Often times, I hear people talk down on the Dodgers by saying that they play in a weak division, and that any team could win there. Now let's be honest, I do not like very many of the teams in the NL West, and I loathe the Giants. But teams deserve credit where credit is due, NL West rivals included.
Readers, this is why the NL West is not only the best division in the NL, but also the second best division in Baseball (behind the AL East obviously). I judge through strength of individual teams, and the amount of competition for the top spot. I believe most people can agree that the AL East is better, and that both Leagues' Central Divisions are worse, as the AL Central is weak (even though the competition is strong), and the NL Central is the Cardinals and a bunch of average teams behind them.
That leaves the AL West, and the NL East.
First, let me explain why the NL West is stronger than people think. In school, I am in a Latin class, and I am absolutely sure that in this class, one of the lines translated to: "...and the Los Angeles Dodgers were kicked out of the MOBL (Mt. Olympus Baseball League) for being too good..." Yeah, obviously the Dodgers are a solid team. Their hitting is great, their starting pitching can get the job done (please read this post for more), and their bullpen was among the best in the league. As a fan, I will tell you that no team is better, regardless of the score to any game or series.
The Rockies are also very good. They are young, have similar pitching to the Dodgers, and where they are weaker in the Bullpen, they are stronger in their hitting.
The Giants (and it pains me to admit it) have one of the best Starting Rotations in the MLB (although should Lincecum or even Cain go down, their season will follow) and their offense is a bit better. They do not look like Division winners, but they will certainly be in the hunt for a Wild Card Spot, and with their pitching, they would be incredibly dangerous in the Playoffs.
The Diamondbacks appear to be a bad team for most, but one has to look at what they've done this offseason to remedy that situation. First, their true Ace, Brandon Webb will be returning from injury. Second, they made their rotation stronger by adding All-Star Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. Third, they made their hitting stronger by adding 1B Adam LaRoche, and 2B Kelly Johnson. Fourth, they have a budding Superstar in Justin Upton who had a great season last year, and Mark Reynolds is in his prime. On paper at least, they appear to be a team that I think will do better than the Giants this year.
And the Padres, well, they are certainly the JV team of this Division. I really am not sure what I can say to defend the Padres, except their record last year was 75-87, which I believe they can repeat. For the worst team in a division, that's certainly not bad at all.
In the AL West, it is conceivable that 90 wins can take the Division Crown, as the Angels regressed with the losses of John Lackey, Chone Figgins, and Vladdy (although Hideki Matsui an Joel Pineiro make it sting a bit less), and the Mariners and Rangers did not make enough moves to secure the Division. As such, each team could be called "Good", but none of them could be called "Great". The fact that it's hard to pick a winner of those three teams this year says to me that the competition will be strong, but the teams themselves will not be. To put it into perspective, the Rockies won 92 games last year and finished second in the NL West, but I don't believe any of those three teams will not need to win that many games to win their division.
In the NL East, you have 5 teams that could each be put into a separate "Tier" if you will.
Phillies - Really Dominant team that are favorites to win.
Braves - Great Pitching, Good, but not good enough Hitting.
Marlins - Good Pitching, Good Hitting.
Nationals - Average Pitching, Average Hitting, Developing in all aspects but looking like they will make progress.
Mets - Get my GM and Manager out of here! (That is also my projection for how the Division race will turn out)
While the NL East looks similar the NL West, one must remember which division fielded the Wild Card Team (West), and look at how deep the division is. Sure, the Phillies are great, but the Mets and Nationals are certainly not, and I don't think it's conceivable that their could be a potential 4-team division race like in the NL West. The Braves and Marlins just don't seem strong enough to push the Phillies out of first.
Look, people are always welcome to their opinions, and it's not possible for this post to convince all of the nay-sayers. But before you go around trumpeting that the Dodgers are preying on a bad division, take a look around some of the other divisions in the league. I really do believe that it's foolish to say any division (Again, besides the AL East) is stronger than the NL West. No other division exhibits both the Quality of Teams and Quality of Competition that the NL West does. Therefore, it simply must be considered the NL Best.