AL Central race headlines final weekend worth watching (cont.)
Manager Joe Torre has been in this position before. In 2000 his Yankees were in first place every day in the second half, but lost 15 of 18 heading into the postseason. That team recovered to win the World Series, led by a both a pitching staff and position players that had serious championship credentials, having already won the previous two world titles and three of the past four. This year's Dodgers have neither of those lines on their resume, so this stunning losing streak, which includes dropping three of four to the last-place Pirates and two straight at the fourth-place Padres, is especially discouraging.
They also must figure out who will start in the postseason, and their options are not particularly enticing at the moment. Torre says the team has made no decision yet on which of their six pitchers will make the four starts in the division series, but one of them may not be Chad Billingsley, an All-Star who leads the team with 12 wins but is 0-5 with a 5.31 ERA in his past eight starts. Billingsley is currently in line to pitch the season finale on Sunday, but the Dodgers, perhaps in a telling sign, have not announced a starter for that game yet. Why does that matter? Because ...
3. Home, sweet home
Even if the Dodgers don't need to win on Sunday to wrap up the division, they may still need it to clinch home-field advantage. The continuing uncertainty in the National League is making it difficult on each of the four playoff teams to coast this weekend, knowing that they can't afford to give any games away when home-field advantage is yet to be determined. In fact, while the AL matchups are set, the NL matchups remain a complete mystery. Any of the four playoff-bound teams -- the Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers or Rockies -- could wind up with the league's best record and thus, home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. In the wild-card era, having home field hasn't necessarily been much of an advantage. Since 1995, there have been 28 Division Series matchups in both leagues. Amazingly, in both the AL and the NL the results have been exactly the same: 14 times the victor has been the team with the worse record, 13 times it has been the team with the better record, and once in each league a series pitted two clubs with identical records.
Those numbers would seem to bear out what players say all the time, which is that home field doesn't matter much because every team has to win in the postseason. That is obviously true, but no team would prefer to open a series, or play a decisive game, on the road when they could play at home instead.
The one team in this quartet for whom opening on the road might be preferable is the Phillies, who have the worst home mark of the four, going 44-34, just one game better than the major league average after starting the year by losing 22 of 35 (and five of those 13 wins were against the Nationals). Conversely, the Phillies have the best road record in baseball, and they have the best head-to-head record of their playoff counterparts. The defending champion Phillies are 11-7 against their potential opponents, while the Dodgers are 6-8 (they are 12-3 against the Rockies this year, but they can't face a division rival in the first round), the Rockies are 11-17 (but 6-1 against the Cardinals) and St. Louis is 7-13, including a combined 2-10 against the Phillies and Rockies.
What does all this mean? That this weekend will be worth watching after all.
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