The Los Angeles Dodgers enter play Tuesday at 79-32, a .712 winning percentage. If they keep winning at that percentage they’ll win 115 games, which would be second-most in major-league history behind the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs, and that Cubs team did it in 152 decisions instead of the modern 162.
Since June 1, though, L.A. has been on an even better run: 46-11, two months of .807 ball. Even last year’s Cubs, in their amazing start, never got that good over two months’ play. The Dodgers must go 31-20 in their 51 remaining games to win 110; that’s actually a lower percentage than their season total.
There have been six teams in major-league history who have won 110 or more games in a season:
Of those, three won the World Series (1909 Pirates, 1927 Yankees, 1998 Yankees). It’s more difficult for any team, no matter how good their regular-season record, to win the World Series after qualifying for the postseason tournament, given that there are now three rounds’ worth of October play. But even among the four pre-divisional-play teams that won 110+, only two won the World Series. The 1906 Cubs were defeated by a White Sox team that had 23 fewer regular-season wins and the 1954 Indians got swept by a Giants club that had 14 fewer regular-season victories.
As for the 2001 Mariners, the most recent team to do that, they didn’t even get to the World Series. And it’s not as if they coasted into the playoffs after clinching their division title, either — they won 10 of their last 12 regular-season games. So that’s not necessarily a predictor, either.
What about recent teams that have had the best overall record in baseball, which the Dodgers seem headed for? Here are all the best-record teams since 2000, when the Yankees became the last team to be a repeat World Series winner, and how they did in the postseason (teams with the best record that won in boldface):
2001: Mariners, 116 wins (lost ALCS)
2002: Yankees/Athletics, tied at 103 wins (both lost division series)
2003: Yankees/Braves, tied at 103 wins (Yankees lost WS, Braves lost division series)
2004: Cardinals, 104 wins (lost WS)
2005: Cardinals, 105 wins (lost NLCS)
2006: Yankees/Mets, tied at 97 wins (Yankees lost division series, Mets lost NLCS)
2007: Red Sox/Indians, tied at 96 wins (Red Sox won WS, Indians lost ALCS)
2008: Angels, 100 wins (lost division series)
2009: Yankees, 103 wins (won WS)
2010: Phillies, 97 wins (lost NLCS)
2011: Phillies, 102 wins (lost division series)
2012: Nationals, 98 wins (lost division series)
2013: Red Sox/Cardinals, tied at 97 wins (Red Sox won WS, Cardinals lost WS)
2014: Angels, 98 wins (lost division series)
2015: Cardinals, 100 wins (lost division series)
2016: Cubs, 103 wins (won WS)
So over the last 16 years, just four teams with the best overall record in baseball won the World Series, and in one of those cases, 2013, it would have happened if either WS team had won, since the Red Sox and Cardinals had tied for baseball’s best record. Nine of those teams didn’t get out of the division-series round.
I’ve often used the old saw “The playoffs are a crapshoot” here. This data seems to indicate that they really are, that what a team does before October has little bearing on what they do in the postseason, at least in modern times. Even last year’s champion Cubs were one inning away from having to face Johnny Cueto in Game 5 of the division series; if they don’t have that terrific ninth-inning Game 4 rally, maybe they don’t even get out of the first round.
So good luck, Dodgers, the rest of the way. (Particularly later this month, when you host the Brewers.) But realize that when the calendar turns to October, everything resets to zero. The Cubs could wind up playing L.A. in the NLCS with a regular-season win total 20-25 fewer than the Dodgers... and that might not matter at all.