National League First Half Report Cards

NATIONAL LEAGUE FIRST-HALF MLB REPORT CARDS

By Jim Hurley:

Here's today question - National League-style:

Do you think it's a slam-dunk that the Philadelphia Phillies (the only team in the senior circuit that's playing better-than.-600 ball at press time) wind up in this year's World Series or could there be a dark horse out there as was the case last year when the San Francisco Giants not only conquered the NL but won it all. Gotta admit that we'd rank the here-and-now Phils as heavy-duty favorites to get back to their third Fall Classic in four years (see 2008 World Series champs over Tampa Bay and 2009 World Series "runnerups" against the New York Yankees) but, than again, you never know, right?

Hope that you enjoyed our American League halfway point Report Cards in yesterday's Jim Sez ... now we motor ahead towards next Tuesday's All-Star Game in Arizona with the NL Report Cards:

THE NATIONAL LEAGUE REPORT CARDS

Editor's Note: We're not about to bog down this quick-hitter column with a whole bunch of stats - go on mlb.com or some other site if you want to study all the individual stats - as here we shoot from the proverbial hip and we remind you that we consider ourselves "tough markers" here at Jim Sez:

GRADE: A+

PITTSBURGH (45-42) - The unabashed numero uno story in the NL (we don't care what some of the other "experts" say!) gets the top grade at the unofficial halfway point of this 2011 season as manager Clint Hurdle's first year on the job has been stupendous and yet we're still scratching our heads as to why CF Andrew McCutchen was left off this year's All-Star Game roster. The Buccos have proven to sport a better-than-you-think everyday lineup and RHP Kevin Correia and closer Joel Hanrahan have been terrific. Now, if only the Pirates can stay in the thick of things the rest of the way!


GRADE: A

ARIZONA (48-41) - At no time in the season's first six weeks did the Diamondbacks appear to be anything special but here's the mid-way point and this club's just two full games back of NL West-leading San Francisco and that, my friends, is a major accomplishment. Note that'Zona RHP Ian Kennedy is one of the league's top five hurlers (and don't the New York Yankees miss'em in that rotation?) and "hats off" to skipper Kirk Gibson who didn't panic when this club stumbled at season's start.

ATLANTA (53-36) - The Braves have won nine of their last 10 games at press time and yet we barely hear a peep about this NL East club on a national level (yes, we noticed nobody shows up at Turner Field anymore but shouldn't Freddy Garcia's crew be getting hailed?). If RHP Jair Jurrjens isn't the All-Star Game starting pitcher than something's really amiss.

PHILADELPHIA (55-33) - Gotta admit that we believed this 2011 Phils team would play .630-to-.650 ball this year and so being some 22 games over the .500 mark is no great stunner here but "aces" Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have been great and 1B Ryan Howard (also snubbed on this year's All-Star Game roster) gets a round of applause along with 3B Placido Polanco for coming up huge when middle infielders 2B Chase Utley and SS Jimmy Rollins were either injured or slumping earlier this season.


GRADE: B+

SAN FRANCISCO (50-39) - The defending World Series champs always seem to be engaged in low-scoring, grit-it-out affairs but Bruce Bochy's crew - even with ace Tim Lincecum with a losing record at 6-7 - usually finds a way to win and that's not always easy without injured star C Buster Posey. If the recent starts made by LHP Barry Zito are a sign of what's to come, than the G-men could be gearing up for another run at the World Series but when are 3B/SS Miguel Tejada and OF Andres Torres gonna kick it up a notch at the plate?

NEW YORK METS (45-43) - Consider that the Mets have played most of this 2011 campaign without 3B David Wright and 1B Ike Davis and now star SS Jose Reyes is on the shelf too (hamstring woes again) and so you have to hand it to first-year manager Terry Collins for keeping this gang afloat amongst trying physical and financial times. No doubt RHP Dillon Gee has been a revelation, save for his past two starts (both sixth-inning flameouts against the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers), while recent road series wins in Texas, Detroit and LA (taking three-of-four from the Dodgers) was eye-opening stuff.

WASHINGTON (45-44) - The Nationals are turning into one of MLB's most exciting teams and this all without injured RHP Stephen Strasburg and soon-to-be big-league OF Bryce Harper. We've seen struggling RF Jayson Werth hit in about every possible spot in the batting order (we never did get him batting in the #1 or #2 holes in the Jim Riggleman days) and we've even seen new/old manager Davey Johnson attempt two squeeze bunts in one game ... what is the baseball world coming to?


GRADE: B

MILWAUKEE (47-42) - The Brewers remain one of baseball's best home sides (see 31-13) but they really struggle on the road (see 16-29) and you have to wonder if power guys LF Ryan Braun and 1B Prince Fielder (among others) just don't feel quite as comfy outside the confines of Miller Park. And when is 3B Casey McGehee ever gone start hitting? So far, the trade for one-time AL Cy Young Award winner Zach Greinke has been a boom-or-bust thing (see 7-3 with a 5.66 ERA).


GRADE: C+

ST. LOUIS (47-42) - Even the long-faithful Cardinals fans don't appear to be all that jazzed up by this year's club (see attendance figures) that stunningly got 1B Albert Pujols back on the field some five weeks quicker than originally anticipated but RHP Chris Carpenter has been lost in space while born-again OF Lance Berkman should be handed the Comeback Player of the Year right this very minute.

SAN DIEGO (40-49) - Count us among the folks that didn't expect another 90-win season from these Padres this year but does every single SD game have to be a Texas death-match where the winning side scores only two or three runs? Borrrr-ing!


GRADE: C

CINCINNATI (44-45) - It sure seems as if this year's Reds just cannot get untracked whether it be the pitching woes of veteran RHP Bronson Arroyo or the lack of pop from 3B Scott Rolen. In any event, Dusty Baker's squad keeps treading water these days but should be encouraged by the solid 25-17 mark within the NL Central.


GRADE: D

FLORIDA (40-48) - Has the bottom fallen out of a big-league team any faster than what's happened to this year's Marlins? The Edwin Rodriguez Era didn't last a full calendar year and it's becoming painfully obvious that injured RHP Josh Johnson just cannot be counted on to make it through a full season.

COLORADO (41-47) - Let's not start hearing excuses about the recent injuries to SS Troy Tulowitzki and CF Carlos Gonzalez as the Rockies were tumbling even before both those dudes went down. Meanwhile, as is the case with Florida's Johnson, it seems Colorado LHP Jorge de la Rose just cannot stay in one apiece for a full 30-plus starts.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS (38-51) - The cash-strapped NL West club does all the "little things" wrong as evidenced by the recent four-game set against the Mets as LA's bullpen leaked at all the wrong times and no one - save for All-Star CF Matt Kemp - really picked up the beat offensively. Think Joe Torre is glad he flew the coop after last year's sub-.500 (see 80-82) season?


GRADE: F

HOUSTON (30-59) - The Astros are playing an MLB-worst .337 ball and that's with one of the game's real stars in RF Hunter Pence. Whatta shame that this franchise has floundered so badly the past couple of years after a great run through the early-to-mid 2000s, right?

CHICAGO CUBS (36-53) - Talk about a sinking ship! Mike Quade has proven to be the wrong man for the managerial job but there are so many Cubbies who stink this year that the list is too long to mention here. When is the yard sale, anyway?

And now hear this: Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers release Major-League Baseball Winners each/every day and you can be part of all the action -- just remember to call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or go online right here and make sure you're all aboard for a summer filled with all our MLB winners! The calling/check-in times are after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays; anytime after 11 a.m. ET for the weekday Baseball action; and than anytime after 1 p.m. ET for all the weeknight action. Now go ahead and pile up all your summertime Baseball winners! Keep in mind we'll have the Side & Totals of next Tuesday's All-Star Game from Arizona when you check in game-day afternoon after 1 p.m. ET. Got it?

NOTE: Catch our Sunday edition of Jim Sez next!

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