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Dodgers lead the National League in run differential but might miss the playoffs

Has happened only once in MLB in the last 25 years

Los Angeles Dodgers v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

After dropping a series in Cincinnati the Dodgers’ weird and wildly frustrating season moves on, possibly on the verge of pulling off a rare and dubious feat.

The Dodgers have outscored their opponents by 133 runs in 2018, tops in the National League. The Cubs, owners of the best record in the NL, are next at +111.

With 16 games remaining, the Dodgers are currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs, one game out in the National League West (pending the outcome of Wednesday night’s Arizona-Colorado matchup) and two games back of the second wild card position. This is notable.

Since divisional play started in 1969, just nine teams have missed the playoffs after leading their league in run differential. That’s out of 96 opportunities, so just 9.4% of the time. In the wild card era, which began in 1994 (but really in 1995, since there were no playoffs in 1994) only one out of 46 league leaders in run differential (2.2%) have missed the playoffs. That was the 2005 Indians, who outscored opponents by 148 runs and won 93 games but stayed home in October. If Cleveland had the luxury of the second wild card, they would have been in.

Leading league in run differential and missing the playoffs

Team Run diff. Record (finish) Finish
Team Run diff. Record (finish) Finish
1969 Cubs +109 92-70 2nd in NL East
1970 Cubs +127 84-78 2nd in NL East
1978 Brewers* +154 93-69 3rd in AL East
1983 Braves +106 88-74 2nd in NL West
1987 Blue Jays* +190 96-66 2nd in AL East
1987 Mets +125 92-70 2nd in NL East
1990 Mets +162 91-71 2nd in NL East
1992 Brewers* +136 92-70 2nd in AL East
2005 Indians +148 93-69 2nd in AL Central
*led MLB in run differential

Given how the Dodgers have outscored opponents, their expected record is eight wins better than they have actually performed. Much has been made about their incredibly bad performance in clutch situations, and a lot of the focus has been on their poor showing with runners in scoring position.

Entering Wednesday the Dodgers hit .241/.339/.388 with RISP, 26th in MLB in batting average, 21st in slugging percentage, 19th in OPS and 16th in on-base percentage. They are ninth in MLB in plate appearances with RISP. The opportunities have been there, but they haven’t really cashed them in.

In September the Dodgers are hitting .216/.294/.351 with runners in scoring position.

But it goes beyond that. After all the Dodgers rank 10th in MLB and fourth in the NL scoring 4.73 runs per game. They have a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation going, even though Justin Turner balked at the suggestion, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

“The game of baseball is weird. It’s not about scoring a ton of runs every night. It’s about scoring more runs than the other team. When you say it’s hot and cold, I don’t know what that means. I guess if we win it’s hot and if we lose it’s cold. That’s based on results and I don’t believe in that.”

Since the All-Star break the Dodgers have been hot and cold. They are scoring 4.74 runs per game, right in line with their seasonal output, and rank ninth in the MLB and fourth in the NL in that span. But they also have the fifth-most games scoring three or fewer runs, doing so in half of their 50 games since the break. The Dodgers are also tied for the fourth-most games with eight or more runs since the break, with 11, including Wednesday afternoon’s getaway day drubbing of the Reds.

Add it all up and the Dodgers are just 26-24 since the All-Star break. That’s how they went from first place in the division to, at the moment, on the outside looking in.