Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's almost that time of year...

Magic. Numbers. Are coming...

Actually, they're already here. But the relevant ones are still a couple of weeks away from being interesting. What's going to happen in the next week or so is that teams are going to start getting eliminated. The Baltimore Orioles are likely to be the first. Any combination of Baltimore losses and Boston wins equal to seven (or Baltimore losses and New York wins equal to nine [or, since the Red Sox and Yankees have to share six more losses, just five Baltimore losses]) mathematically eliminates the Orioles from contention in the AL East. (They were realistically eliminated long ago.)

Boston's magic number to win the East vs. the Yankees - 34. (Actually, 33, because in the case of a tie, the Red Sox win the division on the strength of winning the season series [and assuming, as I do, that the second place team will win the Wild Card])

New York's magic number to win the East vs. the Red Sox - 36.

How likely is it that either New York or Boston fails to make the playoffs? Well, let's look at the Red Sox for a minute. They've got 33 games remaining. Their worst 33-game stretch of the season consisted of their first 33, when they lost six straight and 10-of-12. If they repeat that to close the season, which is unlikely (they haven't had a 33-game stretch worse than 19-14 that didn't include those first six losses) but possible, they'll finish at 94-68. If they do that, the Yankees will almost certainly win the East, by going 18-17 or better in their last 35. The Red Sox would then need to finish ahead of the third place team in the East and the second place teams in the other divisions to make the playoffs.

To get to 94-68, the second place team in the Central, Cleveland, would have to go 31-4 (.885). Forget the Central.

To get to 94-68, the second place team in the West, the LAA Angels, would have to go 23-9 (.719). The third place team in the East, the Tampa Bay Rays, would have to go 24-10 (.706). Either of those results is possible; neither of those results is likely.

Nor, frankly, is the Red Sox going 15-18.

If there's going to be any drama in the AL results this year (unless you think there's great drama in which of the Red Sox or Yankees is the division winner and which is the Wild Card), it's going to come in the West or the Central. Or as a result of a complete melt-down by Boston or New York. Or a mini-meltdown accompanied by a historic stretch from the Angels or Rays. Not impossible. But not at all likely...

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