Team Entropy 2018: From Eight Teams to Almost Six

This is the second 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.

Look, it hasn’t been a great week and a half for the Team Entropy bandwagon, but part of this job is staring a distinct lack of chaos in the face and acknowledging that fact. As of Labor Day (September 3), the National League featured eight teams with playoff chances of at least 25.6%. Ten days’ worth of games later, the lowest of those teams at the time, the Diamondbacks, is down to 3.2%, but they’re not even the ones who have fallen the furthest. The Phillies, losers of six out of eight since then, and 22 of their last 32 overall, are down to a 2.9% chance, a drop of 27.2 points since Labor Day. They’re now below the odds of the Mariners in the AL (5.7%) at the time, which I totally waved off.

Here’s a quick comparison of those eight NL teams since Labor Day:

NL Contenders Through September 3 and Since
Team W-L @ 9/3 W% Playoffs W-L Since Playoffs Dif
Cubs 81-56 .591 99.8% 4-5 99.9% 0.1%
Brewers 78-61 .561 85.8% 6-2 97.9% 12.1%
Dodgers 75-63 .543 83.8% 4-4 74.9% -9.0%
Braves 76-61 .555 75.0% 6-3 97.0% 22.0%
Cardinals 76-62 .551 54.7% 5-3 54.2% -0.5%
Rockies 75-62 .547 41.1% 6-3 68.9% 27.8%
Phillies 72-65 .526 30.2% 2-6 2.9% -27.2%
D-backs 74-64 .536 25.6% 3-6 3.2% -22.4%

The aforementioned two teams bore the brunt of the losses, but the Dodgers also took a substantial kick to the stomach. Their odds of winning the NL West dropped from 70.8% to 55.5%, while their odds of claiming a Wild Card spot climbed only from 13.1% to 19.4%. They still have the highest probability of winning the World Series of any NL team (13.6%, down from 16.3%), but I’ll wager that the machine running these odds hasn’t sat through their late-inning bullpen mess recently.

Obviously, the odds of any massive tie scenario have grown longer. To get to the ultimate mother of all logjams at 90 wins, for example, would require the following:

Cubs 5-11
Brewers 6-9
Braves 8-8
Rockies 9-7
Cardinals 9-6
Dodgers 10-5
Diamondbacks 13-2
Phillies 16-1

No, I don’t think this is the year for that. But that doesn’t mean all hope is dashed, even with the NL East essentially sewn up by the Braves, who lead the Phillies by 7.5 games with 16 to go (17 for Philadelphia, seven of which are against Atlanta). Buried among our many display options on the odds page is a Ties page that shows the chances for two-, three-, four-, and five-way ties for each playoff spot. Sadly, all of the four- and five-way options for both leagues are zeroes across (too low to show up as 0.1%, basically), but the odds of a two-way tie in the NL Central, NL West, and second NL Wild Card spots are all in double-digits. Even the NL East has a 2.2% chance of winding up tied. The odds of a three-way tie range from 1.1% for the NL Wild Card to 0.1% for the East, the last of which seems like an overstatement since it would require the Nationals (8.5 games back at 74-73, and thus with no chance to join the 90-win scrum) to rise from the dead.

The big excitement lately has been the NL Central, where the Brewers (84-63) have taken four out of six from the Cubs (85-61) in two series this month, trimming Chicago’s lead from four games to 1.5. The Cubs did win the season series, 11-8, and they have a 76.7% chance of winning the division, with the Brewers at 21.8% and the Cardinals (81-66) at 1.5%. The chances of two of these teams winding up tied is 11.4%, with all three at 0.4%.

As I noted last time around, the first key in tiebreakers — the full rules of which are here — is head-to-head records against the other teams in the tie, whether it’s a two-way, three-way or more-way; from there, a pecking order is determined, yielding home-field advantage for a single tiebreaker game if it’s just two teams and the first choice of which team to be in a multi-team format that goes something like, “A hosts B, and the winner hosts C, and they’ll meet at the top of the coconut tree.” The Cardinals actually hold a 9-7 series advantage over the Cubs, and the season closes with a three-game set between the two teams at Wrigley Field. The Brewers and Cardinals are 8-8 against each other, with three games in St. Louis remaining, from September 24 to 26.

Out in the wild NL West, the Rockies (81-65) just took three out of four from the Diamondbacks. Colorado now leads the Dodgers (80-67) by 1.5 games and the Diamondbacks (77-70) by 4.5 games. The Rockies have back-to-back three-game road series against the Dodgers (September 17-19) and Diamondbacks (September 21-23) left; they’re 7-9 against Los Angeles and 8-8 against Arizona. The Dodgers have three more games against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field from September 24-26; it’s Arizona who holds a 9-7 series edge thus far. The chances of any two of these teams winding up tied is 12.9%; for all three, it’s 0.3%.

In the Wild Card race, the Brewers have a three-game lead on the Cardinals for the top spot, with the Dodgers just a game behind them, with three very big games to play this weekend in St. Louis. The Diamondbacks are three games behind the Dodgers and thus four games out of a Wild Card spot. As there are more Wild Card permutations that can be laid out without losing sanity at this juncture, I’ll present you again with an updated version of the Big Board:

NL Contenders Head-to-Head Records and Games Remaining
ATL 7-5 (4,3) 3-3 3-4 3-0 (3,0) 4-3 2-5 2-5
PHI 5-7 (3,4) 2-4 3-3 4-3 2-4 2-1 (0,4) 4-3
CHC 3-3 4-2 11-8 7-9 (3,0) 2-2 (0,3) 3-3 4-3
MIL 4-3 3-3 8-11 8-8 (0,3) 5-1 5-2 3-4
STL 0-3 (0,3) 3-4 9-7 (0,3) 8-8 (3,0) 3-3 5-2 3-1 (3,0)
ARI 3-4 4-2 2-2 (3,0) 1-5 3-3 8-8 (3,0) 9-7 (3,0)
COL 5-2 1-2 (4,0) 3-3 2-5 2-5 8-8 (0,3) 7-9 (0,3)
LAD 5-2 3-4 3-4 4-3 1-3 (0,3) 7-9 (0,3) 9-7 (3,0)
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Games remaining between each pair of teams in parentheses, in format (Home,Road)

If, for example, the Dodgers, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks wind up tied for the second spot, going by their current head-to-head records among the group, the pecking order would go Cardinals (6-4, .600), Diamondbacks (12-10, .545), Dodgers (8-12, .400) for the right to choose which club to be in the format of A hosting B, with the winner hosting C. A four-team tie for the two spots that also includes the Brewers would go Brewers (16-13, .552, Cardinals (14-12, .538), Diamondbacks (13-15, .464), and Dodgers (12-15, .444) for the choices to host pairings A/B and C/D; the head-to-head record of the two winners would then determine the location of the Wild Card game. Given the number of head-to-head games remaining within each of those scenarios, the orders aren’t set in stone, but now that you know this, you can play along at home.

Finally, an update with regards to the AL, which has decidedly less entropy at stake. The Astros (92-54) currently have a 3.5-game lead over the A’s (89-58) 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 98.4%. The A’s are 1.5 games behind the Yankees (90-56) in the race for home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card game. In the 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 likely 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. The Yankees are 34-26 (.567) against the AL East while the A’s are just 33-34 (.493) against the AL West. Both teams will wind up with 76 such contests, meaning that, between the two teams, the A’s are effectively 4.5 back with 11 to play.

I’ll be back next week with an update. Until then — or beyond, actually — keep rooting for chaos.

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, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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5 years ago

Chaos! I always root for chaos, but the last several seasons have let me down. Waiting eagerly for a 3-way tie for either a division or wildcard slot.