Two months completed, taking us more or less one-third through the 2011 campaign. The NL West is proving as tight as many expected. Nobody is completely out of it, with only 6.5 games between first and last place at the end of May. That made it the closest race in the National League, and is a margin which covered only the top three in the other two divisions. As we've seen from the Diamondbacks, that kind of gap can also easily be closed in a couple of weeks, with a hot streak of results.
Thus, it seems appropriate to cast our eye of all five teams and see what they've shown us so far, and what we might expect from them going forward. All stats through the end of play, May 31: WAR from Fangraphs, playoff odds from CoolStandings.com.
Playoff Odds: 51.1%
MVPs: Daniel Hudson (2.2 WAR), Ryan Roberts (1.8)
Batting WAR: 10.4. Pitching WAR: 5.0. Total: 15.4.
DL: Geoff Blum (IF), Sam Demel (RHRP), Juan Gutierrez (RHRP)
Largely picked to finish last, Arizona found themselves legitimately on top at the one-third mark. It's their pitching which is responsible: offense is slightly below numbers through the first 55 games (OPS .739 vs. .752), but the ERA is a lot better, 3.91 compared to 5.59. The bullpen has gone from league-worst to trail only the Padres in the division, and surpassed San Diego in May, with a 2.34 ERA. There's a sense of over-achievement for some players e.g. Josh Collmenter, but if Justin Upton and Kelly Johnson rebound, they can stick around. In the absence of the 2011 Padres for the role, they are playing the part of the 2010 Padres.
Playoff Odds: 22.2%
MVPs: Jorge de la Rosa (1.4), Troy Tulowitzki (1.9)
Batting WAR: 6.8. Pitching WAR: 5.6. Total: 12.4.
DL: Aaron Cook (RHSP), Jorge De La Rosa (LHSP), Esmil Rogers (RHSP)
Colorado galloped out of the gate to a Tulowitzki-powered 4.5-game lead at the end of April, even without any W's from Ubaldo Jimenez. May was a different story: despite Todd Helton continuing to rebound, it was the third-worst month in franchise history, as they went 8-21, and lost de la Rosa for the year. The team will likely go as Troy-boy goes: they have a record of 20-12 when he gets a hit. only 5-17 when he doesn't. But beyond Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel, their rotation is problematic, especially if they can't fix Jimenez, whose velocity is down and has a winless 5.86 ERA. Playing the part of: the 2008 Diamondbacks.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Playoff Odds: 9.8%
MVPs: Clayton Kershaw (2.1), Matt Kemp (2.2)
Batting WAR: 4.8. Pitching WAR: 5.4. Total: 10.2.
DL: Jonathan Broxton (RHRP), Hector Gimenez (C), Blake Hawksworth (RHRP), Kenley Jansen (RHRP), Hong-Chih Kuo (LHRP), Vincente Padilla (RHRP), Marcus Thames (OF), Juan Uribe (IF)
You only need to look at that list of injured players to see why the Dodgers bullpen has the worst ERA in the National League. Almost any candidate for a save situation is on there, with anything from a bone spur (Broxton) to anxiety disorder (Kuo). While Kershaw and Kemp have been among the best players in the division, and Andre Ethier is not far behind, the drop-off after those players is a significant one. Off-field events aren't exactly helping, with players left to wonder if their owner can make payroll this month; the sooner that all gets sorted, the better for Dodgers' fans. Playing the part of: themselves. It's a pretty unique situation.
San Diego Padres
Playoff Odds: 6.1%
MVPs: Tim Stauffer (1.2), Cameron Maybin (1.8)
Batting WAR: 4.0. Pitching WAR: 5.2. Total: 9.2.
DL: Mike Baxter (OF), Jarrett Hoffpauir (IF), Orlando Hudson (IF), Nick Hundley (C), Joe Thatcher (LHRP)
Maybin, currently day-to-day with knee tendinitis, is the only Padre in the NL Top 50 position players by WAR, and those who said their offense would struggle without Adrian Gonzalez (1.9 WAR for Boston) have been proven right. While the park isn't helping, San Diego are hitting a collective .230, with an OPS dead-last in the league by 30 points. If there is no obvious ace in the rotation, it has been solid, one through five, and the bullpen, led by Heath Bell and his 1.96 ERA, almost immaculate. [Grits teeth] Nice to see Chad Qualls pitching well again... Playing the part of: the 2009 Diamondbacks i.e. when Qualls was good.
San Francisco Giants
Playoff Odds: 28.8%
MVPs: Tim Lincecum (2.1), Buster Posey (1.7)
Batting WAR: 4.0. Pitching WAR: 9.2. Total: 13.2.
DL: Mark DeRosa (IF), Mike Fontenot (IF), Darren Ford (OF), Buster Posey (C), Pablo Sandoval (OF), Barry Zito (LHSP)
Last year's team enjoyed remarkably good health; this year's model, not so much. The offense wasn't great to begin with, and without Posey and Sandoval, it's awful. The best hitter currently on the roster is Pat Burrell (0.6 WAR), and they're paying Aubrey Huff and Miguel Tejada $16.5 million to hit .218 through May. However, their rotation is still among the best in the league, having posted a 3.20 ERA, and that will keep them in games. Can they maintain a logic-defying record in one-run games, winning 15 of their first 20? The answer to that, and what Sandoval does when he returns, may determine the season. Playing the part of: the 2007 Diamondbacks.