Is the NL West in Jeopardy?

On May 1st, the Dodgers stood at 16-8 and already had a 3.5 game lead in the NL West, at the time over the 11-10 San Francisco Giants. By June 1st, the lead had grown to 8 as the Giants remained in second place and one game over .500 at 25-24 while the Dodgers had also kept up their pace and were now 35-18.

By July 1st, the Giants were showing some life, now at seven games over .500, but they remained a meaningful seven games back of the Dodgers and chipping away at a one-game-per-month pace was going to put the Giants in good position come February of 2011. The Rockies roared to life in July and by August 1st, they were tied with the Giants at 57-47, but both teams remained seven games back of the Dodgers with now just 58 games left to play. The odds seemed, and were, grim.

It is August 20th and I just saw a question pop up about whether the Dodgers were choking in the NL West. It is difficult to accuse them of choking when they are still 21 games over .500 at 71-50 currently, but they are 7-11 in the month of August and their lead has been halved to just 3.5 games over the Rockies and 4.5 over the Giants. Ominous signs right?

Well, maybe, but in terms of probability, not really. Here is a timeline (x-axis. Note: in days, not games played) chart of each of the three teams’ odds of winning the NL West (y-axis):

odds of winning NL west

You see, the Dodgers are still hovering around the 80% odds that they have been at for the past 60 days or so. Why? Well, for one, even through their lead has shrunk by 3.5 games, they still own a 3.5 game lead and instead of 58 games to play, there is now just 40 games left to play. The shrinking window of opportunity helps keep some of the Dodgers chances afloat, but that is not the main reason they remain such clear favorites.

The main reason is simply this. In 18 games played in August, the Dodgers have won 7 and lost 11, but they have scored 87 runs and allowed just 69, a run differential that you would expect to reverse that 7-11 record. The Dodgers are 1-5 in their last six extra-inning games and 1-7 in their last eight one-run games. They have been unlucky, but they are still the same juggernaut in the West that they have been all season. The Rockies and Giants are making excellent plays for the Wild Card, but both teams still have a long road ahead to pass the Dodgers for the division crown.




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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

29 Responses to “Is the NL West in Jeopardy?”

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  1. JoeyO says:

    But there is a difference now – pitching

    The rotation is not what it was. Billingsley is showing serious signs of wear-down. Kershaw could be experiencing the same based off his last two starts, and would need to have his innings/pitches limited going forward anyway. Kuroda is a complete unknown at this point. Wolf was always an unknown, and although he is pitching well as a whole, he is hit and miss. Now, they finally have a 5th guy. Unfortunately, it comes in the form of DFAed for personality problems Vicente Padilla. Oh, and their bullpen is showing the over-use which comes from not only covering for starters who do not go deep in games, but also being on a Torre team.

    Right now the Dodgers are struggling because of their inconsistent hitting. If I were a Dodger fan though, this would concern me. It should be the pitching which is the root of the recent problems, and the fact that it isnt means that problem is likely going to be showing itself soon.

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  2. MPC says:

    WOODY PAIGE AND JAY MARIOTTI THINK THEY’RE GONNA COLLAPSE. I would put my complete confidence in the opinions of these well-respected sportswriters.

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  3. Matthew says:

    you people who run this site have some serious hate for the dodgers. all the articles are about how they suck and bull like that. how about you write an article on how they have the best young center fielder in baseball or how kershaw had that amazing 10 start stretch of an ERA under 1.

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    • MPC says:

      this article says that the dodgers are almost a lock to win the NL west. read before posting, please.

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    • Davidceisen says:

      What the hell are you talking about. Dave Cameron wrote an article a month into the season stating that the Dodgers were locks to win the division. Also they did write an article about Kemp being a great young center fielder a month ago. Go to a Dodgers fansite if you want to read about the Dodgers every day.

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    • DK says:

      I think you meant Astros, not Dodgers.

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    • Nick says:

      ummmmmm….favoring the home team much?
      1. its saying thyr gonna win the NL West
      2. best young centerfielder in baseball…WHAT?!?!?!?!
      3. there wur articles on kershaw, and its not like thts the most amzing thng evr likeu make it sound. its incredible. but thrs better stats
      4. the fact tht u sed the dodgers get ripped on kinda sorta means tht ur ripping on thm if u thnk about it
      5. how about the phillies? i may b wrong but i dnt c nethng on this website for them!

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      • Joe R says:

        Kemp’s been hands down the best offensive CF in MLB this season, so yes, best young CF in baseball. Spellcheck’s not your friend apparently, as well.

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  4. JoeyO says:

    Seriously!

    If you want to see positive things said about them, you cant ignore them when they are.

    fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/please-move-matt-kemp-up

    fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/2009-mlb-trade-value-15-11

    fangraphs.com/fantasy/index.php/kemp-taking-quality-abs

    fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/2009-mlb-trade-value-30-26

    fangraphs.com/fantasy/index.php/kershaws-quest-for-a-third-pitch

    and as the previous poster pointed out, this isnt a negative post about the Dodgers! Really, one can only say to you – instead of running your mouth how about you open your eyes?

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  5. Preston says:

    Another factor to consider is strength of schedule for the rest of the way; the Dodgers and Rockies do still have two series against each other, and both play a similar in division schedule from here on out. Out of division, though, once the Dodgers finish with the Cubs this weekend, they have a 3 game set with the Reds, 7 games against the Pirates, and 3 vs. the Nationals. The Rockies don’t have it too bad, with another 3 vs. the Reds and 3 vs. the Mets (possibly with Beltran and Reyes back?), but also series against the Cardinals and Brewers. With half their remaining games coming against the dregs of the NL (once you throw in 6 games vs. the Padres), it seems pretty unlikely that the Dodgers will finish badly enough to fritter this one away.

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  6. Kevin says:

    How can a writer for a site that does such sophisticated quantitative analysis not know the difference between probability and odds?

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    • Nick says:

      Isn’t that just semantics?

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      • aweb says:

        They are different ways of expressing the likelihood of an outcome, but assuredly not the same thing. Odds can run from (almost) zero to infinity, whereas probability is between 0 and 1 (0% and 100%).

        Odds=(prob)/(1-prob)

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      • joser says:

        But the colloquial use of the term as a synonym for probability is widespread. Most people, if told one option had “even odds” and another had “better than even odds” would believe the second to be the more likely option, even though the gambling definition of odds is the opposite (“better than even odds” means a higher payoff, and therefore lower probability). While it’s true a more rigorous site like this one should make a strong effort to define and use terms correctly, I don’t know that we need to have a cow whenever a colloquial interpretation is employed instead of the technical one. I’d like to see that graph labelled differently as well, but I’m also aware that “probability” is a much longer word and sometimes harder to fit into graphics (though it appears it would’ve fit in this case). Perhaps “Chances” would’ve been a better choice.

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  7. Joe R says:

    I don’t think the Dodgers will collapse as much as the Rockies are coming. I see them both ending up around the 93 win mark.

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  8. razor says:

    The Rocks didn’t just roar to life in July. They ripped off 11 straight back in early to mid June just after Hurdle was canned and have basically never stopped. Take a look at their head to head record (mainly April/May games) vs LA to see why they are still in 2nd place. Also, 17 of the next 20 for the Rocks are at home. They’ve got more than a puncher’s chance to win the West…

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  9. BRS says:

    When dealing with probability, the field of the interplaying events has to be defined. In this case, the difference in standings resulted from the Rockies bad start, and the Dodgers exceptional start. So, if the field is limited to performance beginning at the Rockies turn-around, then the Rockies would be considered the favorite because they have outplayed the Dodgers by what…10 games since then? The Dodgers 7-11 August run does not bode well…as it would not for any contending team going into September. Of course, the Dodgers strength of schedule during August far surpassed the Rockies, which will flip when the Rockies play more contending teams than the Dodgers in September. Also, the Dodgers cleaned-up on the NL West at the outset, and if they can continue to dominate the NL West, then their 3.5 lead should be the difference. BRS

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  10. DC says:

    I still think an overused bullpen, a different Billingsley, and the fact that the rotation is pretty mediocre outside of Kershaw. We shall see.

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  11. Matthew says:

    bilingsley is the best pitcher in baseball from innings 1 to 5.

    6 through when he comes out is a whole different story

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  12. It may not be probable, but with 6 games each against the Giants and Rockies in the rest of the season, including 3 with the Rockies to end the season, it would not take a lot for either team to cut down the lead greatly by winning against the Dodgers. Going 4-2 would cut the lead roughly in half for the Rockies and a third for Giants.

    Also, while the Dodgers have beaten up on the NL West, going 33-15, they have only been 39-35 against the rest of the majors, which shows how flukey their record is right now. They are 10-2 against the Rockies right now, and clearly the Rockies are nothing like they were early in the season. Making them 6-6 against the Rockies, they would be four and a half games behind the Rockies right now.

    Of course, what’s done is done, but it shows that the Dodgers has been running on fumes all season, really only average as a team but riding their early season luck into a lead all season long.

    So while both teams would need to overcome great odds, it won’t take much to get within spitting distance and with the Dodgers looking average otherwise, either team could make up the difference in the other games.

    The Giants, even with all their games against Colorado and LA, plays 22 out of their last 41 games against teams either deep in the cellar (Arizona and SD) or free-falling at the moment (Brewers, 5-9, and Cubs, 4-14). The only other contending team they are playing are the Phillies, and they played well against earlier.

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  13. JoeyO says:

    @ obsessivegiantscompulsive

    I agree

    Since the beginning of June, the Dodgers have gone 37-33 (.529) scoring 4.44 R/G and giving up an average of 3.91 for a 311-274 (+37) difference. Meanwhile the Rockies are 48-24 (.667) scoring 5.18 R/G and giving up an average of 3.82, a 373-275 (+98) difference. Lastly, the Giants are 41-31 (.569) scoring 4.01 and giving up 3.43, 289-247 (+42)

    You mention the head to head games being the real difference maker and to that I do agree. But the alleged “ease” of the Dodgers schedule also has to be questioned at least a little bit as well. Specifically, the end of the season where 3 at Wash, 4 at Pitt, 2 vs SD at 3 vs Col poses little real difficulty at first glance outside the Colorado series. Problem comes in the following

    26-36 = Washington at home (6-3 last two home-stands – Fla, Arz and Col)
    31-27 = Pittsburgh at home (5-8 last two home-stands – Was, Arz, Stl and Mil)
    32-32 = San Diego at home (8-6 last two home-stands – Mil, Atl, NYM, ChC and Stl)
    36-30 = Colorado on the road (9-7 last two road-trips – NYM, Cin, Phi, Fla and Was)

    that is a combined 125-125 (.500), not nearly as ‘easy’ as it first appears for a team that has gone .529 the last (nearly) three months. And when you factor the more recent records you see those teams have seeming improved over those marks – going 28-24 (.538) in the last two home-stands/road-trips.

    Over that same time, the Rockies see 3 vs SD, 3 vs STL, 3 vs Mil and of course the 3 at LA. This is how those teams stack up
    34-29 = Cardinals on road
    28-33 = Brewers on road
    19-40 = Padres on road
    38-24 = Dodgers at home
    that’s 119-126 (.486) for a team that has gone .667 since the start of June.

    While the Giants see 3 in Arz, 4 vs the Cubs, 3 vs Arz and 3 in SD
    28-35 = Diamondbacks at home
    26-36 = Cubs on road
    26-33 = Diamondbacks on road
    32-32 = Padres at home
    that’s 112-136 (.457) for a team that has gone .569 since June.

    So where one would think the Dodgers have the easiest final 12 games, it technically might be the hardest. They better not let the lead get any lower then it is by the time these games roll around, they may be in for a surprise if they do.

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  14. Kyle says:

    The Dodgers pitching is horrible. They’d even love to have Barry Zito right now… the guy is at least keeping his ballclub in games now. It’s just Lincecum can’t get wins, because of the anemic offense and inept relief pitching. Carpenter might steal the Cy Young(well, deservedly since he’s missed a month and is 13-3.)

    Billingsley, Kerhsaw and even Broxton have all shown signs of fatigue. Not to mention, Billingsley’s horrible ERA in the postseason. It’s very Sabathia-esque. I doubt Manny will hit like Babe Ruth again this post season. As horribly overpaid that he is right now, I wish Manny Mania would go away forever. It costs the Dodgers more than a million dollars each time he hits a homerun.

    Good info JoeyO. I love seeing numbers that actually look like they will matter.

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  15. Slick says:

    I think the Dodgers bad luck everything to do with Joe Torre being a terrible manager. All those games where he has been batting Matt Kemp 8th have really cost the Dodgers a bigger lead.

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    • Joe R says:

      I love how you’re being a sarcastic moron right now for the reaction, but hey, maybe now you can see why “BUT GUIZ WE R WINNIN!” is stupid.

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  16. Brian says:

    Down to 2

    they sure am making it interesting

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  17. Joe R says:

    Should be a fun matchup tonight, too. Wolf’s been killing it in the 2nd half, and Fogg, well, he’s been great as a reliever. Wonder if he can give 5 strong IP, though.

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  18. Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! :)

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