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The Terrible, Terrible West

You've gotta love that NL West. Has there ever been a division like it? Let's take a look:

• We'll get the most-asked question out of the way first: Has there ever been a division in which every team finished with a losing record?

And that answer is … no way -- unless you count the 1994 strike season, when the plug was pulled in August with the Rangers (52-62) in first place.

Worst records ever by teams that won their divisions (a list that might come in reallllllly handy):

1973 Mets (82-79)
1997 Astros (84-78)
1984 Royals (84-78)
1987 Twins (85-77)

• Now the next-most logical question: What's the closest any division has ever come to having all its teams finish with a losing record?

We're happy to announce that the answer to that one was looked up for us by loyal reader Brian Smith, of Dartmouth College's little-known School of Lousy Baseball Division Research Studies, and by the Newark Star Ledger's Dan Graziano.

Excluding the '94 strike-shrunken season, here are the eight divisions in which just one team finished better than .500:

1999 AL Central (Cleveland)
1998 AL Central (Cleveland)
1997 AL Central (Cleveland)
1997 NL Central (Houston)
1995 AL Central (Cleveland)
1995 NL East (Atlanta)
1984 NL West (San Diego)
1983 AL West (White Sox)

• How bizarre is this division? The last-place team (the Rockies) had the second-worst record in the entire sport through Thursday (39-68). But they still were closer to first place (13½ games) than the Indians, Twins or Cubs -- three teams that still have realistic shots to win the wild card.

• Here's yet another way to sum up this goofiness, courtesy of Giants assistant GM Ned Colletti, who asks: "Has a team ever won the World Series and still picked in the top 10 in the draft?"

We're not sure how to describe that question: Hilarious? Scary? Brilliant? Fascinating? So we'll go for all of the above.

If the draft were held tomorrow, the first-place Padres would pick 12th. But they were only a half-game better than Detroit and a game better than Baltimore. So it isn't out of the question that the Padres could be in the top 10 next June -- but still have a chance to win the World Series this October.

If you're wondering (and of course you are), the highest drafting locale by any World Series team we could find, with the help of Baseball America's Jim Callis, was 17th, by those '74 Mets. (Free-agent compensation picks, naturally, were not included.)

• OK, so now we move along in earnest to those first-place Padres. Since June 1 (through Thursday), they'd gone a mind-boggling 16 games under .500 (20-36), yet had lost just two games off their lead.

So how amazing is that? The Padres actually have a worse record since June 1 than all six last-place teams have. (Worst record by the last-place group: Pittsburgh, at 24-35.)

• Fifty games into the season, the Padres were 31-19, and leading the West by 2½ games. But until they won Thursday, they'd gone a debacle-ish 18-32 in their previous 50 games. And the Elias Sports Bureau reports that's the worst 50-game stretch by any team in history that was in first place 50 games into a season. Previous record: 20-30, by the 1995 Angels.

• Meanwhile, not only do the Padres have a losing record for the season -- they've had just one winning month (May).

So has there ever, you ask, been a first-place team that could make that claim? Nope. Not over a full season, anyway.

The 1994 Rangers had just one winning month when the strike hit. But they never got a chance to play out August and September, so they don't count. And we can't find any other first-place team that ever had fewer than three winning months.

• In case you were wondering, through Thursday, the Padres would have been 9½ games out of first in the NL East, 15 games out in the NL Central, 9½ out in the AL East, nine out in the AL West and a spectacular 17½ games behind in the AL Central.

• Or, looked at another way, at their current pace, the Padres would win 79 games. Which means they would have finished 37 games behind the 2001 Mariners, 37 behind the 1998 Yankees and 29 games behind the 1986 Mets -- but would still make the playoffs.

• But let's not blame this mess on the Padres. This has been a total group effort. Through Thursday, the five NL West teams were an insane 62 games under .500 (128-190) when they played anyone except themselves. That's a sad .403 winning percentage against those other divisions.

Not surprisingly, they're heading for some serious history in that department. Elias reports that the record, in the division-play era, is held by the fearsome 2002 AL Central.

Led by the Tigers and Royals (who were 62 games under all by themselves), that group was a combined 76 games under .500 and played .412 ball overall against anyone but each other.

• Across the country, on the other hand, you have the mirror-image version of this division -- the NL East, where every team still had a winning record until the Mets fell back to .500 Thursday.

That made this the third time in history (not counting the '81 strike season) in which every team in a division was over .500 in August, according to SABR's Frank Vaccaro. The others:

1991 AL West -- through Sept. 25 (151 games)
1986 AL East -- through Aug. 28 (125 games)

• But what has never happened -- to answer to a question from loyal reader Brian Rutledge -- is a season in which a last-place team in one division would have finished first in another division. And we're rapidly approaching the latest date in any season when a last-place team would even have been leading any other division.

When the strike pulled the plug on the 1994 season after games of Aug. 11, the last-place teams in the AL East and AL Central both would have led the AL West.

But could it really happen over a full season? Uh, stay tuned.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your Useless Information to uselessinfodept@yahoo.com.