Team Entropy 2020: Gone to Seed

As we head into the final weekend of the abbreviated 2020 season, we still have only limited clarity about what the expanded postseason — which starts on Tuesday, September 29 — will look like. Eleven teams have clinched playoff berths, seven in the AL and four in the NL. Five have clinched home-field advantage for the Wild Card Series, and four have clinched division titles, but that still leaves 10 teams vying for the five remaining spots, with the lower half of the NL pool particularly murky. We won’t get any tiebreaker games, and so it might feel as though Team Entropy is just going through the motions, but as I’ve already noted, there’s still enough chaos involved to cause headaches for anybody trying to figure out the matchups from day to day, and there’s a significant possibility that teams will be playing meaningful games even into Monday (more on which below). In that sense, this silly playoff tournament has already started.

Once more, with feeling, here’s how the system works:

  • The division winners be seeded 1-3 within their respective leagues based on their won-loss records, the second place teams 4-6, and then the next two teams with the best records 7-8. For the best-of-three Wild Card Series, they’ll be matched up in the familiar 1-8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5 pairings, with the lower seed hosting all three games.
  • Within divisions, ties will first be broken on the basis of head-to-head records. Since teams haven’t played outside their divisions except against their interleague geographic counterparts, this is of use only for determining first, second, and third place within the division. If three teams in a division end up tied, combined head-to-head records against the other two teams will be used.
  • If head-to-head records are tied or not applicable, the next tiebreaker is intradivision record.
  • If teams have the same intradivision records, the next tiebreaker is record in the final 20 division games. If that doesn’t break the tie, then record over the final 21 games is used, and then onto final 22, 23, 24, and so forth until the tie is broken.

If it has any bearing upon seeding in the NL, commissioner Rob Manfred may mandate the Cardinals — who have just 58 games scheduled through Sunday due to all of their COVID-19 outbreak-related postponements — and Tigers may be ordered to play a doubleheader on Monday, September 28 to get to 60 games.

NL Standings Through September 24
NL East W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Braves Marlins Phillies Mets
Braves** 34 23 .596 24-16 6-4 5-5 6-4
Marlins 29 28 .509 5 21-19 4-6 7-3 4-6
Phillies 28 29 .491 6 21-19 5-5 3-7 6-4
Mets 26 31 .456 8 17-20 4-6 6-4 4-6
NL Central W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Cubs Cardinals Reds Brewers
Cubs* 32 25 .561 22-18 5-5 6-4 5-5
Cardinals 28 26 .519 2.5 20-16 5-5 6-4 3-3
Reds 29 28 .509 3 21-19 4-6 4-6 6-4
Brewers 27 29 .482 4.5 17-19 5-5 3-3 4-6
NL West W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Dodgers Padres Giants Rockies
Dodgers** 40 17 .702 27-13 6-4 6-4 7-3
Padres* 34 22 .607 5.5 21-15 4-6 5-1 7-3
Giants 28 28 .500 11.5 17-19 4-6 1-5 4-6
Rockies 25 31 .446 14.5 16-20 3-7 3-7 6-4
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

With the Mets (Playoff Odds of 2.0%) and Rockies (0.3%) still technically alive after winning on Thursday, 12 teams are still vying for the eight spots. The Dodgers and Braves have both clinched their respective divisions, while the Cubs and Padres have both clinched playoff spots; the former has a magic number of three to clinch their division, while the latter has a magic number of one to lock up the number four seed and thus home field advantage for the first round. Everybody else is playing for road rights.

What’s left in the East is the battle for second and third. After avoiding a four-game sweep with a win over the Braves on Thursday night, the Marlins head to the Bronx to play three against the Yankees, while the Phillies, who have lost nine out of 14, finish with three in Tampa Bay. If Miami and Philadelphia wind up tied, the former has the tiebreaker advantage via their 7-3 series win. New York could force a three-way tie at 29 wins if they sweep their remaining games in Washington; they’re a combined 10-10 against the other two teams, but the Marlins are 11-9, so the Fish would be the second place team and on the 4-6 tier, the Mets the third place team and not guaranteed a playoff spot, and the Phillies (9-11) the fourth place team and quite likely out. The Mets’ shot at second place is by tying the Marlins — from whom they took the season series, 6-4 — while the Phillies continue to fade, though one New York loss or one Miami win will rule that scenario out.

The real potential for three-way action is in the NL Central, where the 2-4 spots are separated by just two games. The Brewers and Cardinals began their five-game series in St. Louis with the Redbirds taking a 4-2 win; they play a doubleheader tonight. The Reds finish with three games in Minnesota.

Tiebreaker-wise, the Cardinals won their season series from the Reds, while the Reds won their season series against the Brewers; the series between the Cardinals and Brewers hangs in the balance. If it came to a three-way tie, the Reds are 10-10 against the other two teams, while the Cardinals are 9-7 and the Brewers 7-9 with their four games still to play. The Reds have banked the most intradivisional wins of the three, and won 12 of their final 20, but lost the three before that, while the Cardinals are 9-7 within the completed portion of their final 20 and the Brewers 8-8; St. Louis has an additional win in their 21st-most-final intradivisional game where Milwaukee does not. It’s probably not going to be that complicated, but as the late St. Louis sage Joaquin Andujar famously said, youneverknow.

As for the West, the Giants could only manage a split against the Rockies in their four-game series at home, and worse, they lost the season series, so if the two teams wind up tied at 29-31, Colorado gets third place. The Giants finish up with four against the Padres while the Rockies finish with four in Arizona, including a Friday doubleheader.

NL Playoff Seeding Through September 24
Seeds 1-3 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
1 Dodgers** 40 17 .702 27-13
2 Braves** 34 23 .596 6 24-16
3 Cubs* 32 25 .561 8 22-18
Seeds 4-6 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
4 Padres* 34 22 .607 21-15
5 Cardinals 28 26 .519 5 20-16
6 Marlins 29 28 .509 5.5 21-19
Seeds 7-8 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
7 Reds 29 28 .509 +1 21-19
8 Giants 28 28 .500 17-19
x Phillies 28 29 .491 0.5 21-19
x Brewers 27 29 .482 1 17-19
x Mets 25 31 .446 3 16-20
x Rockies 25 31 .446 3 16-20
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

Seeding-wise, the Dodgers have the number one spot locked up, and the Braves have a magic number of one to clinch the two seed, since they’ve already clinched the better intradivisional record than the Cubs. On the 4-6 tier, the Cardinals and Marlins are ostensibly battling for the higher seed, but that means playing the Padres, who may still be better than the Cubs even without Mike Clevinger, who could miss the postseason with a biceps injury.

On the 7-8 tier, four teams are separated by just two games, and two of them have finished their intradivisional schedules with 21 wins, while the other two can aspire to that lofty total. One Giants loss to the Padres would mean there’s no way they could win a tiebreaker against the Reds or Phillies; only if they win out the rest of the way could they get to 21 intradivisional wins, at which point they would also have a 12-8 record in their final 20 intradivisional games. If they do have those 32 overall wins, though, they’re probably at least in the playoffs. One way or another, the Phillies are in real trouble if things get to the last-20 tiebreakers, as they lost 12 of their final 20 intradivisional games, though they banked wins in the previous two games before that.

Of the teams that haven’t clinched a spot yet, the Marlins (90.6%), Reds (88.0%) and Cardinals (87.8%) are the ones that our Playoff Odds smile upon, with the Phillies (50.8%) narrowly favored for the eighth spot over the Giants (47.0%), and the Brewers (33.9%) hoping multiple teams above them hit the skids while they get hot. If the playoffs started today, the matchups would be Dodgers-Giants, Braves-Reds, Cubs-Marlins, and Padres-Cardinals.

As for the AL, the Blue Jays clinched a playoff spot by beating the Yankees for the third game out of four on Thursday night, leaving just one playoff spot open:

AL Standings Through September 24
AL East W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Rays Yankees Blue Jays
Rays** 37 20 .649 27-13 8-2 6-4
Yankees* 32 25 .561 5 23-17 2-8 5-5
Blue Jays* 30 27 .526 7 20-17 4-6 5-5
AL Central W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Twins White Sox Indians
Twins* 35 22 .614 23-17 5-5 7-3
White Sox* 34 23 .596 1 25-15 5-5 2-8
Indians* 33 24 .579 2 23-17 3-7 8-2
AL West W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Athletics Astros Angels
Athletics** 34 22 .607 24-12 7-3 6-4
Astros 29 28 .509 5.5 19-18 3-7 4-6
Angels 26 31 .456 8.5 19-21 4-6 6-4
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

That lone playoff spot will go to the Astros if they win one more game from among their three against the Rangers in Arlington or if the Angels — who have gone unexamined in this year’s series, to the point that I had to look up their head-to-head records for the above table this morning, with my bare hands — lose one of their three remaining games against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. By winning six of their last seven, the Halos have slipped past the Mariners, who were eliminated with Houston’s win on Thursday night; the odds of Mike Trout making it to a playoff spot are just 0.3%, so don’t go breaking out those thundersticks just yet.

From a division race standpoint, the AL Central is a gas right now (sorry, Sox fans). The White Sox have lost five straight and seven of nine to surrender first place for the first time since since September 3, and the Twins have slipped into first for the first time since August 26. The Twins, as noted, host the Reds while the White Sox host the Cubs; since Minnesota and Chicago split the season series, the tiebreaker is the intradivisional record, where the White Sox have clinched the advantage. In other words, the Twins need to win this one outright to claim the Central flag. Meanwhile, the Indians clinched their playoff berth in dramatic fashion on Tuesday night, with José Ramírez hitting a walk-off three-run homer in the 10th inning against the White Sox:

The Indians, who finish by hosting the Pirates for three games, still have a 3.9% chance of winning the division. To do that, they would have to win all three games while the Twins lose all three (since Minnesota holds the season series edge, 7-3) and the White Sox win no more than two (in which case Cleveland’s 8-2 season series advantage carries the day). A three-way tie at 35 wins — if the Indians win two, the Twins lose all three, and the White Sox lose two — would go to the Twins, who have a combined 12-8 record against the other two teams, with the Indians finishing second on the basis of an 11-9 record in that context, and the White Sox third on the basis of a 7-13 record against the other two. That would be a serious bringdown on the South Side considering that the Sox led the division by three games as recently as the close of play last Saturday.

As for the AL East, it looks to me as though the keeper of the Tommy John surgery database, Jon Roegele, has with surgical precision figured out how the Blue Jays can surpass the Yankees to take second in the division and jump to the 4-6 tier:

AL Playoff Seeding Through September 24
Seeds 1-3 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
1 Rays* 37 20 .649 27-13
2 Twins* 35 22 .614 2 23-17
3 Athletics** 34 22 .607 2.5 24-12
Seeds 4-6 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
4 White Sox* 34 23 .596 25-15
5 Yankees* 32 25 .561 2 23-17
6 Astros 29 28 .509 5 19-18
Seeds 7-8 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
7 Indians* 32 24 .553 +2 22-17
8 Blue Jays* 30 27 .518 19-17
x Angels 26 31 .456 3.5 19-21
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

The Rays have yet to clinch the number one seed. The A’s have four games to play against the Mariners in Oakland, including a doubleheader on Saturday. If they win all four while Tampa Bay loses all three to Philadelphia, they’d be top dogs, but if they merely win three while the Rays flop, leaving both with 37-23 records overall and 27-13 within their divisions, then the Rays’ 14-6 record over their final 20 intradivisional games would trump their own 12-8 record in that context. The Twins’ only shot at number one depends upon sweeping their series against the Reds while the Rays get swept and the A’s lose at least once.

On the 4-6 tier, with the AL East and Central’s representatives still in play the only thing we really know is that the Astros (or maaaaybe the Angels) will be the number six seed. Even if the Astros sweep and the Yankees get swept, New York has the better intradivision record of the two, and if somehow the Blue Jays wind up here by the scenario outlined above, they would do so with 33 wins.

Likewise on the 7-8 tier, we could see a number of combos. If the Yankees wind up here and with the same record as the Indians, they would win the tiebreaker on the basis of an 11-9 record in their last 20 intradivisional games, while the Indians have gone 10-10. The Twins, should they land here, went 11-9 in their final 20, with two wins in a row before that while the Yankees went win-loss. The White Sox went 12-8 in their final 20 intradivisional games, even while dropping their last four.

If these seedings hold, which is hardly guaranteed, the 1-8 matchup would pair the Rays and Blue Jays for what Joe Sheehan called the FanGraphs Cup on the basis of alumni Carson Cistulli and Jeff Sullivan’s employment with their respective clubs (no word on what we’d call a matchup between either of those teams against a Padres squad that employs David Cameron in the World Series). Twins-Indians, A’s-Astros, and White Sox-Yankees would be the other three pairings, but like I said, don’t etch those on stone tablets just yet.

It’s a bummer that we won’t get tiebreaker games this year, as the situation is certainly ripe for them, but there is bound to be a lot of scoreboard watching throughout the weekend, and because the situations are so fluid, I’ll chime in with updates as needed.





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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cowdisciple
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cowdisciple

The Twins either get the #2 seed and Bieber in a short series or the #4 seed and the Yankees. Great.

CoryMC
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CoryMC

If the Twins can make it to the Yankees, I like their chances. The Yankees are pretty bad when not at home. Then again, so are the Twins. Neither will be at their home park so it may just be a failure series.

cowdisciple
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cowdisciple

I think the first round is at home team parks, and then the neutral site play starts with the second round (for some reason).

mikejunt
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mikejunt

The first round is all 3 games at the higher seed’s home park, so if the Yankees and Twins meet as 4v5, it will be 3 games in New York or Minnesota depending on their records.

MikeS
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MikeS

I think the White Sox are in the same boat. Given how they did against the Indians, I’ll take the Yankees.

Of course, the White Sox don’t have the Twins recent playoff futility vs the Yankees.

ScottyB
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ScottyB

Sorry/not sorry to be obnoxious (but hey, I am a Yankees fan after all), but I cannot wait to once again sweep out the Twins!

hombremomento
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hombremomento

I wouldn’t lay all bets so early, my friend