Here's the second half of the discussion between those in charge - and I'm using that term loosely, especially with regard to here! - of the various National League West site on the SB Nation network. If you missed it, here is Part One, mostly covering the impending trade deadline and what moves might result. In this section, we take a look at the various storylines that have unfolded so far this season, and what they might lead to over the rest of the season. Once again, your moderator is Sky Kalkman of Beyond the Box Score.
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): Not only do the raw Arizona hitting stats look bad (ignoring Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton), but they play in a very hitter-friendly park. Is there a systemic reason for everyone struggling, or is it just a whole lot of individual collapses?
Jim McLennan (AZ SnakePit): There's nothing obvious. Injuries may have played a part, as with Chad Tracy who's been a shadow of himself since getting knee surgery, and while Eric Byrnes professed himself fully fit, a .216 BA suggests otherwise. It mostly seems to affect the outfield: Stephen Drew isn't the powerhouse he was last year, but is still respectable as a short-stop, while Felipe Lopez at second and catcher Miguel Montero are also okay for their spots. However, Chris Young in CF - still hitting below .200 - has been an unsolvable riddle. He's getting under everything: 30% of his fly-balls are on the infield, compared to league average of 12%. He is at least drawing walks again, having gone through May with just two.
Russ Oates (Purple Row): For the Rockies, it begins and ends with the removal of Clint Hurdle. The team was completely out of it before he was fired and now the team is right back in the thick of things for the wild card. And out of Hurdle's removal flows the Rockies' impressive win streak in June. But then this shouldn't have really been surprising--the talent's always been there, but Hurdle's hardly ever capitalized on it. So, really, it's about getting out of a failing mindset. Oh, and Jason Marquis is a surprising story. Who saw him leading the league in wins at the All-Star Break? I can't even think of the most optimistic Rockies fan having predicted that.
Sky Kalkman (Moderator): Which of those surprises are most likely to continue throughout the rest of the season? I.e. which are flukes and which are for real?
Jim McLennan (AZ SnakePit). Well, Arizona will get better at the plate, simply because they couldn't get much worse. Whether connected or not, they've batted 33 points higher since firing Bob Melvin. I really don't think this is a 95-loss team, which is what they were on pace for before the winning streak - it got so bad, there was some discussion of whether we should tank it, and get into the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. I think we'll play close to .500 ball the rest of the way, maybe end at 75 wins or so.
Russ Oates (Purple Row): Just from the two examples I gave above, will the Rockies continue to play just above .500 ball or will Jason Marquis continue to pitch like an All-Star? I'd place money on the former, but that's not to say that the latter will fall flat on his face. We just need to temper expectations that Jason Marquis really can be that good for an entire season.
Dex Bustarde (Gaslamp Ball): Unfortunately for the Padres, I doubt Adrian will keep the 60 home run pace that he appeared to be on and I have trouble believing Tony Gwynn Jr. will be much more than an adequate outfielder.
Sky: Even if Marquis remember who he is, the rest of the staff should continue to dominate as well. Ubaldo Jimenez not making the All-Star team is a disgrace, and Jorge de la Rosa's peripherals indicate he might be the next big thing in Colorado.
Grant Brisbee (McCovey Chronicles): Cain will continue to pitch well, and Sandoval will continue to hit. As well as in the first half? Maybe, maybe not. On the fluke side, I wouldn't be surprised if Aaron Rowand fell back off a cliff. And then ran into the face of the cliff at full speed while holding on to the ball. He has a strange hot/cold career, and I have trust issues.
Sky Kalkman (Moderator): Which big local stories aren't getting as much attention from the national media? Should they be?
Jim McLennan (AZ SnakePit). Mark Reynolds. Only Albert Pujols has more home-runs thus far in the majors, and no-one outside Arizona has noticed. Oh, and Clay Zavada - pulled up from Double-A, he didn't allow an earned run in his first 18 innings of work. And he has the coolest facial hair of any player this millennium.
Russ Oates (Purple Row): Ubaldo Jimenez. This guy is a legitimate ace in the making, could have been an All-Star, but is little known outside of Colorado.
Grant Brisbee (McCovey Chronicles): The Giants' bullpen has been pretty spectacular. The peripherals don't suggest it's sustainable, but the worst member of the pen is Bobby Howry (ERA+ of 124). It's amusing to watch readers focus their rage on Howry because they have no other choice. Never mind that they'd build a Howry statue in Cleveland if he were on the Indians this year.
Eric Stephen (True Blue LA): Matt "The Bison" Kemp. He has been one of the most valuable players in baseball this season, playing a position (CF) well that scouts said he would never be able to play.
Dex Bustarde (Gaslamp Ball): I was going to say Adrian Gonzalez's play, but thanks to a couple of writeups in SI and ESPN the Magazine recently, I can't even say that anymore. I think one interesting thing is the fact that ownership has cut payroll by almost half, which in effect have cut our win pace in half and at the same time, we've had about half the attendance. The surprising story there being that they seemed surprised by that.
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...
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.