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Dodgers could be the best team since 2002 to miss playoffs

Despite being excellent on both sides of the ball, the Dodgers could theoretically miss the postseason.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the 2018 season, there was a prevailing opinion that the stratification of talent would make the regular season boring. Every projection system agreed on the three division winners in both leagues and even the Wild Card spots were more or less decided. While the only surprise in the AL was the A’s, the National League is more or less chaos. The Nationals’ season ended back in July, the Cubs still don’t have the Central locked up, and most surprising of all Dodgers still have a chance to miss the postseason entirely.

After the Cardinals lost to the Cubs on Friday afternoon and the Dodgers beat the Giants, the Dodgers can breathe a little easier. But if the Cardinals win their next two games, (and the Rockies win their series against the Nationals) the Dodgers would have to win both of their remaining games against the Giants to avoid a one-game playoff.

If the Dodgers were to miss the playoffs after losing Game 7 of the World Series last year, theirs would easily be the worst collapse of the 2018 season. It’d be worse than the Mariners, worse than the Phillies, and even worse than the Diamondbacks who have also outperformed the division leading Rockies. Despite being the best team in the National League, there’s a possibility the Dodgers will sit out of October.

Before their game against the Giants, the Dodgers had +170 run differential. The second best in the National League is the Cubs at +114. Their position players have combined for 30.3 fWAR, second in the majors to only the A’s. Their pitchers have been worth 20.0 fWAR which is fifth in the majors and first in the National League. By all measures, they’ve been a good team. They would easily be the best team since the second Wild Card was added in 2013 to not make the postseason.

The addition of the second Wild Card has made it easier than ever to make it to the postseason. The 2014 World Series between the Giants and Royals saw two teams who won fewer than 90 games. Likewise, good teams are more assured of making it. Since 2013, there hasn’t been an absence of the Dodgers’ magnitude.

Best Team to Not Make Postseason

Year Team Pythagorean WP Actual WP Run Differential
Year Team Pythagorean WP Actual WP Run Differential
2018 Dodgers .610 .553 170
2017 Cardinals .537 .512 56
2016 Cardinals .543 .531 67
2015 Giants .549 .513 69
2014 Mariners .562 .537 80
2013 Rangers .568 .558 94

The 2013 Rangers are the only team to come close, but the Rangers were far from being the best team in their league.

Even when there were only eight playoff teams, it’s hard to find a team that played as well as the Dodgers and still missed the postseason. The 2002 Red Sox are the team to most recently surpass the Dodgers’ run differential without a postseason berth. In 2002, the Red Sox put up a +194 run differential.

How are the Dodgers in this position?

Basically, Los Angeles has crumbled under pressure. Using Fangraphs’ clutch statistic, which measures a batter’s performance in high leverage situations relative to all others, the Dodgers rank the worst in the majors at -7.78. On the season, the Dodgers have hit for a 110 wRC+, but in high leverage situations, they’ve hit for just an 81 wRC+.

Their pitching hasn’t been much better with the game on the line. By ‘clutch’, Dodgers pitchers are ranked third from the bottom. Their problems in the bullpen have been well-documented, and if they do make it to the postseason, that will still be a major cause for concern.

It’s still a bit of a long-shot for the Dodgers to miss the playoffs. The Cardinals would have to win both of their remaining games, and LA would have to drop both of their games against the Giants. To put that another way: a good team would have to beat a better team while the best team would have to lose to a bad team. Even then, the Cardinals would still have to beat LA in a tiebreaker game. That’s unlikely, but not as unlikely as the Dodgers putting themselves in this predicament.

Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville.