Eighty wins will be enough in NL West

Eighty will be enough in NL West

SAN DIEGO -- It is certainly baseball heresy, but it needs to be said: Only 80 victories will be enough to win the National League West this season.

The possibility of a sub-.500 team winning a division became abundantly clear on Sunday after the first-place Padres were swept out of PETCO Park in a three-game series by the Philadelphia Phillies.

It's simple math. With 45 games to play, even if the 58-59 Padres go 23-22 the rest of the way, they will finish with an 81-81 record.

And that seems unlikely, considering the fact that the Padres are 15 games under .500 (25-40) since June 1.

"Yeah, 81 wins may be enough to win the division, but I think we're going to do better than that," John Moores, the team's majority owner, said on Sunday as the Phillies scored seven runs in the fifth inning before recording an out on the way to an easy 8-3 victory. "But I don't care how many games we win as long as we make it to the World Series."

That's not beyond the realm of possibility, either. Since the Wild Card, the three-division format and the three-tiered playoff system in each league were instituted in time for 1994 season, the greatest nightmare of traditional fans has been some team with a losing record winning it all.

That could have happened in '94, but the only upside of the strike that canceled the postseason is that it didn't. When the players went out for good on Aug. 10, the Rangers were leading the American League West by a game over the A's and two games over the Mariners. Texas was 10 games under .500 at the time and the entire division was 57 games under.

Likewise, while the Padres lead the Diamondbacks by three games, the Dodgers by five games and the Giants by seven, the entire division is 55 games under .500.

But this time, the season resumes on Monday and the chances of a team, probably the Padres, winning the division with a sub-.500 record increases every day.

"We're not going to win the division unless we win some games," said Bruce Bochy, who, fittingly in this case, has a sub-.500 record (839-880) in his nearly 11 seasons as Padres manager. "We've got to take the bull by the horns and take charge here. I still believe it's going to take a better-than-.500 record to win the division. If we don't do that we won't win."

The horror of a team going to the postseason with a sub.-500 record first reared its ugly head when baseball expanded by four teams in 1969 and each league split into two divisions, creating a two-tier playoff format for the first time in modern Major League Baseball history.

In 1973, the New York Mets came closest, snatching the NL East away in a five-team race with an 82-79 record.

Until now, that's the worst mark of any team to go into the postseason and those Mets took the A's to the seventh game of the World Series before losing.

Last year, the eventual World Series-winning Red Sox won 98 regular season games to secure the AL Wild Card spot. The Astros won 92 games in the NL and captured the Wild Card from the Giants on the final day of the regular season.

The Dodgers won the NL West last year with a 93-69 record and the Giants, despite a 91-71 finish, were left out in the cold.

This year, 91 victories would win the division by 10 or 11 games.

But there's little chance of any NL West team getting near that number this season. The sheer arithmetic doesn't dictate it. Even if the Padres were to win 30 of their final 45 games, they'd finish with 88 victories. And that's evidently not going to happen.

"We haven't played consistently enough, particularly at home," said Mark Sweeney, who is one of only two players, along with Trevor Hoffman, remaining from the 1998 team that won a club-record 98 regular season games and were swept by the Yankees in the World Series. "There was a confidence level on that team. We knew we'd go out and win every day. I don't sense that we have that here right now."

Except for May, the Padres have played below .500 ball in every month of the season. Their club-record May mark of 22-6 is the saving grace.

If not for that, they'd be looking through a periscope at the rest of the division rather than through a rear-view mirror.

Because of injuries and other such treachery, that's where the other three pretenders sit. Playing .500 ball for the remainder of the season gets none of them much right now unless the Padres completely collapse.

With Khalil Greene out for at least two to three weeks because of a fractured left big toe, it's not going to get any easier. This is the third time in his two seasons that the young shortstop has been injured at a key juncture. Let's not forget that he fractured a finger last Sept. 13 and, save for a couple of pinch-running appearances, missed the remainder of the season.

They could have used Greene. The Padres finished 87-75, six games behind the Dodgers and five games behind the Wild Card-winning Astros. Moores figured his team would build on those good vibes and do better this year.

"Never in my wildest imagination did I figure that this team would win less games than last season," Moores said.

Figure it. Win at least 80 games and the Padres will take the NL West for the fourth time in the club's 37-year history. Then wipe away all the struggles, the conjecture and the problems. Let the real season begin.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.