Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Optimism in the Schedule

A few weeks ago, I presented an analysis of the remaining schedule for the Giants and Padres. Many of the games remaining have peeled off since then and it’s probably a good time to provide an update. Additionally, I have added in the Phillies, Braves, Cardinals, and Rockies who are the Giants other top-competitors when it comes to determining who will play in October. The Reds – barring a San Diego-esque meltdown – have all but sewn up the Central division so I have opted not to include them. Essentially, if you assume the Reds have locked up the Central, you have 6 teams fighting for 3 playoff spots. Here’s how their schedules break down for their remaining 23 to 27 games, and I’ve included their current playoff percentage “likeliness.”

Rockies (7.8% Likely)
The Rockies’ playoff likeliness seems a little deceiving to me given their record, but the fact that they’d have to topple two teams in the division or at least two in the wild card makes their potential path to the postseason a difficult one. Also, their run differential (RD) of +49 isn’t spectacular. The average RD of their remaining opponents is +22, which is a bad omen, especially because their only remaining opponent with a losing record and negative RD is Arizona who they’ll play 6 more times. The one true advantage remaining for Colorado is they have the best home/road split of the bunch. They’ll play 15 more at home and 10 more on the road, but that advantage is miniscule and it seems more and more likely it’ll be too much for them to overcome.
Cardinals (22.3 % Likely)
The Cardinals are the longest shot right now out of the 6 teams in terms of their win and loss record, but it’s much brighter and less bleak for them than I had realized. The Cardinals have the most favorable remaining schedule by far. The average run differential of their remaining opponents is an astounding -45. This is in large part thanks to playing 6 games each against the Cubs and Pirates. The Pirates in particular are abysmal. Their RD is an unfathomable -272 thus far in 2010. Like most of the rest of the teams, the home and road games remaining are more or less split. They’ll play 27 more, 14 home and 13 on the road. They also have the four-headed monster: Wainwright, Carpenter, Holliday and Pujols. That’s a group capable of running off a bunch of wins in a row, especially if they’re playing the equivalent of the Bad News Bears. They also have the 4th best RD in the NL behind the Reds, Braves and Padres. This is one team foolish to overlook – they snuck into October in 2006, and snuck out with a ring.

Giants (51.3% Likely)
Thanks to the Padres’ long awaited 10 game implosion; the Giants have increased their playoff odds considerably in the last week and a half. While they didn’t exactly earn it themselves, they also didn’t completely fumble the opportunity. The average run differential of their remaining opponents is -7 which is very good news for Giants fans. They also have the fifth best RD at +73. They have just 24 more games to prove they deserve to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003, 12 road and 12 at AT&T. Giants fans have been waiting all season long for the Padres to struggle, but they’ve also been waiting all season long for the Giants to put it all together. The rotation was remarkable in April, brilliant for stretches, but ultimately disappointing given the expectations. The offense was a revelation in July, and otherwise inconsistent at best for most of the season. The bullpen has been solid to fantastic at times, and very disappointing other times. If the Giants can somehow get all three rolling for the next 3 weeks, they will be in great shape.

Padres (65.5 % Likely)
What can I say? A week and a half ago the Padres were a lock for October. Then they rattled off 10 straight losses and opened the door if not flat out tried to hand the division to San Francisco. To make matters worse, the Padres have the toughest remaining schedule of all the teams fighting for a spot. The average run differential of their remaining opponents is +35. Ouch. That makes the ten straight losses all the more painful. After facing the Giants in the critical upcoming four-game weekend series, the Padres will hit the road for 3 in Colorado, 4 in St. Louis and 3 more in Los Angeles. Then the Reds, who will undoubtedly be looking to put the cherry on the Central division, will be waiting for them in San Diego. The Padres do still have a 1 game lead in the division and 2 in the loss column, as well as the second best RD in the NL at +104, but after their recent collapse their knees are officially knocking. Their home/road games are also split at 13, with 2 more games to play than the Giants. Can their starting staff and (until recently) untouchable bullpen continue to hold opposing offenses at bay enough for their hitters to do the rest? We will know soon enough.

Phillies (67.6 % Likely)
The Phillies have made two straight World Series appearances for the NL but after a horrendous early season slump and injuries to Polanco, Utley and Howard among others, their playoff hopes were much in doubt at various times this season. Right now? Not so much. If the season ended now, they’d have the wild card. The average RD of their remaining opponents is +25, which isn’t going to makes things easy for them here on out. Their toughest adversary will be the Braves (6 games) who also stand in their way for the Eastern division crown. The Phillies have won three straight, but the Braves have the best RD in the NL at +124 and don’t look poised to stumble in Cox’s final season. They only have 23 games remaining on the schedule with 11 home and 12 away. They are always a threat to go bonkers scoring runs with their middle of the lineup and adding Oswalt behind Halladay certainly has helped their cause.

Braves (87.4% Likely)
I included the Braves because if they get passed by Philly, they’ll be the Giants’ competition for the Wild Card. The Braves lost Chipper Jones but have been arguably the best team in the NL throughout the year. They endured a terrible losing streak of their own (9 games), but have otherwise been pretty fantastic. The average RD of their remaining opponents is more or less (0) zero. They have a combined 8 games remaining versus the Nationals and Pirates, but that’s offset with remaining games against St. Louis and the fighting Phillies. Their RD, +124 as previously mentioned, as well as their current division lead, certainly bodes well for their playoff hopes. But the teams are still bunched pretty close together so the pennant and Wild Card race is going to be much more exciting than the one going on in the American League.

Run differential spreadsheet and calculations can be found in the box.net tool (on the right side of thise page) titled, "Optimism in the Schedule."

What’s this mean for the Giants…?

The Giants’ easiest path to the postseason is now the division. This is pretty amazing considering the two separate occasions they’ve had sizable deficits this season. After the fourth of July, the Giants had about 7 ½ games to make up. They brought that back down to 1 game but after losing 2 of 3 at home versus the Padres in mid-August, they allowed it to again balloon to 6 ½ games. They’ve closed the gap again to just 1 game. But here’s why the easier path goes through San Diego and the division and not the Wild Card. San Francisco and San Diego will play 7 more times, which is more than 25% of the time in their remaining schedules. Each game is essentially a battle with a two game swing. If the Giants can somehow put the season long slump against the Padres to rest and take the upper hand in each of these series’, they’ve got a really good shot to win the division. If you thought the mid-August scuffle in San Fran was a big series, just wait ‘til the 4 gamer in San Diego this weekend… and the season ending three-game series October 1st – 3rd at AT&T. Get your dynamically priced tickets now!

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