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Dodgers Still Massive Favorites to Win NL West over Rockies

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen warming up
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen (L) won't travel with the team to Colorado today, giving further hope to the scrappy Rockies that they can fend off Los Angeles. Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC License].
  • Los Angeles is 1.5 games behind Colorado in the NL West, but remains a heavy favorite to win the division.
  • Stats like run differential indicate that the Dodgers are the stronger team.
  • But there are only 22 games left in the season and some key factors favor the underdog Rockies. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies start a massive three-game series at Coors Field tonight with respective aces Clayton Kershaw and Jon Gray on the mound. (No offense to Kyle Freeland.)

The upstart Rockies currently hold a 1.5-game lead over Los Angeles in the division with the Diamondbacks 2.5 games behind. All three teams can feel the death rattle of the regular season bubbling up; the Dodgers and D-Backs only have 22 games left to play while the Rockies have 23.

Two online betting sites, Bovada and MyBookie.ag, still have their division-winner futures up, and the odds are ripe for the picking.

NL West Division Winner Odds

Team NL West Winner Odds at  Bovada Odds NL West Winner Odds at MyBookie Odds
LA Dodgers -190 -220
Colorado Rockies +260 +200
Arizona Diamondbacks +450 +330

*Odds as of Sep. 7, 2018. 

Bovada currently has the best odds, but even their numbers imply that the Dodgers have a 65.5% chance of winning the West, while the Rockies have just a 27.8% chance and the Diamondbacks a meagre 18.2% chance.

The last edition of our World Series odds tracker (Aug. 31) showed something similar; it had the Dodgers at +900 to win the 2018 World Series and the Rockies at a distant +1900.

Colorado, with its negative run differential and 24-14 record in one-run games, was supposed to regress. Meanwhile the Dodgers, with their $196.5 million payroll and NL-leading 3.41 team ERA, were supposed to (finally) put together a winning streak and pull away.

That hasn’t happened. After briefly taking over the division lead in early September, the Dodgers lost two of three to the lowly Mets while the Rockies won five straight to retake first place.

The statistics for the year, as a whole, indicate that LA is the better team. They have a 7-6 edge head to head; they have an NL-best +129 run differential (versus -8 for Colorado); and they lead the Rockies in almost every major offensive category, including OBP (.326 to .319), OPS (.756 to .749), home runs (196 to 175), and runs scored (660 to 650), even though Colorado plays in the rarified air of Denver.

The Dodgers’ pitching stats are also better.

Dodgers vs Rockies: Pitching Statistics

2018 Statistic Dodgers Rockies
Team ERA 3.41 4.53
Team WHIP 1.17 1.32
Runs Allowed 531 663
Strikeouts Per 9 9.47 8.65
Bullpen ERA 3.86 4.92

Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, though.

The Dodger bats have gone cold at an inopportune time. Their .251 batting average over the last 30 days ranks 17th in the majors, two spots below Colorado (.254). They also trail the Rockies in runs-scored (124 to 119) over that span and are second-last in the league in FanGraphs’ “Clutch” stat, which measures “how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.” The Dodgers’ Clutch number from the last 30 days is -1.30 (29th overall), while Colorado’s is +1.80 (4th overall).

If the season were just starting, regression toward the mean would be likely for both teams. But it’s not. There are only a handful of games left, and baseball is a streaky sport. The Colorado hitters are hot at the right time.

When it comes to the pitching stats, Colorado’s numbers look a lot worse than they are because they play in Coors Field. Looking at a statistic such as ERA-, which adjusts for a pitcher’s ballpark, the Dodgers are still ahead (89 to 97), but it’s much closer.

And when you limit the sample size to the last 30 days, the Rockies have a big edge in one key metric: saves. Or more accurately, blown saves.

The Dodgers’ 9th-inning struggles have been well documented, but it’s been even worse than most realize: LA has blown eight of its last 12 save opportunities. Part of the problem is that once-automatic closer Kenley Jansen was on the disabled list with a heart issue. The other part of the problem is that Jansen gave up four homers and seven earned runs in his first four innings after coming back.

He was able to rebound with four straight shutout innings thereafter, and he remains the Dodgers’ best 9th-inning option, but that leads to another huge issue for Los Angeles: Jansen’s heart ailment will prevent him playing in Denver’s thin air and he didn’t even travel with the team to Colorado.

That means the closer role will fall to some combination of Kenta Maeda, Scott Alexander, and/or Caleb Ferguson, and none of them have looked comfortable in that position.

NL West Division Winner Betting Advice

If there was more time left in the season, the Dodgers would still be the play. But given that LA will be shorthanded for this hugely important  series, plus the fact that the Rockies have a 1.5-game head start and have been the hotter team over the last month, there’s definite value in betting them at +260.

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