NL second-half team previews

July, 14, 2011
7/14/11
1:01
PM ET
Colby Rasmus, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Kemp Getty ImagesCenter fielders Colby Rasmus, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Kemp are second-half guys to watch.
And now a look at the National League. Click here for the American League second-half team previews.

Philadelphia Phillies (57-34, +89 run differential)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
Although the Phillies finished the first half on a high note, scoring 14 runs against the Braves, the offense will need to pick up if they want to create more distance between themselves and the Braves in the NL East race. Philly averaged a bit over 4.1 runs per game, which is right around the league average, and the team overall had an OPS+ below 100 (100 is average). The rotation is great, but run scoring is as important as run prevention.

Top item on shopping list?
A right-handed bat, ideally. The Phillies have been linked to names such as Josh Willingham and Michael Cuddyer, but they have to worry about hitting the luxury tax. Most likely, any moves Philly makes will be minor. Otherwise, it will be looking at relief pitchers, but that's a distant second priority.

Player to watch.
Domonic Brown. At Crashburn Alley, I wrote about Brown's surprisingly productive first half and why there is reason for optimism with the highly touted rookie. The outfield corners have been an offensive black hole, so if the Phillies can get Brown to take it to the next level, they should be just fine.
--Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley

Atlanta Braves (54-38, +53)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
Although the Braves bullpen has been the best in the league, help might be on the way. Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel have done a great job finishing close games, but they’ve combined for more than 100 innings. Considering Fredi Gonzalez’s reliance on Scott Proctor and Scott Linebrink in key situations, look for the Braves to add a right-handed reliever to complement Venters and Eric O’Flaherty in the clutch.

Top item on shopping list?
In addition to a right-handed reliever, there’s potential for the front office to add a legitimate right-handed bat. Losing Chipper Jones to the DL created a void for a bat at third base or in left field, with Martin Prado playing the other position. Fortunately, the Braves have plenty of talent in the minor leagues, but odds are that Frank Wren will do his best to avoid another big deal like the Braves made for Mark Teixeira in 2007.

Player to watch.
Regardless of his cold start, Dan Uggla is a must-watch player in the second half. He’s finally providing the power bat the Braves desired and earning his at-bats in the middle of the lineup.
--Kevin Orris, Capitol Avenue Club

New York Mets (46-45, +11)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The Mets are unlikely to be competing for the postseason in 2011. That said, they need to decide whether they can quickly build a championship team around David Wright, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana and various youngsters or whether theirs is a long-term rebuilding project. Additionally, they need to shed as much salary as possible to create payroll flexibility for 2012 -- something the team has already begun to do with the trade of Francisco Rodriguez.

Top item on shopping list?
Sandy Alderson absolved the Mets from K-Rod's potential option for 2012, and next on his list is Carlos Beltran, whose contract expires at the end of the season and includes a clause that prevents the Mets from offering arbitration. In other words, when he walks, the Mets get no draft picks. Pitchers Jason Isringhausen, Chris Capuano, Tim Byrdak and R.A. Dickey also could be moved.

Player to watch.
Santana -- assuming he returns to the mound after shoulder surgery. If he can come back healthy and throw effectively in the low 90s, the Mets could have either another trading chip or an ace to build their staff around.
--Joe Janish, Mets Today

Washington Nationals (46-46, -2)
What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
This team is close. The key now is to not screw it up with a quixotic run at a wild card. Trade the veteran free-agents-to-be, keep the young talent and stick to the rehab plans management laid out in March. It's not complicated, but with fans getting their first taste of success, it's more difficult than you might think.

Top item on shopping list?
The Nats should be sellers. Not buyers, and not "not-sellers." They should be sellers. Washington doesn't need Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis next season. Trade them both, and if the Nats want one back, re-sign him in the offseason. They won't have a place for Laynce Nix next year. Trade him. These deals might not bring back much more than A-ball prospects, but you only have to hit on one of them to make the deals worthwhile.

Player to watch.
There are a lot of players important to the Nats' future, but how could this not be Jayson Werth? The guy is struggling terribly and is due to get paid as if he were a superstar for SIX more years. If he can't turn it around, things could get very awkward for the Nats as they try to figure out what to do with him. Washington doesn't need Werth being the center of negative attention or a giant warning sign to ownership not to spend money. It needs him to hit; the sooner the better.
--Harper Gordek, Nationals Baseball

Florida Marlins (43-48, -44)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
Despite winning their last five games before the All-Star break, the Marlins find themselves with a very tough hill to climb. They are in last place, and even if they turn things around, they still have to pass the Braves and Phillies in the standings, which is extremely unlikely. However, just because Florida is out of it doesn't necessarily mean the whole season is done for. The biggest key for me is a winning second half. Even though that will potentially drop the team in the draft order, getting Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton back on their feet would give the Marlins brass, players and fans more confidence as they prepare to enter the new ballpark.

Top item on shopping list?
After a miserable June, the Marlins find themselves not too far from the bottom of the pack in baseball. Entering sell mode would be the best and most logical bet -- and hopefully something the team's brass is readying for. Florida possesses two of the better right-handed arms in the National League in Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom are controllable beyond this year. It also has Omar Infante and Greg Dobbs, who hold some trade value. The Marlins enter their new state-of-the-art park next season, so keeping Nolasco or Sanchez (preferably Sanchez) would give them some breathing room on the pitching side of things next year.

Player to watch.
It's going to be interesting to see whether Sanchez can continue the season with a K/9 over 9 and a BB/9 under 3. Nolasco, who is enjoying a fine season despite his lack of strikeouts, is definitely proving he was worth the money the Fish spent on him last offseason. But the main player to watch is Ramirez, who finished the first half on a high note. The power has appeared more in the past few weeks, so we'll see whether he can continue it.
--David Gershman, Marlins Daily

Milwaukee Brewers (49-43, -1)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The Brewers fortified their "all-in" position with a post-All-Star Game acquisition of embattled Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez. The addition of another reliever who can get outs at both sides of the plate should be a big addition for a bullpen that has screamed "middle of the pack" all season. Doug Melvin shouldn't consider his work anywhere near finished, however. The Brewers hold a tenuous grip on first place, with the Cardinals tied for the lead, the Pirates a game behind and the Reds looming four games back. The team still has two major weaknesses to address: third base and shortstop.

Top item on shopping list?
One might hope the first weakness will fix itself: Casey McGehee had been such a great find the past two years, but he has turned back into a pumpkin, posting a horrific .223/.279/.315 line. An internal solution might exist in Taylor Green, who has mashed for Triple-A Nashville. The bigger problem clearly lies at shortstop, where Yuniesky Betancourt has been awful, posting a minus-0.8 WAR, and neither Craig Counsell nor Josh Wilson appears to be a viable solution. Edwin Maysonet is the best option in the minor leagues, but he is simply not a majors-caliber player. The Brewers should still have resources available even after acquiring Rodriguez -- the Mets are paying for a good deal of K-Rod's salary, and the prospects included are likely lower-tier (as most Brewers prospects are these days).

Player to watch.
It has to be Zack Greinke. There hasn't been an odder combination of success and failure in the majors, as Greinke has posted a phenomenal 99/16 K/BB ratio but has an ERA perched at a precipitous 5.45. There is little doubt in my mind that he will recover from whatever it is that is ailing him -- whether it be poor luck, poor timing or something else entirely -- and if Greinke gets on track, the Brewers will have the best pitching staff in the division down the stretch.
--Jack Moore, Disciples of Uecker

St. Louis Cardinals (49-43, +26)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The Cardinals' starting pitching might not be "broke" yet, but it is going to need to be fixed soon. After a fast start, Kyle Lohse is already regressing to normal levels, and though Jake Westbrook is pitching better than his 5.34 ERA indicates, the team is going to need more than mediocre innings behind Chris Carpenter (who, by the way, always carries some injury risk) and Jaime Garcia.

Top item on shopping list?
St. Louis is a perennial buyer at the trade deadline, and this year likely will be no exception. Given that the Cardinals don't have any big holes to fill -- Albert Pujols and David Freese have returned from injuries -- look for them to snag a veteran swingman-type pitcher the way they did in 2009 with John Smoltz.

Player to watch.
Colby Rasmus is an important part of a stacked offense, but given that Pujols still might not be completely healed and that Lance Berkman will be hard-pressed to continue his torrid pace, Rasmus might need to step into the breach. He had a subpar first half, but he figures to post better numbers in the second -- if, that is, he doesn't get traded, an outside chance but not beyond the realm of possibility.
--Matt Philip, Fungoes

Pittsburgh Pirates (47-43, +8)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The Pirates stunned all of baseball by finishing the first half in third place in the NL Central, three games above .500, and just one game back in the division. If they are going to hang in the second half, the Pirates need to upgrade their offense. They are 11th in the NL in scoring and 14th in slugging percentage. This is a team that needs power and doesn’t have anyone on the horizon to provide help. Pittsburgh will have to look outside the organization.

Top item on shopping list?
The Pirates especially need help on the infield corners. Pedro Alvarez has done nothing to inspire confidence in 2011, and Lyle Overbay has been a complete dud. But they need to do it without touching their best prospects. Winning in 2011 is important, but maintaining a strong foundation for 2012 and beyond is essential. Carlos Pena has not hit well in Chicago, but he still would represent a huge upgrade. Casey Blake would provide a marginal upgrade at third base, but he probably isn't worth the money or players required to get him.

Player to watch.
Andrew McCutchen is always worth watching, given that he’s been the second-best player in the NL so far. But pay close attention to Alvarez. If he can come back from injury and his recent demotion to Indianapolis and hit like he did in 2010, it will reduce the Pirates’ desperation at the deadline and go a long way toward solving their offensive woes.
--The Common Man, The Platoon Advantage

Cincinnati Reds (45-47, +29)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
It doesn’t feel like it, especially with Francisco Cordero blowing three saves in the last five games before the break, but the Reds will be in the race. They have the best run differential in the division but are four games below their Pythagorean record. The run of bad luck (and bad CoCo) could continue, but Cincinnati's talent stacks up reasonably well against the rest of the division. The Reds just need to get into a pattern of executing.

Top item on shopping list?
The Reds need to be buyers. They have several quality, movable prospects and two clear needs, now that Zack Cozart seems to have filled the shortstop hole. The ideal addition is a top-level starting pitcher. Cincinnati's deep-but-average rotation was exposed in last year’s playoffs. Johnny Cueto (1.96 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) took a huge step forward in the first half, but the Reds need another elite arm. The other trade target is left field, mostly because Dusty Baker won’t optimize the in-house options (a Chris Heisey/Fred Lewis platoon would solve the leadoff problem, too).

Player to watch.
Scott Rolen. "All-Star" status notwithstanding, the Reds simply can’t win the division with .241/.276/.398 production from the cleanup slot.
--Chris Garber, Redleg Nation

Chicago Cubs (37-55, -84)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The Cubs must develop their younger players and focus on rebuilding. There is no reason for a bad team to finish the year without giving players from the minor leagues a chance to play every day. Prospects such as RHP Chris Carpenter, outfielder Brett Jackson, outfielder Tony Campana and infielder D.J. LeMahieu are among the many who should see significant playing time at the big league level.

Top item on shopping list?
In order to clear roster space for younger players and clear money off the books, Jim Hendry must work out several deals. The main roadblocks are no-trade clauses that are possessed by the majority of the movable pieces as well as the contracts that accompany them. Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez, John Grabow and Carlos Zambrano are all being shopped. Kerry Wood and Marlon Byrd also will have some takers if the Cubs are willing to part ways.

Player to watch.
Starlin Castro, the Cubs' lone All-Star, is the player to keep an eye on. He is improving defensively at shortstop and has been very consistent at the plate. Castro could be the face of this franchise in the years to come and is the one player fans on the North Side of Chicago have to be excited about.
--Brandon Vickrey, View From the Bleachers

Houston Astros (30-62, -106)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The most important thing the Astros can do is showcase trade talent. With the league’s worst record and being on pace for their worst season ever, the Astros aren’t playing for much. But, for the first time in a long time, Houston has some young talent. With a new owner on the way in, the Astros will be looking to sell, sell, sell, so they need players such as Bud Norris, Michael Bourn and Wandy Rodriguez to be healthy and productive.

Top item on shopping list?
With fan favorite Hunter Pence likely off the table (barring some absurd, once-in-a-lifetime trade like the one that landed them Jeff Bagwell a lifetime ago), Norris, Bourn and Rodriguez are the most probable to be on the move. The Astros need power bats, so expect them to try to make a deal for a power prospect.

Player to watch.
Speaking of power, isn’t it about time to see some from Chris Johnson? He has rebounded from a terrible start, batting .284 since the end of May, though he still hasn’t found the power stroke he showed last year. I expect him to have another big second half, and maybe just give Astros fans a reason to keep watching.
--Austin Swafford, Austin's Astros 290 Blog

San Francisco Giants (52-40, +10)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The offense. Plain and simple, the Giants will need to score more runs if they want to stay in the mix for a playoff spot. It's become a tiresome subject for the team, but San Francisco's deficiencies on offense become more apparent every day. Key players have struggled (Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres, Miguel Tejada) or been hurt (Freddy Sanchez, Buster Posey, Mark DeRosa).

Top item on shopping list?
Upgrading catcher is a major priority. The Eli Whiteside (.674 OPS) and Chris Stewart (.545 OPS) combination has been, as expected, far below average. Even a marginal upgrade such as Yorvit Torrealba could add a win or two to the roster. In addition, the team also should consider upgrading at second base. It's unlikely that Sanchez will return, and a player such as Jamey Carroll could help the overall talent level at minimal cost.

Player to watch.
Even though he struggled to start the year, Brandon Belt is still a highly regarded prospect and one of the few potential average to above-average bats in the system. Once he returns from his rehab assignment, the Giants should turn him loose for 250 at-bats in the second half.
--Chris Quick, Bay City Ball

Arizona Diamondbacks (49-43, +9)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The D-backs are well ahead of where most expected them to be. If Arizona wants to continue to compete, it'll have to upgrade its bullpen and its production at first base. Only two D-backs relievers with more than 21 innings pitched have an ERA below 4, and one of them, J.J. Putz, is on the DL. At first base, Juan Miranda is batting .213 with 23 RBIs.

Top item on shopping list?
If it doesn't fall out of the race in the next two weeks, Arizona likely will trade for an arm in the bullpen. The organization doesn't want to give up any prized prospects, so the top relievers on the market are probably out of reach. Ideally, the D-backs would get an arm like Jason Isringhausen or Michael Wuertz. The first-base issues likely will be settled in-house with Brandon Allen or Paul Goldschmidt.

Player to watch.
When Putz was right, the D-backs were a scary team. In May, the team won in all of his 13 appearances as he didn't give up a single earned run the entire month. In June, Putz blew four saves and lost one game while posting a 6.17 ERA. He went on the DL on July 1. When Putz is healthy, it puts the other Arizona relievers in their natural positions. He is the key to the team's success.
--Tyler Emerick, Snakes on Jefferson

Colorado Rockies (43-48, -12)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The Rockies are known as a second-half team, prompting many to believe they're due for a big turnaround. However, winning 20 out of 21 games to scratch back into wild-card contention isn't likely to happen this year. From here on out, they will have to play .660 baseball to win 90 games. They need to put their faith back in guys such as Ian Stewart and Dexter Fowler. Neither player has been given sufficient opportunity, and Colorado needs to see once and for all what it has in the two former top prospects.

Top item on shopping list?
Ideally, the Rockies will be sellers, and their top bargaining chip is Huston Street. Street, a free agent in 2013, is a solid closer who could rectify some contender's bullpen problems. However, it's a saturated market and Street probably isn't even the best closer available. Colorado will have a tough time getting real value in return.

Player to watch.
Ubaldo Jimenez. After a very slow start, he's been lights out in June and July, with a 2.52 ERA the past month and a half.
--Logan Burdine, Blake Street Bulletin

Los Angeles Dodgers (41-51, -33)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The main priority for the Dodgers, realistically, should be preparing for 2012, which means perhaps getting an extended look at some of the prospects (Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, Trayvon Robinson) who could be counted on next year, while also trying to draw the most in trade from leading 2011 contenders. However, for those who don't want to declare the 2011 season over, the overwhelming challenge for the Dodgers is an offense that has a .684 OPS and 61 home runs, even including Matt Kemp's .982 and 22. The entire Los Angeles infield, starters and reserves, has combined for 15 home runs; left fielders have added just two more.

Top item on shopping list?
Any kind of bat that doesn't strip the Dodgers' future could be of use if the team thinks it can make a late-season run. But if they're prudent -- and if Hiroki Kuroda waives his no-trade clause -- the Dodgers will take offers for the unflappable right-hander, who has a 3.06 ERA. Infielder Jamey Carroll has a .368 on-base percentage in 311 plate appearances and is owed only the remainder of his $1.8 million salary this year, plus incentives. Interest in oft-injured Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake or power-hungry James Loney figures to be low.

Player to watch.
Kemp has a real chance to become NL MVP, not to mention the first NL MVP from a last-place team since the Cubs' Andre Dawson in 1987. Bringing a .398 on-base percentage and .584 slugging percentage out of the All-Star break, the center fielder is on pace to finish with 39 home runs and 48 steals in 53 attempts. According to FanGraphs, Kemp has been the league's leading offensive player this season.
--Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts

San Diego Padres (40-52, -34)

What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The Padres must focus on playing their young talent as much as possible. With experience, this group could jell the way last year's club did. Anthony Rizzo, Cameron Maybin, Mat Latos and Cory Luebke must continue their development into productive members of the next contending San Diego squad.

Top item on shopping list?
The Padres, buyers just a year ago, are sellers now. Key candidates to be moved include Ryan Ludwick, Heath Bell and Chad Qualls. Mike Adams is another coveted commodity, although his favorable contract status might make him too valuable to trade. Ludwick and Qualls won't fetch much, but if last year's Matt Capps-for-Wilson Ramos deal is any indication, Bell could bring a B-level prospect to San Diego.

Player to watch.
Several young players bear watching, the most scrutinized of which will be first baseman Rizzo. Part of this past winter's Adrian Gonzalez trade, the 21-year-old accelerated his timetable after destroying Triple-A pitching but has been inconsistent with the big club. The Padres must hope that he makes the necessary adjustments and improves his ability to make contact at this level. Rizzo has plenty of talent; the next step is putting it to use on a regular basis.
--Geoff Young, Ducksnorts

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