A Look at the National League West

The Dodgers' stunning three-game sweep of the Cubs came on strong pitching and on the strength of two-out hits with runners in scoring position, something that earlier this season was a fairly foreign concept to this team. All three games turned on a single inning by the Dodgers, and three of those innings turned on a big two-out hit.

In Game 1, it was James Loney's grand slam in the fifth inning that turned a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead, and the Dodgers never trailed at any point in any game for the rest of the series. In Game 2, it was a bases-loaded bunt single by Rafael Furcal and a three-run double by Russell Martin, both of which came with two outs, that capped a five-run outburst in the second inning. And in Game 3, it was Loney again, delivering a two-out, two-run double in the first inning to put the Dodgers in front.

Of the 20 runs the Dodgers scored in the series, 13 came with two outs.

During the regular season, Loney batted just .256 with two outs and runners in scoring position. But Martin seemed to thrive on such situations, batting .297 with five doubles and 22 RBI.

For the series, the Dodgers batted .400 (8-for-20) with two outs and runners in scoring position despite stranding 13 runners in scoring position for the three games.

Notes and Quotes
--RHP Jonathan Broxton recorded the final four outs in a save situation, raising questions as to who is the Dodgers' closer. Takashi Saito was roughed up in the ninth inning of Game 2, although he was pitching with a seven-run lead. Dodgers manager Joe Torre said he stuck with Broxton because Broxton was throwing a high percentage of strikes, but Torre had said repeatedly in the 48 hours since Game 2 that Saito was still the closer.

--SS Rafael Furcal seemed to lay to rest any questions about his physical well-being. After missing almost five months because of a lower back injury that required surgery and playing only three games after coming off the disabled list on Sept. 24, Furcal batted .333 (4-for-12) with three walks and three runs scored in the series. He also played his position flawlessly, although the official scorer awarded Ryan Theriot a hit in the seventh inning of Game 3 that could have gone as an error on Furcal.

--RHP Hiroki Kuroda had a 0.42 ERA in three starts against the Cubs this season, going 2-1. He capped that domination with 6.1 shutout innings in Game 3, deftly dodging trouble at every turn until the Cubs stranded eight runners against him, half of them in scoring position. Kuroda, who pitched a four-hit shutout against the Cubs on June 6, allowed a total of two runs (one unearned) in 21.2 innings against them this year.

--C Russell Martin batted .308 (4-for-13) for the series with three doubles, a home run and five RBI. Martin clearly benefited not only from having Manny Ramirez hitting behind him but also from having Rafael Furcal hitting in front of him. Of the 12 occasions in which Martin came to the plate and wasn't leading off an inning, Furcal was on base seven times.

--LF Manny Ramirez batted .500 (5-for-10) for the series with two homers and five runs scored. He also walked four times, two of them intentional. He went 3-for-4 with runners in scoring position and is batting .489 (22-for-45) for the Dodgers in such situations.

By the Numb3rs
45 -- Years since the Dodgers had swept a postseason series, something they had most recently accomplished against the New York Yankees in the 1963 World Series. In fact, that is the only previous occasion in the franchise's history, which now includes 13 postseason series victories, in which the Dodgers swept an opponent. The Dodgers had themselves been swept in three of their previous four first-round series since the wild card was added in 1995.

Quote to Note
"You never know what is going to happen in a series like this. You can sweep somebody, or you can get swept, too. Once you take those first two games, you can't let them back in or give them any kind of breathing room at all. We just took it to them tonight." -- Reliever Jonathan Broxton, who appeared in all three games and retired 10 of the 12 batters he faced without giving up a hit or a run or allowing an inherited runner to score.

*MA*S*H* 4077 Medical Watch
Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo won't be on the first-round playoff roster because of health concerns. Even after he saw a doctor Saturday night, there was no explanation for the numbness Kuo felt in the fingers of his left hand as he tried to warm up in the bullpen.

Manager Joe Torre said Kuo was tested for a circulatory problem but that test came back normal and he has resumed throwing but his availability for the NLCS is not known at this time.

RHP Brad Penny (sore right shoulder) received a cortisone shot Sept. 19, then experienced more discomfort while throwing Sept. 20. He was placed on the 60-day disabled list Sept. 24 and was done for the season.

OF Andruw Jones (sore right knee) went on the 60-day disabled list Sept. 13.

RHP Mario Alvarez (elbow) was called up from Class AA Jacksonville and placed on the 60-day disabled list Sept. 5.

RHP Yhency Brazoban (sore right shoulder) was called up from Class AAA Las Vegas and placed on the 60-day disabled list July 19.

RHP Jason Schmidt (right shoulder surgery in June 2007) opened the season on the 15-day disabled list and was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 20. He began a rehab assignment May 11. He was hit in the calf with a line drive during a rehab start on May 31, and the "new injury" extended his stay in the minors. He began a new rehab assignment with Class AAA Las Vegas on June 28, but had a setback in mid-July. He threw off a mound Aug. 20, and he pitched one inning for Las Vegas on Aug. 29. He had another arthroscopic procedure in early September.

C Gary Bennett (plantar fasciitis in left foot) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 19, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 25. He had a setback in mid-June, and he missed the rest of the season.

INF Tony Abreu (sore right hip) opened the season on the 15-day disabled list, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 13. He had season-ending surgery May 28.

Arizona Instructional League
Kuo will be joined at the Dodgers' Instructional League camp in Peoria, Ariz., by relievers Ramon Troncoso and Scott Elbert, infielder Chin-lung Hu and outfielder Jason Repko, all of whom were instructed to stay ready in case they are needed for the second round.

Pitchers Eric Stults and Jason Johnson were told they won't be needed for any playoffs and thus were free to go home for the winter.

It was a disappointing season for a team that for five months looked primed to take their second consecutive National League West title.

The Diamondbacks led the division for exactly five months, from April 6 to Sept. 6, and seemed to have everything in order after taking a 4 1/2-game lead over the Dodgers on Aug. 30. But Arizona faded down the stretch.

The top two starters, Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, combined for 36 victories, and Randy Johnson added another 11, but when the rotation went into two-week funk late in the year, the young hitters could not bail the team out.

The D-backs were thin after the injury losses of outfielder Eric Byrnes (July) and second baseman Orlando Hudson (early August) and even the addition of outfielder/first baseman Adam Dunn on Aug. 11 could not help an offense that finished 10th in runs despite playing in one of the best hitters' parks in the NL.

It became apparent that the D-backs may have expected too much out of 20-year-old outfielder Justin Upton, who hit .325 with five home runs in April but batted only .195 in the next two months before being sidelined by a strained left oblique muscle. Third baseman Mark Reynolds also may have been pushed, too. He led the D-backs with 28 homers and 97 RBIs but became the second player in major league history to lead both leagues in strikeouts (204) and errors (35) the same year. He set a major league record for strikeouts.

Stephen Drew became the player many envisioned, joining Robin Yount and Nomar Garciaparra as the only major leaguer shortstops to amass at least 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 homers in the same year. Outfielder/first baseman Conor Jackson had his first .300 season, joining Drew, outfielder Chris Young, Upton and catcher Chris Snyder as a lineup fixture.

The D-backs have Webb and Haren for at least the next two years (Haren is signed through 2013). Add in left-hander Doug Davis and right-hander Max Scherzer, and Arizona has a solid rotation, more so if free agent Johnson returns, although he must fit into the team's small-market salary structure.

Right-hander Chad Qualls was the closer the final 16 days and will take that job into spring training, but it is clear the team needs a left-handed specialist and at least one more bullpen arm to go with returning right-hander Tony Pena, probably two.

Free Agents-- 1B Tony Clark, 1B/OF Adam Dunn, 2B/SS David Eckstein, RHP Juan Cruz, 2B Orlando Hudson, LHP Randy Johnson, RHP Brandon Lyon. Arbitration Eligible-- INF Chris Burke, OF/1B Conor Jackson, LHP Wil Ledezma, INF Augie Ojeda, RHP Chad Qualls, C Chris Snyder

The Rockies learned the lesson -- the hard way.

They don't plan on taking a chance for 2009. They will focus this offseason on adding a big-league starting pitcher, and they will dangle infielder Garrett Atkins and left fielder Matt Holliday in trade discussions.

Coming off the first NL pennant in franchise history last winter, the front office wanted to be careful not to disrupt the makeup of the team, and it took a passive approach to the offseason. Nowhere was it more apparent than in the lack of success the Rockies had in their offseason acquisition of pitchers.

"We were a little less aggressive," general manager Dan O'Dowd admitted. "We tried to find someone who was more of a swing guy than a true starter. We felt after the way Franklin (Morales) pitched in the final two months, and with what we saw with Jason Hirsh, that we didn't want to take away any chance they had to flourish."

They didn't flourish, and when Ubaldo Jimenez struggled early and Jeff Francis battled left shoulder inflammation, the Rockies dug themselves an early-season hole that they never climbed out of, even though the rest of the NL West gave them plenty of opportunities to catch up.

Hirsh didn't get to the big leagues until September. He opened the season on the disabled list with a sprained right rotator cuff, then spent the summer trying to rebuild strength at Class AAA Colorado Springs.

Morales went 1-2 with a 6.39 ERA in five starts, allowing 28 hits and 17 walks in 25.1 innings before being shipped out, and he wasn't even recalled in September. The three veterans the Rockies had as insurance -- Mark Redman, Josh Towers and Kip Wells -- cost them $5 million and combined for 11 ineffective starts.

And along with the rotation problems, the Rockies offense sputtered. Center fielder Willy Taveras and third baseman Atkins were the only members of the Opening Day lineup who didn't spend time on the disabled list, and Taveras did miss the final week of the season with a stress fracture in his right tibia. And there was an early-season bullpen malfunction that resulted in Brian Fuentes regaining the closer role from Manny Corpas.

Add it all together and it tells the story of why the Rockies suffered their ninth losing season in 11 years.

Nineteen games into the season, they fell below .500 (9-10) and never got back to break even. They never spent a day in first place in the NL West.

"It was," manager Clint Hurdle said, "a challenging year, an emotional year."

And, in the end, it was a disappointing year.

Free Agents-- LHP Brian Fuentes, OF Scott Podsednik, RHP Livan Hernandez, RHP Matt Herges, LHP Glendon Rusch. Arbitration Eligible-- 3B Garrett Atkins, OF Willy Taveras, LHP Jorge De La Rosa, RHP Jason Grilli, RHP Taylor Buchholz, C Adam Melhuse, 2B Clint Barmes.

The Padres had an awful 2008.

There is no other way to assess their performance ... and their plight could get worse if owner John Moores' divorce forces him to trim $20 million off the 2009 payroll budget.

San Diego went from 89 wins in 2007 and a play-in game loss from making the National League playoffs for a third consecutive season to 63 wins this season -- the 26-win drop being the worst downturn in the franchise's 40-season history.

And little was as good as it was in 2007, the main exception being first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who had 36 homers and 119 RBIs with scant protection behind him.

Elsewhere, collapse. And the season apparently ended with a rift between the front office and the field personnel over philosophy.

Jake Peavy went from winning the Cy Young Award in 2007 to scrambling in his last start to become the only San Diego starter to reach 10 wins. The other half of the Padres' 1-2 pitching punch, Chris Young, spent almost half the season on the disabled list, although he did recover from being hit in the face by an Albert Pujols liner in May.

Offensively, the Padres were last in the National League in runs scored (3.9 per game), on-base percentage (.317) and steals (an incredibly woeful total of 36). Oh yes, did we mention the Padres were slow in addition to having troubles even reaching base?

And the Padres went from leading the National League in ERA in 2007 (both their starters and relievers also led the league) to ranking ninth in team ERA this season with a bullpen that was third from the bottom.

The 2008 season became a testing ground for some of the Padres' young players. And while there were some pleasant surprises (center fielder Will Venable, catcher Nick Hundley, right-handed starter Josh Geer) there were some questions raised about other prospects.

Left fielder Chase Headley, the Padres' poster-boy prospect, hit .269, but he also struck out 104 times in 331 at-bats -- a 180-strikeout pace over a full season. And left-handed starter Wade LeBlanc had an 8.02 ERA and was 1-3 in five appearances.

The Padres have some pieces to build around in Gonzalez, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, Peavy and Young. But they have to address questions at three spots in the rotation, at least half the bullpen, catcher, second base, shortstop (Khalil Greene was hitting .213 with 10 homers when he was injured) and left field -- plus right field and closer if they let Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman walk.

The Padres believe their prospects will help. But Venable is the only one who has shown the foot speed to address that major shortcoming. Even if they wanted to sign a free agent, which is not in their plans, the money might not be there ... it might not even be there to sign Giles and Hoffman.

Free Agents-- RF Brian Giles, RHP Trevor Hoffman, LHP Shawn Estes, RHP Mark Prior, C Michael Barrett. Arbitration-Eligible-- RHP Heath Bell, RHP Clay Hensley, C Josh Bard, OF Jody Gerut, OF Scott Hairston, INF Luis Rodriguez

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS Ninety losses usually equate to a bad season, but the Giants' youth movement, implemented in the final two months, left intriguing results.

Corner infielder/catcher Pablo Sandoval, a .345 hitter in 145 at-bats (just 14 strikeouts), and middle infielder Emmanuel Burriss figure to be in next year's lineup, along with left fielder Fred Lewis, who played his first full season in the majors, and maybe right fielder Nate Schierholtz if Randy Winn is traded.

Ace Tim Lincecum, a Cy Young Award candidate, and closer Brian Wilson were All-Stars all season.

So 2008, the first year without Barry Bonds, came and went with a one-game improvement over 2007, but the bigger picture is that the Giants have more hope for the future. For years, their farm system was one of the worst -- Lewis is the first player since Bill Mueller who was drafted by the Giants and evolved into an everyday player. The Giants finally went with their long-awaited youth movement beginning in early August. It came after they failed to trade their veterans (other than Ray Durham) before the July 31 trade deadline.

The results were better after the team went younger. The Giants were 44-63 before Aug. 1, 26-27 after.

But to return to contention, they need outside help, particularly in the heart of the lineup. Bengie Molina was the cleanup hitter and led the team with just 16 home runs, and top newcomer Aaron Rowand (five years, $60 million) hit .271 with 13 homers, and he had just one RBI in September.

The bullpen, except for closer Brian Wilson, was sub-par, though rookie Sergio Romo made a late splash, going 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA.

The strength is the rotation, led by Lincecum, who topped the majors with 265 strikeouts and was second in the NL with a 2.62 ERA. But Matt Cain had a second consecutive losing record (8-14) despite a 3.76 ERA, and Jonathan Sanchez struggled in the final two months. He was 8-4 before July 1, 1-8 after.

Barry Zito, in the second year of his seven-year, $126 million contract, lost his first eight games and finished 10-17 with a 5.15 ERA.

Free Agents --SS Omar Vizquel, INF Rich Aurilia, RHP Keiichi Yabu. Arbitration Eligible--RHP Tyler Walker, LHP Jack Taschner, RHP Brad Hennessey, RHP Kevin Correia

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