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120 games in: The Arizona Diamondbacks’ playoff odds

Not the best of weeks. But our chances still remain pretty good of post-season play.

Houston Astros v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Another ten games in the book, so time to revisit the standings, the playoff odds of the various projection systems, and what history tells us has happened to previous teams with the Diamondbacks’ current record.

[Note: all that follows excludes this afternoon’s game against the Astros. Because that’s Game #121]

The last 10 games

The Diamondbacks stumbled, going 3-7, which included series losses to both the Dodgers and Cubs. But they weren’t the only ones, with the Cardinals the only potential threat to post a winning record, going 7-3. The Rockies were 3-6, the Brewers 4-6 and the Cubs 5-5. Here’s what that did to the wild-card situation between then and now - all differences are to the D-backs.

               Game #110    Game #120
Wild-card #1   COL +0.5     COL  +1
Wild-card #2   ARI   -      ARI   -
NL Cent. #1    CHC   -      CHC   -
NL Cent. #2    MIL  -5      MIL  -4
NL Cent. #3    STL  -9      STL  -5

The team lost one game off their wild-card lead, and it looked for a while like the Cardinals were mounting a charge. But they’ve lost three in a row, including last night, where they conceded three in the ninth to blow it against the Red Sox. Feels like the hot streak has come to halt.

The projection systems

Yeah, going 3-7 isn’t exactly going to improve the team’s chances, but I was quite surprised at how little they dropped. FiveThirtyEight were the most pessimistic, byt even they only dropped us by 8%. The rest ranged from 4.6% to 6.4%, which is certainly less than you would expect if you were following the team on social media. As we discussed last time, the impact of the losses is probably muted by the fact there are now 20% fewer games for the chasing teams to make up the difference. But I will confess, four games is enough to have me looking over my shoulder. While today’s win helps, I’ll be happier when we go back to facing sub-.500 teams.

Us vs. Them

The table below shows, for a range of outcomes over the Diamondbacks’ remaining games, what the first non-wild card team would currently have to do, to match our record. Even that might not necessarily mean a play-off game however: if the Rockies implode, they could be the ones missing out entirely. I’ve also include what our rival’s required pace is equivalent too, over a full season, to give you a better idea of how well they need to play.

 D-backs go     Rivals go    Season pace
 23-19 (pace)     26-14         105-47
 22-20            25-15         101-61
 21-21 (.500)     24-16          97-65
 20-22            23-17          93-69
 19-23            22-18          89-73
 18-24            21-19  (pace)  85-77

The Brewers have played two games more than the Diamondbacks, and it’s getting to the stage where that is significant. The season pace for them to catch us has dropped at the top end of this chart - but at the bottom, they will have to pick up speed due to the fewer games left. The Cardinals have played the same number of games as us, so two less than Milwaukee; they have the same number of losses, and are two back in the wins column. I can never remember, is it the wins or losses column which matters?

Previous history

I’ve analyzed the results since 1998 of all 570 teams to this point, and whether or not they made the post-season. The chart below breaks down the records, and also lists the teams currently occupying each band in the 2017 standings. I used win percentage to decide their block, on an “at least” basis, e.g. you need at least a .600 W% to get into the 72-38 level.

The first 152 games, 1998-2016

Record Playoffs Non-playoff Percentage Teams
Record Playoffs Non-playoff Percentage Teams
89+ 81 2 97.6% Astros, Dodgers, Indians, Nationals
88-64 9 1 90.0%
87-65 11 4 73.3% D-backs, Red Sox
86-66 14 3 70.0%
85-67 9 6 60.0% Cubs
84-68 9 5 64.3% Yankees
83-69 8 10 44.4%
82-70 8 12 40.0% Rockies
81-71 1 18 28.0% Brewers
80-72 7 13 35.0%
79-73 4 19 17.4% Cardinals
< 79 1 315 0.3% THE FIELD

This area is one where the D-backs really aren’t doing very well. 66-54 has previously been good enough for a play-off spot little more than half of the time. But the way the standings sit in the National League this year, works in Arizona’s favor. In most season, 66 games would be likely to have a lot more teams breathing down your neck in the wild-card race. As is, there are effectively only five teams with a meaningful shot, battling for the two wild-cards as well as the NL Central title. That second wild-card also helps. But the 2012 Pirates and 2014 Brewers both slumped out of the picture - the former couldn’t even reach .500, going 13-29 the rest of the way.

So there’s still work to do for the D-backs. Winning this afternoon in Houston certainly didn’t hurt: provisionally, their Fangraphs W% is back up to 88.2% with the win, pending the results of the Cardinals game.