It wasn’t too long ago we were discussing whether the Los Angeles Dodgers were a super team, but after suffering their 16th loss in 17 games — their worst losing streak in 73 years — at the hands of the lowly San Francisco Giants, they appear to be losing their grip on the best record in the National League, with the Washington Nationals looking capable of seizing the top spot.
“We’re still trying to win as many games as we can,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker told The Post’s Chelsea Janes on Saturday. “A month ago, people thought catching the Dodgers was an impossibility. Now we’re a lot closer than we were before. Plus, they’re coming in here for three days.”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the Dodgers’ true talent level is. They are the only team in major league history to win 15 of 16 games and lose 15 of 16 in the same season, giving them a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde vibe that’s tough to quantify. However, based on when and how they produce and allow runs, this team should have a 90-54 record at the moment, two wins fewer than their actual victory total. The same method suggests the Nationals should be 86-57. Knowing this, it’s unlikely the Nationals can catch the Dodgers for the best record in baseball and all the postseason benefits that come along with it (playing the wild card winner instead of the NL Central champions, likely the Cubs, in the Divisional Series). How unlikely? If we discount the Dodgers to a .500 team for the rest of the season, instead of a team with a .639 winning percentage through 144 games, and simulate the season 10,000 times, Washington overtakes Los Angeles in roughly one out of every eight simulated seasons (12.1 percent), with a most likely end-of-season win total of 100 games, three fewer than the win total the Dodgers would be expected to reach.
Sweeping the series against the Dodgers would help, boosting the Nationals’ chances of ending with the best record in the NL to 31.6 percent, roughly a third of the time. But that’s no lock, either.
If you give full credit to the Nationals for everything they’ve done up until this point but assumed the Dodgers would win just half their games the rest of the way — essentially creating a model biased towards the Nats — Washington would sweep Los Angeles 26.5 percent of the time in the upcoming three-game series. But that means approximately three quarters of the time the Nationals still don’t end up as the best team in the league, illustrating the club is better served getting ready for the playoffs by setting up their postseason rotation the way Baker wants it.
A little rest wouldn’t hurt, either.
The team’s starters have pitched 869 1/3 innings and in 99 games have reached a pitch count of 100 pitches or more, both marks are the second-highest in baseball this season with 19 games to play. Since 2012, the first year MLB adopted the current playoff format, the most 100-plus-pitch games by starters on an eventual pennant-winning team was 98 by both the 2014 Kansas City Royals and 2013 Boston Red Sox.
World Series winners also don’t typically work their starters as hard. Since 1994, the year a wild-card team was introduced, only two championship teams saw their starters throw 100 or more pitches in 100 or more games during the regular season, the 1999 New York Yankees and 2005 Chicago White Sox.