MLB 2005: How the NL West was lost

The 2005 Major League Baseball regular season is over, and it produced some amazing numbers: 1.87, Roger Clemens’ ERA; 147, David Ortiz’ RBI total; and zero, the number of times Rafael Palmeiro’s Viagra ad aired after he failed a steroid test. Way to go, Raffy.

But the most mind-boggling number of all is .506, the winning percentage of the NL West Champion San Diego Padres.

No, that was not a misprint. The Pads won the Mild Mild West with a record of 82-80, the worst division-winning record in the history of major league baseball. Just to give you an idea of how bad that is, the Padres’ record is only 14th best of the 30 major league teams. If it weren’t for a three-game skid by the Washington Nationals at the end of the season, all five teams in the NL East would have finished with better records than San Diego. If they hadn’t won five of their last six games, the Padres actually would have won the division with a sub-.500 record.

It almost seemed like nobody wanted to win the NL West. After the anemic Padres, the next best team — or, more accurately, the next … least worst team — was Arizona. The Diamondbacks lost 111 games in 2004, and perhaps thought that overpaying for mediocre veterans would net them a division crown. Although Troy Glaus pounded 37 homers, he also hit .258 and committed 25 errors, tied for most by any third baseman in the majors. Arizona’s other marquee acquisition, Russ Ortiz, was even more of a disaster than his detractors expected when he signed with the Diamondbacks. The chunky righthander posted a 6.89 ERA and walked more batters (65) than he struck out (46) in 22 starts.

The Giants realized just how valuable Barry Bonds was when they ended up with the second-lowest run total in the majors after playing the first five months of the season without him. And until Armando Benitez returned at the end of August, the only notable story in San Francisco was Tyler Walker, the mediocre closer who tortured save-hungry fantasy baseball owners with his frequent late-inning implosions.

The Dodgers, decimated by injuries, resembled a Triple-A team by the end of the season, with the exception of Jeff Kent, who fortunately avoided a repeat of the injury he sustained while washing his truck in 2002. He stayed healthy enough to put up another stellar campaign.

As for Colorado, the Rockies’ season was looking pretty dismal even before rookie phenom Clint Barmes broke his collarbone while carrying deer meat up the stairs of his apartment.

Despite the lack of competition in their own division, there may be hope for the Padres in the postseason if history is any indicator. The last team to make the playoffs with 82 victories almost won the World Series. The 1973 New York Mets, who at 82-79 were only a few percentage points better than the 2005 Padres, charged through the playoffs and made it to the Fall Classic. The Amazins fell just short of a title, losing to Oakland in seven games.

So should we expect to hear the din of Hell’s Bells as Trevor Hoffman trots in to close out a World Series victory for San Diego? Of course not. After yesterday’s 8-5 loss to the Cardinals, the Padres will be lucky to avoid a sweep. Exhibit A: their Game 2 starter is Pedro Astacio.

We should, however, expect to see the Padres’ 1998 World Series foe, the New York Yankees, make a triumphant return to November action. After suffering the greatest meltdown in the history of professional sports last fall, the Yanks spent most of 2005 in a very unfamiliar place — second. But with the help of some surprise contributors, such as second baseman Robinson Cano, swingman Aaron “Biggie” Small, and a 10-9 regular season record against Boston that broke a first-place tie, New York won the AL East for the eighth year in a row. More importantly for the Yanks, a season full of adversity seems to have helped them come together as a team.

Vlad Guerrero was the only Angel to hit more than 17 homers, and Anaheim’s starting pitching just isn’t good enough to shut down the modern Murderer’s Row of Jeter, A-Rod, Giambi, Sheffield and Matsui. Though the Yankees have plenty of questions in their own rotation, expect Randy Johnson and Co. to lead New York to victory in four games. It follows that the Red Sox will beat the White Sox, simply because destiny states that Boston and New York must meet in an epic ALCS every year, despite Chicago’s 14-2 shellacking of the Red Sox last night.

The Sox and Yanks are in a dead heat when it comes to offense. They finished first and second, respectively, in team run production. Their four-man playoff rotations are mirror images, led by aging superstars Johnson and Schilling, followed by streaky veterans Mussina and Wakefield, talented and inconsistent new acquisitions Chacon and Clement, and gifted youngsters Wang and Arroyo.

The only distinction between the two teams comes in the bullpen, where the Yankees have the clear advantage. Out of Boston’s 2004 late-inning triumvirate of Timlin, Embree, and Foulke, only Timlin remains. Foulke lost his season to a knee injury, and Embree is now wearing pinstripes. By contrast, the Yankees boast arguably the best one-two punch in the majors with Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera. They should emerge from this year’s seven-game extravaganza as American League Champions.

I’ll take my chances that the Yankees will be the last team standing when the champagne starts flowing in November, regardless of who the National League Champion turns out to be. One thing’s for sure — it won’t be the Padres.



Zack O’Malley Greenburg is a junior in Calhoun College.

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