The Dodgers are just one year removed from a World Series that ended in heartbreak. The players left the field defeated and helpless, only being able to sit there and watch as their enemies of just seven games celebrated on the grass of Chavez Ravine. A year later, and the Dodgers are looking for revenge. They want to get back to the promise land and end a drought spanning 30 seasons; they want a championship. And, in the favor of the Boys in Blue, statistics suggest that the path back to the biggest series of them all may be easier than ever before.
The NL playoffs in 2018 are filled with teams that have not seen the postseason in a long time. Colorado has not made a playoff series since losing in the NLDS in 2009 and the Braves have not seen action after game 162 since 2013 which was also the last time they finished with a record above .500. For Milwaukee, the story is the same as the first two teams- they have not been to the playoffs in a significant amount of time, their drought spanning back to 2011.
But, despite poor showings in the past, the playoffs of underdogs is stacked with quality lineups and excellent pitching. The Brewers finished the season with the best record in the NL and the Braves finished with the second most hits in the National League. The Rockies starting rotation surprised the baseball world with the fifth best xFIP in the NL despite pitching in the leagues worst pitching environment and they also limited opposing hitting to just 1.24 home runs per nine innings at home which, given the setting, is impressive.
All of these numbers are great. The records across the NL were rather lackluster but at the very beginning of this article I claimed that the Dodgers have the easiest path they have ever had to get to the World Series and oddly, despite finishing with the second-worst record among 2018 division winners, it is true.
Record means very little in baseball. There is a certain amount of skill to it and sure, a record represents how good or bad a team is but once you get into a certain echelon of teams, there is a considerable amount of luck factored into the season end record. The Dodgers are a perfect example of a good team caught up in some bad luck.
For starters, Los Angeles finished the season with the best Pythagorean record in the National League. Pythagorean record is a team’s overall standing based solely off of runs scored versus runs surrendered. Those numbers are put into a formula and the result is the record the team could have, or should have, had. With the Dodgers scoring 804 and allowing just 610, the Pythagorean record has them at 102-61 in 2018, the same amount of Pythagorean wins than they had in 2017- one of the best years in recent Dodger history.
Now to put those numbers into context, the next best NL Pythagorean record belonged to the Cubs who are no longer a playoff team. They finished the season with 94 Pythagorean wins and behind them was the Braves with 92 and the Dodgers lead them two games to none (depending on when you are reading this). The list only gets more unimpressive. The Brewers clock in at third with 91 wins, four less than their actual record shows and the Rockies finished with 85 Pythagorean wins, seven less than their real record.
Those numbers are just the surface of the data that would suggest the Dodgers are far and away the best team in the National League, and it is not even close.
Los Angeles finished 2018 with the highest OPS+ in the National League at 109. That would suggest that their batting has been far better than people give them credit for as their team average has remained well over the league average 100 line. The Brewers, the Dodgers likely opponent in the NLCS, finished 10 whole points behind the Blue Crew with 99.
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The Dodgers also lead the NL in home runs, slugging percentage, OPS and runs by margins far bigger than their record would suggest.
Look to pitching over the course of the season and again, your Los Angeles Dodgers dominate their competition. The season ERA sat at 3.40, .34 better than the Brewers who ranked fourth. The Dodgers also lead all other NL teams in xFIP, FIP, left on base percentage and cumulative pitcher WAR (Fangraphs version) at a remarkable 20.5
Those numbers are all incredible but to really prove this point we need to get more specific. The Dodgers are just one win away from getting back to the NLCS where they will almost certainly face the Brewers who would be the only team in the way of back to back World Series appearances. Let’s just break down the numbers there.
The Dodgers obliterate the Brewers in every single cumulative statistic but there is an argument to be made that those are not the best numbers to look at because they may not lend themselves to the most recent success or failures of a team. So, for this comparison, the numbers are narrowed to the last 28 days and are expanded to the MLB as a whole, not just the NL.
Over roughly the last month, the Dodgers lead all of baseball in team OPS at .866. The Brewers check in at ninth but their OPS sits at .775 which is practically .100 marks less than the Dodgers.
If team OPS is not enough for you, over the last 28 days the Dodgers have had 9 of the 13 batters on the postseason roster in the Major League top 100 in terms of OPS. Despite having Christian Yelich on the team who ranks first by a mile and a half in individual OPS over the last 28 days, the Brewers have just four of 14 batters in that top 100.
Nothing is certain in the playoffs. Wild Card teams have gone on to be World Series Champions and teams that finish with the worst record amongst division winners have been Champions as well. Also, as stated earlier, baseball is filled with luck. But, if you listen to the stats, the Dodgers could very well be making their second straight appearance in the Fall Classic.