The National League West has been one of, if not, the most interesting division’s in baseball.
On May 8th, the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers 8-5 in Los Angeles and moved to 24-11 on the season. Meanwhile, down the coast in San Diego, the Padres fell to the Nationals and dropped to 13-24 for the season. At that time, the D’Backs had opened up a 12 game lead on the last place Padres.
28 days have come and gone since, and the National League West has tightened considerably. The Padres, while still in last place, have gone 15-10 since May 8th, while the DBacks (still in first place) have posted a miserable 7-17 mark. The Colorado Rockies, as we all know, have been magnetically glued to a .500 record or thereabouts since the get-go. The result is a division where the top of the hill and the cellar is separated by just 4.5 games. Below, you can see the standings.
1. Arizona 31-28 —
2. Colorado 30-29 1 GB
3. San Francisco 30-30 1.5 GB
4. Los Angeles 29-30 2 GB
5. San Diego 28-34 4.5 GB
This got the numbers and analytics side of me interested. Is the NL West in rare air historically with this type of logjam this deep into the season? Or is it relatively common for an entire division to still be jousting for position this far in?
Spoiler: It’s rare.
I looked at the last 20 seasons-worth of divisional races in Major League Baseball as they were on June 4th of that respective year. With six divisions per year, we are looking at the last 120 divisional races. Then, I looked for the divisions where, on June 4th, the top team in the division was 4.5 games or less ahead of the last-place team. Excluding this year’s NL West, it’s happened just 5 times since 1999.
2017 NL Central
Leader on June 4th – Milwaukee Brewers
Last Place on June 4th – Cincinnati Reds (4 GB)
Eventual Winner (Standing on June 4th) – Chicago Cubs (2nd, 1 GB)
Playoff Result of Winner – Lost in NLCS
2012 NL East
Leader on June 4th – Tie, Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals
Last Place on June 4th – Philadelphia Phillies (4 GB)
Eventual Winner (Standing on June 4th) – Washington Nationals (T-1st, 0 GB)
Playoff Result of Winner – Lost in NLDS
2012 AL East
Leader on June 4th – Tampa Bay Rays
Eventual Winner (Standing on June 4th) – New York Yankees (3rd, 1.5 GB)
Playoff Result of Winner – Lost in ALCS
2005 NL East
Leader on June 4th – Atlanta Braves
Last Place on June 4th – Philadelphia Phillies (1.5 GB)
Eventual Winner (Standing on June 4th) – Atlanta Braves (1st, 0 GB)
Playoff Result of Winner – Lost in NLDS
2000 AL West
Eventual Winner (Standing on June 4th) – Oakland Athletics (T-Last, 0.5 GB)
Playoff Result of Winner – Lost in ALDS
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*As a side note, the 2000 AL West was the closest of the close races. This was before the Astros had joined the division, so there were just 4 teams, with two tied at 1st and the other two tied for last just a half game back.
That’s it. Just 5 races over the last 120 have been as close as the one the Rockies find themselves in entering Tuesday. Really, the rest is just for fun, as there isn’t much to be gleaned from the rest of the data. It’s anybody’s ballgame. Last place teams, on June 4th, have won the division and obviously, first place teams on this date have gone on to win the division. One item of potential interest is how none of the division winners from these tight races over the last 20 seasons have gone on to win a championship.
The die-hard Rockies fan in me sees how close the race is and gets nervous. I’m a scoreboard watcher (yes, even in early June) and always check in on how the rest of the NL West is doing on a daily basis. Well, it isn’t just one or two teams to worry about this season, but four.
The sports fan and all around baseball fan in me, however, is excited to see how this thing plays out. Every team, from the Dodgers to the Padres, is two weeks of good baseball from being in first place, and two weeks of bad baseball from tumbling into the cellar. Enjoy the ride!