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Rockies, D-backs altering baseball landscape

MLB.com @philgrogers

Give the Rockies and the D-backs credit.

They have forced the rest of the National League to take a hard look at what they're doing and to wonder how long they can keep winning.

Give the Rockies and the D-backs credit.

They have forced the rest of the National League to take a hard look at what they're doing and to wonder how long they can keep winning.

If they parlay their fast starts into 90-win seasons, they can change the landscape in the Central and the East. They could certainly impact the thinking of general managers around the NL when the Trade Deadline approaches.

On the one hand, it's a fool's errand to spend much time worrying about Wild Card races in June. There's too much of the season ahead to make any assumptions, positive or negative. But it's impossible to ignore the disparity between certain teams in the league at the moment.

In the American League, only the Astros have established themselves as a team that will be tough to catch. As a result, every team entered this week within 4 1/2 games of a postseason spot, including the rebuilding White Sox and A's.

Slow-starting teams like the Royals, Tigers and Mariners are a short winning streak away from becoming the team that other teams are trying to catch.

That's why Detroit General Manager Al Avila expects it to be difficult deciding whether to be a buyer or a seller next month. He says the calculus for a team in the middle is not only whether it can make the postseason but whether it can be good enough to win the World Series.

But the math could be completely different in the NL, thanks to the D-backs and Rockies.

Entering Week 12 of the 26-week season, the top three teams in the NL West were a combined 134-78. That's .632 baseball -- a pace that would produce 102-60 records over 162 games.

Take away the 22 head-to-head games between the Dodgers, Rockies and D-backs and you've got a 116-56 record when they play anyone else. That's a .674 winning percentage, which is, well, crazy.

The Nationals are the only NL team that is coming close to keeping pace with the guys out west. Entering this week, the D-backs and the Dodgers were tied for the two NL Wild Card spots, a full nine games ahead of the Cubs.

We repeat, nine games ahead in the Wild Card race. That's a lot, no matter what time of year.

To be honest, I've seldom ever looked at the Wild Card standings before the All-Star break. The serious business happens in August and September, so why get ahead of yourself?

Two years ago, the top three NL teams grabbed postseason spots. But they didn't pull away from the pack early like the Dodgers, Rockies and D-backs have this year.

You know there's going to be a fight for at least the second Wild Card spot before it's over. There always is.

In the five seasons that Major League Baseball has sent two Wild Card teams to the postseason in each league, seven of the 10 races have been decided by three games or less, including four races that came down to the last day.

Baseball is a game of peaks of valleys for all its teams, including the best ones. The Dodgers, Rockies and D-backs aren't going to win every series they play. They'll have down stretches, creating opportunities for teams like the Mets or Cardinals.

Maybe even the Cubs, although it's still tough to imagine the defending World Series Champs floundering in August and September. They've got too much talent to stay a .500 team for much longer, which could leave the Brewers as the team trying to catch up to one of the two teams out west.

Let's stipulate that the Dodgers are the real thing, can we? They've won at least 91 games each of the last four years and seem headed for 95-plus this time around, thanks to the impact of Cody Bellinger alongside Corey Seager and Justin Turner.

The Rockies look to be extremely legitimate, as they showed by winning five of seven against the Cubs (among many other bonafide contenders). The D-backs are a much bigger surprise, as they're coming off a 93-loss season a year ago.

But don't look down your nose at Arizona.

They're led by Paul Goldschmidt, one of the most consistently productive hitters this side of Mike Trout, and have a No. 1 starter as determined as any in Zack Greinke. Behind them, they've got a clubhouse fall of talented players like Jake Lamb, Chris Owings, David Peralta and Brandon Drury, who are growing more confident every week in which they stay near the NL West lead.

Oh, one other thing. The D-backs are currently missing their second best player, center fielder A.J. Pollock. He's been out more than a month with a groin strain but could be back almost any day now, which would provide a nice lift.

Maybe the Dodgers, Rockies and D-backs will start trading paint after another lap or two. But for the time being they look to be drafting off each other, and the distance between them and the pack gets a little bigger all the time.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies