Handicapping the NL West Race

There are two weeks left in the regular season, and over in the NL West, things are getting fun. Here are the current standings as we head down the stretch:

San Francisco, 84-66
San Diego, 83-66
Colorado, 82-67

The Giants have the edge by virtue of winning the one extra game they’ve played, while Colorado stands one back in the loss column behind both teams. All three teams have a real chance of winning this thing, and the division will be decided by who finishes the strongest.

To figure out if any of the teams have an advantage, let’s take a look at their respective schedules.

SF: @CHC (3), @COL (3), Off, vs ARI (3), vs SD (3)
SD: @LAD (3), vs CIN (3), @CHC (4), @SF (3)
COL: @ARI (3), vs SF (3), vs LAD (3), @STL (4)

The big difference between the three teams is that San Francisco is the only one with an off-day left in their regular season schedule. After this weekend’s games, they take Monday off before starting their final homestand of the year. Offsetting that, the Giants are the only team that has to play two teams fighting for a playoff berth down the stretch, as they face the two teams they’re fighting for the NL West over the next two weekends.

San Diego has to contend with a good Cincinnati club, but they have little to play for at this point, so Dusty Baker may be more inclined to hold out players who would otherwise be on the field on some days, and there’s certainly a motivational aspect that can’t be completely ignored. Meanwhile, the Rockies have just their three game set against the Giants, but other than that, they play a bunch of teams that are already planning their October vacations.

I’d give a slight edge to the Rockies in terms of ease of remaining schedule, but that previously mentioned off-day for San Francisco looms as an equalizer. Their next six games will see games started by Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and then Cain again before the day-off. The break gives them the opportunity to shift their rotation around, setting them up better for a potential tie-breaker or the NLDS.

They could finish the season with Sanchez-Lincecum-Bumgarner-Cain-Zito-Sanchez, which would allow them to limit Barry Zito to just two starts over the rest of the season, and setup Lincecum to pitch on regular rest in either Game 1 of the NLDS or an if necessary tie-breaker following the conclusion of the regular season. If they had to play their way into the NLDS, they’d then have Bumgarner available to start on full rest, which isn’t the worst situation they could face.

Meanwhile, Colorado and San Diego just have to roll with how their rotation shakes out, since they play 13 games in the final 13 days. Unless one of them runs away with this thing, which seems unlikely, they won’t be able to set their rotations up for a a potential tie-breaker or the NLDS. Given that they also have a slight lead over the other two clubs, the Giants have to be considered the favorites right now.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Josh
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Josh
5 years 9 months ago

Slight issue with your logic: 1. check the Giants record after an off day the last few years (not good). 2. The Reds will still be trying for a better record to avoid playing the Phils in the first round of the NLDS, so don’t expect them to ease up. 3. 4-game series in Chicago for SD spells doom for the Padres. I do however, think the Giants and Rockies get in.

marcello
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marcello
5 years 9 months ago

Your #1 and #3 are meaningless.

Zach
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Zach
5 years 9 months ago

The Padres-Cubs games are in San Diego. The Padres swept a 4-game series in Chicago earlier this year. I don’t think it quite spells doom for San Diego.

James
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James
5 years 9 months ago

Padres also won 2 of 3 in Cincinnati earlier this year, and have owned the Giants prior to the last series.

Wally
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Wally
5 years 9 months ago

Well SD is away more than the rest of the teams, that’s a disadvantage.

Chris
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Chris
5 years 9 months ago

The fact that the Rockies play 7 of their final 14 games on the road has to raise a red flag as well, given their extreme home/road splits.

Chris
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Chris
5 years 9 months ago

Er, 7 of 13.

Xeifrank
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

NL West Title Probabilities:
Giants: 47.62%
Padres: 29.84%
Rockies: 22.55%

These probabilities were calculated by projecting out the pitching matchups for the remaining schedule for each team and coming up with a win probability for each game. Then playing the remaining actual schedule out 1 million times.

I’ve been doing this for the NL West for the past month. Amazingly the Giants at one point were just over 1% for their chances to win the NL West. The Padres peeked at around 85% and the Giants at one point dipped to just under 10%. The Dodgers were around 5% for a while before dropping off the face of the earth.

Xeifrank
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

er – that should say amazingly the ROCKIES at one point were just over 1%. (not the Giants).

realitypolice
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realitypolice
5 years 9 months ago

Given that nobody inside the Padres clubhouse seems to have a particularly strong projection of what their rotation will be beyond Chris Young’s second start, I’m curious what you’re projecting. At this point, they’re essentially using a 6-man rotation, but they’re probably trying to skip at least one for both Latos and Richard, and they’ve got two guys who were starters until a few weeks ago who they could turn to for a Johnny Allstaff game and still feel fairly comfortable.

Homophones Patrol
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Homophones Patrol
5 years 9 months ago

“Padres peeked at around 85%.”

I envision them looking through their fingers…did they see their shadows?

Jebediah
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Jebediah
5 years 9 months ago

Do you think it should be taken into account that the Giants are the only team of the three that get to play both of the teams they’re competing with? It seems to me that gives them a greater chance than the other two teams to control their own situation and that a bad showing in those two series could drop them well out of contention.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Member
5 years 9 months ago

The rotation, according to Giants great beatwriter, Andy Baggarly, will end with Lincecum pitching the last game against AZ, then Zito, Cain, Sanchez against SD.

He astutely suggested that the Giants might swap Zito and Lincecum so that Zito take the relatively easier game against the D-backs, and then the Giants throw Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez at SD.

That would also allow Lincecum enough rest to start the playoffs should the Giants make it, and Bumgarner would pitch any tie-breaker.

Bobby G.
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Bobby G.
5 years 9 months ago

As a Tigers fan who has watched his team lose out on two division titles to teams “that have nothing to plat for,” I’m skeptical that “packing it in” exists in baseball enough to make a difference.

Reif
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

As a Tigers fan, you should remember your team packing it in against the White Sox in their final game of 08.

Mark
Guest
5 years 9 months ago

I think anyone trying to claim that any one of the 3 teams is an odds on favorite right now is, well basically crazy.

Would it really surprise anyone to see the Rockies sweep the Giants or win 2 of 3 in Colorado over the weekend? What if Baker rests Votto and a couple of pitchers and the Padres pick up 2 games then?

Too many variables and too short of a sample size to make any clear determinations.

Also, let’s not act like the Giants are 1 and 3 games ahead respectively, they are even and 2 games up in the loss column.

Should be a fun last 2 weeks with the 2nd place team in the NL West also having a legit shot at the wild card with the Braves only 1 game up there.

Kamal
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Kamal
5 years 9 months ago

As a Padres fan, I would pretty disappointed if we don’t make the playoffs since we had the lead for most of the season, but in reality it has been a great ride – and a very unexpected one.

It really is up for grabs and my hope is that the Padres are within a game of the Giants (if not ahead) when then enter SF for the last 3 games series.

Nate
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Nate
5 years 9 months ago

What the hell happens if there is a three-way tie at the end of the season?

Will Selig’s head spontaneously combust or is there a criterion in the rule book for that situation?

Mike
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Mike
5 years 9 months ago

Actually, the Rockies would be the 1 seed, and Giants and Padres would be either 2 or 3 depending on how they finish vs the other contenders. For arguments sake, lets say the Padres finish as the 2 seed and the Giants finish as the 3. The Rockies would have the choice to play the Giants at home, then if they win, the Padres at home. Or, they could choose to have the Giants @ Padres, and play against the winner on the road. So basically, they have the choice to play 2 at home, or one on the road.

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