Tuesday, September 28, 2010

From "Worst" to First

What a quick and strange trip it's been. Just a few years back, critics were teasing the NL West by referring to the division as the "NL Worst" since the division struggled to have any team from the division finish with a winning record. Most wondered how a team could make the playoffs when they barely won more than 81 games. The Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Rockies and Dodgers meddled in mediocrity and, no matter who seemed to squeak by the rest, they were dead meat once they arrived to the postseason party. As I'm getting quite tired of hearing Lee Corso say on College Gameday every Saturday morning, "Not so fast, my friend!"

The former worst division in all of baseball has quickly become baseball's most competitive division from top to bottom. In 2008, the Dodger snuck into the playoff by winning a paltry 84 games while the Diamondbacks were somewhat "hot" on their tail by finishing with 82 wins on the season. In case your wondering, those are winning percentages of .519 and .506, respectively. During the same season, 84 wins would have placed the division-winning Dodgers in fifth place if they were in the NL Central instead of the appropriately named NL Worst. Believe it or not, the division was actually less competitive in 2005 when only one team, the Padres, posted a winning season by coming out ahead in 82 of the team's 162 contests, only one game over .500. During that very same season, the entire NL East finished with better records, save the Washington Nationals who won only 81 games on the year, just one short of the division-winning Padres. You clearly get the point, the National League West clearly earned the moniker of the "NL Worst".

With October 2010 just around the corner and the magic of the playoffs in the air, the super-competitive NL West is the only division race still going on. In fact, three teams are still in the hunt for the division crown and the NL Wild Card. The Giants are narrowly ahead of the Padres by one game with each team having five games left in the season. Three of those five games are against one another and will likely decide who wins the division. The Colorado Rockies aren't far off the pace and, if either the Giants or Padres get exceptionally hot and sweep one another, the Rockies may be able to sneak into second and take the Wild Card, thanks in large part to a faltering Atlanta Braves team that is fading fast in the NL East. The Rockies will have to do their best to sweep the Cardinals in their final series of the season and overcome their terrible 31-46 road record to do so. As it stands now, it appears that either the Giants or the Padres will win the division with the second place finisher settling for the Wild Card.

As mentioned above, the final series of the season will see the Giants face off against the Padres at AT&T Park in San Francisco with a division crown on the line. NL West supremacy will be up for grabs and, with this being the only race yet to be declared, nearly all of the baseball world will likely be watching. Who would have though this would be the case just a few years back? The Phillies and Reds know that they cannot afford to take either of these teams lying down since both have capable pitching to go along with scrappy, timely offenses. If you turn on your TV set this weekend to watch a little baseball, like most other baseball-loving Americans, you'll notice a fantastic is ripe for the taking. And if you pay close attention to these teams you'll clearly know that you're not watching the NL Worst anymore. In fact, you could now refer to it as the NL First.

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