NL West Roundtable, Part II: Second Half Outlook

Here is the second part of our NL West Roundtable, as skillfully moderated by Sky Kalkman of Beyond The Boxscore. Once again, the participants are:

Here is part one of our roundtable, regarding the trade deadline...

Sky Kalkman (Moderator): What surprising story lines from the first half of the season have shaped the standings the most?

Eric Stephen (True Blue LA): The Dodgers playing so well without Manny Ramirez for 50 games was shocking enough. Juan Pierre played out of his mind for three weeks, but has since come back down to Earth. Casey Blake having his best season at age 35 has also been quite a surprise. The Dodger starting pitching was a question mark entering the season, but has been at or near the top of the league nearly all season, and have contributed greatly to them having the league's best record.

Grant Brisbee (McCovey Chronicles: Pablo Sandoval isn't a work in progress -- he's a fully formed hitting machine. McCovey Chronicles readers started calling him "Fat Ichiro", but another reader suggested "Skinny Gwynn." Either works. A 22-year-old with bat control and hand/eye coordination this good is a rare thing. Matt Cain isn't really pitching better than he has in the past, but he's getting the run support he deserves.

Jim McLennan (AZ SnakePit). Grant, I'll see your 22-year old and raise you an even better 21-year old in Justin Upton. Otherwise, however, the hitting struggles of the Diamondbacks doomed the team early on. The struggles of Chris Young, Stephen Drew and the loss of Conor Jackson, probably for the season, to a fungal lung infection (!), all expected to be major contributors, derailed an offense expected to be among the most productive in the division. And, of course, losing perennial Cy Young contender Brandon Webb didn't help - especially when his replacements have two wins in 15 starts and an ERA of 7.94.

Dex Bustarde (Gaslamp Ball): The biggest surprise for Padres fans may be the fact that everything that we figured would go wrong actually went wrong. You'd think something could go right, but even Adrian Gonzalez's MVP type season and the fact that Tony Gwynn Jr. has worked as an everyday player haven't stopped the slide. I think the biggest surprise overall is that the Dodgers have actually managed to turn talent into function as opposed to dysfunction.

Sky Kalkman (Moderator): For the teams probably out of the running, what acquisitions and decisions based on the 2010 and future seasons would you consider a "win"?

Dex Bustarde (Gaslamp Ball): If our minor league talent moves along at a decent pace, it's a win. If the new ownership group decides to start spending money on the team, it's a win.

Jim McLennan (AZ SnakePit): If we could convince someone to taken on board Eric Byrnes' salary for 2010, dancing in the streets would be scheduled. I do like the acquisition of Brandon Allen from the Sox for Tony Peña - basically, any time you convert a middle reliever into a position prospect, you shoud probably do it. He may not quite be ready for 2010, but we have Josh Whitesell to tide us over until then.

Sky Kalkman (Moderator): What story lines will we see in the second half of the season that most people aren't expecting?

Russ Oates (Purple Row): The Rockies continue to receive outstanding pitching. I mean, when has anyone ever associated good pitching with the Rockies?

Eric Stephen (True Blue LA): Despite 487 different media members making the "Joe Torre destroys bullpen arms" point without actually researching the topic, the Dodgers' bullpen will continue to excel. That, and I think the Rockies will overtake the Giants in the Wild Card race.

Grant Brisbee (McCovey Chronicles): I think Joe Torre will destroy the Dodger bullpen arms. That, and I think that Eric Stephen will get a bunch of nasty crank calls in the coming months. Seriously, though, I think that either Nate Schierholtz or John Bowker has a huge second half, which will partially make up for the luck (the Giants have scored more runs than expected) going away.

Jim McLennan (AZ SnakePit): You mean apart from Joe Torre destroying the Dodger bullpen arms? [two down, 485 to go...] I'm afraid I just can't see the Giants or Rockies holding up in the wild-card race. Still thinking that'll come out of the Central. Mind you, I'm also expecting Kershaw and Wolf to implode in the Dodgers' rotation. You heard it here first...

Eric Stephen (True Blue LA):  Well played, gentlemen.

Sky Kalkman (Moderator): How about ending with one bold prediction we won't hold you accountable for if you're wrong, but we'll worship at your feet for if it comes true?

Russ Oates (Purple Row): The NL West champion comes down the last three games of the season, which happens to pit the Rockies against the Dodgers in LA. The Rockies need to sweep the series to win the West, and they do. First NL West crown!

Dex Bustarde (Gaslamp Ball): Padres pull off a 12 game win streak before the end of the season just to taunt fans.

Eric Stephen (True Blue LA): Manny Ramirez will give birth to a 7 lb, 9 oz. baby boy sometime in September, but will still end up leading the club in home runs on the season.

Grant Brisbee (McCovey Chronicles): Giants fans will complain, loudly, no matter what happens. Also, every member of the rotation pitches a no-hitter, though Zito's doesn't count because he walks 14 and is pulled by the fourth.

Jim McLennan (AZ SnakePit): Manny Ramirez is benched for three days each month, spending the time in the clubhouse, weeping uncontrollably and eating Ben and Jerry's while watching 'Beaches'. The Diamondbacks sweep the Cubs at Wrigley in the last series of the season, knocking them out of the wild-card spot. Ted Lilly's glove is never the same again.

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