It’s easy to write off this year’s National League on the road to the World Series. On Friday, the New York Yankees joined the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox, all American League clubs, at the 100-win mark. The best teams in the National League, the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, sit at only 95 wins. Even the Oakland Athletics, a team headed for just the second wild card in the AL, has more wins than any team in the senior circuit.
But the team to be worried about as the playoffs begin can be found in the NL — L.A. It’s true the Dodgers didn’t crack triple-digit wins and only earned a playoff spot in the final weekend. They also finished even with their division rival the Colorado Rockies, a tie that led to a 163rd game to decide the division winner tonight. Regardless, a closer look at the standings reveals what the team’s overall record doesn’t immediately show.
The Dodgers win when it counts, and nothing counts as much in baseball as October. Ninety-one wins in an MLB season is no easy feat in and of itself, but the way the Dodgers have picked up those wins is what makes them particularly dangerous.
The simplest metric that predicts how a team will perform when the rubber hits the road is to look at its record against winning teams. When the Dodgers have come up against teams over .500 this season, they’ve won 50 — more than any other playoff team — and only dropped 38. None of the 100-win American League teams have more than 41 wins against winning-record opponents. By overall winning percentage, those AL teams have had more success, but the Dodgers’ road to October has been paved with harder-fought victories. It’s one thing to win, but it’s another to beat good teams and beat them consistently.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the reasons the Cleveland Indians shouldn’t be given preferential playoff treatment for beating the weaker teams in their division. Their win total against teams better than .500 only restates the point that Cleveland is not as good as their record indicates. Not only has Cleveland won fewer than half as many games against good teams as the Dodgers, but they have a losing record against L.A. this year. At only 23-31 against teams with winning records, don’t expect Cleveland to hang around long in October.
All of this only matters, of course, if it has any bearing on the postseason. Against the other four NL playoff teams, the Dodgers have played to a 24-15 record, or a .615 winning percentage. Shrink the sample size down to a best-of-five or best-of-seven series, and the Dodgers are easily clear of their necessary winning percentage. Obviously, baseball isn’t played on paper, and a couple of bad games could still mean that the curtains will close for L.A. Even so, the Dodgers have positioned themselves to do well.
Against the Rockies, which the Dodgers will face in a one-game playoff to determine the NL West champion, L.A. is 12-7 on the year. That puts game 163 in Los Angeles and takes away Colorado’s mile-high home field advantage. Even if the Dodgers can’t muster a win in that game, they’ve assured themselves a wild card berth and need only a little bit of luck to find themselves in the NL Division Series.
Last year’s Dodgers team won 104 games on the way to a World Series loss. At first glance, this year’s team is a tier below that one. However, the 2017 Dodgers were only 36-33 when faced with teams above .500, and they came within a win of a Commissioner’s Trophy. This year, bolstered by deadline acquisitions in Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, and with most of last year’s pieces still in place, the Dodgers look dangerous. Don’t be surprised if, a month from now, L.A. is celebrating its first World Series title in 30 years.
Patrick Nugent ’21 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.