Coming into this season, everything seemed so simple. The Cubs were going to bully their way to a second straight NL Pennant and the Indians and Red Sox were going to fight to the death in the ALCS. While preseason predictions are never right, the absolute dominance of NL West teams (three in particular) has been a complete surprise.
Through just over 60 games, there are five teams with 40 wins already. The Astros, who have a 10+ game lead in the AL West, the Nationals who are a half game away from a 10 game lead in the NL East and three fifths of the NL West. For the Astros and Nationals, that equates to a chance of winning their division of more than 90%, but for those in the West, there’s a chance one team doesn’t even make the play-offs.
While the Dodgers were expected to be a contender, and still have a 99% chance of making the play-offs according to fangraphs, the Rockies have come out of nowhere and the Diamondbacks have come out of 2016.
In the West itself, all three teams maintain a 10+ game lead over the final two as both San Diego and San Francisco. While on the surface, this could seem that the trio of top teams have over-inflated their win totals thanks to sub-par competition (much like the Cubs did last year), this is not the case. The Rockies are 7-1 against San Francisco and LA is 5-1 vs San Diego, but otherwise things have been fairly even. Against the Giants, the Dodgers are 4-6 and against the Padres, the Rockies are only 5-4. The Diamondbacks have winning records against both, but haven’t completely, dominated going 13-7.
Where the teams have taken advantage is of other divisions weak teams. The Reds have been good enough against the rest of baseball to hang within 5.5 games of the division lead, but against the Dodgers and Rockies, they’ve went 5-1. The worst team in baseball, Philadelphia, has went a combined 6-1 against these same two teams. Of course, the Diamondbacks haven’t even faced either of these teams yet. They have, however, went 9-0 against the Mets, Indians and White Sox, an overall slightly higher quality of fare.
Arizona’s success against the AL Central is just the tip of the iceberg. Overall, the American League is absolutely destroying the National 77-55. There’s an inherant advantage to being an AL team, even in an NL park as each AL franchise should have at least one extra hitter.
The best in the NL West, however, have seen things completely differently. In addition to the Diamondbacks sweeping the Indians for three, the Rockies swept them in a two game sets and Dodgers won a three game series (their first interleague series of the season). The only two other interleague series for the Rockies were against the AL Central leading Twins that they won 2-1 and a four game set against Seattle that they lost 1-3. Arizona has had the most games against the AL and they’ve went a combined 9-1 against the Indians, White Sox and Tigers. Yes, the Sox have been terrible and the other two teams are near .500, but considering the overall success of the AL over the NL, what the Diamondbacks have done is pretty incredible. Removing their success, the AL has beaten the rest of the NL 76-46.
Between the three teams, play has been pretty even. The Rockies are currently winning both series 4-2 against Arizona and 5-4 against Los Angeles. The Diamondbacks have a slight advantage over LA 4-3. Taking this all in, it’s difficult to see if one team has the advantage. All three teams are in the top 7 in pitching fWAR (with an FIP near their ERA and legitimate BABIP so these numbers aren’t outlandish) and the Dodgers and DBacks are in the top eight offensively. Where the Rockies make up the difference is defensively, where they rank second in baseball to Cincinnati although the Rockies aren’t far behind at #3.
All three have superstars on both sides of the ball, but are deep beyond them. If anything, the weakest team appears to be Colorado yet they lead the division and have already won 43 games to lead all National League teams, second to only Houston in the Majors.
At the moment, all three teams are not only on pace to make the play-offs, but they hold a combined eight game lead on both Wild Card spots as well as a 15 game lead on the division. Two and a half months of baseball are legitimate enough to assume that these teams are at least close to as good as they have been playing and it would take quite the run for either the Mets, Cubs, Cardinals or Pirates to make up not only the ground in the division, but the significant gap above that they would need to surpass to win a Wild Card.
Even beyond that, with the exception of the Nationals, who have won series against all three NL West teams, the NL West has had little problem with those other near contenders. The Dodgers are 13-6 against the top four teams in the NL Central (they haven’t played the Mets), the Rockies are 11-6 (also haven’t played the Mets) and the Diamondbacks are 8-6 against the Central (they haven’t played the Cubs yet) and 3-0 against the Mets.
In short, the three teams are taking care of business at home in the West, against the closest NL competition and across to the American League. This is a pretty incredible juggernaut to come out of one division and one of the three (Fangraphs obviously thinks it’s the Dodgers and it’s hard to say they’re wrong) will likely be the team to beat once October comes around.