Potentially fatal flaws: NL West

Potentially fatal flaws: NL West
May 19, 2013, 9:00 am
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Our series examining the weakness that could cost each NL contender concludes today with the National League West. On Friday we looked at the East and on Saturday the Central.

Giants – Starting pitching (seriously)
Some might think defense is a bigger worry for the Giants because of their ugly showing in Toronto, where in two days they committed four first-inning errors that led to 11 runs.

But the starting staff is a much bigger concern than Angel Pagan’s glove in center or Marco Scutaro’s at second base. Matt Cain has been the Cole Hamels of the west coast, but his command has led to long balls rather than walks. Cain has already allowed 13 home runs after averaging fewer than 18 from 2007-12.

Ryan Vogelsong is not the same pitcher he was in 2011 or 2012, not even close. Maybe it’s all the innings and the extra work from the World Baseball Classic catching up to him, but Vogelsong just hasn’t had it this year. He has the highest ERA in baseball (8.06), and is second in MLB to only Cain in homers allowed, with 11.

Last season, 18 of Vogelsong’s first 19 starts were quality starts. This year, he’s 1 for 8. The fastball is staying in the middle of the plate, and it’s not like it was ever overpowering enough to miss bats when he made mistakes.

Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito have been woefully inconsistent. Zito has a 3.40 ERA, but he’s been absolutely shelled three times in eight starts. And with Lincecum, it’s a combination of worse control and the league adapting to his repertoire. He doesn’t get ahead of hitters enough anymore to utilize his off-speed stuff and make them chase. He’s allowed four, five or six runs in five of his nine starts.

Madison Bumgarner is the anchor of a pitching staff that has been dominant in recent years, but has genuine issues to work through in 2013.

Diamondbacks – Mediocrity all around
In Arizona we saw a team that has one legitimate power threat and a lot of guys who hit singles. The D-backs stranded a ton of runners in that series. Martin Prado hasn’t gotten going. The starting pitching is average, with Patrick Corbin (6-0, 1.52) leading the way but Ian Kennedy (4.88 ERA) is struggling to locate. They don’t look like a real threat to win a wild card. Especially not if Kirk Gibson keeps taking starting pitchers out for no real reason.

Dodgers – Offense
L.A. just doesn’t score runs. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are doing their jobs, and Matt Kemp and Andre Eithier are slowly coming around. But the Dodgers haven’t had everyone hitting at the same time.

Injuries have limited Hanley Ramirez – a huge part of their plans – to four games. And guys like Luis Cruz and Skip Shumaker (combined 22 for 149) haven’t hit when they’ve gotten the chance to play.

The Dodgers also have probably the worst closer of any NL contender in Brandon League. He was one of L.A.’s many splurges, despite having no real track record of closing. League has a 5.87 ERA and just seven strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings. He has a live fastball but doesn’t miss bats. The job should be Kenley Jansen’s soon, but Don Mattingly recently backed League, probably because of the amount of money he’s being paid.

Rockies – Starting pitching
Colorado was counted out by many this offseason because of a terrible 2012 that made headlines more for the Rockies’ new-wave pitching philosophy than any actual success. The Rockies last season installed a method of having their starters go no more than four innings to prevent mid-inning failure.

But they jumped out to a hot start this season thanks to simultaneous production from their two superstars, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Each has dealt with injury problems since 2011 and without both on the field at the same time, Colorado just can’t contend.

The offense leads the league in runs scored, but the pitching is still shaky, with no proven No. 1. Jorge De La Rosa hasn’t had a full season since 2009, and he’s the only one in the rotation pitching well (3.58 ERA).

Jhoulys Chacin is the key, but he’s been just average, with a 4.07 ERA and 5.6 K/9. Jon Garland is a back-end rotation filler who will finish with a 4.50 ERA. Juan Nicasio and Jeff Francis have both scuffled. It’s hard to buy into a team that has two No. 3 starters and three No. 5s.

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