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Preview #133: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

On why we want to face the Dodgers in the Division Series

MLB: Houston Astros at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Today's Lineups

Chris Taylor - CF David Peralta - LF
Enrique Hernandez - SS Adam Rosales - 3B
Justin Turner - 3B A.J. Pollock - CF
Cody Bellinger - 1B Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
Logan Forsythe - 2B J.D. Martinez - RF
Yasiel Puig - RF Brandon Drury - 2B
Austin Barnes - C Ketel Marte - SS
Curtis Granderson - LF Chris Herrmann - C
Hyun-Jin Ryu - LHP Robbie Ray - LHP

It’s almost guaranteed that the Dodgers will have the best record in the National League. They come into play tonight at Chase Field, 11 games ahead of the Nationals in that department, so short of an epic meltdown, they will face the winner of the NL wild-card game. But that might actually work to the D-backs advantage.

The Dodgers are a better team than the Diamondbacks. Their W-L record is 18 games better. Their differential is 115 runs better. That doesn’t make them invincible, as last night proved: on any given night, they can be beaten. However, the bigger the sample size, the more likely they are to prevail. The regular season standings show that: over the 130+ games so far, the gap between them and the Diamondbacks is obvious. Conversely, the smaller the sample size, the better the odds of an underdog like Arizona being able to pull off the upset. A short series is more dangerous to the favorite, simply by the mathematics.

Let’s say, in any given game between the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks, we have a 40% chance of winning the contest. If this was a one-game playoff, we would have a 40% shot, obviously. But the more games we play, the lower are our odds. If we play five times, the chances of the D-backs winning at least three drops to 31.7%. But it’s still better than the chances of winning four out of seven: 29.0%. These numbers are approximate, since they don’t take into account cases where the series doesn’t run the full seven games or whatever. But they illustrate the basic idea. Upsets are more likely in the Division Series than the Championship or World Series.

So, if you are going to pull off that shocker, and knock out the best team in the league, by pure math, you would want to face them in the best of five format. However, there are external factors which play into this. For example, to get to the NLDS, the D-backs will also have to win the wild-card game, and that probably means using whoever is deemed our “best” pitcher there. That’s probably less of a handicap for Arizona than some teams: the drop-off from #1 to #2 is certainly bigger for the Dodgers than the D-backs. And with a pretty decent 6-8 record against Los Angeles this year, I certainly would not write off Arizona’s chances, especially over five games.