The 2007 regular season was a topsy-turvy one. Not one division winner from 2006 came out on top again in 2007, and only the Yankees made it back to the postseason. The Cubs went from worst to first, battling the upstart Brewers until the final weekend; the Phillies and Rockies treated their fans to spectacular late September runs; and New Yorkers experienced the agony of the Mets' historic collapse and the ecstasy of the Yankees' tremendous comeback.
We've employed our Diamond Mind simulation software to project the results of the upcoming League Divisional Series. We projected the Yankees and Red Sox as the ALDS winners. Before revealing our projected results for the NLDS, here is a brief recap of our methodology:
• We updated our projections and ratings for each player based on his 2007 regular-season performance.
• Although playoff rosters were not yet finalized, we used our best judgment about whom the teams would select, the starting rotations, the batting orders, and the bullpen and bench roles.
• We made judgments about players carrying an injury into the postseason. Beyond deciding, for purposes of setting these roles, whether or not a player would play, we did not attempt to simulate how such an injury might hamper the player, except to the extent already reflected in his regular-season performance.
• We then simulated each series 1,000 times.
As unpredictable as the outcome of the regular season can be, luck can play an even greater role in a short series. Nevertheless, the results of our simulations project the Cubs and Rockies, the two teams that went from the basement in '06 to the playoffs in '07, to face off in the National League Championship Series.
The Cubs, winners of just 85 regular-season games, project as the most likely winner of the four division series. Led by Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, they prevailed in 621 of 1,000 series against the Diamondbacks:
The Cubs achieved this dominance by racking up a huge plus-2.7 average run differential. On a per-game basis, the Cubs averaged 4.61 runs over the 1,000 series, compared to just 3.95 for the Diamondbacks. This is equivalent to 747 and 639 runs, respectively, over a 162-game season. A 747-639 run differential equates to a .571 winning percentage, which is 92.5 wins using Bill James' Pythagorean formula for projecting team wins based on runs scored. In fact, over our 1,000 simulated series, Chicago's aggregate record against the Diamondbacks was 2350-1744 (.574), equivalent to a 93-69 season record.
In contrast to the Cubs and Diamondbacks, Colorado against Philadelphia projects as the closest of the four league divisional series, with the upstart Rockies just edging the Phillies:
Colorado registered nearly twice as many 3-0 sweeps as Philadelphia (153 vs. 81), while Philadelphia had a substantial edge if the series went the distance (222 vs. 175). These results suggest Philadelphia will be in deep trouble if it doesn't win Game 1 behind Cole Hamels.
A short series can make for unlikely heroes, such as Geoff Blum hitting the winning home run in the 14th inning of Game 3 of the 2005 World Series. Despite Chicago's dominance overall in our simulation runs of the Cubs-Diamondbacks series, it was Arizona's players who stood out on the list of individual heroics. In one series run, Brandon Webb tossed two shutouts; in another, Mark Reynolds belted an incredible seven home runs; and in three others, Eric Byrnes knocked out 13 hits.
Although the Rockies generally kept Ryan Howard in check in our simulations of the Rockies-Phillies series, he did hit six homers in two different series runs, and NL batting champion Matt Holliday had a 14-hit series. The importance of Hamels to the Phillies was quite evident; he registered two wins in our series simulations 70 times. In fact, the Phillies' fortunes in the NLDS may very well hang on Hamels' arm.
As we noted in our ALDS preview, the odds swing dramatically in favor of the winner of Game 1, particularly in a best-of-five series. Our Diamond Mind simulations say the Cubs and Rockies will advance to the National League Championship Series, with the Cubs possibly sweeping the D-backs behind their big guns -- Soriano, Ramirez and Lee. The Rockies-Phillies series, however, looks to be the closest of the four LDS. We see the Rockies needing to pull it off in four games or fewer, because Philadelphia will have the edge if it goes the distance. Again, that first game will be key, particularly for the Rockies and Phillies.