Now that the first three months of the season have given way to July, it’s time to check in again on the Padres’ rivals in the National League West. The Arizona Diamondbacks have held on to first place, but the Los Angeles Dodgers got back on track in June moving up to second place, only 1.5 games back. On the heels of the Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants reside in third place (2.5 games back). The Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres bring up the rear, both with winning percentages under .500.
At 37-49, the Padres have fallen back to 10.5 games behind the league-leading D-Backs and have a run differential of -66. The team has a losing record at home (19-25) as away (18-24) having won only three of the past 10 games.
The first place D-Backs (47-38,) have a winning record both at home and away and a run differential of +51. The team has rebounded from a dreadful May when they won only eight games. The sub-par performance of the team matched that of their All-Star first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, who batted an astounding (for him) .144. However, Goldschmidt’s performance in June earned him the National League player of the month award. He batted .364 with 39 hits, 10 home runs and 23 RBI
The return of center fielder A.J. Pollack after a prolonged stint on the disabled list with a thumb injury adds an important bat to the lineup. Before his injury in mid-May Pollack led the league in WAR. The Diamondbacks have also benefited from solid pitching by starters Zack Greinke 8-5 (3.41 ERA, 1.11 WHIP), Patrick Corbin 6-02 (3.14/0.99) and Zack Godley 9-6 (5.07/1.60).
With the Dodgers (45-39, run differential +67) getting back on track, the D-Backs will have to fight and claw to stay in first. LA spent most of April and May hovering around/under .500 but turned it on in June with a 17-9 record, surpassing a franchise record with 55 home runs in the month.
Starters Clayton Kershaw (biceps tendinitis) and Rich Hill (blisters, again) have returned from stints on the disabled list, which has helped stabilize the rotation. Rather than rehabbing in the minors, Kershaw pitched a simulated game and then talked his way into the big league lineup. Against the Phillies, he gave up one run in five innings, although his fastball velocity was down.
The strategy worked for the veteran pitcher, but LA tried to double down and have rookie Walker Buehler pitch in relief with the Dodgers rather than in the minors in his return from the disabled list. The move backfired in an 11-5 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Of the nine batters Buehler faced, five scored as his ERA grew from 2.63 to 3.44.
The Dodgers did not count on the return of Matt Kemp to the team that drafted him in 2003 to help propel the offense. LA received him in a trade with the Atlanta Braves designed to get the salaries of Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir off the books. Kemp leads the Dodgers in batting average (.323), OBP (.359) and RBI (55).
In the meantime, the Giants (45-41) have won eight of their last ten games. The return of ace Madison Bumgarner has certainly helped the cause. Hit by a line drive in spring training he fractured his left hand and didn’t rejoin the rotation until June 5 against Diamondbacks. In his last two starts in June he pitched eight innings against the Padres and seven against the Rockies and didn’t give up a run.
The team hopes to welcome back starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto early this month. In his second stint with San Francisco Pablo Sandoval has replaced third baseman Evan Longoria (on the disabled list with a broken hand) and earned high praise from the team that banished him.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford leads the team in batting average (.311), OBP (.391), home runs (13), RBI (39) hits (90) and OWAR (2.5). As usual, catcher Buster Posey (.295/.372/.430) can be counted on both behind and at the plate.
After making the playoffs as a Wild Card team last year, the Rockies (42-43) have fallen to fourth place in the division. Still, the team is only five games behind the league-leading D-Backs. Star player Nolan Arenado has indicated his displeasure at losing, telling Bob Nightengale of USA Today “I don’t want to lose anymore. I just hate it…. I’ve only been to the playoffs once, and it was only one game and then it’s gone.”
At 27, Arenado makes $18 million and is arbitration eligible in 2019. An excellent defender at third, in his six years in Colorado he’s batted .292/.346/.540. Clubhouse chemistry is bound to suffer when a player of Arenado’s stature speaks out publically.
Although the Rockies resigned or added top relief pitchers Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee (costing the team more than $100 million in guaranteed salaries), the bullpen has been a mess. It has also helped the Rockies fall from a tie for first with the D-Backs in the NLW in early June to fourth place.
With only five games separating the top four teams in the National League West, any of the four could end up in first place at the end of September. According to the website FiveThirtyEight only the Padres have a negative chance of doing so.