Before your eyes begin to glaze while studying the tiebreakers, before your head begins to swim while pondering the logistical havoc of next week, remember this: The Dodgers have no one to blame but themselves.
— On May 16, they were 10 games under .500, having staggered through the first seven weeks of the season shaking off the hangover wrought by the previous season’s World Series.
— After Kenley Jansen’s heart condition resurfaced in August, the bullpen crumbled and the team lost five games in a row, with all five losses charged to relievers.
— The Dodgers went 1-6 against the last-place Cincinnati Reds and 2-4 against the last-place Miami Marlins. A week after losing a September series to the fourth-place New York Mets, they dropped two of three to the Reds.
After playing beneath their potential for so much of the season, the Dodgers will enter the final weekend of the regular season with their five-year reign at the top of the National League West in jeopardy. They suffered a 7-2 defeat against Arizona on Wednesday to fall behind Colorado by a half-game in the division race. The Rockies have won six in a row, roaring ahead of the Dodgers after being swept out of Dodger Stadium last week.
The Dodgers (88-71) remain a game ahead of St. Louis in qualifying for the wild-card game, which will be held in Chicago or Milwaukee. If the Dodgers win out this weekend in San Francisco, they will clinch a playoff berth, in some form. But if they lose, they may be forced to play a tiebreaker — or multiple tiebreakers.
“You understand the possibilities, that it’s out there,” manager Dave Roberts said before the latest loss. “But you try not to let it get in the way of that game that you’re playing that particular night.”
It is an upset for the Dodgers to still be seeking entry into the postseason this late in the year. They entered Wednesday leading the National League in run differential. They had a Pythagorean record, which estimates how many games should be won and lost based on runs scored and runs allowed, of 97-61, which was nine wins more than they actually had.
The explanations for the predicament range from the predictable (Corey Seager tearing his ulnar collateral ligament) to the minuscule (Enrique Hernandez being instructed to throw at half-speed while pitching in a tie game in Philadelphia in July) to the systemic (a season of mediocrity at the plate with runners in scoring position).
The explanations will matter more in the winter, when the Dodgers try to parse what went awry in 2018. For now, the team can still salvage a perplexing season. The only thing more complicated? Sorting out what next week looks like.
While the Dodgers have the day off, Colorado can extend its lead to a full game if they sweep the Phillies on Thursday. The Rockies play three games against Washington this weekend.
If the Dodgers finish in a tie with Colorado, the two teams would play Game 163 on Monday at Dodger Stadium to decide the division. Both teams can use their full 40-man roster, as the game counts toward the regular season.
If the Dodgers lose the division to Colorado but tie with St. Louis in the wild-card standings, the Cardinals would host Game 163 on Monday, because they won the season series between the two teams.
If the Dodgers, Rockies and Cardinals all end with the same record, the Dodgers would still host the Rockies for Game 163. If the Dodgers lose that game, they would travel to St. Louis for Game 164 on Tuesday to decide the second participant in the wild-card game. A victory there would mean entry into the NL Division Series — after playing three games in three days in three cities.
A few hours before Wednesday’s first pitch, Justin Turner glanced at a clubhouse television. On the screen, the Houston Astros were preparing to spray champagne to celebrate clinching their division. A year ago, the Astros and the Dodgers dueled in the World Series. Now only the Astros were guaranteed a place in October.
Turner spun away from the television and started lacing his cleats. He insisted he had not spent much time pondering the tiebreaker scenarios.
“Hoping to avoid that,” Turner said.
He may not have a choice.