Analysts, oddsmakers, Alyssa Milano, practically everyone has tabbed the Los Angeles Dodgers as the team to beat in the National League West. It's not hard to see why.
• Puig Mania
• A red-hot Hanley Ramirez
• A 17-5 record to close the first half
• Kershaw & Greinke
• Owners who show no financial discretion when it comes to improving the team
• On the heels of a vulnerable division leader with starting and relief pitching issues
I can certainly understand why Tim Kurkjian, Las Vegas, and Samantha Miceli might be seduced into believing in Dodger Blue.
I, on the other hand, am not so easily swayed. In fact, call me stupid, but I happen to believe the Giants remain a bigger threat to the Diamondbacks. Here's why the Dodgers won't win the NL West.
Yasiel Puig has been a sensation. I defended his case for the All-Star Game. I've even defended his controversial on-field play, for I don't see how a guy that floated here on a raft from Cuba just a few months ago would understand the highly confusing expectation of "playing the game the right way." Furthermore, I don't believe pitchers will start figuring Puig out. I liken him to Vladimir Guerrero -- an incredibly gifted hitter who happens to be patternless as a batter, which is a starting pitcher's great nightmare.
HOWEVER! Puig is already showing signs of decline. Since July 1, the outfielder has not hit a home run and has driven in only two runs in 47 at-bats. He's battled through injuries, but the way he plays -- running through walls and the whatnot -- he's not likely to avoid more bumps and bruises going forward. And if the Cuban continues to ruffle opponents and respond aggressively when threatened, is he not a candidate for more controversy?
Controversy = Distractions. And the Dodger locker room is not nearly strong enough to withstand potential in-house strife. Remember, this is the same 18-26 team manager Don Mattingly publicly ripped for having no fight in them. Puig was clearly just the medicine the team needed, but how long before the drug wears off? Or eventually worsens the condition?
The most overlooked aspect of the Dodgers' current streak has been the outstanding play of Hanley Ramirez. No player on the roster has benefited more from Puig Mania than Ramirez. The shortstop is hitting .386 while flying completely under the radar for the first time in his career, which is precisely how the Dodgers want to keep him.
HOWEVER! Hanley has a notorious on-off switch only he controls. And to this point in the talented shortstop's career, no one has been able to gauge when he'll decide to flick it. In addition, Ramirez has been on the DL four times in the last three seasons, a trait he has in common with teammates Matt Kemp (missed 70 games due to injury over the course of the last year) and Carl Crawford (hasn't gone more than two months without a DL stint since 2011).
How quickly we forget
Less than a month ago, the Dodgers had the same record as the Cubs and an inferior mark to the Mets. Now, they can't miss? Come on. The Dodgers still rank 25th in the majors in runs scored. They still have holes at third base, catcher and middle relief, and they're not exactly loaded at second base. There's a reason no team since 1995 finished June in last place and rallied to win their division. Teams who are that bad for three months at a time normally have flaws that tend to expose themselves again after a hot streak.
Towers vs. Colletti
Personally, I think Arizona sports fans and media members have overrated Kevin Towers as a general manager. But just because I don't think Towers is great doesn't mean I don't think he's good. And he is certainly superior to the Dodgers' Ned Colletti, author of the worst trade in baseball's modern era last year when he acquired two injury-plagued clubhouse cancers with what should have been unmovable contracts. Josh Beckett is out for the year and Carl Crawford could become a huge distraction if he's unhappy with the playing time he's undoubtedly going to lose to Puig once Kemp returns from the DL. Of course, ownership that has already OK'd a $216 million payroll and is willing to spend whatever it takes going forward clearly gives Colletti an advantage at the trade deadline, but I'm willing to bet he screws it up. Meanwhile, Towers will add his reliever before the deadline and a bat off the bench after the deadline, and rely on the current roster to play better in the second half.
Diamondbacks are better than they've shown
What has been invariably left out of the national conversation regarding the NL West is how badly the Diamondbacks have underachieved in the first half. Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy and Wade Miley have all performed below expectations. The bullpen? That was supposed to be the strength of the team, remember that? Instead, Arizona leads the majors in blown saves. Offensively, Aaron Hill has missed a large portion of the season, Adam Eaton has missed nearly all of it, Miguel Montero is hitting 50 points below his career average and veterans Jason Kubel and Cody Ross have been entirely ineffective. What about the Diamondbacks playing better in the second half? Has the hot chick from Embrace of the Vampire even considered that?
You want a bold prediction in the face of all this Dodger Mania?
Los Angeles will not only fail to win the NL West, they'll finish third.