I'm Calling the Division for the Giants Now
But the Dodgers—the rare 100-win wild card team—could still go all the way.
Happy Monday, friends. Let’s so some quick math:
The Dodgers are two games behind the Giants with six to play. Realistically, to have any chance at all to win the division, Los Angeles will have to go 6-0 over the Padres and Brewers and then hope the Giants only go 4-2 against the Padres and Diamondbacks to the Dodgers can force a one-game tiebreaker against San Francisco on October 4th.
That’s not happening. The Giants are not losing two games to the Padres and DBacks. I have no idea how the Dodgers lost a game to the DBacks with Kershaw on the mound over the weekend. Actually, I do. He wasn’t good, and Zac Gallen—one of my favorite NL pitchers to watch because of how sneaky good he can be—was outstanding. Do the Giants even have to face Gallen this week? No! But they are lined up to face their former ace Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday. Will Bumgarner be motivated to shove it down the Giants’ throats to help the Dodgers? I can’t imagine him wanting to help Los Angeles, as much as he might want to show the Giants what they’re missing by letting him go. (That said, they were right to cut ties with Bumgarner before last season. The 2014 World Series hero has a 5.02 ERA with a 5.22 FIP in 183 innings for Arizona as he’s battled through injuries).
I bring up 2014 because that’s a crucial year for the purposes of this discussion. The Dodgers won the division that year. The Giants snagged the wild card. Los Angeles lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Giants won the World Series thanks to Bumgarner’s left arm. Except for a meh start in Colorado last week, Max Scherzer looks more dominant than Bumgarner did that year. Could the Dodgers lose the NL West and then ride his golden right arm all the way to another title?
It’s more likely than them coming back and winning the division over the next six days.
I don’t like that we’re now in “championship or bust” mode with the Dodgers because baseball isn’t built that way. Diehard fans put in three to four hours a day for 162 days just for all that to be wiped away as soon as the playoffs start. It’s weird.
My friend Jay Jaffe over at Fangraphs wrote an excellent piece about the correlation between late-season winning streaks and winning championships. He found that none of the 14 teams with 11-game (or longer) win streaks in August or September even made the World Series, let alone won it.
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This trend does not bode well for the St. Louis Cardinals, who may never lose another regular season game again. On the other hand, no team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a seven game series until the Red Sox did to beat the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS. As I mentioned in my piece on the Cardinals last Friday, they’re giving me serious Rockies 2007 vibes, and Colorado did make it all the way to the World Series as the wild card team before losing to Boston.
All of this is to say that we don’t know anything yet about how this will all shake out (duh, it’s sports). But here’s something I do know: the Giants deserve a parade for how well they’ve played this year. The Baseball Prospectus projection system, PECOTA, predicted the Giants would finish the season 75-87. They will probably finish 30 games better than that. I can’t say enough good things about president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, who left the Dodgers’ front office for San Francisco before the 2018 season. The Giants fans in my life (GFIML) don’t seem too pressed about World Series or bust, because none of them expected to even be in this position. A reader emailed me and asked if I thought the Giants are on track to win the division because Giant baseball is more fundamentally sound than Dodger baseball. I don’t think that’s the case at all. The Giants have gotten career years out of stars like Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Buster Posey. They’ve seen role players like LaMonte Wade Jr., Darin Ruf, and Tommy La Stella flourish. They’ve been excellent all year, and they were helped by the fact that the Dodgers played with a three-man rotation for much of the summer. because of injuries to Kershaw, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin plus the Trevor Bauer catastrophe.
The final games have yet to be played, but i’m calling the division for the Giants now. The Dodgers would be smart to go hard over the next few days in case the Giants falter, but also to set things up so Scherzer pitches in the wild card game against St. Louis next Wednesday. Seven wild card teams have gone on to win the World Series since the wild card was introduced in 1994. None of those teams won 100 games during the regular season like the 2021 Dodgers.
While the wild card is disappointing to fans and any sudden-death game is terrifying, the Dodgers are still well positioned for a deep playoff run. Of course, if the Dodgers do beat the Cardinals to make it to the divisional round, they will face the Giants in the playoffs for the first time ever. Won’t that be fun?