Commentary

Hit Parade: National League lineup breakdowns

Updated: July 2, 2008, 12:08 PM ET
By Brendan Roberts | ESPN.com

Our "State of the Union," er, "State of the Lineups" series continues. We took a closer look at American League lineups and what we can expect going forward in last week's Hit Parade. Now let's take a closer look at the National League lineups, ranked most interesting to least. All stats are through Monday's games.

Philadelphia Phillies (major league runs-per-game rank: 3rd): So let's see, Ryan Howard has his typical slow start and is currently hitting .215. Pat Burrell also repeats his past splits and goes cold in May and June. Jimmy Rollins misses a month because of an ankle injury. Jayson Werth was hot but then found the DL. Shane Victorino was useless in April, mostly because of a calf injury. Pedro Feliz still hasn't gone on his typical one-month tear yet this season. Same for Geoff Jenkins, a career .275 hitter who is currently batting .239. Many of the players above are renowned second-half hitters -- and this team still ranks third in runs per game. Ay yi yi! With everyone in the lineup now healthy, all I can say is: "The Death Star is fully operational."

Chicago Cubs (major league runs-per-game rank: 2nd): If I had told you Alfonso Soriano would miss 32 of the Cubs' first 83 games and that they would still top the NL in runs per game, you'd have either laughed in my face or wondered whether Andre Dawson was back . The fact is that Soriano is not the key to this offense. In terms of runs created, a good barometer of a hitter's value to his team, both Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez were more valuable in 2007 than Alfie and his big numbers. Lee is the key to this offense, with Aramis playing his right-hand man, while Soriano is just a contributor. That's why Soriano's return to the lineup won't make for an even bigger second half for the team. Just had to get that out of the way.

NL Hitter Rankings

As I said last week, a majority of the elite players are in the NL, which explains why a red-hot Corey Hart ranks way down at No. 22.

1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
2. Chase Utley, Phillies
3. Jose Reyes, Mets
4. Lance Berkman, Astros
5. David Wright, Mets
6. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
7. Ryan Braun, Brewers
8. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
9. Matt Holliday, Rockies
10. Brandon Phillips, Reds
11. Derrek Lee, Cubs
12. Mark Teixeira, Braves
13. Prince Fielder, Brewers
14. Ryan Howard, Phillies
15. Adrian Gonzalez, Padres
16. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
17. Chipper Jones, Braves
18. Carlos Beltran, Mets
19. Miguel Tejada, Astros
20. Carlos Lee, Astros
21. Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
22. Corey Hart, Brewers
23. Dan Uggla, Marlins
24. Nate McLouth, Pirates
25. Jason Bay, Pirates
26. Adam Dunn, Reds
27. Garrett Atkins, Rockies
28. Pat Burrell, Phillies
29. Russell Martin, Dodgers
30. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
31. Geovany Soto, Cubs
32. Brad Hawpe, Rockies
33. Brian McCann, Braves
34. Chris Young, Diamondbacks
35. Michael Bourn, Astros
36. Joey Votto, Reds
37. Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals
38. Jorge Cantu, Marlins
39. Ryan Church, Mets
40. Hunter Pence, Astros
41. Xavier Nady, Pirates
42. Shane Victorino, Phillies
43. Todd Helton, Rockies
44. Jeff Francoeur, Braves
45. Jay Bruce, Reds
46. Jeff Kent, Dodgers
46. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
48. Conor Jackson, Diamondbacks
49. Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs
50. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
That said, the Cubs thrive because they have a solid lineup top to bottom. Mark DeRosa, who usually hits sixth or seventh, is on pace for a .295-20-88 season with 96 runs. Geovany Soto, often a No. 6 hitter, is on pace for .284-25-92. Ryan Theriot is hitting .313. Kosuke Fukudome has a .404 OBP. And really, Jim Edmonds, who has been on fire since joining the Cubs, is the only guy I can tag as overachieving. So this lineup is for real, and what's even scarier is that it had to battle the wind blowing in for several games in April and May, which is a ballpark effect they likely won't see again till late August or September. Let me put it this way: I sit all but my elite pitchers when I see "@CHC" on the schedule.

New York Mets (RPG rank: 13th): It has been an eventful year in Mets Land -- in a bad way -- and yet they've still remained in the upper half in baseball in runs per game. That's a good sign, and I think it'll only get better. The Mets finished sixth in runs per game after the All-Star break last season, and I could see a similar jump this season. David Wright and Carlos Beltran have remained consistent, Jose Reyes has officially rebounded from a slow start, Ryan Church is back from his concussion problems, Carlos Delgado just finished his best homer month of the season, and -- get this -- Moises Alou is due back soon.

Don't snicker. Last week's "former star I think still has value" call was Gary Sheffield, and I feel good about that. This week it's Alou, who can hit .320-plus in his sleep but hasn't stayed healthy. But here's the deal about Alou: You aren't drafting him, you're picking him up. He's available in almost 97 percent of ESPN standard leagues. He costs you nothing. So if he gets hurt again, you just drop him. You don't find guys who can hit .320-plus with RBI potential and some pop sitting on the waiver wire. Should you expect big numbers the rest of the year? Probably not, but talk about your productive short-term pickups, Alou can be that. And as for the Mets lineup, Reyes, Castillo, Wright, Beltran, Church, Alou ... now that's a darned good lineup, whether you admit it or not.

Colorado Rockies (RPG rank: 22nd): Twenty-second? In a word, buh-whaaaah! Do you realize that RPG rank would be the lowest in the team's history? They've had some bad teams, yet none were close to 22nd. It's also not going to stay that way. This offense is about to explode (it may have already, just ask Greg Maddux). Todd Helton, a career .328 hitter (and .320 hitter last season), is batting .267. Talk about a buy-low guy. Sheesh! Brad Hawpe's surge has just begun. Troy Tulowitzki is showing signs of picking it up but is still hitting .161. Willy Taveras, though nothing special, is still better than a .251 hitter. The now-warm Denver weather will make us all forget that the Rockies ranked this low as an offense.

Atlanta Braves (RPG rank: 14th): That's a pretty respectable ranking, but I give you three reasons why I think I think it'll be higher at season's end: 1) Mark Teixeira; 2) Jeff Francoeur; and 3) Matt Diaz. Teixeira is just starting to emerge from his slow start, Francoeur is too good to be hitting .239 and on pace for 16 homers, and Diaz is due back around the All-Star break and should immediately lift his .250 average. You could maybe throw the recently activated Mark Kotsay in the mix, too, though his replacements haven't been bad. Teixeira owners likely know their guy was due to break out, but you Francoeur owners must be getting nervous. Keep the faith. With Chipper Jones back, he has two of the league's top hitters in front of him and should see a lot of good pitches, meaning he won't have to chase the bad ones.

Cincinnati Reds (RPG rank: 21st): Common misconception: The Reds have a high-scoring offense. That's not true. After finishing fourth in runs per game in 2005, the team ranked 23rd and 14th, respectively, the past two years. It just seems like they have a good offense because they hit so many home runs (third in the majors each of the past two seasons, and eighth this season), especially at home. That won't change, but I think the RPG ranking will. When I look at that lineup, I see an offense that should be higher than its current 21st ranking. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are learning and will be better in the second half than they were in the first. Adam Dunn will go on a salary drive, either in Cincy or elsewhere, and finish with his typical .255-40-90 numbers. Ken Griffey's hands are still too quick for him to be hitting a relatively powerless .237. And I could see Brandon Phillips and Edwin Encarnacion having big second halves, not unlike last season. The Reds' offense will be feared again by season's end, unless Griffey and Dunn are dealt, of course.

Los Angeles Dodgers (RPG rank: 27th): What happened to the Dodgers? As I look at their Opening Day lineup, I could not have foreseen such futility. But what bothers me most is that I don't see where the help is going to come from. Rafael Furcal (back) reportedly had another setback Tuesday, and he hits .366 to "help" the team to this rank. Nomar Garciaparra can be all but dismissed, and Blake DeWitt and/or Andy LaRoche don't look like consistent contributors. However, Russell Martin and James Loney are doing about what we expected, and Andre Ethier isn't doing much worse than we expected.

I don't see a telltale sign of a turnaround from this offense, but two guys do intrigue me. The first is Jeff Kent, who's plodding along with at .257. He entered July with a .265 average last season but hit .347 afterward. I smell a sequel. In fact, I just picked him up off the waiver wire in a shallow league, and I couldn't be more pleased. The other guy I actually have some interest in is Andruw Jones. He's kind of like Alou in that he still has skills (at least when he's not playing hurt) but is relatively unowned (available in 88 percent of leagues). Again, you don't find his kind of potential on the waiver wire. Jones has a season to save, and even if he hits for a low average, he still should pop homers. You owners sitting in the bottom half in your leagues need to take chances to move up, so why not Jones? If he doesn't produce, you just send him back to the wire.

Pittsburgh Pirates (RPG rank: 7th): What the heck are the Pirates doing in the top 10 in runs per game? Who do they think they are? I don't see Willie Stargell around, or Barry Bonds, or my all-time favorite Pirate, Dick Groat. Why do you need Pops when you have Xavier Nady? Or Bonds, when you have Jason Bay? Or Groat, when you have Freddy Sanchez? Look, the Pirates have a swell lineup, but they're in the middle of the pack in all the key offensive percentage categories -- 16th in batting average and slugging, 20th in OBP and tied for 15th in homers. The only difference is that they've had timely hitting. They're fifth in batting average with runners in scoring position. As the sabermetricians say, and I'd agree with, that's a stat we can't depend on, especially from unproven hitters. They'll slowly slide back to earth, and that includes guys like Ryan Doumit (he's hitting .344!), Jack Wilson and yes, even Bay, Nady and Nate McLouth. Sorry, no big second halves expected here.

Arizona Diamondbacks (RPG rank: 16th): I must admit I was terrified of that D-backs offense earlier this season. Then again, I was (and, sigh, still am) a Jeff Francis owner, who is 0-3 with an 11.25 ERA against Arizona this season. But there's a reason for that. First, note that I said earlier this season. Arizona tore up the NL in April, but its team batting average and OBP has dropped each month since. In fact, the Dodgers are the only team in the majors to post a worse OBP and OPS than the Diamondbacks in June. And note that Francis is left-handed, and the D-backs can hit those pitchers. They hit 15 points better against lefties than righties, and the OPS difference is .772-.717.

The Diamondbacks are too right-handed heavy, even with Chad Tracy back, and the league seems to have figured out free-swinging young hitters like Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Mark Reynolds, at least to some extent. And the team just lost Eric Byrnes, again. I see that 16th rank ending up somewhere in the 20s by season's end.

Milwaukee Brewers (RPG rank: 17th): When they're on, that middle of the lineup -- Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Corey Hart -- can be among the best in baseball. But who else do they have? Mike Cameron? Please, he's hitting .217. Rickie Weeks? How's .215 sound? Then there's Bill Hall at .212. And the unfortunate part about this is that the only guys I could see being better than they were in the first half are the middle-of-the-lineup guys. I do have my eye on super-prospect Mat Gamel, though. He and Colby Rasmus are the only two guys on my prospect watch list right now that I would pick up in a mixed league the moment they get the call. Gamel is batting .383 with 15 homers in Double-A right now, and he's only 22. If the Crew can withstand his poor defense at third base (sound like Braun?), then he could re-energize that lineup.

Lance Berkman
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesLance Berkman has been the top fantasy hitter this year, but what about the rest of the Astros?
Houston Astros (RPG rank: 20th): Here's another lineup that's very middle-heavy. Michael Bourn is a slightly faster version of Willy Taveras, which ain't saying much for his OBP and power (do you realize he has only five doubles this season?), Mark Loretta is over the hill, Kazuo Matsui and Ty Wigginton have their limitations, and Hunter Pence is too much of a free swinger to hit above .290, in my mind. So there you have it: Berkman is playing out of his mind, Tejada has cooled but has been solid, and Carlos Lee could stand to hit for a higher average but has otherwise been productive, and the team ranks 20th in runs per game. No surprises here for the second half.

Florida Marlins (RPG rank: 9th): That RPG ranking is deceiving. From April 7 through May 10, the team averaged 5.17 runs per game, fifth in the majors during that time. Since then, they've been a mediocre 13th, and their OBP during that span is 27th. To be perfectly honest, without Dan Uggla in the lineup, it's Hanley Ramirez and Josh Willingham and nobody I'd be afraid to face, and that includes Jorge Cantu and Mike Jacobs. The Marlins also have a few splits that bother me, and I'll bet you can guess 'em. That's right, they struggle at home (tied for 18th in RPG at home), and they struggle versus lefties, hitting a major league-low .222 against them. They were a great story, but there's nothing to see here. In fact, you might target lefty pitchers set due to face them for spot starts.

St. Louis Cardinals (RPG rank: 11th): For having a relatively new lineup compared to last year, the Redbirds have remained pretty consistent. In fact, they just finished with their best run-scoring month to date, and they did it without Albert Pujols for half of it. That said, other than Pujols and his astronomical numbers (.357-17-47), this has been a Tony La Russa-like collective effort. Again, other than Pujols, there are no real stars on this team (although Troy Glaus has his moments). There's really nothing of interest to note, except that there's no way Ryan Ludwick is for real. I say he finishes with no more than 25 homers, and he has 16 homers now. And that's a dissenting opinion compared with my ESPN comrades, it seems. Why is that when someone like Ludwick, a 29-year-old journeyman (yup, that's what he is) comes out of the woodwork to go on a homer binge, people get excited, yet Joe Crede, who hit 30 homers and had 94 RBIs two short years ago but was garbage in 2007 goes on a homer purge, people dismiss it? Grrrr. Another column for another day.

Washington Nationals (RPG rank: 30th): What can I say here? The Nationals' Opening Day lineup had Ryan Zimmerman batting third, Nick Johnson batting fourth and Austin Kearns batting fifth. Zimmerman has been out since May 25 with a shoulder injury and might have to shut it down if rehab doesn't go well, Johnson is done for the season because of a wrist injury, and Kearns has been out since mid-May because of an elbow injury and is hitting .187 this season. Oh, and the team just lost Lastings Milledge to the DL with a groin injury. This is a Triple-A lineup, at best, but I do find Elijah Dukes interesting. The scouting reports show he has tremendous power potential and can run pretty well, too. I can see him finishing with 20-plus homers and 15-plus steals this season, albeit with a .250 average. If only he had some lineup support.

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San Diego Padres (RPG rank: 28th): What a one-man show Adrian Gonzalez has been. He's tied for second in the majors in RBIs with 68, almost twice as many as the next Padre (Kevin Kouzmanoff, 36). He has 21 homers, almost twice as many as the next Padre (Kouzmanoff again, with 11). Pardon while I stand and applaud. But the weight of an entire offense can wear down a hitter, and I just can't see that kind of output continuing from Gonzalez without more lineup support. And he won't get it, not even from Chase Headley.

San Francisco Giants (RPG rank: 26th): You know, even with Barry Bonds last season, the Giants' offense ranked second to last in runs per game. That didn't offer much hope coming into this season, and the Giants haven't disappointed. Or, I guess I should say, they have disappointed. The Giants have scored fewer runs per game, but somehow four teams have been worse. The team has just the shoddy offense we expected of them. For example, Aaron Rowand and John Bowker share the team lead with eight homers; the Milwaukee Brewers alone have six players with more than eight homers. And as I look at the lineup, I don't have any hope that this unit will be any better. The veterans -- Randy Winn, Bengie Molina, Rich Aurilia and Ray Durham -- are doing just about what we expected of them, if not better. But the youngsters, other than Fred Lewis, still don't look ready to hit. Nothing interesting here.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy. He has been covering fantasy sports as an editor and writer for more than eight years and was awarded the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2006 from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Roberts can be read in both the fantasy baseball and football areas at ESPN.com.

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