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Mild, mild West

Padres have failed to run away in weak division

Posted: Friday July 22, 2005 2:05PM; Updated: Sunday July 24, 2005 12:00AM
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Adam Eaton
Adam Eaton was 9-2 before going down with an injury.
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The bubble seemed to burst for the surprising Padres on June 1, when they dropped the final game of a three-game set against the Brewers at Petco Park. The loss killed a six-game winning streak that had pushed San Diego's record to a season-high 14 games over .500 (33-19) and helped it go up by three games in the NL West.

Since then the Padres have scored the fewest runs in the National League and have had three losing streaks of four games or more. After getting swept by the Mets on Thursday, the Padres had won just 17 of their last 44 games.

Yet the Swinging (and Missing) Friars headed to Philadelphia for a weekend series with a larger divisional lead (4 1/2 games) than they had in early June. Welcome to the NL West, baseball's Norris Division, where not very good will be more than good enough for a playoff spot. At 50-46, the Padres are on pace for 84 victories. Assuming they win the West, that total would match the 1997 Astros for the lowest by a division winner since '96, the first full-length season with the six-division format. The second-place Diamondbacks (46-51) are on pace for 76 wins, which would barely put them ahead of the 1999 White Sox (75 wins) for the fewest by a runner-up.

As for the NL West's combined .404 winning percentage outside the division? That would be the worst since the six divisions were established in 1994. The 2002 AL Central (.412) currently holds the dishonor as the worst division since realignment.

How can the West be so bad? (Don't forget, the Padres, Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Giants can all pad their win totals against the hapless Rockies, who would struggle to keep up with a decent Triple A team.) Well, the Padres (4.14) are the only team in the division with an ERA below the league average (4.32). Only the Diamondbacks are above the league average in both on-base percentage and slugging.

The Giants (Barry Bonds) and the Dodgers (Eric Gagne, Cesar Izturis, Milton Bradley, to name a few) have been devastated by injuries. Same goes for the Padres, who have been without Dave Roberts, Phil Nevin, Ramon Hernandez, Mark Loretta and No. 2 starter Adam Eaton for various stretches. All except Eaton are back in the lineup now; still, San Diego still has gone just 7-10 in July -- and not lost a game off its lead.

There's never been a better time to be mediocre in the NL West, and the Padres are on the fast track to joining the all-time Worst Best list: teams or players who had the good fortune to be merely adequate when their competition for division titles or individual crowns was subpar:

Batting title: Carl Yastrzemski, 1968: .301. Actually, this was an impressive performance in the Year of the Pitcher. The AL league average was .230, and Yaz was the only .300 hitter.

Home runs: Hack Wilson, 1926: 21. Wilson's total is the lowest for a league leader since 1922, the first year anyone other than Babe Ruth hit more than 30. Actually, '26 was a brief return to the days when Ruth was the game's only serious home run threat: He led the AL with 47, while Wilson, the NL leader, was the only other hitter in the majors with more than 20.

RBIs: Al Rosen, 1952, and Willie McCovey, 1968: 105. Except for the strike year of 1981, there hasn't been an RBI leader in double-digits since 1920, the unofficial end of the Dead Ball Era. McCovey was one of just three 100-RBI men in the majors in dead-ballish '68. Rosen just happened to take advantage of a down year for AL sluggers. The following year he knocked in 145 runs to repeat as RBI champ.

Wins: Whitey Ford, 1955; Bob Lemon, '55; Frank Sullivan, '55; Chuck Estrada, 1960; Jim Perry, '60; Rick Sutcliffe, 1987: 18. The 20-game winner is becoming rarer, but it usually takes at least that many victories to lead the league. Since 1900 there have been only six seasons in which the leader has failed to hit the mark.

ERA: Early Wynn, 1950: 3.20. Surprise, the highest low ERA wasn't posted during the steroid era. Considering it wasn't an expansion year and BALCO had yet to open its doors, 1950 may have been the greatest pure slugging year ever. The strike zone was shrunk before the season, and home runs and scoring soared. The AL set a new record for total homers and the average of 5.04 runs per game was the highest until 1994. No wonder Wynn's 3.20 ERA was the league's best, it was just one of five times since 1900 a leader had an ERA over 3.00.

Pennant Winner: New York Mets, 1973: 82-79. Ya Gotta Believe! The Mets were in last place in the NL East in early August before rallying to win the division by 1 1/2 games over the Cardinals. They then took out the vastly superior Reds in a five-game NLCS before losing the World Series to Oakland in seven.

World Series winner: Minnesota Twins, 1987: 85-77. Behold the power of the Metrodome. Minnesota was 29-52 on the road during the season and lost all three World Series games in St. Louis. But they swept four at home and became the most mediocre champion ever.

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