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July 14, 2011
Prospectus Hit and Run
Resetting the Races, National League
It's a phenomenon more familiar to the AL East, but right now, the most burning question regarding the NL East is in what order the top two teams will finish en route to the postseason. The Phillies (57-34) lead the Braves (54-38) by 3.5 games; the Braves in turn are eight games ahead of the Mets, and lead all wild-card contenders by at least five games. The two teams hold the distinction of having most improved their Playoff Odds since our pre-season PECOTA projections. The All-Star break, of course, makes for a convenient time to re-evaluate the races relative to those forecasts, but unlike years past, this isn't quite as straightforward an exercise as it might seem. The new, consolidated version of our Playoff Odds report uses a blend of PECOTA and third-order winning percentages in its rest-of-season Monte Carlo simulation, instead of one or the other in two distinct reports; to some extent, our forecasting system is being double-counted. Still, we can get a good feel for the extent to which teams have helped or hurt themselves relative to expectations since the beginning of the season.
A quick key: Act and Exp are a team's actual winning percentages to date and expected winning percentage going forward, the latter using PECOTA and third-order winning percentage. Div, WC, and Total are a team's chances of winning the division and wild-card races and the sum of those odds. Proj is the PECOTA-based estimate of the team's preseason chances of making the playoffs, +/- the amount by which their total odds have changed.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have gone from mere division favorites to virtual post-season locks. Though the return of Chase Utley has helped, these Phils are a far cry from 2008-2009 offensive juggernaut, ranking just seventh in scoring. Led by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels—the injured Roy Oswalt has been another matter—they're the league's stingiest team, allowing just 3.24 runs per game.
The defending world champion Giants, who came into the season projected as the league's top team are in a similar boat as far as solidifying their post-season chances. Like the aforementioned NL East teams, an outstanding pitching staff (3.50 runs per game allowed, third) has papered over an underwhelming offense (3.61 runs per game, 15th) reeling from the loss of Buster Posey and a terminal bat fungus that has overtaken 2010 heroes Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres as well as over-the-hill free-agent addition Miguel Tejada.
Not So Fast
Having lost Jorge De La Rosa for the year and seen the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and even Troy Tulowitzki fail to live up to their 2010 showing, the Rockies came into the break having lost 11 of 16. Not only are they five games under .500, they haven't been more than a game above the mark since May 24.
None of those teams' falls from contention compares to the plights of the Marlins or the Dodgers. The Fish have been without ace Josh Johnson since May 16, and without superstar Hanley Ramirez all year, instead playing an imposter who has hit .242/.337/.370. Last month they fired manager Edwin Rodriguez and disinterred Jack McKeon, who's 80 years old and hasn't managed since 2005. However, the saddest tale of woe belongs to the Dodgers, who haven't seen .500 since May 2. Aside from ownership woes that have culminated in a bankruptcy filing, they've been decimated by injuries to both the pitching staff (particularly the bullpen) and the lineup, while ill-considered free-agent signings such as Juan Uribe, Rod Barajas, and Tony Gwynn, Jr. couldn't hit water after falling out of a boat. Magically, all of their problems were solved on Tuesday with the acquisition of Juan Rivera, so look out, senior circuit.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .