Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez celebrates with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki after Tulowitzki hit a three-run home run in the Rockies 7-6 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field on April 11, 2011.
Move over, AL East. Major League Baseball has a new premier division.
It's not like the NL West has the defending World Champions or anything. Except they do.
Much to the chagrin of Giants fans everywhere, the defending champs are 3.5 games back in their own division.
Not the best way to repeat your world championship.
It's not all the Giants' fault, though. The NL West will once again challenge the AL East for the title of "Toughest Division in Baseball," and this year, they could easily win that title. Any team could come out of the NL West. There's a changing of the guard this year.
Look at this objectively.
This division is talented all the way through, from top to bottom. As of April 11, the NL West standings are as follows:
The Rockies have been red-hot so far, off to their best start in franchise history.
Troy Tulowitzki, if he stays healthy, is the odds-on favorite to bring home the NL MVP award, Carlos Gonzalez looks to have another sensational season, and Ubaldo Jimenez, should he return to form after his return from the disabled list, will rejoin a rotation that could set pitching record after pitching record for the Rockies.
The Dodgers need to get this season off the ground before it's too late, but if they do, watch out.
Matt Kemp could very well throw his name in the ring for NL MVP, Andre Ethier and James Loney look primed for solid seasons on the plate, and either could easily make the NL All-Star team come July. Clayton Kershaw has the potential to be the Dodgers' best southpaw since Sandy Koufax, and could be untouchable on the mound.
The Padres will have a tough time recovering from the loss of Adrian Gonzalez, but could still be competitive in the division.
Mat Latos will dominate on the hill, and Heath Bell could be one of the best relievers in baseball. The Padres have always played the NL West tough, and that shouldn't change, even with the loss of Gonzalez.
The Diamondbacks, while still a few years away from contending, are building up a nice core in Phoenix.
Who Will Win the NL West?
If manager Kirk Gibson can help his young players develop into stars, and if the team can hold on to players like Kelly Johnson to build up a veteran leadership, they shouldn't be slept on.
The Giants are just off to a rough start.
While an outfield consisting of Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and Aaron Rowand may have their defensive issues, they're still among the best in the National League.
Obviously, they have a ring to back it up. Plus, anyone who has Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey on their roster is going to be very tough to beat. They're too good to disappoint. They may not win another World Series this year, but they'll be among the best in baseball again this year.
By no means will this division be won by the All-Star Break. Make no mistake, this race will go down to the very last day of the regular season. Granted, the Rockies are in first place now, but that may not hold true for the rest of the year.
One of two things will happen: Either one team will take hold of first place and hold onto it for much of the year (See the 2010 Padres), or the race will come down to the final few series of the year (See the 2009 Rockies and Dodgers).
Many experts will say the latter will ring true.
Though they may sit in last place right now, the Giants will eventually get their act together and will once again be very tough to beat.
The Rockies and the Giants meet for a three-game set in San Francisco to close out the regular season, and there's a better than average chance that series turns more or less into the NL West Championship Series.
You couldn't script a better ending to what is shaping up to be a season for the ages.