Since the calendar turned to July, the Los Angeles Dodgers have gone from great to becoming an absolute juggernaut. They have won 43 of their last 53 games and sport the best point differential in the game by a wide margin.
Over the past two months, the Dodgers have scored 311 runs. That is exactly 30 more than the Atlanta Braves, who have the second-best offense in baseball during that span. They have allowed just 155 runs, 20 less than the New York Mets, who have the second-best pitching staff over that span.
The Braves and the Mets both find themselves among the top performing teams in the game both offensively and defensively, but it is the Dodgers who are clearly the best in the sport in both facets of the game. This is important to note, as these three teams are heading for a collision course come October.
This in lies the real prize that comes with winning the NL East this season. Whoever wins the division gets to avoid facing the Dodgers until the NLCS.
Playoff Picture of the Season Ended Today
The New York Mets have held first place in the NL East since April 11th, less than one full week into the regular season. If they can hold off the Braves it would be their first division title since 2015 and their first time making the playoffs since 2016, when they were eliminated by the Giants in the Wild Card Game.
Winning your division is always a prize in of itself, as winning the marathon of a 162-game schedule is never a small feat. Prior to this season, every team that won their division made it to the divisional round in the playoffs. Now that is not the case.
With the expanded playoff field that added a third Wild Card team, there is now an extra incentive placed on teams to not only win their division, but to also finish with one of the top two records among the three division winners.
The top two records (who have won the division) get byes and avoid the new Wild Card round of the playoffs. The third division winner is forced into the Wild Card round with the three Wild Card teams.
The following is a breakdown of the playoff seeding in each league.
- No. 1 seed: Best league record
- No. 2 seed: Second-best division winner
- No. 3 seed: Third-best division winner
- No. 4 seed: Best record among Wild Card teams
- No. 5 seed: Second-best record among Wild Card teams
- No. 6 seed: Third-best record among Wild Card teams
In the Wild Card round, the No. 3 seed plays the No. 6 seed and the No. 4 seed plays the No. 5 seed. The winner of the 3/6 matchup will then face the No. 2 seed in the divisional round, while the winner of the 4/5 matchup faces the top seed.
Here is how the playoff field would currently shake out in the National League if they began today.
- No. 1 seed: Los Angeles Dodgers (90-38)
- No. 2 seed: New York Mets (82-48)
- No. 3 seed: St. Louis Cardinals (75-55)
- No. 4 seed: Atlanta Braves (79-51)
- No. 5 seed: Philadelphia Phillies (72-58)
- No. 6 seed: San Diego Padres (72-59)
Dodging the Dodgers
When we envision the probable playoff field this year, the team that is really getting the short-end of the stick in the Dodgers. Because they do not reseed the playoff field after each round, the Dodgers road to the World Series likely includes both the Mets and the Braves, giving them the toughest possible route to a deep playoff run. Although they are certainly up for the task.
Meanwhile the winner of the NL East gets a much easier NLDS matchup, as the Cardinals are not nearly as talented as the top three teams in the NL right now. The winner of the NL East also gets the first round playoff bye, where they can avoid a potential matchup with one of their other NL East division foes, the Philadelphia Phillies.
Being able to take a few days off after the season to rest your pitchers and set them up how you like for a deep playoff run could be invaluable. Pair that with an easier road to the World Series and there is suddenly HUGE incentive to win the NL East this season.
The Mets have held onto this division for over four months now. Their largest division lead was 10.5 games, but their shortest lead was only a half game back on July 23rd. Now staked to a three-game lead, the Mets will play two more games against the Dodgers this week, while the Braves have already concluded their season series against L.A.
Only time will tell who faces the Dodgers first in October, but it is certain both teams are doing their best to avoid that fate.