Second-half previews: National League

Continuing our second-half previews, with a wealth of help from the SweetSpot Network ...

Astros: They need a lot of things to break their way to have a respectable second half, but two needs particularly stand out. First, the heart of the order has to start hitting like they’re able. Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence are hitting well below their career averages and there’s nobody around to pick up the slack. The 3-4-5 hitters must produce. Secondly, Wandy Rodriguez has to get back to his 2009 form. Roy Oswalt has been resurgent and Brett Myers a pleasant surprise, but Wandy has really struggled with an ERA that got as high as 6.09 last month. He is 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA in his last four starts, with Jason Castro catching him. Continuing to pitch like that -- like he did last year -- is crucial to the Astros’ success in the second half.

-- Austin Swafford, Astros 290 Blog

Braves: Though none of the starters has been overwhelmingly good, none of them has been bad enough to warrant replacement. This team has nearly $32 million tied into their rotation and will likely sink or swim with this group. (As always, injuries could change that.)

The Braves are in a rare position in which they have some financial flexibility but few weaknesses, and there's not a whole lot of good to be done by adding something other than an exceptional player. Since the Braves are fairly likely to make the postseason even without the addition of a star, I don't see them making much noise at the trade deadline.

-- Peter Hjort, Capitol Avenue Club's 2010 Trade Deadline Primer

Brewers: If the Brewers have any ideas about a miraculous run to the playoffs, the key will obviously be starting pitching. The staff is certainly better than it was on Opening Day, with Manny Parra stepping in to replace Jeff Suppan. All-Star Yovani Gallardo, who should miss only one start after the break, has made major steps forward. Dave Bush has been performing well but at a level way over his head. Doug Davis has had terrible luck to date, and there's no chance that he maintains a .398 BABIP, the major determinant of his 7.00+ ERA. Overall, the Brewers had a 4.41 FIP in the first half, third worst in the NL. With the poor defense behind them, that's just not good enough to take this team to the playoffs. If they can get down into the 3.90-4.10 range, they might have a chance ... but with the talent on hand, that's incredibly unlikely.

-- Jack Moore, Disciples of Uecker

Cardinals: The Cardinals have youth and major-league-level spare parts that they can parlay into a superior starting pitcher, and GM John Mozeliak has shown that he's willing to make a play for top talent -- he made two headline-worthy deals last year mid-season, swapping five of the organization's best minor-league players for established vets Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday. He also signed John Smoltz last August for a stretch and playoff role, so expect him to be active again this year, when the Cardinals will likely be in a similar position.

-- Matthew Philip, Fungoes 2010 Trade Deadline Primer

Cubs: Should the Cubs continue to lose as they head toward the trade deadline, and you have to imagine that they will, Jim Hendry will be charged with moving players in an attempt to get younger, cheaper and above all else, better. For the first time in a long time, the Cubs' farm system actually has potential names that are on the verge of being called up to make a meaningful difference in the major leagues. That means finding spots to play the kids to see what they can do.

-- Joe Aiello, View from the Bleachers' 2010 Trade Deadline Primer

Diamondbacks: If the new front office doesn't believe this team can compete for a division title in 2011, the first and second priorities should probably be unloading veterans Dan Haren and Adam LaRoche and restocking the farm system. The third priority -- and come to think of it, perhaps the first -- is to make a clear-eyed, cold-hearted evaluation of Kirk Gibson's managerial talents. Can Gibson teach Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds to strike out just a little less often? Can Gibson construct a viable bullpen from the ruins he's inherited? The rest of this season might be as much about the manager as the players.

Dodgers: Health is the biggest key to the Dodgers' second half, given the ownership-induced unlikelihood that the team will make a significant acquisition during the remainder of the regular season.

The Dodgers have enough talent to win the NL West and roll the dice in the playoffs for the third year in a row. However, Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Furcal, Hong-Chih Kuo, Chad Billingsley and Vicente Padilla have all spent significant time on the disabled list, a risk that remains for a few of those names in the second half -- let alone what might happen with aging third baseman Casey Blake or any other front-line talent. While such players as Jamey Carroll and John Ely stepped up at times of need, the margin of error for the Dodgers in a four-team NL West race is thin.

The key to the Dodgers' pennant drive? Head trainer Stan Conte.

-- Jon Weisman, Dodger Thoughts

Giants: The Giants are 47-41, four games out of first place in the National League West. If the Giants are going to play in October, they'll need the following to happen:

  • Pablo Sandoval shakes off his first-half funk and starts hitting. Sandoval's lack of power (.382 slugging percentage, six home runs) has been a major problem;

  • Buster Posey keeps hitting. To this point he's been a revelation (137 at-bats, .959 OPS);

  • The pitching staff continues to excel. Regardless of what Brian Sabean has been saying, the Giants' pitchers (3.88 FIP, eighth in MLB) have been very good. The Giants' postseason hopes rest largely on the arms of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, and Jonathan Sanchez.

  • If those three things happen, the Giants should have a decent chance at their first postseason appearance since 2003.

    -- Chris Quick Bay City Ball

    Marlins: The Marlins are 10 games out of first place, seven games out in the wild-card standings, and behind a host of better teams. So it's time to start thinking about 2011. What does that mean? It means they should give Cameron Maybin the rest of the season before giving up on him. It means they should let 20-year-old Mike Stanton play almost every day, unless he struggles to the point of losing his confidence. It means they should at least entertain offers for Dan Uggla, who will earn more than $10 million next season and will be lost to free agency afterward. It means they should take every imaginable step to ensure that Josh Johnson's oh-so-valuable right arm is healthy for 2011 and beyond.

    Mets: There is no reason to expect R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi to continue their current pace, and there is less reason to think either John Maine or Oliver Perez will return to their 2007 form. Unfortunately, there are no prospects to promote from the minors -- suspects Dillon Gee, Pat Misch, and Tobi Stoner are next in line (wouldn’t it be nice if Jenrry Mejia spent the last 3 months starting in AA, rather than sitting in the bullpen?). Even with their early success, the Mets should be making a deal for a starting pitcher -- if not two.

    -- Joe Janish, Mets Today 2010 Trade Deadline Primer

    Nationals: The key to the second half for the Nationals is what they can get back in a deal for Adam Dunn. If it's minor league stud a year or two away then I can see them becoming major sellers and doing what they can to build up the team for 2013 (Ryan Zimmerman's walk year). If they can only get back middling prospects, which I think is more likely, then I see the Nats becoming modest buyers, pursing a plan to try to make the playoffs in 2011 or 2012, while not disturbing what minimal progress they've made with the minors.

    -- Harper Gordek, Nationals Baseball

    Padres: Beyond continuing to make sacrifices to Jobu, the Padres need to do a few things to remain successful in the second half. First and foremost, they must stay focused on the task at hand and not stop to wonder how in the heck they are doing this. Second, the pitching can't regress too much. With Mat Latos' innings being monitored, now might be a good time to acquire an extra arm for the stretch run. Finally, somebody has to step up and support Adrian Gonzalez on offense. Nick Hundley has done a credible job, and Aaron Cunningham has shown signs of life in limited opportunities, but the Padres need more consistent contributions out of guys like Scott Hairston, Chase Headley and Will Venable.

    -- Geoff Young, Ducksnorts

    Phillies: Getting the middle of the lineup back to its normal level of production will be key if the Phillies intend to become the first National League team to reach the World Series in three consecutive years since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals. Fans are growing impatient, hoping GM Ruben Amaro will do something to shake up the roster.

    One suggestion has been to designate backup third baseman and outfielder Greg Dobbs for assignment. Dobbs has been putrid at the plate as his .192 batting average indicates, and he has never been a reliable defender. DFA-ing Dobbs would likely result in the promotion of John Mayberry Jr., a power-hitting righty who is performing well for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

    -- Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley's 2010 Trade Deadline Primer

    Pirates: At this point it's all about the kids: care and feeding thereof. Jeff Clement, Akinori Iwamura, and Andy LaRoche have all been replaced, for good reasons. But while second baseman Neil Walker has held his own, replacements Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez have not yet justified their hasty promotions to the majors. Those players are the key to the future, and must still be handled carefully. Unfortunately, this year the Pirates don't really have any veterans who will bring back real prospects on the trade market; the best they can probably do is package Ryan Doumit or Garrett Jones and perhaps one of their better relief pitchers in return for a Grade B prospect. Which is a deal that might not be worth the trouble.

    Reds: Hey, who had the Reds entering the second half of the season in first place? True, they owe some of their success to the Cardinals' failure. Still, these Reds must be ranked among the league's serious postseason contenders. They're set at every position but shortstop, where they're mostly reduced to hoping that Orlando Cabrera comes out of hitting funk. With Travis Wood joining Mike Leake to give the Reds the best one-two rookie tandem of starting pitchers in the league, locking down the No. 5 slot is really all that's left. Cuban sensation Aroldis Chapman has been wild in Triple-A, but rookie Matt Maloney and rehabbing veteran Edinson Volquez should give management a surplus of rotation options. Maybe there's room for a bit of tinkering, particularly in the outfield (which, collectively, has been just fair). But essentially it's time to just wind the Reds up and let them go.

    Rockies: How badly do they want to win? Badly enough to trade for a first baseman, and shove Todd Helton -- who's under contract through 2013 -- to the curb, at least for this season? Perhaps, as such a move would be significantly less painful to management after the reworking of Helton's deal. Still, it seems unlikely. The Rockies have to hope that Helton's power reappears when he comes off the DL, and that Troy Tulowitzki comes back strong in August from his wrist injury. Because if there was any real help on the farm, we would have seen it already. Meanwhile, Jeff Francis is off the DL but hasn't yet returned to his old form. It's hard to see the Rockies hovering near first place down the stretch if Francis or perhaps Jorge de la Rosa doesn't put together a good run of starts.