The second half of the baseball season is actually one of my favorite times of the sporting calendar, because then the wild cards start to make some sense, there’s a trading deadline to account for, and pennant races start getting tighter when you hit the 100-game mark. Despite the overhyped attitude towards it all, Red Sox-Yankees is always good this time of year (you’d never know neither team was in first place in their division at this time, honestly), Phillies-Mets is getting nasty again, and the NL Central could be a three-way horse race for the rest of the season (and mark it now, if the NL Wild Card does not come out of the central, I’ll be surprised.)
However, we still face a slight problem regarding the shittiest division in baseball. Here are the NL West standings right now:
Arizona 52 51 .505 —
LA Dodgers 51 52 .495 1.0
Colorado 47 58 .448 6.0
San Francisco 43 60 .417 9.0
San Diego 40 65 .381 13.0
(To be fair, the Dodgers should and ought to be .500 by the end of today. If there’s any team that deserves honorary membership in the NL Worst, it’s the Washington Nationals.)
We had this problem rear its ugly head back in 2005: there was a real possibility of the winner of the division finishing under .500 (the Padres eventually did win it with an over-500 record, and were promptly swept out of the playoffs by the Cardinals, if my memory serves well enough.) I supported this idea back in 2005 and I still maintain it should be employed: if you finish under .500, you’re not allowed in the playoffs.
Look, whoever wins the NL West at this point is going to get thumped by an NL Central team. Arizona is full of young hitters who are slumping hard. The Dodgers’ season so far has reminded everyone just what Joe Torre is and was as a manager before he was given the keys to a ton of talent in the Bronx (never mind his improbable decisions to regularly start Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre). The Rockies’ pitching staff is not solid enough from front to back to support another improbable 20+ game winning streak on the way to the playoffs. A Giants-loving friend has described this year’s squad as “Tim and the Lincecum Dumpsters.” The Padres just, well, disappeared — their offense fell off the face of the earth, and it’s not like they had a whole lot to begin with.
(Note: the only NL West team who could win a 5-game series at this point is Arizona, thanks to Brandon Webb and Dan Haren being likely called on to pitch twice, and that’s if the bullpen doesn’t blow it for them.)
The NFL is bad enough with teams capable of going to the playoffs with .500 records. Despite my support of a college football playoff system, it’s nice to know that there is one sport where you can’t lose a sizable chunk of games yet be considered a championship contender. The NBA’s Eastern Conference gave us our eventual champion, but there are always a couple teams that sneak into the conference playoffs there with sub-.500 records. This shouldn’t creep into baseball.
If the NL West “winner” finishes under .500, we’d all be better served by simply giving that playoff slot to the second place finisher in the Wild Card, who will have a better record, most likely, and give us another competitive 5-game series in the first round. So, let’s get this one past the owners, shall we?
Photo: Getty Images/Stephen Dunn