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152 games in: The Arizona Diamondbacks’ playoff odds

The last in the series. Because 10 games from now, it will either be or it won’t...

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Francisco Giants Andrew Villa-USA TODAY Sports

This final edition was slightly delayed, due to other things interfering, but at this point, I’d be hard pushed to say it makes much difference. Another dozen games in the book, so for the last time, we get 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.

The last 12 games

The D-backs sucked, and then they were great, and then they sucked again. It’s almost like team performance varies from game to game! There is a certain element of fandom., however, which refuses to recognize this. They persist in defining the team by their current streak, be it good or bad, rather than looking at the broader picture. We have 152 games of data now, and this is clearly quite a good baseball team. The last three games do not negate the 149 which went before them - which is why the team sits on the very cusp of the playoffs, even after going 5-7 since we last checked in.

               Game #140    Game #152
Wild-card #1   ARI -        ARI -
Wild-card #2   COL -7.5     COL -4.5
NL Cent. #1    CHC -5.5     CHC -2
NL WC #3       STL -9.5     MIL -5.5
NL WC #4       MIL -10      STL -8

Yes, the gap has narrowed. But there are now only 10 games left, and even a repeat of everyone’s performances in the last dozen contests, would not be sufficient to derail the D-backs’ sealing home-field advantage. And the schedule is in our favor, with no tougher opponent than the 73-77 Royals. The Rockies and Brewers still have to deal with series against divisional leaders, the Dodgers and Cubs respectively. The magic number to clinch both a post-season spot and home-field advantage are each down to six, so I’d say probably during the Giants series next week for both.

The projection systems

OMG! Our Fangraphs and Numberfire odds have both plummeted! We’ve dropped from 100% to 99.9%! The sky is falling! Yeah, looking at the above, is not ANY degree of concern about not making the post-season pretty ludicrous? The Giants walking off the Rockies last night was particularly helpful for us, in terms of retaining home-field advantage. If they had closed to 312 games back with ten to play, then the tiniest bit of doubt might have been justified. But as shown above, I think that a 412 game margin is perfectly fine,

Us vs. Them

I’ve changed the table here, with the two magic numbers being aligned for now. Below you can see, given any particular Diamondbacks record over their final 10 games, what both the Rockies AND Brewers would have to do, respectively, to overtake and match us. However, it is worth noting that the D-backs hold the season series over both sides: if we end up tied with one or other for the two wild cards, the game would take place at Chase Field. So, if Arizona goes 5-5, then the only scenario which has us missing out on a post-season spot would be if Colorado and Milwaukee both win out. The Rockies would overtake us, and we go into a play-in game against the Brewers.

 D-backs go   Opp. go
 10-0           N/A
  9-1           N/A
  8-2           N/A
  7-3           N/A
  6-4           N/A
  5-5          11-0
  4-6          10-1
  3-7           9-2
  2-8           8-3
  1-9           7-4
  0-10          6-5

This is pretty damn comforting, especially with Arizona having the tiebreaker edge. Even if we lose tomorrow, and then take just one game in each of the three remainng series, the Rockies would need to go at least 9-2 against the pesky Padres, Marlins and Dodgers (+ one vs. SF) to deny us home field. If they don’t, then the Brewers would have to go 10-1 for the game to be played in Milwaukee. Of course, the fun would start if we go 3-7, the Rockies 8-3 and the Brewers 9-2, thereby setting up a three-way tie for the two wild-cards. If that happens, I think we’d face the Rockies for the first wild-card, with the loser playing the Brewers for the second spot...

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 .559 W% to get into the 85-67 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

The D-backs have dropped back out of the top tier, due to that 5-7 recent streak. But even so, no team has missed the playoffs with a record of 87-65 under the present system. The last teams to do so were the 2011 Braves and Red Sox, who finished with 90 and 89 wins respectively, and both would have qualified as the second wild-card in their respective leagues. The same can be said for the other two sides, the 2004 Athletics and 2003 Mariners. While the second wild-card has its flaws (the single game playoff being the main one), right now it represents a very nice safety-net for the 2017 D-backs, who’d need to fall behind the Rockies AND Brewers to miss out.

In case you’re wondering the sole play-off team with fewer than 79 wins to this point was, of course, the 2005 Padres. They were actually only at .500 with ten games to play. Remarkably, four games later, after being walked off by the D-backs, they were two games below .500, at 77-79, yet still led the NL West by three! Fortunately, they won five of their last six games, and on the final day of the season, avoided becoming the first division champion ever without a winning record...