Beil's Spiel: The NL Worst

The Bible says the meek shall inherit the earth. Apparently, they've already started with the National League West, where it's quite possible the division champion will finish with more losses than wins. For the record, that has never happened before.

So what has gone so horribly wrong in this division, once dominated by fly balls into McCovey Cove and the pride of Dodger blue? You can make the case that division disintegration all started with the deteriorating knee of Barry Bonds.

Coming out of spring training, the Giants were labeled as the team to beat – and man, have they taken a beating. Bonds has been hurt all season, removing San Francisco's and perhaps the game's best hitter. The Giants also lost their two best pitchers, starter Jason Schmidt and closer Armando Benitez for huge chunks of the season. Moises Alou has been hurt frequently, as have Edgardo Alfonzo and Ray Durham. An under-performing starting rotation has led to overworked relievers, leaving Felipe Alou's bullpen with the sturdiness of his now infamous Cream of Wheat.

The Dodgers, who won the NL West last season with 93 victories, have also been decimated by injuries to key players. Eric Gagne, Milton Bradley, J.D. Drew, Jayson Werth and Jos Valentn are regulars on the disabled list. But the Dodger blues extend beyond that – with the clubhouse chemistry of a Molotov cocktail.

This week, perennially inflamed Milton Bradley accused Jeff Kent of being unable to deal with black players. The charge came after Kent chided Bradley for a perceived lack of hustle. Kent, who had well-publicized run-ins with Bonds, called Bradley's accusations offensive and pathetic.

The good news is that not all of the Dodgers are consumed by this controversy. According to the Miami Herald, L.A. pitcher Brad Penny recently bet a Marlins batboy that the kid couldn't drink a gallon of milk in an hour without vomiting. Several teammates kicked in, upping the ante to $1,000. The batboy drank it all, but it didn't stay down, leaving him feeling like many Dodger fans this year.

Then, there's the Padres, who have led the NL Worst for most of the season and might have lapped the field if not for injuries to many of their own key players, like Ryan Klesko, Ramon Hernandez, Khalil Greene and Phil Nevin (before he was traded).

New Padres CEO Sandy Alderson eloquently describes the division as "a bit enfeebled," which is a kind way to put it. After going 22-6 in May, the Padres have been backsliding ever since, physically and mentally.

Mark Sweeney, one of only two Padres left from San Diego's 1998 team that went to the World Series, can see what is missing. "There was a confidence level on that team," Sweeney told MLB.com. "We knew we'd go out and win every day. I don't sense that we have that here right now."

The Arizona Diamondbacks should actually be considered a success story, coming back from the subterranean depths of a 111-loss season in 2004. The D-Backs are at least respectable in '05, hovering around 10-games under 500. But lumped in with the rest of the division, the desert snakes just look like another weakling.

Then there's the hideously poor Colorado Rockies, who seem to be in year 10 of their 25-year rebuilding plan.

The Padres will probably end up getting hot late, maybe winning 10 or 11 of their last 30 games and prevailing in this pillow fight.

Then they can move on and get spanked by the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs. In the meantime, there are six more weeks of grotesque baseball to watch in this division. Like eating too much bratwurst or liverwurst, too much of the NL Worst can leave you feeling like an over-chugged batboy.