Handicapping The NL West

Posted on 03 May 2012 by Dennis Lawson



Consider for a moment that the Dodgers are sitting pretty at 17-7 with a 4 game lead in the National League West division.  That represents quite an improvement over what was barely a .500 team a year ago.  Is the fast start a fluke, a result of favorable scheduling match-ups, or is it sustainable?  Is it some combination of those 3?

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers – 17-7
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks – 13-11  (4.0 back)
  3. San Francisco Giants – 12-11  (4.5 back)
  4. Colorado Rockies – 11-12  (5.5 back)
  5. San Diego Padres – 8-17  (9.5 back)

The Dodgers currently have approximately a 63% chance of making the playoffs right now which means close to nothing.  After all the Padres have about a 6% chance of making the playoffs, and that is about 6% too high.  There are different ways of assessing “strength of schedule”, but I have a practical assessment that relies on a few criteria:

  • How many times a team has played the Astros
  • How many times a team has played the Padres
  • How many times a team has played division rivals expected to contend
  • How many series a team has played against opponents that made the playoffs the previous year

Of the 24 games played by the Dodgers, 7 have been against the Padres, and the Dodgers are 6-1 in those games.  The Dodgers also has taken 2 out of 3 from the Astros and swept the Pirates in a 3 game set.  While they have fared just fine against some quality opponents like Milwaukee, Atlanta, and the Nationals, it just seems like the Dodgers have built a lead on a house of cards that cannot stand for long.  Eventually they have to prove that they can beat Arizona and San Francisco.  If they can even play those 2 teams to a standstill, I’ll consider reserving a spot on the Dodgers bandwagon.  Until then, I am still not convinced that they are the class of the West.

At this stage, I am inclined to give the Diamondbacks the nod.  Why?  Well, the D-backs are 2 games above .500, and they have already played the Braves, Marlins, Phillies, and the Rockies.  Schedule similarities/differences alone are not enough to differentiate them from their rivals, but a 3-0 sweep of the Giants is.

Still, all 3 potential frontrunners have positive run differential numbers right now, and that means the NL West is the only division other than the AL East to have more than 2 teams with positive run differentials.  While statistical outliers can skew the data and limit the usefulness of run differential, it is worth recalling that only the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers finished 2011 with positive differentials.  The implication?  The Giants quietly floated around above .500 with a +6 differential and trail the Dodgers by only 7 runs scored with 1 fewer game played.

That bit of good news for the Giants may be a bit of bad news for the Dodgers.  Matt Kemp is currently in the top 2 in just about every statistical category except for wins, saves, and holds, and the Dodgers still do not have the look of world beaters.  Maybe Ethier can continue his torrid RBI pace, but that leaves them needing big years from A.J. Ellis and Mark Ellis in order to stay on top of the standings.

Maybe the Dodgers can do it, but I would put my money on the Diamondbacks and Giants to make a lot more noise as the season gets older.  The predicted NL West finish still stands as follows:

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Giants
  3. Dodgers
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres


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