Since the woeful 2005 season in which the Padres won the National League West with a record of just 82-80, the division has been saddled with a bad rap. Sure, the 2005 season saw just the Padres with a winning record in the division. Sure, 2006 wasn’t much better. But to blindly declare the NL West a bad division still is ignorant.
From 2007 on the winner of the National League West won 91 games. The other division winners over that same time period averaged just over 93 wins. Does a two win difference make the National League West bad? Absolutely not. Especially considering wins only account for play-off positioning.
Since 2007, National League West teams have won one World Series, won two National League Pennants, and have been to the NLCS five times. The N.L. West has found a lot of success despite their average of 91 regular season wins per year.
Four of the last five Cy Young Award winners since 2007 have come from the National League West. If we take that back to 2006, five of the last six have come from the division. And perhaps that’s part of the perception problem. There’s not enough offensive power. The division relies on pitching. Matt Kemp should have won the MVP last season, but he didn’t so the West does not have an MVP in the last five years.
Pitching just isn’t as sexy as hitting. Fans, generally speaking, enjoy a slug-fest much more than they like a pitcher’s duel. The National League West, though, is designed to be a pitcher’s division. Three of the five ball parks are pitcher-friendly parks (San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco). This fuels the perception that the West is a bad division.
The other problem facing the National League West is the the way the teams take away from each other. In most division, there is one clear favorite. Maybe two favorites. But that team or those teams will get the majority of the wins in the division. In the National League West, it doesn’t for that way. Since each team is so competitive and the division so evenly matched for the most part, the wins are dispersed more evenly. This keeps overall win totals down and keeps one team from running away with a 98-win season.
Yet the perception is there. Maybe it allows teams from the West to surprise people. Maybe it helped the Giants win the World Series in 2010 or the Rockies to make the World Series in 2007. No matter the case, the evidence – the Cy Young Winners, the postseason success, and the average wins per season – does not indict the National League West as a bad division. However, with most mainstream media outlets one or two bad years can scar a team or a league for years to come. That’s what happened with the N.L. West, but continued success will help lift that stigma.
Winning baseball is all that matter, but when the Padres have a bad season (like last year), it is compounded by the perception that they lost 91 games in a “bad” division. They didn’t though. They lost 91 games in a division featuring a two-time Cy Young Award winner in Tim Lincecum, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner in Clayton Kershaw, and two top-five MVP finishers from last season in Justin Upton and Matt Kemp. When the Padres lose that many games in the West, they are not doing so to bad teams. They are losing to good teams with good players.