Could The West Be Won With 81-81 Record?

LOS ANGELES, California-- The Dodgers were off Monday before facing the Phillies and Mets in a six-game road swing. The pause gives some time to look at the N.L. West Division, or "Mild, Mild West" as some have called it. To put things in perspective, since June 1, the Padres are eight games under .500 but have still gained 1 1/2 games in the standings. That's because the other four teams have struggled with injuries, or haven't played well -- or both. The division is 46 games under .500.

With the non-waiver trade deadline less than two weeks away, the teams, excluding the Rockies, feel they are still in the running for the division title and a playoff spot. Obviously, the wild card will not come from the west.

The visions of a first place finish is dancing in the heads of front office personnel, who might be dumping salary if the Padres were actually pulling away from the crowd.

The Padres are financially unable to add to their lineup -- unless some payroll is shed to make room for another significant player. They have announced that they are going to have to earn more money or save some money to make a move.

Jim Tracy hit it right on the head: "I've been saying this for days: You look at where we stand right now and if there are no significant changes to the other three teams, the Padres could win this with an 81-81 record".

His injury-riddled club is 10 games under .500, but only 8 1/2 games out with 70 games left in the season, 35 at home and 35 on the road.

That means if the Padres play .500 ball the rest of the way and win 35 more games, they'll finish with 85 wins. To tie them, the Diamondbacks will have to win 40 times, the Dodgers will have to win 44, and the Giants 45 of the final 70.

That's going to be a tough road for any of the three challengers -- but certainly possible.

No one knows that more than the Dodgers. In 1942 they won 104 games )(in a 154 game season) and held a 7 1/2 game lead with five weeks to go. During September the Dodgers were 20-5 but lost a half-game to the charging Cardinals who won 106 games and the pennant.

And we all remember leading the Giants by 13 1/2 games in August, only to lose the 1951 pennant when whats-his-name his a homer in the third playoff game.

The Dodgers, Padres and the Giants have been hit particularly hard by injuries, with Los Angeles losing 650 games, San Diego 410 games and the Giants 305 games.

And so the clubs are all burning midnight oil, wondering if they should spend a prospect or two to get some help down the stretch or -- without announcing it of course -- pull in their horns and their wallets and, as we Dodgers seem to said too many times in recent falls, "Wait 'Till Next Year."

The Dodgers have Milton Bradley and Jose Valentin on Minor League rehab assignments and poised to return. Ricky Ledee is already in the lineup and smacking the ball. The Giants expect to send Edgardo Alfonzo and Marquis Grissom out on rehab assignments this week. Brandon Lyon is on his way back for Arizona. It would appear that each team will get stronger sometime soon.

And, of course, the Giants may get to play the Barry Bonds card before the season end, giving them both a literal and an emotional boost.

We'll wait and see just how the wind blows over these final 70 games.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Jason Grabowski was designated for assignment on Sunday with the intention to activate Wilson Alvarez (shoulder). Grabowski, who was second on the club with a dozen pinch-hits last year, was hitting .163 (17-for-104) with four home runs and 11 runs batted in over 56 games. He cleared waivers and had the choice of becoming a free agent. He opted to stay with the Dodgers and will report to Las Vegas. …Kelly Wunsch, who was placed on the disabled list Friday, hurt his ankle in a bullpen workout in Colorado, will have season-ending surgery on his right ankle Wednesday. The lefty specialist had appeared in 45 games -- third in the NL -- and was 1-1 with a 4.56 ERA. Wunsch was on pace for 86 appearances. A six-year veteran, he has a career record of 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 177 innings.

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