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The seventy-nine game season starts... now.

It's a virtual four way tie for first in the National League West, which means the first three months of the season in the division were only good for determining that Arizona would be starting the second half with a three game handicap. So let's take a look at each of the division's teams' remaining schedules and see where the key dates lie:

Arizona: First, Arizona needs to make up the three games it lost on everybody else due largely to its atrocious interleague performance. The Rockies and Dodgers would help their causes to make that deficit even larger in these last four road games before the All-Star break. Looking at the Diamondbacks' second half schedule, I see a lot of opportunity for the Snakes to make up some ground. Unlike most of the NL West, Arizona has already travelled to Shea Stadium for one, and will only face one real non-divisional playoff contender on the road (the Astros' July 28-30). Besides the series that starts Friday, August fourteenth marks the point where the Rockies need to put a boot on these reptiles; a four game set at Coors will kick off a ten game divisional road swing for Arizona. We'll want to win three of four or even sweep them to destroy their confidence heading into San Diego and LA.

The Diamondbacks close out their season with sixteen straight against NL West opponents, so they certainly could play spoilers if no longer in contention themselves.

Colorado: The Rockies best hope is to keep in this thing until mid-September, when all the sudden the schedule gods smile upon us for our last thirteen games. Starting September 18, we play ten of thirteen at home and our lone road series is at the very end to visit the lowly Cubs who should by that point be totally stripped of their last vestiges of pride and a few of their better veterans. The ten game home stand just before brings the Dodgers and Giants for three games apiece with the NL East trailing Atlanta Braves sandwiched for four in between. Up to that point, we've got an interesting but manageable second half schedule. It starts right off the bat with our best chance to make a move toward the Wild Card with a four game set at Cincinnati kicking off a ten game road trip. Ultimately, I think the key to our season will probably be the week of August 4-10 when we travel to AT&T and Dodger Stadium, two venues we've traditionally had trouble with.

Am I wrong to be less concerned with the ten games apiece we have with the Padres and D-backs? I see us at least getting a split in the 'Zona set, which is good considering six will be played at the Chafe, and we should win at least seven against the Pods seeing as we play seven of ten against them at home.

Los Angeles: The Dodgers' second half features some difficult stretches, but also enough relatively takeable series to provide for a good balance. Hopefully they stay in sight until August 18, when they'll face a stretch of twenty out of twenty-six on the road. Travelling's been unkind to the Dodgers this year. In fact, LA's had both the division's biggest home field advantage and its worst case of travelling blues (ha ha, I'm so clever sometimes). That said, the Rockies need to break Chavez Ravine's mystical hold on them in the seven games we play there in order to have a shot at distancing ourselves from LA.

If it comes down to the last six games of the season between us and them, we may still be in business, as the Dodgers play three at Coors and three at San Fran (who would like nothing better than to stick a dagger in LA's playoff hopes if the Giants themselves are out of contention) to close out the year.

San Diego: The Padres' second half schedule features some absolutely brutal road trips, starting with an eleven game swing through LA, San Fran and Coors Field beginning July 20. After that it doesn't really get any easier:

Aug 8-13 @ New York and Houston
Aug 25-30 @ Colorado and Arizona
Sep 8-18 @ San Fran, Cincinnati and LA in that order.
Sep 25-Oct 1 @ St Louis and Arizona

From July 20, that's forty of sixty-eight games the Padres will have to play away from Petco and divisional rival Arizona is the only team out of those that currently sports a losing record. What San Diego has going for it is that they are currently the division's best road team, but that's largely because they've already dispatched with some of the weaker teams others in the division have yet to face. The way I figure, San Diego has approximately two weeks, including the All-Star break, to establish it's dominance over the division before they start sliding into the also-rans. Somebody please tell them their second straight divisional crown is not going to happen.

San Francisco: The Rockies can help themselves a lot with a win tonight before sending the Giants on to LA. Basically with the San Fran, I look for points in the schedule where their players are likely to break down. I'm not seeing a lot of that right after the All-Star break, but the first place I'd look is in the dog days of August. On the seventh of that month, a day after they wrap three home games versus the Rockies, the Giants start a ten game divisional road trip against Arizona, LA and San Diego. Starting with the eleventh, while still on the road trip, the Giants will play seventeen days straight without a break.

The six games we play against the G-men between the twelfth and twentieth of September will be the Rockies last best chance of making a move against them. The latter three of those games will be at Coors in the middle of a tough thirteen game stretch through St Louis and Colorado before going back to Milwaukee and then returning home for a set with the D-backs without a day off.