In the not-so-distant past, the N.L. West was the weakest division in the game. Who can forget the Giants racing down the wire in 2005, still contending even though they were several games under .500? All of us, if we're lucky.
The stigma has held, even as most of the teams have improved. And by "most of", I mean "everyone that doesn't have a pelvis-gyrating seal as a mascot". The Dodgers rode a bunch of young talent to a playoff berth, and the Padres had one of the best top-to-bottom staffs in the game. The young talent from the Diamondbacks and Rockies didn't help them in the short-term, but the improvement and growth was noticeable.
Still, pundits and fans alike seem to think the West is a perpetually weak division. This was part of the logic behind the Barry Zito move; "Anyone can win this year, so why not go for the short-term?" But the Dodgers still have the young talent, and now they have Jason Schmidt. The Padres signed Greg Maddux and David Wells for pennies on the Meche, and exchanged Josh Barfield for Marcus Giles and Kevin Kouzmanoff. The Diamondbacks have a much-improved rotation with The Good, the Fat, and the Ugly together for the entire year. Doug Davis doesn't fit into that cute little quip, but he's a fine fourth starter, and the Diamondbacks can still field a spring training "B"-lineup with more young talent than the Giants have developed in two decades. The Rockies are the Rockies are the Rockies, but they also have a ton of interesting young hitters. Maybe Jason Hirsh doesn't give up a brazilian home runs in Coors, and maybe Jeff Francis anchors an average staff. Average might work wonders with a good young offense in Coors Field.
This is the kickoff to the divisional preview, but I feel like it should come with a .midi file of Taps playing in the background. I'm planning on reviewing each team in more detail, but I don't like the early returns. So I'll start the preview with a comment starter: Which of the four teams do you fear the most? My answer: Yes. And maybe the Rockies.