Team Entropy 2020: Suspenseful Sunday

Over the past two days, the playoff picture has begun to come into full focus. The Marlins, Reds, and Astros all clinched playoff berths on Friday night — the last of those not with a victory of their own but one by the Dodgers, of all teams — while the Rockies and Angels were eliminated. On Saturday, the Mets bit the dust as well. Thus as we head into the abbreviated season’s final day, the eight AL teams have been decided, albeit not all of the seedings, while 10 NL teams remain alive.

In the NL, the top four seeds have been secured: the Dodgers, Braves, Cubs (who clinched the NL Central on Saturday night), and Padres will be seeds 1-4 in that order. Still at stake are the middles of the NL East and Central standings:

NL Standings Through September 26
NL East W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Braves Marlins Phillies
Braves** 35 24 .593 24-16 6-4 5-5
Marlins* 30 29 .508 5 21-19 4-6 7-3
Phillies 28 31 .475 7 21-19 5-5 3-7
NL Central W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Cubs Cardinals Reds Brewers
Cubs** 33 26 .559 22-18 5-5 6-4 5-5
Cardinals 29 28 .509 3 21-18 5-5 6-4 4-5
Reds* 30 29 .508 3 21-19 4-6 4-6 6-4
Brewers 29 30 .492 4 19-20 5-5 5-4 4-6
NL West W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Dodgers Padres Giants
Dodgers** 42 17 .712 27-13 6-4 6-4
Padres* 36 23 .610 6 24-15 4-6 6-3
Giants 29 30 .492 13 18-21 4-6 3-6
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

In the NL Central, with the Brewers splitting Friday’s doubleheader with the Cardinals and then winning on Saturday as well while the Reds lost, the three teams enter Sunday separated by a game, with St. Louis hosting Milwaukee and Cincinnati at Minnesota on Sunday. Apparently, I missed a memo regarding the potential make-up doubleheader involving the Cardinals and Tigers; they would play one or two games in Detroit on Monday only if it they have the potential to give the Cardinals home-field advantage (no longer the case) or determine whether they’re in or out; if it’s seeding in the 5-8 range, they’ll be judged on winning percentage.

Long story slightly shorter, if the Cardinals win, they’re in at 30-28 and there’s no doubleheader. If the Reds also win to finish 31-29, the Cardinals would be the second-place team based on winning percentage, (.5172 versus .5167), though it’s also worth noting that they have the season series edge, so this isn’t a major miscarriage of justice; in that scenario, the Brewers would be 29-31, which may or may not be good enough depending on what the Giants do against the Padres (we’ll get to that). If the Cardinals lose and wind up 29-29 and the Brewers 30-30, that would mean gassing up the plane to head to the Motor City. If the Reds are in there at 30-30 as well, it would also mean that each of the three teams went 10-10 against the other two, which would kick the tiebreaker to intradivisional records; by that, the Reds and Cardinals would both be 21-19, the Brewers 20-20.

Now, what happens next is a bit unclear. Based on pre-2020 tiebreaker rules, which have been spelled out much more explicitly, once the three-team tiebreaker is broken, “If any two of the clubs have identical winning percentages, then then the two-Club tiebreak rules will break that tie.” In that case, the Cardinals have the drop on the Reds via their 6-4 season series advantage. If the untangling were to be based on each team’s last 20 intradivision games, the Reds’ 12-8 record would outdo the Cardinals’ 10-10. I believe the first case applies, not the second, but I’m not 100% sure at this writing.

NL Playoff Seeding Through September 26
Seeds 1-3 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
1 Dodgers** 41 17 .707 27-13
2 Braves** 35 24 .593 6.5 24-16
3 Cubs** 33 26 .559 8.5 22-18
Seeds 4-6 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
4 Padres* 36 23 .610 24-15
5 Cardinals 29 28 .509 3 21-18
6 Marlins* 30 29 .508 6 21-19
Seeds 7-8 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
7 Reds* 30 29 .508 +1 21-19
8 Brewers 29 30 .492 19-20
x Giants 29 30 .492 0 18-21
x Phillies 28 31 .475 1 21-19
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

Here you can see where the Cardinals’ doubleheader might be necessary, because the Giants and Brewers can both finish 30-30 along with the Reds (who can also finish 31-29). I’ve tried to game the combinations out; the NL Central second place team’s status as the 5th or 6th seed depends on whether or not the Marlins beat the Yankees. If Miami wins, we’ll need to know whether the Reds get to 31 wins; the Fish had a 12-8 record in their final 20 intradivision games, then a loss and a win before that, while the Reds were also 12-8 with two losses before that. Setting that matter aside, we have this:

Some NL Final Day Combinations
Cardinals Reds Brewers Giants Phillies Seeding
W (30) W (31) L (29) W (30) W (29) STL 5/6, CIN 7, SFG 8
W (30) W (31) L (29) L (29) W (29) STL 5/6, CIN 7, PHI 8
W (30) L (30) L (29) W (30) W (29) STL 5/6, CIN 7, SFG 8
L (29) W (31) W (30) W (30) W (29) CIN 5/6, MIL 7/8, STL @ DET x2
L (29) L (30) W (30) L (29) W (29) STL @ DET x2
Number in parentheses is win total given indicated result on Sunday.

I’ve highlighted the Phillies’ narrow slice of a chance. If they beat the Rays in Tampa Bay, they could get in with a 29-31 record, but only if the Giants and Brewers both lose; in that case, Philadelphia’s 21-19 intradivision record would elevate them above the other two. Our Playoff Odds still give that a 13.2% chance of happening.

If the Cardinals were to lose on Sunday and then lose both ends of the make-up doubleheader, winding up tied with the Giants and Phillies at 29 wins, St. Louis would get the number eight seed. The Giants would be eliminated from the three-team tiebreaker due to having the worse intradivisional record, and then the Cardinals, with their 10-10 record over their final 20 intradivisional games, would outdo the Phillies’ 8-12 record in that context.

You might find this helpful:

If the current seedings were to hold, we’d have Dodgers-Brewers, Braves-Reds, Cubs-Marlins, and Padres-Cardinals, but don’t get too attached to any of that. If I’ve missed something here, suffice it to say that we could still be talking about what happens next on Monday morning.

As for the AL…

AL Standings Through September 26
AL East W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Rays Yankees Blue Jays
Rays** 39 20 .661 27-13 8-2 6-4
Yankees* 33 26 .559 6 23-17 2-8 5-5
Blue Jays* 32 27 .542 7 22-17 4-6 5-5
AL Central W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Twins White Sox Indians
Twins* 36 23 .610 23-17 5-5 7-3
White Sox* 35 24 .593 1 25-15 5-5 2-8
Indians* 34 25 .576 2 23-17 3-7 8-2
AL West W L W-L% GB IntraDiv Athletics Astros
Athletics** 35 24 .593 25-14 7-3
Astros* 29 30 .492 6 19-20 3-7
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

In the AL East, the Blue Jays could still swipe second place away from the Yankees. If they beat the Orioles and the Yankees lose to the Marlins, the two teams will have 33-27 records, a 5-5 season series split, and 23-17 intradivisional records, but the Blue Jays would be 12-8 over their final 20 intradivisional games, the Yankees just 11-9. Our Playoff Odds put the chances of this at 11.5%.

Over in the AL Central, the White Sox fell to third on Friday night but clawed their way back to second on Saturday night. The Indians can no longer win the division, but their 8-2 season series record against the White Sox gives them the tiebreaker advantage if they beat the Pirates and the White Sox lose to the Cubs. If the Twins lose to the Reds and the White Sox win, first place would go to Chicago because while the two teams split the seasons series, the White Sox have the better intradivisional record.

AL Playoff Seeding Through September 26
Seeds 1-3 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
1 Rays** 39 20 .661 27-13
2 Twins* 36 23 .610 3 23-17
3 Athletics** 35 24 .593 4 25-14
Seeds 4-6 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
4 White Sox* 35 24 .593 25-15
5 Yankees* 33 26 .559 2 23-17
6 Astros* 29 30 .492 6 19-20
Seeds 7-8 Tm W L W-L% GB IntraDiv
7 Indians* 34 25 .553 +2 23-17
8 Blue Jays* 32 27 .542 22-17
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*clinched playoff berth
**clinched division title

There’s not a whole lot to see here; in fact, aside from the Yankees/Blue Jays situation and the placement of the AL Central teams, the only real action is whether the A’s can snag the number two seed. That can happen if they beat the Mariners and the Twins lose, because Oakland not only has the better intradivision record than Minnesota but also would have a better intradivision record (26-14) than Chicago. Here’s this:

If these seedings hold, we’ve got Rays-Blue Jays, Twins-Indians, A’s-Astros and White Sox-Yankees, but again, don’t hold your breath.

While we can lament the lack of tiebreaker games in store, and bemoan the eight-team playoff fields, in the end we can at least admit that this silly and hopefully transient playoff format has produced its share of end-of-season chaos. That should make for a good deal of suspense on Sunday, particularly with every team starting its games shortly after 3 pm ET, and we could even have stuff up in the air on Monday. I’m not sure that exactly qualifies as bonus baseball, since those games in Detroit were actually scheduled, but like everything else in this weird year, you can hang your own asterisk on it if you choose.





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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Cubs/Marlins you say? Remember to sit on your hands on foul balls Cubs fans