Can Mediocrity Win the West?
May 9, 2016

This final score just in. Mets 4, Dodgers 2. Up north, the Giants fell to the Toronto Blue Jays 3-1. For Dodger fans, good news and bad news. The bad news is, the team has won the same number of games it has lost. The good news? They are tied for first place.

While Giants fans might snicker at that note, fans of the orange and black are in the same boat. The Dodgers (16-16) and the Giants (17-17) are tied for first. The San Diego Padres, at a lowly 13-19, are in last place, but only three games out in the National League West. Can this trend continue? History says not likely, but it also says it's possible.

Everyone who follows baseball and has made some kind of prediction, thinks either LA, San Francisco, or Arizona will win the division. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw as their ace pitcher, signed Kenta Maeda out of Japan, and are counting on first baseman Adrian Gonzalez for 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in. The Giants signed marquee free agent pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jake Samardzija, have catcher Buster Posey, outfielder Hunter Pence, and believe in guys like Joe Panik and Matt Duffy. Arizona signed star pitcher Zack Greinke away from the Dodgers, and dealt away the farm to get pitcher Shelby Miller. Not much has worked out for any of those teams so far.

Someone has to win the division, and it almost assuredly means that the team that does would have a winning record. In 76 out of the 162 games of a season, division foes beat up on each other, but that means a majority of games are played outside that division. If the NL West or any other division gets clobbered by the rest of the league, it is possible that a team with a losing overall record could win the division crown, and therefore make the playoffs. Since the National League and American League moved from two divisions to three, it hasn't happened, but it could of, and it was close.

In 2005, the San Diego Padres won the NL West and went to the post-season with an underwhelming record of 82-80. They actually finished a fairly comfortable five games ahead of Arizona. The following season, the St. Louis Cardinals were a little better. They reluctantly won the NL Central with an 83-78 mark. Houston finished 1 games behind them at 82-80.

Remember the strike year of 1994? There were no playoffs and no World Series because of the walkout, and fans likely remember things like Tony Gwynn batting .394 and might have been able to hit .400. Matt Williams had 43 home runs and could have clubbed more than 61 and set a new record. People remember how good the Montreal Expos were (74-40), but probably don't remember the American League West.

When the players didn't show up for work on August 12, the Texas Rangers had a one game lead over the Oakland A's. However, Texas was ten games under .500 (52-62). The California Angels had the worst record in the American League (47-68) and the second worst record in baseball, and trailed Texas by only 5. While Gwynn probably wouldn't have hit .400 and Williams had a legitimate shot at 60+ homers, the AL West winner likely would have had a losing record. The schedule was modified the next year, allowing for more division games, which also meant more wins.

With the talent of this year's Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks, you would think one team would emerge as a frontrunner, and one probably will, but also think of this. The Dodgers aren't as good as they were last year, the Giants might not be either, and the Diamondbacks pitchers should come around after a fairly weak start. Oh yeah, there's also the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres. Someone has to win the west. It may not be pretty, but someone has to. Let's hope it's at least with a winning record.

Bruised halo: The Dodgers play their four-game interleague freeway series with the Angels next week, but things aren't so great in the O.C. right now. Ace Garrett Richards will have Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and be out for the rest of the year. Star defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons is going to miss significant time with a busted thumb. Manager Mike Scioscia is in his 17th year with the Angels, but his team is 13-18 and has lost three straight.

Walkup music: Certain players have certain songs that are played when they walk up to the plate before taking their turn at bat. Dodgers Chase Utley and Scott Van Slyke (when healthy) both like Led Zeppelin, for example. For some reason, Joc Pederson has selected Will Smith's theme to Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but the best walkup song has to belong to Cubs catcher (and former Dodger) David Ross. Ross is 39, has announced that he will retire after this season, and his teammates affectionately call him Grandpa. His walkup song? Alphaville's Forever Young.

Just wondering: Does Dodger third baseman Justin Turner have a slobbering mastiff named Hooch? Do you think New York Mets pitcher Hansel Robles has a sister named Gretl?

View All Commentaries