Team Entropy 2019: Is This Thing Even On?

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 at 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.

You’ll be shocked to learn that when it comes to chaos, some teams just don’t want to cooperate. That’s the story of Team Entropy this year. Since I last checked in on September 13, our chances of seeing complex scenarios necessitating multiple tiebreakers have more or less gone in the direction of the Cubs’ season, which is to say sharply downward at cartoonish speed.

Chicago has not only lost 11 of its last 17 games since September 5, it’s lost six straight, including five in a row by one run and four in a row to the Cardinals, three of which featured the Cubs holding the lead or being tied in the ninth inning. Craig Edwards had the gory details on Monday. This isn’t all on the Cubs’ shoulders, however. With just six days of regular season baseball remaining, four of the six divisions have been clinched, and the Wild Card hopes of the Mets and Phillies are on life support; the Diamondbacks are done. Fortunately, the possibility of at least one tiebreaker in each league still looms. So let’s take a closer look at what’s left.

Contrary to the previous installments of this year’s series, the greater excitement is now in the American League. While the Indians (92-64) trail the Twins (96-60) by four games and have an elimination number of three in the AL Central race, Cleveland is just half a game behind Tampa Bay (93-64) for the second AL Wild Card spot, and two games behind Oakland (94-62) for the first. The chances of three teams winding up tied are just 2.0%, but that’s actually higher than they’ve been for most of the time since July 1. Sean Dolinar was kind enough to supply me with an archive of our tiebreakers page, and since July 1, there have only been four days that ended with greater odds of such a tie, all in the span from September 11-14. Woohoo!

Once more, with feeling, here’s the grid involving these teams’ head-to-head records, which are now final:

AL Contenders Head-to-Head Records
Team Twins Rays Indians Athletics
Twins 5-2 9-10 3-4
Rays 2-5 6-1 3-4
Indians 10-9 1-6 1-5
Athletics 4-3 4-3 5-1

These grids are must-haves when it comes to untangling the various tiebreaker scenarios. Assuming the Twins wrap up the AL Central and focusing on the Wild Card race, in the event of a two-team tie for the second spot (with the third team winning the top seed) — a scenario for which there’s now a 22.8% chance, the highest it’s been since at least July 1 — the A’s have the tiebreaker advantage on both the Indians and Rays by virtue of winning their season series, and would thus have home-field advantage for a Game 163 play-in. The Rays have the edge on the Indians for the same reason.

If the three teams were to wind up tied, they would draft positions for the following scenario: Club A hosts Club B, with the winner of that game becoming the host team for the Wild Card game, and the loser traveling to Club C to determine the road team for the actual Wild Card game. According to MLB’s tiebreaker scenario playbook, the pecking order for that draft would be based upon combined winning percentage against the other two teams, which means it’s the A’s (.692, 9-4), Rays (.642, 9-5), and Indians (.154, 2-11) in that order. As for the remaining schedule, the A’s finish out on the road, first with two games against the Angels and then four against the Mariners. The Indians are on the road the rest of the way as well, with three apiece against the White Sox and Nationals — yes, with an odd number of teams in each league, somebody has to play interleague games. The Rays host the Yankees for two games and then finish with three in Toronto.

We’re not done yet, as there’s still a 0.8% chance of the Twins and Indians wind up being tied. If it’s a two-team tie, easy peasy: the Indians host a game to decide the AL Central title because they won the season series, 10-9. If those two teams are tied with either the A’s or the Rays — tied not including the results of Game 163, that is — then the loser of the game would play the other team in the Wild Card game, with home-field advantage determined by the aforementioned head-to-head records. If all four teams wind up with the same records…

…Say 97-65 (Twins 1-5, Indians 5-1, A’s 3-3, Rays 2-3), then the two Central teams would play one game to determine the division champ and the other two teams would play one game to determine one Wild Card team. The losers of those two games would then meet, with head-to-head records determining home-field advantage and the winner advancing to the Wild Card game. I wouldn’t suggest holding your breath waiting for this scenario, but when it comes, you’ll impress the hell out of your friends by knowing the steps involved.

As you can see from this graph, the chances of a tie for the second AL Wild Card spot are as high as any tie we’ve encountered since at least July 1, edging those of an NL tie for the second spot at the close of play last Wednesday, September 18, before the Cardinals rolled into the Windy City and flattened the Cubs:

On Monday night, the Diamondbacks (80-76) lost to the Cardinals and were officially eliminated from Wild Card contention. By the end of Tuesday, both the Mets (81-75, elimination number of two) and Phillies (79-76, elimination number of one) could join them; New York’s odds are down to 0.3%, while Philadelphia’s are not exactly zero but display as 0.0%; let us hope they have their affairs in order. The Brewers’ (86-70) outside shot at catching the Cardinals (90-67) aside, that still leaves four teams fighting for the two Wild Card spots, though admittedly it’s not much of a fight given that the Cubs (82-74) and Mets are respectively four and five games back with six to play. Let’s go to the grid:

NL Contenders Head-to-Head Records and Games Remaining
Team Cardinals Nationals Brewers Cubs Mets
Cardinals 5-2 (0,0) 10-9 (0,0) 9-7 (3,0) 5-2 (0,0)
Nationals 2-5 (0,0) 2-4 (0,0) 4-2 (0,0) 7-12 (0,0)
Brewers 9-10 (0,0) 4-2 (0,0) 10-9 (0,0) 5-1 (0,0)
Cubs 7-9 (0,3) 2-4 (0,0) 9-10 (0,0) 5-2 (0,0)
Mets 2-5 (0,0) 12-7 (0,0) 1-5 (0,0) 2-5 (0,0)
Games remaining between each pair of teams in parentheses, in format (Home,Road)

The only games remaining between any of these teams are the three this weekend in St. Louis between the Cubs and Cardinals; the Cubs have already been eliminated from the division race but the rivals might still be capable of upsetting each others’ apple carts. If the Cardinals and Brewers do wind up tied (3.2% chance), the tiebreaker game would be played in St. Louis, because the Cardinals won the season series 10-9. If the Cardinals, Brewers, and Nationals all finish with the same record, the two NL Central teams would play the aforementioned tiebreaker for the division crown, with the loser hosting Washington in the Wild Card game.

If the Brewers and Nationals finish with the same record atop the heap, the Wild Card game would be played in Milwaukee, which won the season series, 4-2. If the Brewers, Nationals, and Cubs wind up tied for the top Wild Card spot (odds 0.5%), their combined head-to-head records establish the draft order for the following scenario: Club A hosts Club B, with the winner becoming one Wild Card team and the loser traveling to Club C, with the winner of that game becoming the other Wild Card team. Based on their head-to-head records, that order goes Brewers (.560, 14-11), Nationals (.500, 6-6), and Cubs (.440, 11-14).

If somehow the Mets wind up in a four-way tie with that trio — stop laughing or I’ll clear this court! It’s technically still possible!— it would take New York going 6-0, Chicago going 5-1, Milwaukee going 1-5 and Washington going 1-6 (they play a doubleheader against the Phillies on Tuesday). But hoo boy we would have some fun. The combined head-to-head records put the Brewers (.613, 19-12) at the head of the pack, followed by the Cubs (.500, 16-16), Mets (.469, 15-17), and Nationals (.419, 13-18). They’d pick their designations for the following scenario: Club A hosts Club B, and Club C hosts Club D — yes, two Game 163s with the winners becoming the two Wild Card teams!

Admittedly, this isn’t a whole lot to hang your hat upon, my friends. We can only hope that there’s still a reason for me to circle back to the remaining scenarios on Friday, and that our capacity for chaos won’t be exhausted by Sunday. Until then, I reman your faithful entroprician. Sure, that’s a word…

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.

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3 years ago

I said this the other day too, but I was really hoping for the ultimate Team Entropy scenario: A four-way tie between the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, and Nationals. But the Cardinals sweeping the Cubs pretty much ended that chances of that one.