Last night the Dodgers clinched a better record than the Atlanta Braves. That's great. The Dodgers could have used more of this in 1991.
Oh yeah, they also happened to clinch a playoff spot. Sure, that's worth celebrating, but it doesn't feel like a huge event because it's felt inevitable for at least a week now, and the real regular season goal for a team of their caliber has yet to be accomplished.
The Rockies lost, so the Dodgers now lead them by six with seven games left. The magic number for clinching a better record than the Rockies and a full share of the NL West Title is 2. It's only 1 if you count the division tie-breaker, but as far as I'm concerned the tie-breaker is for playoff seeding purposes only, not for official division title purposes. In 2006 the Dodger and Padres had identical records to lead the NL West, and as far as I'm concerned they were co-champions of the division, even though the Padres won the tie-breaker. This is baseball, where ties are broken by a game played on the field, or not at all. This isn't football where you break the tie by going down a list of arbitrary and arcane criteria. It's fine to determine playoff positioning by a tiebreaker, because no one wants to play an extra game if you don't need it to get in, but a tiebreaker doesn't magically make one team have a better record than the other. It doesn't give the 2006 Padres a better record than the 2006 Dodgers, or give them a full share of the division. This has always bugged me, when people say that the Padres won the division that year, and the Dodgers --- didn't. Can you tell? So, while it may be technically correct that the magic number for the division is just 1, to me it is 2. In any case, I will only celebrate when a tie with Jim Tracy's team is no longer possible.
The Braves are now just two games back of the Rockies for the wild card in the all-powerful loss column, and three games back in the all-knowing win column. Simply put, the Braves are 2.5 games back, with 8 games left to play, against 7 left to play for the Rockies. The Braves playoff odds are now up to near 20%, according to Baseball Prospectus and coolstandings.com. This is serious for the Rockies. They have some late-season competition suddenly, and it's not the Giants or Marlins.
The Braves have charged into contention by going 14-3 in their last 17 games. Before that they had lost 5 to put them hopelessly out of it. Nearly hopelessly, we can say in retrospect. If the Braves end up falling short, then they'll be kicking themselves, wondering how they could get swept by the Reds at home at the beginning of September. But maybe that embarrassment is what turned them around. The Braves have one game left in Washington today ( against batting practice pitcher Livan Hernandez ), then three at home against the Marlins ( who are on the fringe of contention and should be a tough oppoent, then four at home against the Happ-less Nats. ( The Nats could use some good young pitching like J. A. Happ, couldn't they? ) Though the Marlins are a tough opponent, 7 of 8 are at home, and 5 of 8 are against the Nats, so I could easily see the Braves finishing 6-2, which would put them at 90 wins. I think the Rockies have to assume that the Braves finish with 90 wins, which means they have to finish with 91, which means they have to win 4 of their last 7.
The Rockies host a winnable game against the Cardinals and Kyle Lohse, then finish up their home schedule with three against the Brewers, who are winning a lot lately, for what that may be worth. I think the Rockies would finish those four games 2-2, which would mean they needed to win 2 of 3 in their final series on the road against --- the Dodgers.
But will they be playing the Dodgers, or the D0d63r5? In other words, will the Dodgers have anything left to play for, or will they run a bunch of subs out there? The Dodgers could have clinched home field advantage by then. They lead both the Cardinals and the Phillis by 3 in the all-wise loss column. But I wouldn't count on it. I think the Dodgers will at least play hard for the first game of that series, and maybe even the first two. If the Dodgers have clinched everything by then, would they still try their hardest to win those games to try to avoid a first round match with the Cardinals or Phillies? As long as the Braves stay close to the Rockies, this final series of the year should be very interesting.