This is the third installment of this year’s Team Entropy series, my recurring look not only at the races for the remaining playoff spots but the potential for end-of-season chaos in the form of down-to-the-wire suspense and even tiebreakers. Ideally, we want more ties than the men’s department at Macy’s. If you’re new to this, please read the introduction here.
For those still on the Team Entropy bandwagon, the massive tiebreaker scenarios for which we’ve been hoping are starting to feel like the Great Pumpkin. Some of us still have our blankets and aren’t yet ready to go home, but others have moved on to the candy and costumes.
The penultimate weekend is one that features a lot of scoreboard watching, as there’s not much at stake when it comes to head-to-head action. With apologies to the Phillies (1.2% playoff odds) and Diamondbacks (0.5%), we’re down to six contenders for five spots in the NL. The D-backs, who have lost 14 of their last 19 games to produce an odds graph that more resembles Utah’s Bryce Canyon than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, will still have some say in the playoff picture, as they host the reeling Rockies — the team with the most at stake in both the division and Wild Card races — for a three-game set starting on Friday night. The Rockies (82-70) were just swept by the Dodgers and have lost five out of six to fall 2.5 games back in the division race, the furthest they’ve been since August 10; our odds put them at 4.3% in that context. They’re 1.5 games behind the Cardinals (84-69) in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot, with odds of just 21.1% there. They’re hoping to get Trevor Story, who left Monday night’s game with an elbow injury that was initially feared to be UCL related, back sometime this weekend, which could provide an emotional lift, but as we’ve already estimated the 25-year-old shortstop to claim about 80% of the remaining playing time at the position, that isn’t going to move the needle, odds-wise.
As for the teams that the Rockies are pursuing, the Dodgers (85-68), who have their largest division lead of the season, host the Padres. The defending NL champions now have a 95.6% chance at capturing their sixth straight division title. The Cardinals (84-69), who host the Giants, have a 76.0% chance at claiming that a Wild Card spot (more on the Central race momentarily).
In order to create a tie atop the NL West at, say, 90 wins (I trust you to do the math from there for different targets), the Dodgers would have to go 5-4 the rest of the way while the Rockies go 8-2; our ties page puts the probability of any tie at 4.3%. In this case, the tiebreaker game would be in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers’ sweep gave them a 12-7 season series edge. The only way the Diamondbacks (79-74) could get in on the action would be if the NL West winner notches 88 victories or fewer; 88 wins would require Arizona to go 9-0, L.A. to go 3-6, and Colorado 6-4. In that unlikely event — which doesn’t even get to 0.1% on our ties page — the three-team pecking order as it currently stands would go Dodgers (19-16, .543), Diamondbacks (17-15, .531), Rockies (15-20, .429). Were Arizona to run the table against the other two teams (including the Dodgers from Monday to Wednesday of next week), which is pretty much a requirement for their survival, they would jump ahead in that context. Tiebreaker-wise, three teams would then draft for positions A, B, and C, with A hosting B and the winner hosting C.
As for the NL Central contestants, the Cubs (89-63) are 2.5 games ahead of the Brewers (87-66) and 5.5 ahead of the Cardinals and have a 90.7% chance at winning the division, with a 9.3% chance of slipping into a Wild Card spot. The big battles that could affect this race don’t come until next week. From Monday to Wednesday, the Cardinals host the Brewers in what may well be a preview of the actual Wild Card game, though it’s worth noting for tiebreaker purposes that the season series is at stake, as the teams are 8-8 against each other thus far. From Friday to Sunday, the Cubs host the Cardinals. St. Louis has just a 0.5% chance of winning the division, but those games could matter for Wild Card purposes. As for the Brewers, they’re sitting pretty as far as a postseason berth goes, with a 90.4% chance at a Wild Card spot, though just an 8.8% chance at winning the division.
In order to create a tie atop the NL Central at, say, 92 wins, some combination of the following would have to happen: the Cubs would have to go 3-7 the rest of the way, the Brewers 5-4, and the Cardinals 8-1. The ties page gives the odds of some kind of two-way tie at 7.8%, with a three-way tie at 0.2%. The only season series clinched thus far among these teams is the Cubs’ 11-8 advantage over the Brewers. With the aforementioned series still remaining, the current three-team standings go Cardinals (17-15, .531), Cubs (18-17, .514), Brewers (16-19, .457). You can see the breakdowns on the Big Board below. The scenarios would shake out in similar fashion to the NL West scenarios outlined above.
As for a tie for the second Wild Card spot, there’s a 0.5% chance of a three-way one and a 14.4% chance of a two-way one. A tie at, say, 90 wins would need the Brewers to go 3-6, the Cardinals 6-3 and the Rockies 8-2. As it stands, the pecking order among the three is up for grabs, as the Brewers and Cardinals are both 13-10 against the other two teams with the aforementioned series upcoming, and the Rockies are 4-10. With 5-2 deficits against each of the other two teams and no remaining games against them, Colorado is guaranteed to be the road team in any two-team tiebreaker game.
As for the AL, it’s still lacking in entropy. The Astros (95-57) still have a 3.5-game lead over the A’s (92-61) and a 12-7 advantage in the season series, with no more head-to-head games remaining. Houston’s odds of winning the AL West are at 99.0%. The A’s are 1.5 games behind the Yankees (93-59) in the race for home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card game. In the unlikely event of a three-team tie, the Astros would host the A’s to determine the AL West champion, and the loser would play the Yankees. If that loser is Houston, then New York hosts on the basis of its 5-2 season series advantage. If that loser is Oakland, the Yankees would still be the hosts. The two teams split the season series 3-3, so the tiebreaker format for determining home-field advantage then goes by the teams’ respective intradivision records, and as reader Nathan Lazarus pointed out in the comments, there isn’t a scenario by which the A’s (35-35, .500 against the AL West) can surpass the Yankees (37-29, .561 against the AL East) in that department given the limited number of games remaining.
Suppose the Yankees, who play the rest of their games against AL East opponents, go 5-5 taking them to 98 wins overall and 42-34 within the division. The A’s would have to go 6-3, and while they could do it by going 0-3 against the Twins (this weekend’s opponents) and then going 6-0 against the Mariners and Angels next week, that only takes them to 41-36 within the division. In a tied-at-97-win scenario, the Yankees go 4-6 and get to 41-35 within the AL East, while the A’s go 5-4, in which case the best they can do is 5-1 against the Angels and Mariners, taking them to 40-36 within the division. Et cetera.
I leave you with the Big Board (on which I’ve left the Diamondbacks, as I’ve discussed them above) and implore you to root for chaos so we can have some bonus baseball on Monday, October 1.
|STL||2-4||9-7 (0,3)||8-8 (3,0)||—||3-3||5-2||4-3|
|ARI||3-4||3-4||1-5||3-3||—||8-8 (3,0)||9-7 (3,0)|
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.