Once the worst division in baseball, two young N.L. West teams will play for a pennant

PHOENIX – It’s the NL Worst no more.

The National League teams out West, the subject of ridicule just two seasons ago, are young, talented and they work cheap, at least relatively so in the world of major league baseball.

The Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, who open their NL championship series on Thursday night, are proof that success can be homegrown and that big money doesn’t assure a winner – but some shrewd draft picks and a few smart trades can.

“The American League East will always have a few more dollars to spend,” Arizona manager Bob Melvin said, “But I think the youth and amount of prospects in this division are pretty phenomenal.”

In one sweet season, some have gone from prospects to stars. That’s part of the reason that for the first time, a pair of West teams are matched up in the NLCS.

Colorado’s 22-year-old Troy Tulowitzki, hit 24 home runs, most by a shortstop in NL history. He batted .291 with 99 RBIs while leading all major league shortstops in fielding percentage.

The Rockies, making their first NLCS appearance, also have two outstanding young pitchers in 23-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez and 21-year-old Franklin Morales. Closer Manny Corpas is just 24.

Rookie Jeff Baker’s pinch-hit single drove in the go-ahead run in a Rockies’ 2-1 victory that completed a three-game sweep of Philadelphia in the division series. It was Colorado’s 17th victory in 18 games.

“It’s been amazing,” Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins said. “Ubaldo Jimenez has been huge for us. There’s no way we are where we are without him. Franklin Morales has done an unbelievable job as well as getting us here. Obviously you can’t speak enough about Tulo. He’s been unbelievable on both sides of the ball.”

The Diamondbacks, if anything, are younger. They start three rookies – center fielder Chris Young, third baseman Mark Reynolds and right fielder Justin Upton.

Reynolds was called up from Double-A when Chad Tracy was hurt. Upton, considered one of the top prospects in the game, started the season at Class A Lancaster and is barely 20.