There is probably one baseball fan, hidden safely away in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado, who truly believes that everything other than the right to play in an exhibition series is at stake in the upcoming National League Championship Series between the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. I salute that fan's stubbornness. The rest of us, though, should admit the truth: Until the senior circuit can offer a champion that is clearly better than the seventh-best team in the American League, the World Series will be something of a joke.
The AL could have literally fielded a stronger slate of playoff teams from among its second- and third-place finishers than the NL actually did. The scale of the AL's superiority to the NL may be routinely overstated the Boston Red Sox reportedly think that, on a team level, the difference is 10 wins per season, which seems implausibly high. But there is no doubt that the AL features a higher level of play right now. No team in the NL won more than 90 games. Does anyone believe that the 88-win Detroit Tigers and Seattle Mariners wouldn't have managed more than that against weaker competition? The Toronto Blue Jays won 83 while playing 36 games against the Yankees and Red Sox. How many would they have won playing in the NL East? Even the AL's eighth-best team, the 7983 Minnesota Twins, was arguably stronger than the NL's weakest playoff team, the Chicago Cubs, who went 8577 while playing in baseball's worst division.
Nothing could better demonstrate the sad state of the NL than the presence of the Rockies and Diamondbacks in the league championship series. The Diamondbacks finished with the best record in their league, despite failing to outscore their opponents this year, while the Rockies needed to win 13 wins in 14 games down the stretch, and also needed the collapses of both the Mets and the San Diego Padres, just to force a play-in against the latter team meaning the Rockies needed freakishly good luck just to get anywhere near October. Both are exciting, talented young teams, but both would be a year or two away from serious contention if playing in the other league. And sadly, neither team is the kind disinterested fans can get behind. The Diamondbacks, admittedly, are a fun lot. Ace pitcher Brandon Webb is one of the five best pitchers in the sport, 20-year-old outfielder Justin Upton has the potential to replace Alex Rodriguez as the face of the game, and the organization has an almost embarrassing glut of young, homegrown talent. Still, this is, again, a team that didn't even outscore its opponents this year. Arizona's best everyday player right now is Eric Byrnes better known for his side gig as an ESPN analyst than for his exploits as a mediocre hitter whose specialty is left field defense. It's exciting to see young players like center fielder Chris Young and shortstop Stephen Drew playing this late in the year, but if the World Series is supposed to involve the best testing the best, the Diamondbacks don't belong anywhere near it.
At least the Snakes are likable. The Rockies are incredibly creepy. Last year, in what appeared to have been a badly misconceived public relations idea, the organization opened up to a respected reporter from Sports Weekly, Bob Nightengale, about how the team from the front office to the locker room adheres to a "Christian-based code of conduct." Former Rockie Mark Sweeney, a widely traveled veteran, told Nightengale that the pressure on players was so intense that he believed some were pretending to be Christians to keep their jobs.
That's plausible. The chief executive officer of the team, Charlie Monfort, said, "I don't want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise, we're stronger than anyone in baseball. Christians, and what they've endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those." General manager Dan O'Dowd seemed to imply that trading for and signing players because they were Christian had helped the team, and said, "I just feel like if you have people with the right heart and their desires are with the right intent, what bad can come out of that?" And team manager Clint Hurdle said, "We're not going to hide it. We're not going to deny it. This is who we are." (It should be noted that the Rockies have indeed denied it and wisely so ever since the article was published.)
The Rockies and the Diamondbacks are the best on offer from the NL this year. One of them is going to follow in the proud tradition of last year's 83-win St. Louis Cardinals. Aside from our man in the Sangre de Cristos (and, possibly, the Almighty), no one should care all that much more than they care about Japan's Championship Series. The real title fight starts Friday, in Boston.