The So What? How 6 Weeks Has Affected MLB Playoffs (5/9/2018)
The So What? How Six Weeks of Baseball Has Affected Each Team's Playoff Chances
We're now six weeks into the MLB regular season and teams have completed nearly a quarter of their scheduled games. There have been hot and cold starts around the league, but how much does 35 games actually impact one's chances of making the postseason? This week we're taking a look at our initial projected win totals and playoff probabilities for each team, and comparing them to our most recent set of season long projections to identify the teams who have helped or hurt their playoff chances the most since Opening Day. Let's start with teams in the National League.
A featured team in our last two Risers and Fallers pieces, the Braves hot start has increased their playoff chances from 6.2% in the preseason all the way up to 38.5% after just 33 games. We projected them to finish fourth in the NL East with 74.9 wins, but that number has already increased to 84.8, putting them second behind the Washington Nationals. The Braves' early season success also bumps them up from a 0 to 1.2% chance at a World Series title. Atlanta's offense has been terrific thus far, averaging an NL-best 5.35 runs per game.
The reigning NL East champions got off to a tough 11-16 start under new skipper Dave Martinez. Starting the season without Daniel Murphy was hard enough, but Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton have also spent time on the DL, hurting Washington's offensive firepower. The Nats were able to flip the switch at the end of April, however, and have won 9 of their last 10. While they've removed themselves from an early rut, Washington's win projection has decreased from 94.1 to 90.1 and has them making the playoffs just 76.4% compared to 93.9% when their record was 0-0. Atlanta's success certainly infringes on their playoff chances, with the Nats now projected with just 5.3 more wins than Atlanta after being initially projected to finish 19.2 wins ahead. Nationals fans should still be excited about their team's future, however, as their 12.5% chance at a World Series title is the highest mark in the NL and third in the majors.
The NL West has become the Diamondbacks' division to lose. Arizona now has an 88.4% chance to make the playoffs compared to their 52.3% mark in the preseason. Their 24-13 start now puts them in line to win 93.5 games, which is a 7.2-win increase from our preseason projection. The most exciting part for DBacks fans is that they're now projected to win the World Series 10% of the time, nearly five times their initial projection. One of the crazier aspects of their success is that perennial slugger and MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt is slashing just .226/.356/.419 through 35 games. A.J. Pollock seems to have absorbed all of Goldschmidt's power, having already clubbed 11 homers and 31 RBIs while slashing .308/.361/.677. Arizona has also greatly benefitted from the Dodgers' early season demise, but just how much has LA hurt their own playoff chances?
After falling just short of a World Series title in 2017, the Dodgers' only goal entering this season was to make it back to the October Classic and be the ones celebrating on the field after the last out. Unfortunately, our preseason favorite to represent the NL in the World Series is now more likely to miss the playoffs than to make them. Their 15-20 start is part of the problem, but the bigger issue lies with player availability. Corey Seager is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John, Justin Turner has yet to suit up after breaking his wrist in Spring Training, and Clayton Kershaw is currently on the DL with a biceps tendinitis issue that could flare up throughout the season. All of these issues lead to the Dodgers making the playoffs just 35.8% of the time, a harsh fall from their 90.2% mark in the preseason. Our win total projection for Dave Roberts' club has fallen from 94.2 to 85.2, which equates to just 0.4 more wins than the aforementioned Braves. The saddest part for the Dodgers and their fans comes from the drop in World Series chances, however. They've dropped from 13.5% to 3.1% in the matter of six weeks. 3.1% still gives them the fifth-best odds in the NL, but it's a far cry from their NL-leading odds to begin the season.
Only 1.5-games separate four teams in the NL Central heading into Wednesday, but the Cardinals and Cubs remain the proverbial favorites to win the division. Chicago's playoff chances have taken a small hit, decreasing from 92.1% in the preseason to 82.4% at the moment, but they're still the majority favorite at 57.5% to win the Central. Their World Series chances have remained unchanged, holding true at 11.1%. St. Louis has bolstered their chances at a postseason berth, as they've moved from 52.9% to 66.9% after six weeks of games. They currently pace the division with a 20-14 record, and have seen their World Series odds increase by 1.7% since Opening Day. Pittsburgh's hot start has improved their playoff odds by 4.8%, with the Brewers taking a slight hit as a result. Milwaukee's playoff chances have dropped 8.7% down to 21.1%, but they're only 5.5% likely to win the division now that Chicago and St. Louis are 92.3% likely to claim those honors. It's looking like a clear two-team race for the division title, but as we've seen with the Dodgers, a whole lot can happen in six weeks' time to flip those odds on their head.
The National League has seen some major fluctuation through six weeks. Two teams have added over 32% onto their postseason chances, while the Dodgers have lost over 50% on their odds. At the end of the day, however, the Nationals and Cubs remain the favorites in their division and to represent the NL in the World Series, while Arizona looks ready to fill the shoes left by LA's rough beginning to the season. Let's see how the American League compares.
Boston's scorching hot start has essentially locked them into a playoff spot at this point. After beginning the season at 81.5% likely to reach the postseason, they've added 17.3% to that number and have leap-frogged the Yankees as the division favorites. Their win total has gained nearly nine games since Opening Day (90.9 up to 99.5), and they're now projected to win the World Series 13.8% of the time, good for second best in the majors. They'll still have stiff competition in the AL East, as the Yankees have won 16 of 17 and are just projected for just 1.9 fewer wins. Speaking of the Yankees…
Aaron Boone's club has put them in great position to reach the playoffs after six weeks, as they match Boston with the best record in baseball at 25-10. The Yankees were already 91.4% likely to reach the playoffs in our preseason projections, but their hot start has added 3.7 wins to their expected total (93.9 up to 97.6). New York and Boston's hot starts have basically eliminated Toronto from the conversation in the AL East race, as their odds of winning the division sit at just 0.8% after six weeks. Overall, it's shaping up to be an awfully exciting race between Boston and New York for the division crown.
The AL Central has been the worst division in baseball through six weeks, as not a single team is above .500 after six weeks of baseball. Their synchronized struggles don't make for much of a storyline when comparing updated playoff probabilities, as the Indians (96.6%) and Twins (18.8%) were the only two division teams with a >2% chance to make the playoffs in our preseason projections. The slow start does hurt Minnesota more than Cleveland, however, as the Indians retain a commanding 89.4% chance of winning the division. The Twins' 10.2% chance at the division essentially accounts for the rest, but at just 3.4% likely to make a Wild Card spot, Minnesota fans shouldn't feel great about their prospects of making the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Things in the American League have been much more predictable up to this point, and the AL West is no different. The reigning World Series champions were 95.6% likely to have a shot at another title in our preseason rankings, and they're currently 93.1% likely after six weeks. Their overall win projection has dropped from 96.4 to 95.2, so they're essentially right in line with our expectations. The biggest adjustment comes to their World Series chances, as they've dropped from 18.2% to 15.7% thanks to Boston's early season surge, but still remain our favorites to take home the Commissioner's Trophy. The Angels' 21-14 start has added 15.7% to their postseason odds, but that's mainly come in the Wild Card department. They're still just 17.4% likely to win the West, but are our favorite, outside of the Yankees or Red Sox, to reach the one-game playoff at 38.6%. With the entire AL Central struggling, the Angels will likely only have to battle with the Blue Jays and Mariners for the second Wild Card spot. Speaking of the Mariners, their 20-14 start puts them in a great position to compete with the Angels for that second Wild Card spot. Their hot start has added over five wins to their season-long total, bumping them up from 78.6 in our preseason projections to 83.8 at the moment. The biggest surprise in the division has been the Texas Rangers. Texas entered the year with a 15.9% chance of reaching the postseason, but that number has evaporated completely and is left at just 0.1% after their 14-24 start.
The AL was a completely different story than the NL, as things have remained relatively consistent with our preseason projections outside of a few teams. The Red Sox and Yankees have clearly been the winners of the first six weeks, and it'll be a great battle down the stretch between those two storied franchises. The AL Central will likely only see their division winner in the playoffs, but Cleveland's 10.6% chance at a World Series title remains third-best in the American League. The AL West features the two teams we expected it to, as the Astros and Angels take home the division title 92.7% of the time. It will be interesting if any more parity emerges in the AL, as the National League has already seen favorites fall and new ones emerge.