Cassilo: Barry’s not the only big story out West

David Cassilo

Once the great shadow of Barry Bonds’ home run chase had been lifted, the light began to shine on one of the best baseball seasons in recent memory. There are four teams right now with dazzling pitching, timely hitting and legitimate title aspirations. No, I’m not talking about the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Mets. I’m talking about teams that play far away, on the side of the country that gets little coverage on ESPN because their games end too late and people are tired. Check the newspaper the next morning and you won’t even see the score of the game. They may be flying under the radar, but these teams are soaring in the standings. That’s why come October, the D-Backs, Padres, Angels and Mariners will all get their due.

Before going further, I challenge anyone to name five players on the Arizona Diamondbacks, and no, the injured Randy Johnson and his cardboard back do not count. Chances are the only one you came up with is staff ace Brandon Webb. The team’s star player strung together an amazing 42 consecutive scoreless innings this season and could hold up his second Cy Young Award in as many years. What’s amazing about the Diamondbacks’ rise to the top of the NL West this season is that they start a mind-boggling six players two years or less removed from the minor leagues. That’s the equivalent of taking seven Villanova graduates, having them start for a baseball team and lead a division where they compete against men 10 to 15 years older than them. What are the odds of this you may ask? Well, before the season started, I was in Las Vegas and saw that Arizona was 30:1 to win the World Series. Young studs like Chris B. Young and Mark Reynolds may have changed that.

Their division rival the San Diego Padres has been to the playoffs the past two seasons, but that hasn’t meant any extra attention across the country. The Padres sport the current top two in ERA with Jake Peavy and Chris Young. Peavy possibly has the filthiest collection of pitches in all of baseball, while few pitchers are more menacing on the mound than the 6-foot-10-inch Young. The Padres lack of scoring has been their issue all season, but I’m sure that if you’re a Phillies fan (sorry, by the way) you saw this past week that their bats have woken up at the right time.

Moving up the West Coast in the American League, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the United States of Earth may be the most familiar of all teams out West. I’m sure right now people are reading this saying, “Come on! Everyone knows the Angels are good, and Vladimir Guerrero is maybe the MVP this year.” Well what about John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and that impressive Angels rotation? Or the Justin Speier-Scot Shields-Francisco Rodriguez combination that makes every game end after the sixth inning? More importantly, it’s time for America to wake up and meet Chone Figgins. For those of you who haven’t made his aquaintance already, call him the Jose Reyes of the West Coast. He’s the catalyst of the lineup and is hitting .335 with 34 steals despite missing the first six weeks of the season. Even more impressive, Figgins is hitting .400 at home and hit .461 for the month of July. Those are statistics that haven’t been seen since the days of newly enshrined Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

Also in the Angels’ division is my favorite story of the baseball season. That is the Seattle Mariners. The team that couldn’t get it done with Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson has become one of the best in baseball with Jose Guillen, Yuniesky Betancourt and Horacio Ramirez. Okay, maybe Ichiro Suzuki, King Felix and stud closer J.J. Putz had something to do with it as well, but it’s impossible to overlook that with the talent this team has, it shouldn’t be thinking about next year; it should be thinking about 10 years from now. Top that off with the fact that their manager quit midseason and left them with a bench coach (John McLaren) who had never been a big league manager in his life. Yet the team with a quarter of the talent of the New York Yankees leads them by two games in the Wild Card race. Baseball is a funny game where sometimes the best talent doesn’t bring you quite what you’d expect, and for that reason and many others, this year’s best is surely in the West.

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David Cassilo is a sophomore from Chatham, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]