Team Entropy 2021: Still on the Table(s)

This is the fourth 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.

We’re down to the final six days of the 2021 regular season, and while the National League picture has cleared up somewhat thanks in part to the Cardinals’ 16-game winning streak — the Padres and Mets have finally been put out of their misery — the America League Wild Card picture is still rather dizzying, as Dan Szymborski can attest. The good news is that we’ve still got a substantial chance at bonus baseball, which is what this series is all about. Let’s dive in.

NL West and NL East

While the Brewers have officially clinched the NL Central, the Senior Circuit’s other two divisions remain in play. In the NL West, the Dodgers (100-56) suffered a stunning loss to the Diamondbacks on Saturday while the Giants (102-54) beat the Rockies, restoring San Francisco’s division lead to two games. In this unbelievable race, San Francisco has gone 37-15 since the start of August, allowing Los Angeles (37-13) to gain just one game in the standings.

Even with Brandon Belt now out due to a broken thumb, the Playoff Odds give the Giants an 83.4% chance of bringing this one home, because they not only have the lead but the easier schedule the rest of the way, as they finish by playing host to the Diamondbacks and Padres while the Dodgers host the Padres and Brewers. If the Dodgers do make up the ground and tie but don’t overtake the Giants, the tiebreaker game — which has a 13.9% chance of being necessary according to our Playoff Odds Tiebreaker page — would be played in San Francisco on the basis of their 10-9 season series edge. The winner of that game would be crowned division champion and get the NL’s top seed, while the loser would host the Wild Card Game, with whoever wins that turning around to play the NL West champion in the Division Series.

As for the NL East, the Braves (83-72) lead the Phillies (81-75) by 2 1/2 games, that after Philadelphia’s five-game winning streak came to an end with a 6-0 loss to Pittsburgh at home on Sunday. This one could be settled in short order, as the Phillies visit the Braves for a three-game set from Tuesday to Thursday. The Phillies lead the season series, 9-7, so one more win would clinch home-field advantage in a tiebreaker, but realistically they need to take at least two out of three to have even a shred of a chance; taking all three, of course, moves them into the lead.

There’s one additional headache to throw into the mix, however. The Braves’ September 16 game hosting the Rockies was postponed and never replayed; if the two East teams are within half a game of each other after Sunday — that is, after the Braves host the Mets for three while the Phillies visit the Marlins for three — they’ll need to play that makeup game on October 4 in Atlanta to determine whether an NL East tiebreaker game will be necessary. Unless the Cardinals lose all six of their remaining games and the Phillies win all six of theirs, thus creating an 87-win tie, that hypothetical NL East tiebreaker would be be a win-or-go-home situation.

NL Wild Card

Related to that, at this writing, there is still the slightest chance the second NL Wild Card spot requires a tiebreaker to settle, so let’s pull up the table:

NL Wild Card Contenders Head-to-Head Records
Team Record GB Cardinals Reds Phillies
Cardinals 87-69 9-10 3-4
Reds 82-75 5.5 10-9 4-2
Phillies 81-75 6 4-3 2-4
Yellow cells denote that team has clinched the season series.

This scenario would only take effect if the Cardinals lose out the rest of the way while hosting the Brewers and Cubs for three apiece this week‚ while either the Phillies or the Reds run the table on the road to get to 87 wins; that would require six wins for the former against the Braves and Marlins, and five wins for the latter against the Pirates and White Sox. Both the Reds and Phillies beat the Cardinals in their respective season series and thus hold tiebreaker advantages, so either of those two teams would host the red-hot Redbirds if push comes to shove.

If somehow all three of those teams winds up tied at 87 wins — the chances of which show up as 0.0% on the Tiebreaker page (meaning that they must be less than 0.049%) — the Reds would have first dibs in the pecking order because they hold the tiebreaker on both teams, with the Phillies next and then the Cardinals. The teams would draft into the following scenario: Club A would host Club B, with the winner of the game hosting Club C to determine the Wild Card team.

AL Wild Card

If the NL sounds complicated, wait until you get a load of the AL, where five teams remain alive in the quest for the two Wild Card spots:

AL Wild Card Contenders Head-to-Head Records & Games Remaining
Team Record GB Yankees Red Sox Blue Jays Mariners A’s
Yankees 89-67 +1 9-10 6-10 (0,3) 5-2 4-3
Red Sox 88-68 10-9 10-9 4-3 3-3
Blue Jays 87-69 1 10-6 (3,0) 9-10 2-4 5-2
Mariners 87-70 1.5 2-5 3-4 4-2 13-4 (2,0)
A’s 85-72 3.5 3-4 3-3 2-5 4-13 (0,2)
Games remaining between each pair of teams in parentheses, in format (Home,Road). Yellow cells denote that team has clinched the season series.

With six straight wins over the Rangers and Red Sox — the last three in dramatic, Giancarlo Stanton-powered fashion — the Yankees turned the page on an ugly 5-11 stretch and retook the Wild Card lead. They now hold an 81.5% chance of holding on, but they don’t have an easy road the rest of the way, visiting Toronto for three games and then hosting the Rays for three. Their opponents’ weighted winning percentage of .559 is the highest of any of these five contenders; here I should point out that these are based on the projected winning percentages going forward via our Projected Standings page, not season-to-date winning percentages.

The Red Sox just lost three straight to the Yankees at home, but before that, they had won seven straight. They have the thinnest schedule the rest of the way (.402 oppo win percentage) as they visit the Orioles and Nationals for three apiece, and their chances also get a boost from the mathematical inevitability that the Yankees and Blue Jays will produce three losses between them during the aforementioned series. Their 86.1% odds are the highest of these five contenders.

The Blue Jays stumbled last week, losing two of three to the Rays and managing only a split of their four-game series with the lowly Twins. They’ve got a real shot to get back into playoff position if they can beat the Yankees and then go to town on the Orioles, whom they host for the final three games of the season, but they’re clear underdogs here, with 26.9% odds.

That’s a much better place to be than either of the two West Coast teams. The Mariners have the upper hand thanks in part to their four-game sweep of the A’s in Oakland last week plus another win on Monday night, part of an 8-1 run. They finish at home, first hosting the A’s for two more games and then the Angels for three more; their odds are just 5.4%, though they more than doubled thanks to Monday night’s win. The A’s, who somehow have lost their last 10 games against the Mariners, are afterthoughts here, with odds of 0.1%.; they’ll finish on the road, heading to Houston after Seattle, but in all likelihood they’ll be finished by then.

As for the ties, the three AL East contenders have odd numbers of head-to-head games, so determining the host of a two-team play-in is straightforward. In case of three-way ties involving the beasts from the east, presumably for the two Wild Card spots — the odds of which are currently 3.7%, which ain’t nothing — the order would shake out with the Red Sox getting to pick first because they own the season series advantage over the other two teams. The Blue Jays would pick second and the Yankees third in the following scenario: Club A would host Club B, with the winner of the game becoming the top Wild Card seed. Club C would then host the A/B loser to determine the second Wild Card seed.

Supposing that the Mariners replace the Blue Jays within a three-way tie for the two spots, the Red Sox would be first in the pecking order because of their season series wins over the other two, with the Yankees picking second and the Mariners third. Same deal, with A hosting B and the winner getting the top spot, then C hosting the A/B loser and the winner of that one getting the second spot.

If it comes down to three teams for one spot — sticking with the current order, let’s suppose the Yankees get the top seed, with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Mariners tying for the second spot, Boston would be first in the pecking order due to the aforementioned season series wins, and then the Mariners second thanks to their season series win over the Blue Jays. The scenario follows the outline above, except that it’s A hosting B, and the winner hosting C for that one precious spot.

One more? Sure, why not. Let’s humor ourselves by putting the A’s into the mix with the Mariners and Blue Jays, which would mean that either the Yankees or the Red Sox take a nosedive, with the other team taking the top spot. The Mariners own the season series advantage on both teams and get to pick first, followed by the Blue Jays and then the A’s. Again A hosts B, winner hosts C.

As I pointed out last week, the one that gets tricky is if the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and A’s are the three tied teams. Not that it’s much of a possibility anymore given that the A’s are on life support but I think — but am not 100% sure based on the wording of the tiebreaker protocol (“If Club 1 has a better record against Clubs 2 and 3, and Club 2 has a better record against Club 3, then Club 1 chooses its designation, followed by Club 2”) — that the order would be Red Sox, Blue Jays, and A’s because while Boston and Oakland split their six games, the former has the better intradivision record (40-33 versus 36-34). Again the teams draft into the familiar scenario: Club A hosts Club B, with the winner hosting Club C.

If we somehow get a four-way tie, the pecking order is determined by combined head-to-head records against the other teams. The exact order is still up in the air thanks to the Yankees-Blue Jays series, but if we’re doing this today it would go Red Sox (24-21, .533), Blue Jays (21-20, .512, three to play), Yankees (20-22, .476, three to play), Mariners (9-11, .450). If we swap out the Mariners for the A’s, it goes Blue Jays (24-18, .571, three to play), Red Sox (23-21, .523), Yankees (19-23, .452, three to play), A’s (8-12, .400).

If the four-way tie is for the first Wild Card spot — hey, there’s a 0.3% chance! — Club A hosts B and the winner is the top Wild Card seed, while Club C hosts Club D and the winner becomes the second Wild Card seed. If the four-way tie is for the second spot (odds too small to see with the naked eye), Club A hosts Club B and Club C hosts Club D, with the A/B winner hosting the C/D winner to determine who gets that spot.

Our tiebreaker page tells us that the two-way AL tie for the second spot has the best odds of any such tie scenario, at 17.8%, with a three-way tie for the second spot at 3.1%, a three-way tie for the top spot (as noted previously) at 3.7%, and a four-way tie for the top spot at 0.2%. Via Szymborski’s separate number-crunching process, ZiPS gives 25.6% odds on some kind of three-way tie in for AL Wild Card spots, 3.4% odds on a four-way tie, and a 0.01% chance of a five-way tie, yielding a 29% chance at bonus baseball.

If we’ve still got a reasonable shot for any kind of wildness as the schedule plays out, I’ll be back sometime later in the week with another installment. In the meantime, root for chaos!

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, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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2 years ago

The only way the Phillies get to 87 wins is by sweeping the Braves which means the most wins the Braves would be able to get in that scenario would be 87 also. So if there is an 87 win NLE tie. And if STL loses all 6 and the Reds win all 5 then we have 4 teams at 87 wins. Would the loser of the NLE 1 game then play the winner of the Reds/ Cards game to determine the WC?

2 years ago

Yes. MLB has a very extensive page that explains the scenarios for all combinations up to 4 teams:

Look under the header “Two-Club Tie for Division Championship & Tie with Two Clubs Outside Division For One Wild Card Spot”

There are no scenarios for 5 team ties. It’s not clear if MLB actually has decided, or just prefers not to think about it.