The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants began the 2016 MLB season as two of baseball’s top favorites to win the World Series, and not much has changed since Opening Day. Entering the final month of the regular season, the two rivals are neck and neck for first place in the NL West.
Through 133 games, the Dodgers have a 1.5-game advantage in the division, though they’ve played one more game than the Giants, who trail by just one game in the loss column. The Giants have a 3.5-game lead on the New York Mets, who are the first team out of the National League Wild Card race. The Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres are all under .500 and out of contention.
As of Sept.1, it’s a virtual tossup. The Dodgers are the slight betting favorites because they sit in first place—L.A. has -150 betting odds at sportsbook.ag and San Francisco is a +120 underdog—and they’ve won the division in each of the last three seasons. But just as the Dodgers have been consistent 92-94 game winners since 2013, the Giants are on a run of winning championships every other year, and they’re on pace for a title this season after winning the Fall Classic in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
In 13 head-to-head matchups, the Dodgers and Giants have been almost as even as can be. San Francisco has a 7-6 advantage, and the home team won each of the four series, though there were no sweeps.
It’s not just their records, betting odds or recent history that makes the race between the Dodgers and Giants almost too close to call. The teams have nearly identical numbers in several key categories.
Run differential is often described as the most accurate indicator of future performance, but that stat won’t help in predicting the NL West winner. San Francisco ranks fourth in the NL with a plus-63 run differential, but Los Angeles is right behind them, having scored 57 more runs than their opponents.
On offense, the teams have virtually identical numbers. In one more game, the Dodgers have scored just three more total runs than the Giants. San Francisco’s .738 OPS is sixth in the NL, and Los Angeles comes in seventh at .730. The Dodgers have a significant edge in home runs (157 to 109), but the Giants hit for a higher average (.261 to .249).
Much of the teams’ success in recent years has been based on pitching, and the same can be said in 2016. The Giants are fourth in NL ERA (3.72) with the Dodgers coming in right behind them (3.83). San Francisco has the advantage in the rotation, and L.A. has the better bullpen.
Los Angeles, however, should soon get a major addition to their rotation. Clayton Kershaw hasn’t pitched since June 26 because of a back injury, but his return is on the horizon. After pitching in a simulated game on Tuesday, the Dodgers’ ace could be back on a major-league mound following one minor-league rehab assignment.
The Dodgers haven’t lost ground in the standings since Kershaw went down. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite. Los Angeles trailed San Francisco by eight games in the NL West on the day of Kershaw’s last start.
L.A.’s hitters have stepped up in Kershaw’s absence, ranking third in the NL in runs since the All-Star Break. San Francisco is 14th in runs scored during that time, but the Dodgers have been unable to pull away because their Kershaw-less pitching staff has a 4.69 ERA in the second half of the season.
San Francisco has a slightly more difficult schedule to finish the season. Both teams have series remaining against the bottom three of the NL West, but the Giants have eight games upcoming against the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals (.587 combined winning percentage). The Dodgers play just six games left against non-divisional opponents when they visit the Miami Marlins and New York Yankees (.513 combined winning percentage).
The NL West winner could very well be determined by the results of the two remaining series between the Dodgers and Giants. L.A. hosts a three-game set from Sept. 19-21, and the two teams will close out the regular season in San Francisco.
Having a slightly easier schedule helps the Dodgers' chances, and a returning Kershaw could be the final nail in San Francisco’s coffin. The Giants could take control of the division by dominating the Dodgers head-to-head, but that isn’t likely, considering their struggling offense might have to face MLB’s best pitcher in two of those six games.
Prediction: Dodgers win NL West; Giants win first wild-card spot