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The Dodgers Dominated Like Few Pennant Winners In Recent History

When the Los Angeles Dodgers open up the World Series next week against either the New York Yankees or Houston Astros, they’ll be in the midst of one of the hottest playoff runs by a league champion in recent memory. They smoked the Arizona Diamondbacks and the defending-champion Chicago Cubs by a combined 48-19 margin, giving them the third-best run differential in the division and championship series1 of any pennant winner since MLB expanded its playoff structure in 1995:

Top pennant winners by run differential

1995-2017

RUNS
RK YEAR TEAM SCORED ALLOWED DIFFERENTIAL
1 2007 Boston Red Sox 70 36 +34
2 1996 Atlanta Braves 54 23 +31
3 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers 48 19 +29
4 2005 Chicago White Sox 47 20 +27
4 2010 Texas Rangers 59 32 +27
6 2009 Philadelphia Phillies 55 31 +24
7 2002 Anaheim Angels 60 37 +23
7 2009 New York Yankees 48 25 +23
7 2008 Tampa Bay Rays 64 41 +23
10 1995 Atlanta Braves 46 24 +22
10 1995 Cleveland Indians 40 18 +22

Includes Division Series and League Championship Series; wild card games not included.

Source: Retrosheet

And the way the Dodgers blew away the National League field was especially impressive. They swept Arizona in three games, then won the first three games of the NLCS over Chicago, ultimately finishing the Cubs off in five. In other words, they needed only eight games to reach the World Series — that’s nearly two fewer than we’d have expected from a typical pennant winner against LA’s opponents, based on their Elo ratings:2

Which pennant winners cruised through the field

League winners who took the fewest games in the Division Series and Championship Series relative to expected, 1995-2017

LDS LCS TOTAL
YEAR TEAM OPP. GMS EXP. GMS OPP. GMS EXP. GMS GMS EXP. GMS DIFF
2014 KCR ANA 3 4.13 BAL 4 5.83 7 9.95 -2.95
2007 COL PHI 3 4.11 ARI 4 5.66 7 9.77 -2.77
2016 CLE BOS 3 4.16 TOR 5 5.88 8 10.03 -2.03
2005 CHW BOS 3 4.15 ANA 5 5.89 8 10.03 -2.03
2006 DET NYY 4 4.14 OAK 4 5.88 8 10.01 -2.01
1999 NYY TEX 3 4.10 BOS 5 5.88 8 9.98 -1.98
2017 LAD ARI 3 4.11 CHC 5 5.87 8 9.98 -1.98
1995 ATL COL 4 4.07 CIN 4 5.87 8 9.94 -1.94
2009 NYY MIN 3 4.11 ANA 6 5.93 9 10.03 -1.03
2012 DET OAK 5 4.13 NYY 4 5.83 9 9.96 -0.96

Expected games is determined by how long it would take the average playoff team to eliminate the team’s LDS and LCS opponents.

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Between these two measures, the Dodgers’ 2017 postseason run has to be on the short list for most dominant in modern history. It’s no guarantee they’ll win the Fall Classic, of course — among the eight teams above them on either list, only the 2007 Red Sox, 2005 White Sox and 1999 Yankees ended up actually winning the World Series. But for now, the Dodgers can celebrate their National League pennant in style.

Footnotes

  1. So, excluding the wild card game.

  2. To compute this, I used Elo to generate the probability of the average pennant winner winning each game of a series against a team’s opponents. Using those numbers and a little math, we can calculate how often we’d expect those series to end in a given number of games.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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