Three divisions are up for grabs
Major League Baseball still has almost two months of regular season games remaining, but let’s face it, there isn’t much drama left to unfold with half the division races virtually over.
The Los Angeles Dodgers entered Saturday with a 16-game lead over the Colorado Rockies in the NL West and the Washington Nationals enjoyed a 141/2-game advantage over the Miami Marlins in the NL East. In the American League, the Houston Astros were 13 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners, their nearest competitor in the West. Since 1994, the first year MLB adopted the wild-card format, every team that has had at least a 14-game lead at this point in the season has gone on to win the division.
The other three divisions — the AL Central, NL Central and AL East — appear to be up for grabs, but a closer look will reveal these, too, are most likely forgone conclusions. Here’s a deeper dive into the statistics that show why.
The defending AL champion Cleveland Indians had a 31/2-game lead over the Minnesota Twins and a five-game lead over the Kansas City Royals, but the Indians should be able to pull away down the stretch.
According to FanGraphs, the Indians’ position players are expected to add 8.6 wins above replacement over the rest of the season, with another 7.8 fWAR coming from their pitchers — only the Dodgers are expected to contribute more down the stretch.
Not only do the Indians have the best team of the three, they have an easy schedule. Cleveland’s remaining opponents have a combined .479 win percentage this season according to BaseRuns, which estimates how many runs a team would be expected to score (or allow) given their underlying offensive (or defensive) performance.
As a result, the Indians have a 92.3 percent chance of winning the division.
The Chicago Cubs, winners of their first World Series in 108 years last season, had a one-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Milwaukee Brewers (three games back) and Pittsburgh Pirates (31/2 games back) are not far behind.
Since the Cubs acquired starting pitcher Jose Quintana from the Chicago White Sox for four prospects, they were 17-9 with a plus-38 run differential, much more in line with the title-winning team from last season.
Chicago’s roster players are expected to add 15.2 fWAR for the remainder of the season, second to the Dodgers and Indians, against the second-easiest schedule using the BaseRuns win percentage of remaining opponents (.473).
The Cardinals have the easiest schedule remaining (.469), but with 11.6 projected fWAR from now until the end of the season, the Cubs are once again in complete control of the division and project to have a six- to seven-game lead by the end of the regular season.
This division could truly be up for grabs. The Boston Red Sox entered Saturday with a 31/2 -game lead over the New York Yankees, but it is the latter with the edge in scheduling — the Bronx Bombers face opponents with an average BaseRuns win percentage of .488, the lowest in the division. The Red Sox, meanwhile, face the toughest (.528).
That could help tilt the division back in New York’s favor despite the Red Sox having a 76.1 percent chance at winning the division, per FanGraphs. But no matter who wins the AL East, the consolation prize for the runner-up will likely be a wild-card spot.
The Yankees have a league-high 56.1 percent chance at reaching the playoffs as a wild-card team, almost double the chances of the Rays (31.3 percent) and Royals (29.9 percent), the teams with the second- and third-highest likelihood in the AL. The Mariners could sneak in, too, especially if they outperform their 81 expected wins this season. The Baltimore Orioles also have hope, but they are a long shot, at best.
The NL wild-card race has more clarity. The Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks entered Saturday 51/2 and 41/2 games ahead of the Cardinals in the wild-card race, giving them each a near-lock on the two wild-card spots. There is a small chance the Cardinals squeak away with the division title (7.7 percent) but their playoff hopes, including the wild-card slot, sit at 18.6 percent, a mere fraction of what the Rockies and Diamondbacks enjoy at this point of the season.
AL East*Division leads entering Saturday
Red Sox lead Yankees by 31/2 games
Cubs lead Cardinals by one game
AL WestBOB LEVEY/GETTY IMAGES
Astros lead Angels by 13 games
NL EastKATHERINE FREY/THE WASHINGTON POST
Nationals lead Marlins by 141/2 games
NL WestJAE C. HONG/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dodgers lead Rockies by 16 games
Indians lead Twins by 31/2 games