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.

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.

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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.