It's only the middle of August, yet already it feels like four of the six divisions in baseball have pretty much been decided. The Cubs have a ridiculous 13-game lead, the Nationals are up by 7.5, Texas has a 6.5-game margin, and the Indians are up by four. The other two, though - the AL East and the NL West - are within a game and have been a war up to this point.
Of the two I find the AL East the less interesting by far - Toronto seems to have the clear momentum in the division, and at this point it feels just like a matter of time until they put it away. In the NL West, though, we have a true battle. Both San Francisco and the Dodgers are good teams with a chance to go deep in the playoffs, and neither is going to wilt in this race in all likelihood.
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The Giants are up by one as I write and have had the edge over the Dodgers for much of the season, but it's a very close race. Both teams are likely to be playoff teams because the Dodgers have a big lead in the wild-card race right now, but obviously you want to avoid that one-game wild card showdown if at all possible.
So, how does this race shape up the rest of the way? Who has the edge? Let's take a look:
Pitching: These teams are quite evenly matched on the mound. The Dodgers are fourth in the National League with a 3.61 team ERA. The Giants are fifth with 3.64. The Giants have a pretty significant edge in quality starts - 60 to 47 - but they have a higher opponent batting average - .243 to .224. The Giants have allowed just four more earned runs through 114 games. The Dodgers have a solid edge in strikeouts but have also walked more. They are virtually tied in saves as well - the Dodgers are up 34 to 32. At least on a superficial statistical basis, then, you have no clear edge.
On an individual basis in terms of the rotation, though, if I had to pick one going forward it would be the Giants - for admittedly subjective reasons. It just feels like there is more room for improvement going forward for the Giants. Madison Bumgarner has been solid, but with 19 quality starts he deserves more than his 10-7 record. He could do better on the scoreboard down the stretch. Johnny Cueto is pitching at a very sustainable level. Jeff Samardzija, Matt Cain and Jake Peavy have all shown the potential to pitch better than they have, and they could very conceivably improve as well.
On the other side the room for improvement feels smaller. Clayton Kershaw has done just what was expected and likely will keep doing it. Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir both feel like they have overachieved to some extent, though, and the bottom end of the rotation doesn't inspire a ton of confidence.
Hitting: Again, these teams are remarkably well matched. San Francisco has scored 505 runs through 114 games. The Dodgers, in the same number of games, have crossed the plate 504 times. San Francisco's team OPS is .728. That's just two ticks better than the Dodgers at .726. The Giants have the better team batting average and don't strike out as much, but the Dodgers have had better power. You can break this one down any way you want, but it's just not worth the effort. The fact is that these are two good offenses. They do things in different ways but with similar result.
Coaching: In terms of experience, credibility and performance in crunch time, Bruce Bochy versus Dave Roberts is about like Alabama versus McNeese State.
Edge: Giants, in a big way
Schedule: There isn't much to divide the two teams here, either. Both teams have eight remaining series which they should be able to win without too much effort if they are in form. They have six games remaining against each other - three in each city. The Giants have the edge there, though - the final three games of that showdown, which are also the final three games of the season, are in San Francisco. The Giants have also played six more road games than the Dodgers to this point, so they have more home games remaining.
Betting performance: It's a split here. The Giants have been profitable on the moneyline on the season, but only slightly. The Dodgers have been losers, but by only a narrow margin. The Dodgers have been more profitable on totals, though.
The bottom line: The Giants have more upside on the mound and a more favorable schedule. They also have dramatically more experience with performing at their best when it matters and in shaking off the pressure and coming together when it counts. I expect San Francisco to come out on top in the NL West in the end.
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