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The NL West Race Is Over

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers for clinching the first playoff spot of the 2009 season.

Okay, fine, it’s only May 6th. The Dogers have another 134 games to play. Things could go wrong. The whole team might get the swine flu. Short of that, however, this division race is over.

Heading into the season, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks were the two leading contenders for the division, with the Giants kind of lurking as an interesting team if they can find a couple of hitters. The Rockies and Padres were also-rans. The Dodgers looked like a better team than Arizona, but injuries to guys like Hiroki Kuroda threatened to potentially leave the door open for the D’Backs if they could get some production from their young hitters and All-Star seasons from Webb/Haren/Scherzer.

That’s out the window, though. Brandon Webb is on the DL, the D’Backs offense is a mess, and they are now 8.5 games behind the surging Dodgers, who are playing like the best team in baseball despite using Eric Stults and Jeff Weaver in the rotation. The Giants stand as the only team within seven games of LA in the division, and they’re struggling to stay above .500 because they have the worst offense in the National League.

Quite simply, there just aren’t any challengers to the Dodgers throne. At 20-8, they could play .500 ball the rest of the year and finish with 87 wins. The Giants would have to play .548 baseball (75-62) to finish with 88 wins and nip LA by a game. The Diamondbacks would have to play .570 baseball (77-58) to finish with 88 wins and squeak past the Dodgers. And that’s assuming that the LA falls apart and plays .500 baseball the rest of the year.

In reality, we should probably expect the Dodgers to play something like .550 baseball for the remainder of the season. They aren’t 20-8 good, but they’re an above average baseball team, and their +48 run differential is easily the best in baseball. If the Dodgers play .550 ball the rest of the way, they’ll win 94 games. I’m not sure anyone else in the rest of the division will win 84 games, much less 94.

It’s early, yes. Baseball is a crazy sport where all kinds of unexpected things can happen. The D’backs went 20-7 last year to start the year and didn’t win the division. That’s okay – I’m still more than willing to say that the NL West race is over and done with. Thanks for playing, everyone. We’ll see you in October, Dodger fans.