NL West: Do They Need a Playoff Team?
There is no arguing the fact that the NL West is clearly the worst division in baseball. It is the model for current mediocrity, but also the model for the future.
With teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, and the Los Angeles Dodgers all going through a youth movement of some sort, each will be well equipped for the future years.
Until then, they will continue to be the worst division in baseball.
It's bad when the division leader has not eclipsed 60 wins, and is struggling to stay at the .500 mark.
It's bad when three of the five teams in the division have not scored over 490 runs by August.
It's bad when the division as a whole has a measly .456 winning percentage, the worst in all of baseball.
The best that the Arizona Diamondbacks could be in any other division right now is fourth place in the crowded NL East, 4.5 games behind the leading Philadelphia Phillies.
While the Diamondbacks and Dodgers currently battle for the right to be devoured by the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS, the Rockies, Giants, and Padres keep dreaming about the future.
The Rox still have fond memories of last season's spectacular run, winning 21 of 22 games down the stretch.
The Giants continue to look for some form of offense, a search that has been ongoing since their loss to the Angels in the 2002 World Series.
The Padres try to get younger, all the while looking for bits and pieces of offense like a blind squirrel looks for a nut.
So, in the apparent "Division of the Future", the teams that showcase mediocrity by rule have to send someone to October, even if that team was outscored by its opponents over the course of the season, a la the Dbacks of last season, or even if they don't crack the .500 mark.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been surviving on the strength of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, and just keep wishing that their young lineup can duplicate their production from April.
In that month, the D-Backs burst out of the gates, going 19-7. After a blistering start, they had two not-so-hot months of May and June, going 11-17 and 11-16 respectively. They then went 14-11 in July, and are currently 3-6 in August having lost four straight.
This young team will only be able to rely on Haren and Webb to carry them for so long. They will need to get more production out of the Big Unit Randy Johnson, as well as this young lineup.
As a team, they are hitting just .251 and strike out just under eight times per game. They also have a team OBP of .323.
Their pitching staff has been better, with a team ERA of 3.99 and have held opposing hitters to a .252 AVG. They also average 7.53 strikeouts per game, and almost a strikeout per inning pitched.
The Diamondbacks can pull away and win the division if their pitching holds up, and if their offense can become more consistent and disciplined at the plate.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have made moves to help acquire some offensive production, with the acquisitions of Casey Blake to plug the hole at third, and the addition of Manny Ramirez to the crowded outfield.
Manny has already been paying dividends, hitting .485 through his first eight games in Dodger blue.
Blake has also been hitting, with a .308 AVG through his first 14 games with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers have also gotten key offensive contributions from Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Russell Martin.
The crowded outfield also includes former stars Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre. Undoubtedly, Joe Torre will find the combination of the five that results in the most production, most likely Manny, Kemp, and Ethier from left to right.
Their pitching staff has been good as well, with a team ERA of 3.66, and are holding the opposing hitters to a .252 AVG. They have gotten good production from Chad Billingsley, and now with the return of Brad Penny to the rotation, the Dodgers have the most balanced rotation in the division, with Penny, Derek Lowe, Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and top prospect Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers are less of an all-or-nothing team than the Dbacks, and have 30 home runs fewer than the D-Backs, but have a slightly higher team average, and have an everyday veteran hitting presence in Manny Ramirez.
The Dodgers can win the division, because their rotation is more balanced than that of the D-Backs, so the Dodgers have an edge. However, they too do not have the most consistent offense, and have a hole in their bullpen that exists in the bridge of getting to new closer Jonathan Broxton.
The Diamondbacks have the easier schedule of the two teams for the rest of August, as they get the lowly Astros once and the Padres twice, but also have a three-game series against the Marlins and a key series at the end of August at home against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers play eight games against the Phillies, three against the Brewers, and three against the lowly Nationals and Rockies.
In September the Dodgers have the advantage in September, playing only the Diamondbacks as a real threat, as they get the Padres, Giants, Rockies and Pirates.
The Diamondbacks have to deal with the Cardinals for two series in September, and other than those two series have just one more stand with the Dodgers to worry about.
Ultimately the Dodgers should win this division, thanks to the hitting influence of Manny Ramirez, their better starting rotation, and they have the easier stretch run schedule.
This is the year that October baseball will return to Chavez Ravine.
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