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.
It’s been 12 days since I launched this year’s Team Entropy series, and I’m happy to report that for connoisseurs of chaos, the news is generally good, at least when it comes to the Wild Card races. The division races… eh, we’ve seen some tightening in both Centrals, but of greater significance are the pages torn off the calendar; there are but 16 days remaining in the regular season.
The Dodgers became the first team to clinch a division title this year, claiming their seventh straight NL flag on Tuesday, September 10. No other clinching is imminent, but by coincidence, the magic numbers for both East division leaders (the Yankees and Braves) and that of the AL West (the Astros) all stood at eight entering Thursday; the Yankees, with the sweep of their doubleheader against the Tigers and the Rays’ loss to the Rangers, cut theirs to five, though the other two remain at eight. It’s only a matter of time for them; there’s no reason to hold your breath in those races.
In the AL Central, the Twins — who since my last installment have lost both Michael Pineda and Byron Buxton for the season, the former to a drug suspension and the latter to shoulder surgery — have lost ground since the previous check-in. At 89-57, they now lead the Indians (86-61) by just 3 1/2 games, but with the shrinking schedule, their odds have only dropped by 0.6%, to 93.8%. The two teams face off for a three-game series this weekend in Cleveland, their last head-to-head matchup. The Indians lead the season series 9-7, and realistically probably need to sweep to keep things interesting given that they have the harder remaining schedule of the two (.487 vs. .443).
As for the NL Central, the Cardinals (82-64) have a four-game lead over both the Cubs and Brewers (78-68), each of whom has recently lost a key player for at least the remainder of the regular season, namely Javier Báez (fractured thumb) and Christian Yelich (fractured kneecap). Since reaching their season high-water mark in terms of leading the division (3 1/2 games on August 8), the Cubs are just 15-16, while the Cardinals are an NL-best 24-9 and the Brewers 18-12; the latter has won seven in a row despite the loss of the reigning NL MVP and a few other players. Since the previous Team Entropy installment, St. Louis’ odds to win the division have jumped a honkin’ 12.3%, to 76.7%, with the Cubs’ odds more than cut in half to 16.3% and the Brewers’ odds now visible to the naked eye at 7.0%. The Redbirds host the Brew Crew this weekend, and with a 9-7 series lead, need just one more win to clinch the upper hand. The odds of a season-ending tie atop the division, which would require a tiebreaker game, are at 10.1%, 0.4% higher than when we last checked in.
Sticking with the Senior Circuit, the Nationals (81-64) are still completely in the drivers seat as far as the top Wild Card spot goes, with a 3 1/2-game lead. The other five teams in the race are now separated by 3 1/2 games (the same as before, and one more than on Thursday), with the Cubs and Brewers both tied for the second spot, followed by the Mets and Phillies (both 76-70, two games back), and then the Diamondbacks (75-72, 3 1/2 back). The latter climbed to within 1 1/2 games of the second spot, with their playoff odds reaching 18.0%, but have since lost five straight and are back down to 1.9%. The odds of a two-way tie for the second spot have jumped from 12.6% to 19.6%, with those of a three-way tie increasing from 1.6% to 3.8%, and for a four-way tie, from 0.2% to 0.4%. Yes, I’m saying there’s a chance!
Updating our wish list to get all of the relevant teams (including the Cardinals) to 87 wins:
- Cardinals 5-11
- Nationals 6-11
- Cubs 9-7
- Brewers 9-7
- Mets 11-5
- Phillies 11-5
- Diamondbacks 12-3
Presumably, in a briefcase chained to Rob Manfred’s wrist, there exists a piece of paper with a plan for how to sort out a seven-way tie involving one division winner and six Wild Card hopefuls, but the league has yet to publish that — those cowards! — or even something as comparatively simple as a five-way tie. I don’t have the math skills to tell you how likely that scenario is, mainly because MLB has first dibs at the million-monkey temp agency, and those primates are presumably pecking away with potential plans (“Club A hosts B, with the winner hosting the winner of the C/D game, and the E/F winner hosting G, where G is the…”). Anyway, here’s an update of the head-to-head grid, which would be relevant in the case of ties, since the unsnarling begins with their records against the other teams involved:
|Cardinals||—||3-1 (3,0)||5-7 (3,4)||9-7 (3,0)||5-2 (0,0)||2-4 (0,0)||2-1 (0,3)|
|Nationals||1-3 (0,3)||—||4-2 (0,0)||2-4 (0,0)||7-12 (0,0)||9-5 (5,0)||2-4 (0,0)|
|Cubs||7-5 (4,3)||2-4 (0,0)||—||9-10 (0,0)||5-2 (0,0)||2-5 (0,0)||4-2 (0,0)|
|Brewers||7-9 (0,3)||4-2 (0,0)||10-9 (0,0)||—||5-1 (0,0)||4-3(0,0)||5-2 (0,0)|
|Mets||2-5 (0,0)||12-7 (0,0)||2-5 (0,0)||1-5 (0,0)||—||7-12 (0,0)||5-2 (0,0)|
|Phillies||4-2 (0,0)||5-9 (0,5)||5-2 (0,0)||3-4 (0,0)||12-7 (0,0)||—||2-4 (0,0)|
|Diamondbacks||1-2 (3,0)||4-2 (0,0)||2-4 (0,0)||2-5 (0,0)||2-5 (0,0)||4-2 (0,0)||—|
If the season were to end with the Cubs and Brewers still tied for the second Wild Card spot, the two teams would face off in Milwaukee (who won the season series 10-9) on September 30 with the winner traveling to the first Wild Card team’s park (currently Washington) for the actual game on October 1. If the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers all wind up tied but with a different record than the Nationals, the three Central teams would draft positions for the following scenario: Club A hosts Club B, with the winner of that game hosting Club C to determine the division champion, and the loser becoming the Wild Card club (likely the road team, though that would be determined by their record relative to the Nationals). The pecking order for that draft would be based upon combined winning percentage against the other two teams; currently, it’s the Cubs (.516, 16-15), followed by the Cardinals (.500, 14-14) and then the Brewers (.486, 17-18), though all teams will eventually wind up with 38 games and thus the order is still subject to change. For whichever team picks first, the choice basically comes down to either A (two games at home) or C (one game on the road), because B faces two games on the road just to get through to the Wild Card game.
If we throw the Nationals into that mix with the same record — that is, if we get a three-club tie for a division championship and a tie with a club outside the division for the two Wild Card spots — the scenario would be a gloriously ungodly mess involving either two or three extra games! First, Club A hosts B and Club C hosts D, the last of which would automatically be the team from outside the division, the Nationals. If Washington wins, they’re one Wild Card team, while the A/B winner would be crowned Central champs. If Club C wins and eliminates the Nationals, then they’re the road team against the A/B winner, with the winner of that third game becoming division champions and the loser becoming the lower Wild Card seed. Unless you’re particularly invested in the Mets or Phillies, this is a fine scenario to dream upon.
One more? Sure. Throwing some darts, let’s suppose the Nationals, Mets, and Brewers wind up tied for that second Wild Card spot. It’s your basic A hosts B and the winner hosts C and then they all meet at the top of the coconut tree — wait, scratch that last part. As things currently stand, the pecking order would run Brewers (.750, 9-3), Mets (.520, 13-12), Nationals (.360, 9-16).
As for the AL Wild Card race, the Red Sox — who were eliminated from the division race on Monday — have not yet been put out of their collective misery, but at 77-70, they’re 9 1/2 games out of the second spot, and we can safely take them off the board. That leaves the A’s (87-60), Rays (87-61), and Indians (86-61) separated by just one game from top to bottom. Among the three teams, the A’s have the easiest remaining schedule (.448 opponents winning percentage) and highest odds (85.0%); the Rays have the tougher road than the Indians (.533 vs. .487 in terms of opponents winning percentage, boosted by an eight-game stretch against the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees starting on September 17) but also the higher odds (60.7% versus 49.1%). Other than the aforementioned Twins at Indians series, there aren’t any head-to-head matchups remaining involving the potential teams, so here’s the grid:
|Twins||—||5-2 (0-0)||7-9 (0,3)||3-4 (0,0)|
|Rays||2-5 (0,0)||—||6-1 (0,0)||3-4 (0,0)|
|Indians||9-7 (3,0)||1-6 (0,0)||—||1-5 (0,0)|
|Athletics||4-3 (0,0)||4-3 (0,0)||5-1 (0,0)||—|
If the Indians, A’s, and Rays all wind up tied, the pecking order goes A’s (.692, 9-4), Rays (.642, 9-5), Indians (.154, 2-11) for the aforementioned A hosts B with the winner hosting C scenario. If the Indians do overtake the Twins — something the odds tell us has a 6.2% chance — then the order has the Rays last (.357, 5-9) with the other two teams both at .571 (8-6). The next tiebreaker is which of those two teams has the higher winning percentage in intradivision games; currently, the Twins have the upper hand, as they’re 38-22 (.633) against the AL Central while the A’s are 36-28 (.563) against the AL West. Both teams will wind up with 76 intradivisional games, so that order is hardly a done deal. As for ties, the odds of a two-way tangle for the second spot are at a respectable 17.3%, with that of a three-way tie 2.3%. If you’re scoring at home, those are up from 15.4% and 1.4%, respectively, so don’t knock it.
Are we going to be so lucky as to get a pair of Game 163 tiebreakers, as we did last year? Probably not, but that was unprecedented, and as I’ve attempted to illustrate, Team Entropy isn’t licked yet. We’ve still got a fighting chance of bonus baseball, so hang in there.
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.