• Sky Kalkman (Moderator): What surprising story lines from the first half of the season have shaped the standings the most?
Peter Baker (The Good Phight): Broadly, I'd say the mediocrity of the division. I think most people saw the Mets and Phillies as co-favorites, with the Marlins and Braves as possible contenders if things went well for them. Well, all four are contending, but not really by virtue of anybody playing particularly well. I don't know if anyone can say they're "shocked" necessarily about the Marlins; they are doing what they always do -- stockpiling good, young pitching.
Specifically with regard to the Phillies, I would cite the mind-boggling numbers of Raul Ibanez, and the early-season struggles of Jimmy Rollins and Brad Lidge.
Ed Chigliak (Federal Baseball): The Florida Marlins' complete dominance of the Washington Nationals has had a significant effect on the NL East standings. The Marlins are 9-0 against DC, 10-10 against the rest of the division. The biggest story in the NL East, however, has to be the injuries the Mets have suffered, losing J.J. Putz, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado for significant stretches in the first half. Who would have guessed that Gary Sheffield would be leading the Mets in HR's, or that David Wright would have just 5 HR's when he had 17 at the break last year and 16 in 2007. I looked at their roster before the season and saw holes, but that was when Putz, Reyes, Beltran and Delgado were in the lineup.
Eric Simon (Amazin' Avenue): It's hard to argue with the Mets' injuries being the biggest surprise of the first half. As Ed pointed out, three of their top four hitters have been gone for significant stretches and none is due back anytime soon. Two-fifths of the Mets' starting rotation have missed significant time, with Oliver Perez just recently rejoining the team (for better or worse).
The Phillies' woeful starting pitching has been a surprise and the lack of power from David Wright and Chipper Jones, the latter of which isn't receiving nearly the press coverage of the former. More than anything, though, is the fact that none of these teams has really been any good.
Ed Chigliak (Federal Baseball): I'll see your Omar Minaya and raise you a Jim Bowden, Eric. Just looking at the work Bowden's replacement, Mike Rizzo, had to do to "fix" the Nationals' bullpen into even a serviceable corps makes you wonder what the ....heck Mr. Bowden was thinking going into the season...and don't get me started on Mr. Minaya's "work" with the Expos...
Martin Gandy (Talking Chop): I'm with everyone who says that the division is wallowing in mediocrity. I expected the Mets to struggle, but I didn't think the amount of injuries that have happened would happen -- if you look at their lineup right now it looks like the worst and weakest lineup in baseball. The Marlins have hung around longer than expected, and the Nationals have been even worse than I thought they would be.
Craig Strain (FishStripes): I guess like everyone else, the Mets injuries, which really doesn't surprise other than they all happened at once and came so early in the season. The Phillies having trouble getting good consistent starting pitching. The Braves having trouble scoring runs and I really thought the Nationals would have done somewhat better than they have. The Marlins are about where I expected them to be, I just had no idea that it would've been good enough for second place going into the All-Star break.
• Sky Kalkman (Moderator): Which of those surprises are most likely to continue throughout the rest of the season? I.e. which are flukes and which are for real?
Peter Baker (The Good Phight): Raul Ibanez is not Albert Pujols. He's going to have a second half close to his career averages, which is still pretty good. I think Brad Lidge is going to continue to struggle; his knee is just not right and no one seems to want to acknowledge how badly it's affecting him.
Eric Simon (Amazin' Avenue): I don't know that the Mets will get even more injured, but the fact that their injured stars aren't even on the precipice of good health means they'll be getting inadequate performances from a lot of key positions. If the Phillies can get some decent starting pitching for a stretch they could run away with the division.
Martin Gandy (Talking Chop): There's always a question of whether the Marlins will stay around. The Nationals may continue to get worse, especially if they trade off some other parts of their current team. At some point, someone is going to take off in this division and put some distance between them and the rest of the teams.
Ed Chigliak (Federal Baseball): Do you think the team to take off and separate themselves will be anyone other than the Phillies though? They've had injuries and gotten less out of Jimmy Rollins and a tired Cole Hamels than they expected, so instead Raul Ibanez steps in and Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino keep carrying them. I liked the Braves getting Nate McLouth, but wonder about their trade for Ryan Church...and I'd like Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson against any other team in the division's rotation...I don't see the current Mets' roster challenging the Phillies and expect a second-half fade from Florida...The Nationals? Don't worry about them, just quietly stockpiling pitching...
Peter Baker (The Good Phight): I do think the Phillies have the potential to pull away, but it's going to take some better pitching. The pitching in general has been better of late, but Hamels remains inconsistent. I'm definitely not shocked that he's struggling, after his huge workload last season. Flags fly forever, though, so I'm not complaining.
Craig Strain (FishStripes): The Marlins can be ran away from, but if this division keeps playing like the NL West of old, I can almost guarantee the Marlins will be in the hunt for the entire season. (This is assuming no major injuries to key personnel.)
• Sky Kalkman (Moderator): Which big local stories aren't getting as much attention from the national media? Should they be?
Peter Baker (The Good Phight): The emergence of the Phillies farm system, for one. They have three bonafide blue-chippers (Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Dominic Brown) plus a slew of other quality prospects who can slot in as the current core ages. The big reason they're widely considered the favorites in the Roy Halladay Sweepstakes is the depth and quality of the prospects they could send to Toronto. It's been a number of years since they've had this depth and quality.
Ed Chigliak (Federal Baseball): Adam Dunn's well on his way to his sixth straight 40 HR season, and if he isn't dealt, the big guy will be attempting to become the first player since Babe Ruth to hit 40 HR's in seven consecutive seasons in the second year of his contract with the Nationals in 2010, so consider that a preview of a story people will be talking about all next year. But for this year, it seems like people are laying off so far, but Washington still hasn't signed this year's #1 pick, Stephen Strasburg, and with the rumors that are surfacing about what Scott "Maximum" Boras will be asking for, it could become one of the biggest stories in baseball in the next month.
Peter Baker (The Good Phight): I love Adam Dunn and root for him except when he plays the Phillies. He's a beast.
Eric Simon (Amazin' Avenue): I think folks need to realize how truly awful Omar Minaya has been at assembling a roster. He can't be held accountable for all of the injuries, but he does bear most of the responsibility for having basically replacement level fill-ins at every position. No one expected the Mets to have Carlos Delgado or Jose Reyes clones lying around, but the Minaya regime has been predicated on the signing and retention of superstars and filling in the gaps with dreck. There has been nobody who even approached decency (let alone averageness or above-averageness) ready to step in for the Mets, especially on offense, and the Mets' run-scoring has cratered as a result.
Martin Gandy (Talking Chop): The excellence of our starting pitching has gone mostly unnoticed because they don't have the wins that other folks do. The fact that Javier Vazquez is among the top-5 in baseball in strikeouts and ERA and not on the All-Star team is silly. Jair Jurrjens has also been spectacular, and Rafael Soriano is as good as any closer in baseball right now.
Peter Baker (The Good Phight): If Chipper Jones and Brian McCann can up their games a bit in the second half, and Tim Hudson comes back somewhere near his old self, the Braves could be scary down the stretch.
Craig Strain (FishStripes): Speaking of a couple in the division, the Adam Dunn and Jair Jurrjens stories are way under the radar and don't deserve to be. As for the Marlins, we don't get press, well, other than Hanley, but besides that the team lives under the radar and there they will remain.
• Sky Kalkman (Moderator): For the teams probably out of the running, what acquisitions and decisions with an eye toward 2010 and future seasons would you consider a "win"?
Ed Chigliak (Federal Baseball): I'll assume this one's solely for the Nationals blogger...I think the acquisition of Nyjer Morgan is a "win" in that it will give the Nationals a CF for a few seasons, which might free them up to trade some of their older outfield prospects. The decision to part ways with Manny Acta is a "loss", in my opinion since it will set them back a half-season in development if they don't keep Jim Riggleman around for 2010. What the Nationals can get in the next two weeks for Nick Johnson, Cristian Guzman, Josh Willingham, Austin Kearns, Ron Villone, Joe Beimel will shape next year's roster...but it's all about signing Strasburg...that'll be the big (curly)-W.
• Sky Kalkman (Moderator): What story lines will we see in the second half of the season that most people aren't expecting?
Peter Baker (The Good Phight): I'm predicting that the Braves make a sick run on the backs of their starting pitching staff. The Mets will valiantly hang in despite their injuries but ultimately fall short.
Eric Simon (Amazin' Avenue): Pedro Martinez will dominate for the Phillies while the rest of their starting rotation gets its act together for a month or so. The Phils run away with the division. Hopefully I've jinxed it now. Alternatively (or perhaps in conjunction), the Mets fall so far out of contention that they fire Jerry Manuel and install Manny Acta as their new manager.
Ed Chigliak (Federal Baseball): The Return of Dmitri Young...I also think the Nationals are going to be resting a lot of their young pitchers, so it might surprise a few people just how many pitching prospects the Nationals have amassed.
Craig Strain (FishStripes): In headline form: Who is the best Dutch born pitcher active in the majors today: Jair Jurrjens or Rick VandenHurk?
• Sky Kalkman (Moderator): How about ending with one bold prediction we won't hold you accountable for if you're wrong, but we'll worship at your feet for if it comes true?
Peter Baker (The Good Phight): Kyle Drabek will be called up and will fill a Joba Chamberlain-esque short relief role late in the season, minus the fist pumps and subsequent DWIs; he's coming off Tommy John surgery and leads the minors in innings pitched. They need to regulate his innings.
Eric Simon (Amazin' Avenue): Adam Dunn wins double gold gloves in left field and at first base.
Ed Chigliak (Federal Baseball): Dunn at first...(shivers)...Please don't trade Nick Johnson, Mr. Rizzo!...Uh, I'm going to predict that Strasburg signs with DC and he gets $20-$25 million, which is a ridiculous price, but what it's going to take to convince him to join the Nationals. If that's not bold enough, Jordan Zimmermann wins the NL Rookie of the Year.
Craig Strain (FishStripes): Josh Johnson - Cy Young Award Winner.