The NL West: Where offense goes to die

Cody Ross, like many NL West hitters, has been brought to his knees by opposing pitchers this season. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

What in the name of Jose Uribe is going on here? No one expected the National League West to be a pitcher’s minefield in 2011, but did anyone think that offense would be so hard to come by? So far this season, NL West offenses have Premier League fans complaining about a lack of scoring.

In short, it ain’t good.

Heading into Monday night, the five teams in the National League West combined to score the second-fewest runs of any division in baseball. The only division worse? The four-team American League West, who still boasts the AL’s third highest-scoring team in Texas.

But their Left Coast counterparts in the NL have been a miserable lot six weeks into the new season. The Dodgers are the least offensive of the offenses, thus far, hitting .254 as a group. Yet, as temperatures heat up in the L.A. basin, Dodger bats are cooling off. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have grabbed early headlines with hot starts. Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles have pleasant surprises with their respective .319 and .292 starts.

After that, you can call them the Feeling Blue Crew. James Loney‘s bat has all but disappeared. Until picking up a couple of doubles in last weekend’s series against the Diamondbacks, Loney had gone 33 games without an extra base hit — dating back to April 6th, when he homered against Colorado. Things are so bad for Don Mattingly’s crew that Rod Barajas is considered a Dodger power threat. What else would you call the man tied for the team lead in home runs with seven?

The scariest part is … right now, they’re the best of the bunch. The Giants woke up Monday morning with the lead in the division, despite having been outscored 137-135. Watching San Francisco swing the bats has reminded fans in the Bay Area how torturous Giants baseball really can be. They’ve scored the fewest runs in the National League and are still waiting for most of the big bats from last fall to awake from hibernation.

Buster Posey? .256. Aubrey Huff? .219. Pat Burrell? Aaron Rowand? Cody Ross? .232, .262, .239, thank you very much. Were it not for the miracle of pitching, the Giants would be Northern California’s answer to the Padres.

Cue up the Dennis Green, because the Pads are who we thought they were. A team that worked harder than a two-fingered man in a pistachio-eating contest when it came to scoring runs traded away its best offensive player in the off-season. With nothing more than a large ballpark, a couple of gap hitters and some happy thoughts on their side, San Diego’s offense is just as bad as everyone imagined (feared?) it would be in Spring Training.

The Padres don’t have an everyday player hitting better than Cameron Maybin‘s .272. Surprisingly, they’re not at the bottom of the NL in hitting with runners in scoring position. That belongs to the Giants and Dodgers, who are tied at .225. San Diego doesn’t have much to crow about though, with a .234 average in those situations. There are no power numbers to help make that look better than it really is. San Diego has just 27 home runs this year (only the Astros have fewer in the NL) and just six with RISP.

Surprise! Todd Helton is back on top as the Colorado Rockies' leading hitter. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Oh, and the Padres strike out a ton. They are tied with Pittsburgh for the Major League lead in strikeouts with 328. That sort of rarefied air has recently been the domain of the Arizona Diamondbacks. This year, the snakes aren’t that far off the pace, having fanned a combined 306 times. And in 2011, they no longer have Mark Reynolds to blame for their high strikeout totals. Instead, it looks like Kelly Johnson has picked up that flag … and swung and missed with it. Johnson has already whiffed 48 times in first 37 games — that works out to 210 strikeouts over a 162-game season. Not to be outdone are Chris Young (37 K in 39 G) and Justin Upton (35K in 39 G).

Still, as bad as it has been for most of the Westerners, it didn’t take Carnac the Magnificent (look him up, kids!) to predict what has happened. Except in one case … what’s up with the Colorado Rockies?

The one team that everyone thought would hit, hasn’t. The only guy hitting for Colorado right now is 37-year-old Todd Helton, who most considered was one step from the salvage heap. Instead, the veteran has re-discovered his stroke, hitting .325 with six homers and 19 RBI. Meanwhile, the Rox are still waiting for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to get going.

Ian Stewart has been enough of a mess that he was sent back to triple-A and has been the constant subject of trade rumors. Still the Rockies have no answer for the hole at third base, whether it’s Jose Lopez and his .169/2/8 or recently called-up Ty Wigginton and his .236/2/11.

Yet, if there’s any team that could explode any moment, it’s Colorado. They’ve made a habit of waiting until August and September before exploding. They showed flashes at the start of the season before a team-wide cold spell and a few bullpen meltdowns brought them back to the rest of the pack. On paper, though, it’s not a lineup that you imagine being held down for long.

Then again, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. The rest of the division hasn’t set the bar very high.


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