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NL West may be the best in baseball (Not my headline!)

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 12, 2007 10:46 am    Post subject: NL West may be the best in baseball (Not my headline!) Reply with quote

This is from MLB.com:

NL West may be the best in baseball
Division has turned things around with better pitching
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com

LOS ANGELES -- At the end of 2005, when the San Diego Padres finished first with an 82-80 record, purists were outraged that the National League West was allowed even one playoff berth.

In 2007, the division might deserve three.

How did the NL West become the deepest, if not the best, division in baseball this year?

"Pitching," said Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti.

Crunch numbers every which way you want, but those whose livings depend on the answer keep pointing to the pitching.

"A lot of times it's a cycle," said Colletti. "Right now, the pitching in the West is above average. You have three pitchers parks in the West in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco and those teams are built around the strength of the pitching."

And you don't need to remind Colletti that it's not all about the money, because the most expensive pitching acquisitions of the last year have little to do with the West's success. Colletti spent $47 million to sign Jason Schmidt and has one win and one shoulder operation to show for it. Randy Johnson has been on and off the disabled list this year for Arizona. Barry Zito, the richest prize of all, has a losing record for a last-place team in San Francisco.

The division's improvement is less about big acquisitions and more about depth. Starting and relieving, top to bottom, teams in this division have improved their depth of quality arms.

"What seems to make the teams in this division so strong is that you don't look at a rotation and say there's only two guys you don't want to face," said Dodgers starter Derek Lowe. "Every team seems to be five legitimate starters deep, so it makes it tough to score day in and day out. A lot of good pitchers have come into our division to fill in rotations, not just at the top. With all of us so equal, its going to be hard for any team to run away."

The ERAs of all five teams in the division are down from where they were at the end of 2005, and while there are popular theories for the general decline in offense in recent years, no division reflects the trend better than the NL West.

"We know every time we get into our division it seems like the scores seem to go down some," said Arizona manager Bob Melvin.

Midterm Report 2007
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For NL West newcomer Michael Barrett, the Padres catcher recently acquired from the Cubs, the memories of crossing paths with the NL West are fresh, and he's glad to be on the other side of the equation now.

"The last two years, when I was with the Cubs, we played horribly on the West Coast," he said. "We would leave here wondering what happened. Now that I'm playing here, I understand it more than ever. It seems like every game has been a playoff game -- extra innings, coming down to the last inning. Our guys do everything in dramatic fashion. The pitching I've seen in our division is the best I've seen so far. It's a great division."

Indeed, outside the division the game is taking notice.

"I think it's certainly the most competitive [division]," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, whose club plays the Dodgers each year in Interleague Play. "I really believe you rate divisions on pitching in the division. The NL West is certainly stocked with some terrific arms. I think our division and the AL Central have some teams that have very deep rotations with power bullpens. You have to play well to win against any of those teams."

Said Braves pitcher Tim Hudson: "I think it's right up there with all the other divisions. All the teams are pretty evenly balanced. When you're stuck out West, you don't get a whole lot of media coverage. But you find out how good they are when you come out here to play them. It's a pretty good division from top to bottom."

Throughout the first half of this season, Arizona, San Diego and Los Angeles have rotated among the top three spots in the division. But even at the bottom, the Giants have had the best record of any last-place team. Colorado, meanwhile, is sitting at .500.

The division hasn't appeared to be this strong since 2000, when the Giants finished first with 97 wins, four of the five clubs finished above .500 and the last-place team, San Diego, ended only 10 games below .500.

Last year, the gap between first and last was 12 games (88-76) and only 74 percentage points (.543-.469). This year, the projected winner would have 92 victories, while the last-place team would be 22 games back.

"More than anything else, I think the competitive play in this division will lead all of us to come down to the wire toward the end before anybody really starts to separate themselves," said Arizona veteran Tony Clark. "I think it might be top to bottom the best division as far as consistent good pitching, but it's the nature of the beast, it comes with the territory. We've got some good pitchers, too."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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