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The National League West Race: Notes and Comments

The 2013 National League West simply will not stand still and cooperate. And it's annoying to the national sports media who are scrambling to do their best to write this season's pre-packaged NL West story– i.e., which team will finish ahead of the San Francisco Giants.

Most pre-season predictions about the NL West are disappearing faster than executive careers at the IRS.

In March virtually everyone with a laptop anointed the Los Angeles Dodgers and their newly purchased team as the favorites to take the West this season.

When that appeared to not be happening by the end of April, the nation's sports media mavens moved on to their next NL Western Division "big story"– the Colorado Rockies were for real and it looked like they just might make a big move in 2013.

But a topsy-turvy April is slowly sorting itself out and actual performance is beginning to replace wishful thinking:

> The early favorite Los Angeles Dodgers and their $220 million payroll are in last place at 15-22 and the team's 9-13 home record is giving their easily distracted fans more reasons to stay home and watch reality shows on their 72" TVs. 

>  LA Manager Don Mattingly seems to be a wonderful guy– but while Dodger ownership can apparently print and shred money, they can't win with Mattingly. He's as laid back as a Santa Monica surfer and there are sharks in the water.  

>  Oh, and this breaking news just in from CNN: the Colorado Rockies are probably not going to outplay the San Francisco Giants or the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013 and take the National League West. The Rockies actual "big story" this season would be to try to finish in third place ahead of the flashy Dodgers and the young and talented San Diego Padres.      

>  The San Francisco Giants at 23-15 have the second best record in the National League (St. Louis is 24-13) and are scoring an average of 4.58 runs per game– just enough to support their pitching.

Giant pitching is only 8th out of 16 NL teams in WHIP (1.27) and ERA (3.71). Still, they lead the NL in strikeouts (320), are in second place with 13 saves (the Pirates have 16), and are 2nd in NL shutouts with 5 (St. Louis has 7 shutouts).

But the broken record plays on: the Giants have to increase run production.

>  Giant rookie outfielder Francisco Peguero was just sent back to Triple-A Fresno after 16 at-bats and three hits. GM Brian Sabean has always over-valued veteran ballplayers, so he is holding on to the Gregor Blanco/Andres Torres solution to the left field problem.

Torres and Blanco have a collective .678 OPS this season and they've combined to hit into 6 double plays in only five weeks of baseball. Let's hope Peguero gets a longer look sooner than later and is given a chance to contribute the real offense San Francisco needs.

>  The Giants called up minor league first baseman Brett Pill from Fresno. Pill has put up good numbers at Fresno (batting .341) but his MO has always been that he hits well in the minors and then can't get it done at the Major League level. Pill had several call-ups in 2011 and 2012, but he hit .239 with a mediocre .702 OPS in 62 games for San Francisco over that time.

Brett Pill will be 29 this year and it's not a coincidence that he isn't listed on any top 20 (or 30) lists of Giant prospects. Worse, since Pill can only play first base his presence on the roster means that Brandon Belt will lose playing time, which is not good for Belt or for the team.

Belt could be moved to left field, but here's the problem: the possibility that Pill has magically morphed into a very good hitter, after a history of being an underperforming hitter, is slight. To disrupt Brandon Belt's development to get a temporarily hot bat into the line-up seems short-sighted at best.

Brandon Belt brings world class defense at first base and is starting to be the extra base power hitter the Giants desperately need in their everyday line-up. Why mess with that?

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