Before the 2016 season started, people were picking the Diamondbacks as NL West contenders. The addition of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller were supposedly going to be enough to put them over the top. "Don't be silly," I thought. Their lineup was too thin in the middle. The back of their rotation too unproven. So allow me to crow a bit, because the Diamondbacks are three games under .500.
Also, the Diamondbacks are just two games out of first place.
One thing I was sure of was that either the Rockies or Padres would be awful. I wasn't sure about which one. The Rockies had the potential to score a million runs, and I'm always wary of whatever Clayton Richard tricks the Padres have up their sleeves. But the Rockies' rotation has been inconsistent, with the usually steady Jorge De La Rosa being the worst pitcher in the National League, and the Padres have just one lineup regular with an adjusted OPS better than average. There aren't enough Nolan Arenados or Drews Pomeranz to make up for that.
The Rockies are 1½ games out of first. The Padres are just 2½ games out of first.
Welcome to the National League West club, where the bouncer is asleep and the patrons are tangled in the red velvet rope. The party is raging inside, but if you can ... maybe just put your foot there, and ... no, no, stupid, don't ... here, take my leg and get it out of ... oh, come on.
Is this how it's going to be all season?
First reaction: Nah, one, two, or three of these teams are going to distance themselves from .500. It seems logical enough that someone will get hot.
Second reaction: Well, actually, I don't see why any of these teams has to get hot.
It's possible for mediocre teams to cluster together in the same division, and here's some research to put in perspective just how rare the 2016 NL West has been so far: Since the advent of divisional play in 1969, the .514 winning percentage shared by the Giants and Dodgers is the lowest for a first-place NL West team on May 13.
There's almost always a team in the .600s, or even .700s, that's off to an unsustainably hot start The closest to this season's morass of meh was 1994, when the Giants were in first on May 13, with a 19-16 record and .543 winning percentage. It's pretty hard for absolutely no team to get a head start on the rest of the division.
Now, there have been other divisions to start worse. Check out your first-place Rangers (13-18) in 1994. And don't forget the ballad of 2005. It was the saddest semi-contending season we'll ever see.
In 2005, the Giants were an awful team, 73-82, guaranteed to finish under .500 for the first time in nine seasons. Barry Bonds was hurt, and Pedro Feliz was his replacement. Just about every regular had an OPS+ between 70 and 86. Tyler Walker was the closer, and Jason Schmidt's ERA was twice as high as it used to be. It was a team that had no business contending.
On September 26, 2005, Randy Winn helped the Giants come back in the ninth against Trevor Hoffman -- in a Jake Peavy start, no less, and you know how good that guy is -- and the Giants were just three games out of first. They had three games left against the first-place Padres and seven games overall.
The excitement was short-lived. The Giants collapsed, and the Padres won the division with 82 wins. But the point stands: The division was mediocre, at best, all season. Even with the unbalanced schedule and some lousy teams, no team separated themselves until the very end, and even then it was by default.
It could happen this year. But I'll stick with the simplest, least surprising explanation, which is that either the Dodgers or Giants will be as good as we thought they were to start the season, if not better. The Rockies' offense was impressive before they had Trevor Story, and they might be a surprise with just a little pitching. The Diamondbacks are doing well, considering that Paul Goldschmidt hasn't been dominating quite yet, and that Greinke and Miller have both been huge disappointments. The Padres play in San Diego. All of those things could turn around in a hurry, except for maybe that last one.
One of these teams will improve. Probably two or more. But if you thought it was weird for everyone to be hovering around .500 in the middle of May, you're right. It is weird.