Edge to 'Zona in NL West

Edge to 'Zona in NL West

Edge to 'Zona in NL West
By Joe Nelson

With a deal to add veteran Greg Maddux appearing imminent, many feel that the Los Angeles Dodgers will be in the driver’s seat in the NL West despite trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks for most of the season before recently pulling even in the standings. Los Angeles will have strong pitching depth but Arizona has the top-end starters and a more favorable schedule to finish up the season.

Maddux does not have great numbers on the season, but many of his recent starts have been strong and he had great success going 6-3 in 12 starts for Los Angeles in 2006 to make the playoffs. Maddux also has been credited with bringing a very positive influence to the clubhouse and on individual pitching staffs in his recent stops. The Los Angeles rotation has received little from Brad Penny and nothing from Jason Schmidt this season but with Maddux added to the rotation with Chad Billingsley, Derek Lowe, Clayton Kershaw, and Hiroki Kuroda, it should be one of the better units in the National League. The Dodgers also own a top-notch bullpen even with the adjustments made following the injury to Takashi Saito.
   
The Dodgers will have solid pitching but Arizona has the edge with top end starters Brandon Webb and Dan Haren delivering great seasons and Randy Johnson pitching extremely well in the last month. Doug Davis has had some problems recently but Yusmeiro Petit has done a fine job since moving into the rotation although he is not yet going deep into games. Adding Maddux does give the Dodgers a solid rotation 1-5 but the dominance that Webb and Haren offer is a much stronger tool to have in a playoff race. The numbers are pretty clear as Arizona is 35-15 when Webb or Haren start versus the Dodgers being 27-26 when Lowe or Billingsley start.

Both Arizona and Los Angeles have fairly weak schedules down the stretch playing in the NL West and the teams meet for three games in each venue but none of those games will be in the final three weeks. The Brewers and Cardinals currently own a solid edge in the Wild Card standings but given the schedules ahead it would be conceivable for both NL West teams to be in the playoff picture as both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks should produce strong records the rest of the way. The Diamondbacks have to be given the edge in schedule down the stretch however.

Arizona plays a slightly more challenging group of teams with seven games remaining with St. Louis including four on the road and a three game set with Florida this weekend but 22 of the remaining 38 games are at home. The Dodgers play only 15 of the remaining 38 games at home and several games will be across the country out East.

A road trip to Philadelphia starts a ten-game road trip at the end of this week and although four of the games on the trip are against the lowly Nationals, the final three games are in Arizona. The timing of that brutal travel could give the Diamondbacks a huge edge in the head-to-head series that they currently lead 7-5. The Dodgers will also face a second ten-game road trip in September that starts out in nearby San Diego but finishes in Pittsburgh making for some taxing travel heading into the final week of the season. 13 of the final 19 games of the season are on the road for Los Angeles where they currently own a 26-32 record.

The Dodgers are 10-6 since making the Manny Ramirez trade and he has unquestionably provided a spark to the team and makes the lineup much more dangerous. The Dodgers are just 2-4 in road games with Ramirez however including losing a series in San Francisco so the remaining road schedule could be problematic even if the games are against weaker teams.

Arizona has not exactly been playing poorly either with a 14-9 record over the last 23 games. The Diamondbacks are 11-5 in the last 16 road games as they have proven the ability to win away from home to go with a very solid home field record of 33-26. Arizona has battled injuries with several key players on the offense currently sidelined but the Diamondbacks are still averaging 5.8 runs over the past ten games. Since the Ramirez trade Arizona is actually the higher scoring team with 5.1 runs per game versus just 4.8 for Los Angeles despite all the attention and praise the Dodgers have received.

Arizona has been the top team in the NL West for most of the season and they are a team that has the experience of surviving a very tight division race last season. Los Angeles is a good team that will finish the season strong but Arizona should end up on top of the NL West behind the strength of their starting pitching and a home-heavy schedule. It seems like a reach right now but do not rule out the Dodgers in the Wild Card race. The Brewers and Cardinals will face challenging schedules down the stretch and the teams on top of the NL East will be beating up on each other with many games against one another. Milwaukee has a commanding lead right now but the team also owns a history of September struggles and the health issues with Ryan Braun are also a serious concern.

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