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The Interesting Case of the NL West

   by Scott Spreitzer - 05/15/2008

efore the major league baseball season started, the National League West was expected to be a very strong division.

Sure, the San Francisco Giants were seen as helpless. They went from a team that had Barry Bonds and nothing else to being a team that didn't even have Bonds any more. But, the other four teams were supposed to be good.

*COLORADO was the defending National League champion, and was a "young" team that supposedly could only get better. 2007 was supposed to launch them to a sustained period of success

*ARIZONA was the defending NL West champion, and was a talented team capable of repeating. They have top quality starting pitching, and strength across the board in terms offense, defense, and the bullpen. Colorado and Arizona were in position to have quite a war.

*SAN DIEGO technically reached the postseason last year because they had a one-game playoff with Colorado for the Wildcard spot. Who knows…a couple of plays here or there and it's the Padres making headlines last October rather than the Rockies. Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy would be anchoring the rotation again.

*LOS ANGELES was seen as a real threat to take a big step forward this year. They had paid for some talent, and new manager Joe Torre. Some thought Torre's experience with the New York Yankees would be ideal for taking the Dodgers to the next level. I know many of my fellow analysis who picked LA to win the NL West.

That's four serious contenders and one cupcake. In major league terms, that's a STRONG division. This isn't the Red Sox, the Yankees, and three pretenders. This isn't "let's see who's turn it is to play over their heads" in the AL Central. This is a league champion, a divisional champion, a team that qualified for a one-game playoff, and a big market team that was tired of being overshadowed.

I think most people expected the NL West to be the best division in the Senior Circuit by a good bit. It was supposed to be a down year for the NL Central except for maybe the Cubs. The disappointing finish in 2007 for the Mets took some luster off the NL East. The West was going to be the POWER division.

I was thinking about this quite a big this past Friday Night while watching some baseball:

*The Dodgers had fallen behind Houston 6-0 on their way to a 7-1 home loss

*The Giants were losing at home to Philadelphia

*Colorado and San Diego were playing another game where neither team could score

*Earlier in the day Arizona had lost at Chicago

I looked up the "division versus division" records, and was surprised at how bad things had gotten.


*NL East: 50-40

*NL Central: 53-50

*NL West: 34-47

There hasn't been any interleague play yet. So, this is strictly division vs. division in the National League. The NL West is getting KILLED! Heading into the weekend, they were 14-20 against the NL East, and 20-27 against the NL Central. Those numbers will have changed a bit by the time you read this. But, the conclusions you can draw won't change. So far, the NL West is much worse than expected.

What about Arizona? The team that's been playing so great?

Arizona vs. the NL West: 17-5

Arizona vs. Everyone Else: 6-8

Again, that's up through Friday's loss at Chicago. Arizona is the best team in the West right now. Because they've played so many games against struggling division members, they've created the illusion of being a superpower. We may find out in the coming weeks that they're just the best of a bad group. Did you realize that the Diamondbacks were below .500 outside of their division?

Just for fun, let's look at everyone in the NL West outside their division heading into the weekend:

Los Angeles: 8-7

Colorado: 9-8

Arizona: 6-8

San Diego: 5-10

San Francisco: 6-14

Nobody's setting the world on fire. There's some variance in schedule strength there, so it's a sample size you have to be careful with. The top three could re-arrange themselves quickly depending on who gets to play Pittsburgh or Washington one week. In the big picture though, you can clearly see that these guys are having trouble representing an advantage when they play outside the division. And, the two bottom teams are really struggling.

Why is this important for handicappers?

I've found over the years that the betting markets tend to miss developments like this. Oddsmakers and the wagering public tend to focus on the overall record in the standings, and the starting pitchers that day. They don't realize how easily the records can be polluted by the unbalanced schedules. If you're paying attention, you will continually find great value for MONTHS.

*Teams with good records that play in weak divisions will underachieve against other divisions in their league and, importantly, in inter-league play.

*Teams with .500 records that play in weak divisions will post losing records when they step up in class.

*Teams with losing records that play in weak divisions will get squashed in the outside world.

*Teams with good records that play in good divisions will be dominant against other divisions and the other league. Think back to all of those great interleague records in the AL two seasons ago when it was the much better league by a good bit.

*Teams with .500 records that play in good divisions will look like .600 teams against everyone else. Their be priced near pick-em but will keep grinding out victories.

*Teams with losing records that play in good divisions will be great underdog bets when they step down in class. Their opponents will be false favorites.

I'm not going to give away too many of my secrets here in these weekly articles. I strongly encourage you to focus on this dynamic in BOTH leagues during the course of the season…and look for a league-to-league dynamic once the AL starts playing the NL as well. You'll be surprised how many great plays just jump off the page at you when you're seeing the major leagues in this light.

Be there to catch them when they jump off the page!

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