Slim pickings on the Western front

We've all had our laughs at the expense of the National League West. Worst teams ever, why don't they play sober, why can't the Cardinals get a first-round bye, kids don't try this at home, this is what happens when you screw around in class and get bad grades, and all that.

But it took this weekend to show us that this is more than just five teams joined at the E-6. This is a geographical thing, and a bad one.

In short, the farther west you go on I-10, I-80 or I-90, the worse it gets.

You know the NL West, but a quick review never hurts. San Diego is 71-72, tied with the Milwaukee Brewers overall, which means the Padres simultaneously lead their own division by five games and trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 20. The rest of the lot gets progressively worse -- much worse.

The AL West is interesting, but not overwhelming. As of Tuesday morning, the division is playing slightly over .500, and the worst of the four, the Mariners, is at least occasionally watchable. I mean, we're not talking Royals or Rockies here.

But then we get to the National Football League, and we see that there is more here than meets the jaundiced eye.

Six of the eight teams in the NFC and AFC West have gotten off to what can modestly be called crummy starts. And of the two teams that won Sunday, one ought to return it as what lawyers call "fruit of the poisonous tree."

Oh, Kansas City gets points for whipping up on the Jets, but Kansas City is really a Midwestern city, and not as susceptible to whatever is biting the teams to their left.

The Broncos? Crushed by the previously inert Miami Dolphins. The Raiders? Dazed and confused after their trip to New England. The Chargers? Brutal in a home loss to Dallas.

But wait. It gets worse.

The Seahawks? Held to two piddling scores in a 12-point loss to Jacksonville. The Cardinals? As Cardinal as ever in allowing 42 to the Giants. The Rams? The less said, the better.

And the other winner, the 49ers? Well, they were outgained by 190 yards and had the ball essentially one-third of the time against the screwy Rams. And they nearly blew a late 10-point lead at that.

So let's review.


Feh times seven, in fact. Twelve, if you count the NL West, and 14 if you throw in the Mariners and Rangers. Plus the Lakers are on the skids, the Clippers are the Clippers, the Blazers and Jazz are rebuilding from scratch, and the Warriors are still a promise unfulfilled. And the NHL's Pacific Division is anyone's guess.

So count 'em up. You got your Suns, Kings, Nuggets and Sonics. You got your Chiefs, Angels and A's. And then you hit Squatters' Flats.

We mention this because the baseball season has been hard enough on the Left Of Centers, and the football season has that unmistakable smell of laundry hamper going for it, too. If for some reason the Warriors aren't for real, or the Kings are a fraud, or the Nuggets are too fragile to stay among the front-runners ... well, this is a worst-case scenario, but we've been watching the Diamondbacks and Rangers all summer, so we're assuming the worst as a fallback position.

Can this be fixed? Well, the NBA's Western Conference could hold serve. The Sharks could consolidate their run through the West despite doing nothing during free-agent hunting season. The Mighty Ducks (or whatever they're going to be called) and Kings could make a stand for better hockey, and the Coyotes could stop being irrelevant.

But the football season sure is looking like more of the stuff that has made the summer such a ridiculous loss leader. It wasn't like the West Coast was expecting a Super Bowl, but if the football season is going to be like the baseball season was, well, I guess they'll just drink to forget until March.

Or, given that spring training will be in full swing, maybe they'll drink to forget March, period.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor at ESPN.com