Three's Company: A historic division race is taking shape in the NL WesttheScore
It's been a long time since baseball fans have been treated to a race like this.
The advent of the wild card has mostly sapped the fun of a heated divisional race in September - but this year's three-way NL West showdown is ready to change that. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks are already engaged in a furious and historic battle for supremacy in their division, and it only promises to get better from here.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time since divisional play began in 1969 that three teams in the same division held winning percentages above .620 following play on Father's Day. All three teams came into play Sunday well above that mark - and of course, all three of them won in dramatic fashion, which only tightened this ridiculous race.
Los Angeles was the popular choice to win its fifth straight division title before the season, so the play of Dave Roberts' men is hardly a surprise. It's the young Rockies and Diamondbacks who are shocking everyone after disappointing seasons a year ago. In Denver, for the first time ever, they've got a capable pitching staff to complement the forever inflated offense; over at Chase Field, last year's 93-loss disappointment is forgotten thanks to quality starters and the perennially underappreciated potential MVP, Paul Goldschmidt.
Now the questions must shift from, "Are the Rockies and D-Backs for real?" to "Can this race live up to the hype?" Baseball hasn't seen this kind of a heated division race since 1993, the last year of two-division play. In what's since been dubbed "The Last Great Race," Barry Bonds and the Giants finished 1993 with a 103-59 record - and still missed the playoffs because the 104-win Braves won the NL West on the last day of the season.
Since 1995, there have been crazy races, even one-game playoffs - but they've all involved either possession of the wild-card berth or an 88-win division. Powerhouse division races in the wild-card era involving multiple 90-win clubs have been neutered quickly when the second-place team with 90-plus wins simply defaulted into the wild card.
So a three-way version of '93 with multiple 100-win clubs remains unlikely because of the unbalanced schedule and wild cards, although the two wild-card system improves the chances of something crazy happening.
The Dodgers, Rockies, and D-Backs do get to pad their records against the lowly Padres and Giants in September, but it will ultimately come down to the unbalanced schedule pitting them against each other. They'll all meet multiple times that month and will likely beat each other up, leaving the door open for some wild and crazy head-scratching playoff scenarios - especially if a club in another NL division tries to disrupt the wild-card race with a late surge.
NL WEST SEPTEMBER SCHEDULES
|Team||vs. LAD||vs. ARI||vs. COL||vs. SD/SF||vs. Other||Final Series|
|LAD||--||3 (3 Home)||7 (4 Home; 3 Away)||7 vs. SD; 6 vs. SF||3 @ WAS; 4 @ PHI||3 @ COL|
|ARI||3 (3 Away)||--||7 (4 Home; 3 Away)||6 vs. SD; 6 vs. SF||3 vs. MIA; 3 @ KC||3 @ KC|
|COL||7 (3 Home; 4 Away)||7 (3 Home, 4 Away)||--||7 vs. SD; 5 vs. SF||3 vs. MIA||3 vs. LAD|
For what it's worth, Fangraphs projects the Dodgers to ultimately pull away and win the West with a 98-64 record, with Arizona and Colorado each finishing at 90-72 to set up an epic wild-card game. But projections can only predict so much, and three truly dominant teams could render this math moot by the time it's all done.
But these three clubs have already guaranteed that no matter what happens from here on out, baseball is about to get its first good old-fashioned powerhouse pennant race - a wild ride that's unique to this sport - in an entire generation. Can they all somehow win 95 or more? Will the schedule-makers let someone else spoil the party? Which of these teams ultimately join the '93 Giants and so many other October-less juggernauts in the most painful pile of baseball runners-up?
If you're a baseball fan, just strap in and enjoy this one. It could take another 24 years for us to see this kind of race again.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
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