase Utley is back from a knee injury and is stealing bases again. Placido Polanco has been adequate if not spectacular at third base, chipping in four home runs and 39 RBIs. Shane Victorino has contributed nine homers and 13 steals with his .303 BA. In the first month of the season, it looked like Raul Ibanez was done, but he has rallied some and now has 12 home runs. Domonic Brown is a rookie and has performed like one with ups and downs.
The strength of this Phillies team is their pitching with the big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. The trio has led Philadelphia to the best ERA, most wins, and fewest bases on balls in the league. Halladay and Hamels each have 11 wins to lead the team and they, along with Cliff Lee, have at least 121 strikeouts each. Lee has added another nine wins. Their WHIP and ERA are equally impressive with Hamels posting a 0.93 and 2.32 respectively, Halladay at 1.02 and 2.45 and Lee at 1.06 and 2.82. Roy Oswalt has been on the DL with a back issue. Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley have pitched well as fill-ins. The Phils have used three different pitchers in the closer spot – Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson, and Antonio Bastardo – with Brad Lidge sidelined since the start of the season. The three have combined for 25 saves and only three blown saves for the best percentage in the National League.
GRADES: - Pitching (A+); Hitting (B)