Team Entropy 2020: Still on the Table(s)

The regular season has just six days remaining, and while seven teams (five in the AL, two in the NL) have clinched playoff berths, there’s still a fair bit to be decided as far as seedings and matchups, particularly in the NL. Unfortunately, we won’t get any tiebreaker games this year — everything will be decided mathematically, possibly including who’s in and who’s out — but the odds for confusion are still high given the unfamiliar format, and some of the jockeying for position could go down to the wire. Hence, it’s time for another Team Entropy installment.

The short version of what you need to know about the format is that each league’s playoff slates will include the division winners (who will be seeded 1-3), the second-place teams (seeded 4-6), and then the two other teams in the league with the best records (seeded 7-8, and deemed the Wild Card teams). For what’s being called the Wild Card Series, teams will pair off in the familiar bracket format: 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, and 4-5, with all three games at the higher-seeded team’s ballpark in an effort to provide them with some kind of advantage. Even with no crowds in ballparks this year, home teams have a .546 winning percentage, higher than it’s been since 2009 (.549).

If teams are tied for spots after Sunday, or if it has any bearing upon seeding, commissioner Rob Manfred may mandate the Cardinals — who have just 58 games scheduled right now due to all of their COVID-19 outbreak-related postponements — and Tigers play a doubleheader on Monday, September 28 to get to 60 games. Beyond that, ties will be broken on the following basis:

  • Head-to-head record (if applicable). 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.

First, we’ll take a look at the Senior Circuit, where there’s much more up in the air:

NL Standings Through September 21
NL East W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Braves Marlins Phillies Mets
Braves 32 22 .593 22-15 4-3 5-5 6-4
Marlins 28 26 .519 4 20-17 3-4 7-3 4-6
Phillies 27 27 .500 5 20-17 5-5 3-7 6-4
Mets 24 30 .444 8 16-20 4-6 6-4 4-6
NL Central W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Cubs Cardinals Reds Brewers
Cubs 32 22 .593 22-15 5-5 6-4 5-5
Cardinals 26 25 .510 4.5 19-16 5-5 6-4 2-3
Reds 28 27 .509 4.5 20-18 4-6 4-6 5-3
Brewers 26 27 .491 5.5 16-17 5-5 3-2 3-5
NL West W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Dodgers* Padres* Giants Rockies
Dodgers-x 38 16 .704 27-13 6-4 6-4 7-3
Padres-x 34 20 .630 4 21-15 4-6 5-1 7-3
Giants 26 27 .491 11.5 15-18 4-6 1-5 2-5
Rockies 24 29 .453 13.5 15-18 3-7 3-7 5-2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth

I’ve already written off the Pirates (15-39), Diamondbacks (20-34), and Nationals (21-32); the Rockies and Mets have Playoff Odds below 5.0% (4.5% and 3.4%, respectively) but have yet to give up the ghost, so we still have 12 teams vying for the eight spots. Each of the three division leaders has things well under control, with their odds of bringing home the flag at 98.5% or higher, but nobody has clinched the division title; the Dodgers’ magic number is down to two, and assuming they hold on, the Padres are a cinch to be the number four seed (we’ll get to that part), so the other seven teams are playing for road rights.

Schedule-wise, the Marlins and Phillies are both on the road for the remainder of the regular season. The Fish play three more games in Atlanta (which beat them on Monday night to trim their magic number for the division title to three) and then three in the Bronx against the Yankees, while the Braves wind up hosting the Red Sox for three. The Phillies have three more in Washington and then three in Tampa Bay. The Mets, who lost to the Rays on Monday night, eliminating them from the race for first place and the possibility of a four-way tie at 31 wins (BOOOO), host them for two more, then visit the Nationals for four. Tiebreaker-wise, the Marlins took the season series from the Phillies, 7-3, though they dropped the season series against the Mets, 6-4, while the Phillies won their series against the Mets by the same margin.

Three-way ties at 32 or 33 wins are still possible if Atlanta stumbles by winning one game or none. If the Marlins can take two of the remaining three from the Braves under those scenarios, the Marlins would win the division on the basis of a 13-7 or 12-8 record against the other two teams, with the Braves (9-11 or 10-10) second and the Phillies (8-12) third. If the Braves win two of those games, that cuts the Phillies out of the action for the top spot.

The possibility of a three-team snarl appears more likely for the 2-4 spots in the NL Central, given that they’re so closely clustered. The Brewers, who lost to the Reds on Monday and are 0-8 in games that would push them above .500, control their own destiny but finish out on the road, first with two more games in Cincinnati and then with five in St. Louis from Thursday to Sunday, including a doubleheader on Friday. The Cardinals, whose four-game winning streak ended Monday in Kansas City, play two more games against the Royals first. The Reds, who have won eight of nine, host Milwaukee for two more and then finish with three games in Minnesota.

Tiebreaker-wise, the only decisive season series among the three teams is the Cardinals’ 6-4 edge on the Reds, and so there are a whole lot of permutations still possible — too many for this space. Keep an eye not only on those overall intradivisional records, where the Brewers have three fewer wins in the bank than either of the other two teams, but on the last-20 ones. The Reds are 12-6 within the completed portion of that segment, well ahead of the Cardinals (8-7) and Brewers (7-6).

As for the West, the Dodgers’ 2-1 series win against the Padres last week gave them the season series, so the only combinations that will get San Diego the top seed would be a 1-5 record from the Dodgers (who host the A’s and then Angels for three apiece) and 6-0 from the Padres (who host the Angels for two, then visit the Giants for four including a Friday doubleheader), or 0-6 from the Dodgers and 5-1 or 6-0 from the Padres. The Giants can wrap up third place in the division as they host the Rockies for three more from Tuesday to Thursday. The Rockies, who have shut Nolan Arenado down for the remainder of the season due to left shoulder woes, do have a leg up in that season series but have much more work to do in order for that to be relevant. They finish with four in Arizona, including a Friday doubleheader.

Let’s get to the seeding battles, based upon the current standings:

NL Playoff Seeding Through September 21
Seeds 1-3 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
1 Dodgers* 38 16 .704 27-13
2 Cubs 32 22 .593 6 22-15
3 Braves 32 22 .593 6 22-15
Seeds 4-6 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
4 Padres* 34 20 .630 21-15
5 Marlins 28 26 .519 6 20-17
6 Cardinals 26 25 .510 6.5 19-16
Seeds 7-8 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
7 Reds 28 27 .509 +0.5 20-18
8 Phillies 27 27 .500 20-17
x Brewers 26 27 .491 0.5 16-17
x Giants 26 27 .491 0.5 15-18
x Rockies 24 29 .453 2.5 15-18
x Mets 24 30 .444 3 16-20
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth

Right now, the Cubs and Braves are neck-and-neck for the number two seed, and they’re one win ahead over the completed portion of their final 20 intradivisional games (10-7 to 9-7), with Chicago having an additional tiebreaker advantage based on the final 21 games. The Cubs finish out on the road with three more apiece against the Pirates (whom they beat on Monday) and White Sox, while the Braves, as noted, finish at home against the Marlins and Red Sox.

The Marlins are ahead of the Cardinals for the fifth seed, but given that the Padres have the league’s second-best record and would line up as their opponents, that may not actually be to their advantage. The real fun, so to speak, is on the third tier, where four teams are separated by a single game top to bottom. Note that both the Reds and Phillies have already gotten to 20 wins within their respective divisions, while the other teams are well behind them, as if the traffic wasn’t heavy enough.

If this pecking order holds, that would yield first-round matchups between the Dodgers and Phillies, Cubs and Reds, Braves and Cardinals, and, as noted, Padres and Marlins. Stay tuned.

Turning to the AL, it appears that we’re down to nine teams, with a four-game gap between the lowest seed, the Blue Jays (28-26) and the top outsider, the Mariners (24-30), with six to play; the M’s Playoff Odds are down to 1.0%. Here’s what’s left:

AL Standings Through September 21
AL East W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Rays Yankees Blue Jays
Rays* 36 19 .655 27-13 8-2 6-4
Yankees* 31 23 .574 4.5 22-15 2-8 4-3
Blue Jays 28 26 .519 7.5 18-16 4-6 3-4
AL Central W L W-L% GB IntraDiv White Sox Twins Indians
White Sox* 34 20 .630 25-12 5-5 2-5
Twins* 33 22 .600 1.5 21-17 5-5 7-3
Indians 30 24 .556 4 20-17 5-2 3-7
AL West W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Athletics Astros Mariners
Athletics** 33 20 .623 24-12 7-3 3-2
Astros 27 27 .500 6.5 17-17 3-7 6-2
Mariners 24 30 .444 9.5 17-17 2-3 2-6
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

Having already secured their season series with the Yankees, the Rays cut their magic number to one on Monday night via their victory over the Mets plus the Yankees’ loss to the Blue Jays. The Yankees, who swept three from the Blue Jays in the Bronx last week by a combined score of 43-15, left the Blue Jays a slim chance at coming back to retake second place. The best hope for the Buffalo Torontonians is to win the final three games of the series to take the season slate 6-4; otherwise, they would be two back with three to play, and would either have to sweep the Orioles in Buffalo or hope that the Marlins sweep the Yankees in New York. A 5-5 series split would leave the Yankees with a 23-17 intradivisional record, which the Jays could only match by sweeping Baltimore; if they do that, they would have the better record over the final 20 intradivisional games, 12-8 versus New York’s 11-9, and would wind up on the tier of 4-6 seeds, instead of the 7-8 seeds.

The AL Central is where the division race fun is, given that the Twins are still within striking distance of the White Sox. The two teams split the season series, but Chicago has clinched the better intradivisional record, so Minnesota has to surpass them outright to win the division. They finish at home, first with two against the Tigers and then three against the Reds, a softer slate (.481 opponents’ combined winning percentage) than the White Sox (.528), who have three more in Cleveland (which beat them on Monday night) and then three against the Cubs on the South Side.

The Indians, who close by hosting the Pirates for three games and have a magic number of two to clinch a playoff berth, can still climb the standings; they’ve lost the season series to the Twins but one more win against the White Sox would secure that series. If the three teams were to wind up tied, the Twins have a 12-8 record against the other two teams, with the Indians (8-9 with the aforementioned trio of games remaining) presumably widening their advantage on the White Sox (7-10) for us even to discuss such a scenario.

Out west, the A’s clinched the division with the Astros’ loss to the Mariners on Monday night, but the Astros, despite being in danger of having the worst record of the eight, are still likely to wind up on the 4-6 tier assuming they finish second. For the Mariners to surpass them — they’ve already lost the season series, so a tie won’t do — would require Seattle to go 6-0 while Houston goes 2-4 or worse, or Seattle to go 5-1 while Houston goes 1-5 or worse, or Seattle to go 4-2 while Houston goes 0-6. Those outcomes aren’t entirely independent, as the two teams have two more games remaining in Seattle; the Astros finish with four against the Rangers in Arlington while the Mariners play four in Oakland. Rest assured that a whole lot of schadenfreude-minded folks are rooting for Houston to miss the postseason, which they have a 0.9% chance of doing at this writing; losing Justin Verlander doesn’t help.

Onto the seeding:

AL Playoff Seeding Through September 21
Seeds 1-3 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
1 Rays* 36 19 .655 27-13
2 White Sox* 34 20 .630 1.5 25-12
3 Athletics** 33 20 .623 2 24-12
Seeds 4-6 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
4 Twins* 33 22 .600 21-17
5 Yankees* 31 23 .574 1.5 22-15
6 Astros 27 27 .500 5.5 17-17
Seeds 7-8 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
7 Indians 30 24 .553 +2 20-17
8 Blue Jays 28 26 .519 18-16
x Mariners 24 30 .444 4 17-17
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

The seeding races within the home-field slots are relatively tight, and the top three teams all have stellar intradivisional records. The Rays have an additional tiebreaker advantage at the moment in that they went 14-6 over their last 20 intradivisional games, not to mention wins in the previous three games before that. The White Sox are 12-5 in the completed portion of their last 20, and with seven straight wins before that, six of them at the expense of the Tigers, against whom they went 9-1 overall. The A’s have gone just 9-7 in the completed portion of their last 20, though there are still permutations that get them to number one; in a tiebreaker situation, they’ll need to own the best intradivisional record outright.

Regarding the Twins and Yankees, YES Network researcher/statistician James Smyth did the heavy lifting before last night’s loss to the Blue Jays, so I’ll save my fingers the typing and assume you can do the mental math necessary to catch up:

Note that if the Astros have a hot week, they could still climb as high as number four, but that would require going 6-0 while the Twins go 0-5 and the Yankees 2-4 or worse, with no more than one intradivisional win.

If these seedings hold, the Wild Card Series matchups would feature a trio of intradivisional matchups: Rays-Blue Jays, White Sox-Indians, and A’s-Astros, with the all-too-familiar Twins-Yankees matchup rounding out the slate.

Whew, even considering there aren’t any tiebreaker games on tap, that all feels like a lot, though by Friday the picture should be simplified. I’ll have another update heading into the weekend.





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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Bold of you to leave out the Angels, good sir, now that they have passed Seattle!