We love round numbers in baseball, so it's fitting that 100 wins in the regular season is one benchmark for greatness.
Last year, the Chicago Cubs got there on the way to their historic World Series title. They finished 103-58 with the most wins in Major League Baseball since the New York Yankees won 103 in 2009 and the most by a National League team since the St. Louis Cardinals won 105 in 2004.
This year, the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to blow past 100 wins. They're 79-33 entering Wednesday's game in Arizona, which means they have to go only 21-29 over their final 50 games to get to 100 wins. Considering they're 44-8 in their past 52 games, it seems unlikely that they'll suddenly start performing at a level akin to the Cincinnati Reds.
Dodgers players didn't even seem all that impressed with their unprecedented hot streak in conversations during their weekend series in New York against the Mets. Some of that is the way baseball players are trained to operate -- they really do take it one game at a time, and to them the big picture is simply winning the final game of the season. But what the Dodgers have done so well is maintain their focus and intensity every day.
Of course, they're also enormously talented. Put it this way: Clayton Kershaw started his last game on July 23, when he left after two innings. The Dodgers won that game and have gone 11-2 since their ace landed on the disabled list.
So which is a better baseball team: The 2016 Cubs, who embraced the target of heavy expectations on their way to 103 wins (and that World Series title), or the 2017 Dodgers, who are making history in front of our very eyes?
2017 Dodgers: .259/.343/.456, .340 wOBA, 112 wRC+
2016 Cubs: .256/.343/.429, .333 wOBA, 106 wRC+
The Dodgers rank third in the National League with 5.13 runs per game, trailing the Washington Nationals (5.46) and Colorado Rockies (5.29), while the 2016 Cubs ranked second with 4.99 runs per game, trailing only the Rockies (5.22). The overall offensive environment is a little higher in 2017, but the Dodgers play in a pitcher's park, while the Cubs play in a hitter's park. That's why the Dodgers rate higher in the park-adjusted weighted runs created figure.
It's possible that the Dodgers will pull away from the Cubs over these final 50 games. Check out the wRC+ of each team's top hitters:
The primary reasons the Dodgers aren't further ahead already are that Justin Turner missed three weeks with a hamstring injury and both Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger started the season in the minors. Since May 1, when Taylor became a regular a week after Bellinger was called up, the Dodgers have averaged 5.38 runs per game. Of course, it's possible that those two will regress. Taylor, in particular, is riding a crazy .408 BABIP.
Finally, the 2016 Cubs carried one obvious weak spot: Jason Heyward hit .230/.306/.325. Meanwhile, Yasiel Puig, a guy with 21 home runs and a current OPS of .810 that far exceeds Heyward's .631 mark, is hitting eighth for the Dodgers.
Lineup edge: 2017 Dodgers
2016 Cubs: plus-82 defensive runs saved (first in majors)
2017 Dodgers: plus-33 DRS (third in majors)
The Cubs were rightfully hailed as one of the best defensive teams of all time, a remarkable achievement given all the moving parts manager Joe Maddon employed. Addison Russell (+19 DRS), Heyward (+18), Javier Baez (+16), David Ross (+13), Anthony Rizzo (+11) and Kris Bryant (+10) led the way.
The Dodgers have had so many dominant aspects this season that their defense has been largely overlooked, but it still rates as one of the best in the majors. Catcher Yasmani Grandal is the team’s top fielder at plus-13 DRS, while Bellinger’s good-glove reputation shows up in the metrics at plus-9. The only weakness is Joc Pederson in center field, where he rates at minus-10 DRS.
The Dodgers have allowed a .276 batting average on balls in play, best in the majors. While some of that is a reflection of the pitching staff, it backs up the data that say the Dodgers are a good defensive team. As good as that figure is, it doesn't compare to the historically good .255 BABIP the Cubs allowed in 2016.
Defense edge: 2016 Cubs
2016 Cubs: 81-39, 2.96 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 15.8% SO-BB rate
2017 Dodgers: 56-23, 3.16 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 17.9% SO-BB rate
The advantage the Cubs had here came from the outstanding health of the top five starters -- Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Jason Hammel -- who started 152 of the team's 162 games. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has used six primary starters and now has Darvish.
The Cubs had that amazing sub-3.00 ERA, but the Dodgers aren't far behind. All six of the main starters have ERAs below 4.00. Kenta Maeda (2.09 ERA his past seven starts), Hyun-Jin Ryu (2.08 ERA his past six starts) and Rich Hill (2.25 ERA his past eight starts) have stepped up their performances of late, which is how you run off the best 50-game stretch in modern major league history with your three-time Cy Young winner on the DL.
If you want to knock the Cubs' staff, it did rely on some crazy-low BABIP figures. Sure, some of that was good pitching, and some of that was good defense, but some of it was good luck as well. There's a reason all four of the rotation holdovers haven't been as good in 2017.
If you look at strikeout rate minus walk rate, the Dodgers are a little dominant. They have Alex Wood putting together a career year with a 2.33 ERA. In a sense, Wood compares to Hendricks, who came out of nowhere to lead the NL with a 2.13 ERA. Wood's peripherals are better -- a 2.57 FIP to Hendricks' 3.20 -- but he has to close strong to match Hendricks' wonderful 2016.
One more thing to consider. Since we gave Dodgers hitters credit for playing at Dodger Stadium, we have to give Cubs pitchers credit for pitching at Wrigley Field. FanGraphs' park-adjusted ERA- stat grades the Cubs at 71, which is 29 percent better than the league average. The Dodgers are at 77. So it's close, but remember that's just looking at ERA and adjusting for defense (or luck).
I guess I'd put it this way: If Kershaw comes back with no ill effects and Darvish's debut is a sign of how he'll pitch down the stretch, I'd give a very slight edge to the Dodgers. Those are unanswered questions at this point, so we'll call it a toss-up. Except my editors say I have to make a decision! So I'll go with the Dodgers.
Rotation edge: 2017 Dodgers
2016 Cubs: 22-19, 3.56 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 16.2% SO-BB rate
2017 Dodgers: 23-9, 2.92 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 20.4% SO-BB rate
Statistically, the Dodgers' bullpen has been much better, though the Cubs' bullpen certainly was stronger after the acquisition of Aroldis Chapman (he did have three blown saves in the postseason, though).
The Cubs were 92-1 when leading after eight innings; the Dodgers, with the almost untouchable Kenley Jansen, are 67-0. The difference comes in the middle innings. While the Dodgers are 64-2 when leading after six innings, the Cubs were 86-8. The weakness for the Dodgers has been the lack of a dominant lefty, as Luis Avilan has a big platoon split, thus the deals for Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani at the trade deadline, though neither was having a good season.
Looking ahead to the postseason, one edge is that Jansen has proven he can handle outings of longer than one inning, while Chapman clearly struggled when he had to get more than three outs. It seems like the Dodgers have the advantage here in depth and a slight edge at closer. Their bullpen has an ERA- of 72 compared to 86 for the Cubs.
Bullpen edge: 2017 Dodgers
Who is the better overall team?
You have to go with the Dodgers, right? Factor this in: The Cubs played just 31 games against teams that made the playoffs in 2016 and went 17-14 in those games. The Dodgers have gone 23-14 so far against teams currently in playoff position, with 18 games remaining against the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Nationals. As such, the Dodgers have arguably faced a much tougher schedule and are on pace for more wins with a larger run differential. Certainly, we’re rating the Dodgers at their peak level of performance, but what a peak.
What does it all mean?
You don't win anything for regular-season dominance. Although the Dodgers have given themselves a chance at the single-season record of 116 wins, that mark isn't on the players' radar.
"If it happens, it happens, but that's not the goal," Hill said.
Maybe that's the ultimate point. The Dodgers might be better than the Cubs at the moment, but the Cubs finished it off in October and November.