The Division-Deciding Match-Ups

If you look at the MLB’s gigantic 162-game gauntlet from a certain perspective, the landscape of every division is dictated by intra-divisional match-ups. For instance, in the spread-out NL Central, the Chicago Cubs (47-40 and eight games back of the St. Louis Cardinals) are serious contenders for a playoff spot, while the Cincinnati Reds (39-47, 15.5 games back) have been presumed for the whole season to be trade deadline sellers, with a close-to-hopeless chance of making the playoffs.

The shape of the NL Central looks very different if the season series between the Cubs and the Reds wasn’t played. The Cubs lead 7-2, with ten more games scheduled after the All-Star Break. Take this one match-up out of the two teams’ records and the Cubs are 40-38, and the Reds are 37-40, suddenly a weekend series away from matching each other in the standings.

Of course, the Cubs and the Reds aren’t very close in the standings — and a huge reason why is that the Cubs have been dominant against the Reds. So, which match-up in each division has been the most one-sided and decisive in putting the current playoff picture into focus?

AL West / Angels 7, Rangers 2 / Angels +33 Runs
This was a relatively even season series that got out of hand earlier this month, when the Angels responded to the awkward resignation of Jerry Dipoto plus the awkward re-introduction to Josh Hamilton with a three-game sweep of the Rangers, in Arlington, by a combined score of 33-8. The Angels, suddenly division leaders, have a six-game lead over the sub-.500 Rangers that would sink down to a thin one-game lead without this total ownership.

As one could probably guess, the Angels could not have dropped such significant numbers on a team without contributions from players other than the ones named Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Against the Rangers this year, Erick Aybar and Collin Cowgill both have an OPS approaching 1.000; Kole Calhoun is hitting .500/.516/.786, with 11 of his season’s 47 RBIs; and C.J. Cron has gone similarly bananas, hitting .529/.514/.735 with 11 of his season’s 18 RBIs.

The teams meet again in Anaheim from July 24-26, again from September 4-6, and in Arlington to close the regular season from October 1-4.

Other Decisively Won Match-ups:
-Astros 9, Mariners 4
-A’s 9, Rangers 4
-Mariners 5, Rangers 1

AL Central / Royals 8, Twins 5 / Royals +15 Runs
The Royals’ 4.5-game advantage over the second-place Twins (!) dwindles down significantly if the Royals did not manage a 3-game sweep in Minnesota in early June, limiting the Twins to three runs total over the series. The Twins have managed to score only 2.8 runs per game against the Royals, compared to 4.25 runs per game so far against all other teams. Supposed end-of-rotation starters Edinson Volquez (2.08 ERA in 21.2 innings) and Chris Young (1.62 ERA in 16.2 innings) have helped reduce the Twins’ unpredictable lineup to rubble. Torii Hunter (.208/.273/.250), Brian Dozier (.191/.291/.277), Oswaldo Arcia (.125/.176/.313), and Kurt Suzuki (.119/.119/.214) have all been might ineffective against Kansas City.

These two won’t see each other again until September 7-9 in Kansas City, and then will close the regular season in Minnesota from October 2-4.

Other Decisively Won Match-ups:
-Twins 9, White Sox 4
-Tigers 8, Twins 5
-Tigers 9, Indians 3

AL East / Rays 7, Blue Jays 3 / Rays +11 Runs
There’s hardly any separation in any match-up in baseball’s tightest division. And even Tampa Bay’s upper hand over the Blue Jays is something of a happy scheduling accident: Toronto is the only team that Chris Archer has faced three times, with Jake Odorizzi (13 starts on the season) and Drew Smyly (three starts) also starting one team each against the Blue Jays. One could put together a compelling case for Archer’s Cy Young candidacy based just on his performance against the MLB’s roughest and toughest offense: in those 22 innings, the Blue Jays have struck out 25 times and scored just one run.

These two teams get at it right after the All-Star Break, playing in Toronto from July 17-19. Then they’ll finish the season with six games in the last week-and-a-half of the season, in Toronto from September 25-27 and in Tampa Bay to close the season from October 2-4. It’s hard to imagine those games not having gigantic playoff implications.

Other Decisively Won Match-ups:
-Orioles 9, Red Sox 4

NL West / Giants 9, Dodgers 3 / Giants +8 Runs
If you’re wondering why the Dodgers have league-leading odds to win the World Series while hardly running away from their struggling division, look no further than this quixotic match-up against their ol’ rivals. It seems nigh impossible for the Giants to have a six-game advantage over the Dodgers while holding just an eight-run advantage — each Dodger victory in this series has been a blowout (7-3, 8-3, 10-2), and three of the Giants’ victories have been by one run, including two walk-offs.

While getting three starts from Madison Bumgarner in the series certainly doesn’t hurt, the San Francisco bullpen mutates into something fierce against Los Angeles. Hunter Strickland (1.2 innings), Jeremy Affeldt (4.1), Javier Lopez (4.1), Sergio Romo (5.0), and Santiago Casilla (5.2) have allowed zero runs between them against the Dodgers. Also definitely not in the Dodgers’ favor: while Zack Greinke has not missed a start on the season, he’s only gone up against the Giants once (he’s faced the Miami Marlins twice).

The teams meet in Los Angeles from August 31-September 2, and then in San Francisco from September 28-October 1.

Other Decisively Won Match-ups:
-Dodgers 9, Diamondbacks 3
-Dodgers 9, Rockies 4
-Dodgers 8, Padres 4
-Diamondbacks 7, Giants 3
-Diamondbacks 8, Rockies 4

NL Central / Cardinals 9, Cubs 4 / Cardinals +21 Runs
Unlike all of these other match-ups, it doesn’t appear that it’s outstanding individual performances by St. Louis that are deciding the series — more like melty-downy performances from the Chicago pitching staff. Jason Hammel’s probably-career-best season stalled against the Cardinals, as he went only five innings total across two starts. Kyle Hendricks also lasted only five innings in his one start against St. Louis. Emergency starters Donn Roach and Dallas Beeler each appeared against the Cardinals in their only starts of the season. Relief work by Pedro Strop, Edwin Jackson, and Clayton Richard has yielded ERAs in the double digits for all three pitchers.

The teams play in St. Louis from September 7-9 and in Chicago from September 18-20.

Other Decisively Won Match-ups:
-Reds 7, Pirates 2
-Cubs 7, Reds 2

NL East / Nationals 9, Braves 3 / Nationals +27 Runs
Impressively for the Nationals, they’ve only received one start from Max Scherzer in their twelve games against the Braves — and they lost it. (The Nationals did win, however, a game in which A.J. Cole gave up nine runs in the first two innings.) Instead, both Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister have gone up against Atlanta four times apiece, with a very unsurprising 6-2 result. Throw in another sharp start by Gio Gonzalez and a scoreless outing by Stephen Strasburg and, yup, that’s nine National wins. Bryce Harper’s team-carrying 1.170 OPS against the Braves looks perhaps even nuttier after considering that his OPS against all teams this season is a virtually identical 1.168.

These two play in Washington from September 3-6 and in Atlanta from September 29-October 1.

Other Decisively Won Match-ups:
-Mets 8, Phillies 1
-Braves 7, Marlins 2

Individual opponent splits via the Baseball-Reference Play Index.

Miles Wray contributes sports commentary to McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ploughshares, The Classical and Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him on Twitter @mileswray or email him here.

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Nats fan
8 years ago

Funniest part of the Nationals killing the Braves was that they’ve been the only team in the division we’ve struggled with recently. 16-4 against the Mets last year is an encouraging record against a team that is suppoably competing is a good outlook.

8 years ago
Reply to  Nats fan

First, the word is “supposedly”, not “suppoably” (“supposably”? Not a word). Second, as one sees from this season’s 6-6 head-to-head record between the Mets and the braves, with the Mets outscoring the braves 49-44, last season’s record has little or nothing to do with this season’s record between the two. Third, there’s nothing “supposed” about the Mets’ competing. They’re only two games out of the division lead, and one game out of the Wild Card.
The Braves outlook will be rosier when they finally reach .500. At that point, one can dream on the postseason, but Atlanta needs a pretty great week or two before that can begin.