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Colorado Rockies playoff odds continue to surge

It’s Memorial Day and the Rockies are still in first place, which means the battle for the NL West will be an interesting one

Part of received wisdom of modern baseball analytics is that the standings tend to lie to you until Memorial Day. Early in the season teams and players get off to hot starts that inflate their records (see: Reds, Cincinnati), while others stumble out of the gate and look mediocre (see: Cardinals, St. Louis). Were these hot and cold streaks to come in July rather than April, they would appear as little more than noise in the standings. But when it happens in the beginning of the season, we may be tempted to draw conclusions about which teams are good and which teams aren’t based on a small sample size.

On Memorial Day, most teams are or nearly are one-third of their ways through the 162-game schedule. That’s a large enough sample for us to actually adjust our expectations and at this point we can reliably say: Rockies fans, go ahead and get your hopes up.

NL West Stadings - Memorial Day

Team Records GB Run Differential BP Playoff Odds FanGraphs Odds Five Thirty-Eight Odds
Team Records GB Run Differential BP Playoff Odds FanGraphs Odds Five Thirty-Eight Odds
Rockies 33-19 -- +45 74.3% 65.2% 70%
Dodgers 31-20 1.5 +78 97.6% 99.2% 93%
Diamondbacks 31-21 2 +51 62.6% 56.2% 53%
Giants 22-30 11 -62 9.5% 9.3% 10%
Padres 19-33 14 -94 0.1% 0.0% <1%

Two weeks ago there was a lot of talk about the Rockies’ run differential placing them in the “pretender” category, even though there was plenty of reason to suggest that their record was legitimate. After a strong showing on their 10-game road trip, their run differential is more in line with their actual record. They have the second best record in all of baseball behind only the Houston Astros (35-16) and only the Washington Nationals have scored more runs (many of them at the Rockies’ expense). According to every major projection system they have no worse than the fourth best odds to make the playoffs in the National League and they’ve all gone up between 12% to 15% in the past week.

What does this mean for the rest of the divisional playoff picture?

Playoff Odds - May 29, 2017
FanGraphs

The Dodgers are one of those teams who has started the season slower than expected, due in large part to various injuries to their starting rotation and infield. They’ve called upon depth more prodigious than even the Rockies’ to build the league’s best run differential. They remain the overwhelming favorites to win the National League West, even though the Rockies continue to cut into those odds (now nearly 20% according to Five Thirty-Eight and Baseball Prospectus).

Meanwhile the Dbacks continue to match the Rockies almost step-for-step. If we’re to take the Rockies seriously we need to do the same courtesy to Arizona, though for different reasons. They’ve taken advantage of league’s easiest schedule using the third best run-prevention in the league (3.98 runs per game). Each projection system places them right alongside the Rockies in the Wild Card chase, and the resurgence of Zack Greinke and an offense anchored by Paul Goldschmidt will surely keep them in contention.

A loss on Sunday to the equally surprising Milwaukee Brewers dropped the Diamondbacks to two games behind the Rockies, and the Dodgers currently stand in second place, 112 games back. For the Rockies to take the division and hold off both challengers, they’ll likely need to maintain something close to this level of performance through the summer months. However, the odds currently show that the division will produce three playoff teams for the first time. It’s a matter of who occupies which position.