The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros are currently the two best teams in their respective leagues.
Both teams are on fire right now. The Dodgers have won nine in a row and 29 of their last 33 games. The Astros have won 16 of their last 22 games, demonstrating that their blazing 42-16 start was no fluke. At their current pace, Houston would win 109 games while the Dodgers would win a staggering 111. If both teams were to finish the season like they’ve started it, they would rank among the winningest regular season teams in baseball history. Of course, only one team can win the World Series, and this isn’t to say that Houston or Los Angeles necessarily will.
To this point, though, both teams have been far and away ahead of the rest of baseball’s pack.
Think about this, for example: do you know who the third-best team in baseball is? By record, it’s the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, who are on pace for a not-so-insignificant 98 wins. Because of the Dodgers’ dominance over the rest of the National League, though, much of the narrative around Washington’s season has revolved around their league-worst bullpen, a hodgepodge of arms that possesses the worst bullpen ERA in the game. But the Nationals beat the Dodgers in two out of three games in June and play Houston near the end of August. In most years, the Nationals would be the best team in baseball. Instead, most are busy identifying all of the different ways Washington will succumb to the rest of baseball in October.
Let’s look in the American League, shall we? The Boston Red Sox are the AL’s second-best team at 52-41. They are currently on pace for 91 wins, which is a full 18 victories behind Houston’s current pace. Boston does have the one thing the Astros don’t, which just so happens to be the best pitcher in baseball, Chris Sale. Of course, Sale can only pitch a maximum of three games in a seven-game series and has never previously pitched in the postseason. Other teams that could challenge Houston include the reigning AL champion Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays. Cleveland is the most likely playoff threat because of their playoff experience, but they are currently just 1.5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins in the mediocre AL Central.
Many would think that the performance of both teams in the first half of the season is nothing more than an unsustainable and anomalous blip. Let’s examine that assumption a little more closely.
Pythagorean W-L is a statistic that attempts to quantify what a team’s record should be based on its run differential. Basically, it is an attempt to remove luck from a team’s performance. Currently, the Astros’ Pythagorean record is 61-31, just one win off their actual record. At this rate, the team will score a wholly absurd 958 runs this season and concede just 664. (Note: no team scored more than 878 runs last season.) If those figures hold true, Houston will win 109 games, exactly what their current pace is in real life. Amazing. Now, let’s go back to the Dodgers.
As we sit right now, the Dodgers’ Pythagorean W-L is 64-29, the same as their actual record. At their current pace, L.A. is going to score 834 runs and allow all of 535. (No team allowed fewer than 556 runs in 2016.) If those numbers are sustained, the Dodgers would have, and you may want to be sitting down for this, a 115-47 record for the season. That would put them one win ahead of the 1998 New York Yankees and one game behind the 2001 Seattle Mariners for the best 162-game record ever.
Baseball fans shouldn’t overthink what’s going on here: we’re watching two of the best teams in the history of the game. Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight uses what it calls “ELO Rating”, a numerical figure given to a team throughout the season, to calculate the best teams of all time. In this all-encompassing measure of greatness, both the Dodgers and the Astros ranked in the top 20 teams ever at the All-Star break, with both teams coming within four points of the 1927 Yankees and light years ahead of last year’s World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs. There are reasonable questions as to whether or not this can be sustained, but over 90 games is a very healthy sample size for the prospects of both teams’ continued success.
About that: it’s entirely possible that both teams start to fall off their scorching pace in the second half of the season. The Astros, however, will soon be getting reinforcements: ace Dallas Keuchel is making the first start of his rehab assignment in Corpus Christi, Texas tonight. The 2015 Cy Young winner hasn’t pitched since June 2 because of a pinched nerve in his neck. For as ridiculously good as the Astros have been this year, they might get even better. Let that thought sit with you for just a moment.
As for the Dodgers, there are likely no more reinforcements coming. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez may return before the end of the season after herniating multiple disks in his back. He was replaced by none other than Cody Bellinger, who is expected to run away with the National League Rookie of the Year Award barring unforeseen circumstances. If Gonzalez were to return, he could provide a spark off the bench; he won’t get his first base job back, as Bellinger is playing too well to go back to the bench. Also, Clayton Kershaw is, by his standards, having a down year. That’s another thing you should probably take into consideration.
In Major League Baseball this season, we are seeing something that rarely occurs: two teams that are re-writing the record books in the exact same season. While it remains to be seen whether or not the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros can cash in their regular season success with a championship, one thing is clear:
They have rampaged through baseball in 2017, leaving 28 Major League franchises in their wake. They’re also leaving much of baseball’s history in the rear view mirror, re-writing records on their way to historic campaigns.