NL West Getting Older (Better?) For Stretch Run

The National League West has tightened up as of late, with the Dodgers just five and a half games ahead of both the Giants and Rockies heading into play Tuesday. It wasn’t long ago that the Dodgers had the biggest division lead of any team in baseball. But a 14-15 August, combined with the Rockies' and Giants' recent play, has tightened up the NL West for Los Angeles. It’s also given the division the inside track on getting two teams into the playoffs, with the Giants and Rockies both tied for the Wild Card, three games clear of the field. ↵

↵While we make such a big deal about the trade deadline at the end of July, the real deadline is Aug. 31, which is the last day a player acquired in a trade can be eligible for the playoff roster. That explains why the NL West was very busy this week. ↵

↵

↵First, the Giants signed Brad Penny after the right hander cleared waivers. Penny, who was put on waivers last week after going 7-8 with a 5.61 ERA for Boston this season, was picked up by the Giants to bolster (they hope) their young rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. At the very least, for the pro-rated league minimum of $100,000, The Giants could use Penny to be Barry Zito’s roadie for a month and the pickup would still make fiscal sense. ↵

↵

↵The Dodgers have made the biggest splash, ↵trading for Jim Thome and Jon Garland in separate deadline deals yesterday. The Thome deal has grabbed all the headlines, but really makes the least amount of sense. Thome, hitting .252 with 23 home runs and 74 RBI this season, cannot play the field anymore, and he told GM Ned Colletti just that: ↵

↵
↵⇥“I just want to be honest with you. I'd love to come. I want to help you guys any way I can. But playing first base is not something I'm going to be able to do — maybe in an emergency situation, perhaps." ↵
↵

↵Thome is owed $2,415,301, and is eligible to become a free agent after the World Series. That’s a lot for a spot pinch hitter, as Thome will be nothing more than a lefty bat off the bench. And while Thome has 564 home runs in his career, he’s rarely come off the bench at all, registering ↵13 career pinch hits, including just two homers, in 63 career pinch-hit at-bats. The White Sox received infielder Justin Fuller for Thome and cash, presumably to pay down much of that pro-rated $13-million Thome is earning this season. ↵

↵

↵While Thome leads the headlines, Garland might be able to help the Dodgers more in the long run. Garland will be joining his third team in as many years, but he was an 18-game winner just a few years ago. He was 8-11 this season for Arizona with a 4.29 ERA. Joe Torre already said that Garland will get the ball every fifth day for the Dodgers, who were clearly looking for help in their rotation. Now they have it. ⇥⇥⇥⇥⇥⇥⇥⇥⇥ ↵

↵

↵Not to be outdone, the Rockies made a deadline deal as well. Colorado was red hot in August before cooling off to end the month, losing their last five games including three to the rival Giants. That said, the Rox are still firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt, so they went out and traded one of their top pitching prospects, Brandon Hynick, for playoff veteran Jose Contreras and cash considerations. Contreres isn’t the same pitcher he once was, struggling this season with a 5-13 record and 5.42 ERA, but he’s been there before, and the Rockies needed pitching help with the injury to starter Aaron Cook. Cook should return at some point in the regular season, but the Rockies felt they needed to fill the void, and with the White Sox in fire-sale mode, Contreras was available. ↵

↵

↵With four deals involving four of the five NL West teams, the division was busy this week. The Dodgers, Rockies and Giants have all gotten older and more experienced. It’ll be interesting to follow which teams actually get better. ↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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