The Rockies’ Big Advantage in the Wild Card Race

The Rockies are struggling again. After winning eight of nine to re-solidify their lead in the race for the second Wild Card spot, they’ve now lost five of seven, including their last three in a row. Meanwhile, the surging Brewers have won nine of 12, closing Colorado’s lead to just a single game. Yesterday, they got shut out by Matt Moore, who has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this year. The team’s inconsistent offense broke up for 16 runs last Saturday, but scored a grand total of 12 runs in the other five games they’ve played in the last week, and now the Brewers are nipping at their heels.

But if you look at our Playoff Odds, our algorithm still thinks the Rockies are in a pretty good spot, with a 68% chance of capturing the second Wild Card spot, versus just 16% for the Brewers. With just a one game lead, this is a pretty big discrepancy, and might seem like our projections are just wildly overrating the difference between the two teams. However, those calculations aren’t just accounting for the projected performance of the Brewers and Rockies over the next week and a half, but also taking both teams’ schedules into account. And the schedules for the two teams couldn’t be more different.

Tonight, the Rockies head to San Diego to begin a four game series with the Padres, who are last in the Majors in run differential, and 29th in BaseRuns expected record. These are their final road games of the year, because once they’re done with the Padres, they head home to play the Marlins three times, then host the Dodgers for the final series of the year. The Dodgers would ordinarily be a tough draw, but they’ve already locked up their playoff spot, and will almost certainly be playing a scaled-back version of their regular line-up. So it’s four with the Padres, three with the Marlins, and three against the Dodgers’ B-team, with six of the ten games at home.

The Brewers also have more home games than road games, but today, they’re kicking off a four game set against the Cubs, who are going to go all out to win these games and end the NL Central race once and for all. With just a 3 1/2 game lead in the division, a Brewers sweep would knock the Cubs into Wild Card position, and so they’re going to do whatever they can to win these games and keep Milwaukee fighting for the play-in game instead.

Following four games against Chicago, the Brewers get a bit of a rest with three against the Reds, but then go to St. Louis to finish the regular season. The Cardinals are still hanging around the Wild Card race themselves, and that could potentially be a playoff-determining series for them as well, but even if the Cardinals are eliminated before that series starts, they’re not going to lie down for a division rival when they have no reason to rest their best players before the off-season begins.

Our forecasts include projected game odds for the next week, since we can forecast probable starting pitchers out that far. And the game odds for the next week look a lot more favorable for Colorado than Milwaukee.

COL and MIL Remaining Schedules
Date COL Opponent COL Win Odds MIL Opponent MIL Game Odds
9/21 @ SDP 54.7% vs CHC 39.0%
9/22 @ SDP 50.9% vs CHC 44.8%
9/23 @ SDP 50.4% vs CHC 39.6%
9/24 @ SDP 55.7% vs CHC 38.1%
9/25 vs MIA 56.4% Off
9/26 vs MIA 59.7% vs CIN 60.9%
9/27 vs MIA 61.6% vs CIN 58.0%
9/28 Off vs CIN
9/29 vs LAD @ STL
9/30 vs LAD @ STL
10/1 vs LAD @ STL

The Rockies are no worse than a 50-50 bet to win each of their next seven games, and they’re pretty strong favorites in all three games against the Marlins, especially because they’re projected to miss Dan Straily, the Marlins best starting pitcher. They won’t be favored in the three games against the Dodgers, most likely, but if LA uses that series to rest their regulars, they won’t be at as large of a disadvantage as one might expect.

Meanwhile, the Brewers are significant underdogs in each game against the Cubs, and will be underdogs in the three road games against the Cardinals to finish the year too. The only games they’ll likely enter favored to win are the three against the Reds. In their other seven contests, they’re going to have to pull some upsets.

Now, of course, the Brewers have been pulling upsets all year, and strength of schedule isn’t the sole factor that will determine who makes it to the Wild Card game. But the schedule could make the difference for two pretty evenly matched teams. Without schedule taken into account, our forecasts have the Brewers playing at a .503 clip over the rest of the season, and the Brewers at .483; these teams look very similar based on their rosters alone.

But once you factor in remaining schedule, the Rockies’ jump up to a .515 expected rest-of-season record, while the Brewers fall to .454. The Rockies’ one-game advantage is the slimmest of margins, but given the difference in schedule, our forecasts think Colorado is still significantly more likely to grab that second Wild Card spot. The Rockies might look like they’re fading, but the schedule gives them a bigger edge right now than momentum might make it seem.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

37 Comments
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ARodTheGOAT
4 years ago

The second I saw the headline (without knowing COL’s schedule in advance), I had a feeling word searching the word “Padres” would result in a few hits…

David Chenokmember
4 years ago
Reply to  ARodTheGOAT

Those may be the only hits the Padres get 🙂

AJ pro-Preller
4 years ago
Reply to  David Chenok

you realize that you’re talking about a team that went over their win total from Vegas with 14 games left, find another team that has done that plz (hint: you won’t)…there are several teams worse than my Pods right now (and the entire season for that matter, if anyone here actually watched baseball y’all would know)

“Padres, who are last in the Majors in run differential, and 29th in BaseRuns expected record…”

News flash: these are the stats that do not matter look the stuff that does…all this being true actually makes our .500 record for the past 3.5 months look even better.

ARodTheGOAT
4 years ago
Reply to  AJ pro-Preller

Keep the trolling to ESPN comment sections, please

jrogersmember
4 years ago
Reply to  AJ pro-Preller

The Rockies and Brewers, the two teams primarily discussed in this article, both passed their Vegas win totals with 14 or more games left.

stever20member
4 years ago
Reply to  jrogers

actually just looking- of the 10 teams currently in position for the playoffs- 8 of those 10 are already over their projections from Vegas from 3/27. Only the Cubs and Red Sox are under their projections. It’s possible that the Cubs could be the only playoff team that finishes under their projected win total.

AJ pro-Preller
4 years ago
Reply to  jrogers

and what do the Rockies, Brewers, Twins, Dodgers, Nationals, and all the other teams over their win totals have in common? GREAT SEASONS Padres too!

sadtrombonemember
4 years ago
Reply to  AJ pro-Preller

It must be tough to be a Padres fan.

AJ pro-Preller
4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

its tough reading your lame comments every article…

rounders
4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

It’s so tough being a Padre fan the that the baseball fans I know in San Diego are Dodger fans even though none are from LA. This is exactly like where I grew up in the ’50’s, D.C. When I met Harmon Killebrew signing autographs for a hospital benefit a few years ago I told him my dad took me to many a game to see him play at old Griffith Stadium. He stood up, shook my hand, and said “So you’re the ones!”.