Nobody backed into this wildcard spot!

Wow, what a finish in the AL wildcard race.  The Indians winning their last 10 games, and needing every one of those wins to take the top wild card spot, as the Rays and Rangers both went 8-2 at the end (the Rangers with a 7-game winning streak of their own).  This is the way you want to see a playoff race finish … lots of winning!

Reminds me a bit of the Rockies’ mad dash to the playoffs at the end of the 2007 season.  They had to win, I believe, 13 of their last 14 to tie for the wildcard spot.  It was exciting to watch!

Predictions:  The Rays are a stong team, but weaker on the road.  The Rangers have been impressive how they’ve turned things around at the end of the season, turning a big slump into a big winning streak.  I’m inclined to give the Rangers the edge here given their home field advantage and momentum, but the fact that the Rays have David Price pitching gives me pause.  At times this season he’s been lights-out, and though lately he’s been just consistently good, I have to think for a big game like this you’ll see him pitching well.  Slight edge to the Rays because of Price.  Should Price get injured before he’s done, edge goes back to the Rangers.

As for the following matchup with the Indians, I give the edge to the Indians.  They’re a good team with a manager that knows about getting into and through the postseason, in Terry Francona.  They’re on a roll and they’ll have a very partisan crowd in their favor, as their Wednesday wildcard game is already sold out, and their opponent is yet to be determined.

But in the end, the ALCS will be between the Red Sox and the A’s.  Let’s just hope for a lot of fun baseball to watch on the way there!


Red Sox chances of having home-field advantage about 7 out of 11

The Red Sox will lose any tiebreaker against the Oakland A’s this season, should their records end up tied.  As each team has only 4 games remaining, and the Red Sox have just a 1 game lead over the A’s, to end up ahead of the A’s, the Red Sox must at least match the A’s win for win.

There are 256 possible outcomes of the Red Sox and A’s remaining 8 games (16 outcomes for the Red Sox’s 4 games times 16 outcomes for the A’s 4 games).  Outcomes here means, for example, win-loss-win-win, or win-win-win-loss (order matters).

When you examine all possible combinations of these outcomes, and even factor in their likelihoods of occurring, and keep in mind the statements made above, it turns out that the Red Sox have about a 7 out of 11 chance of securing home-field advantage over the A’s.  When you factor in the remote possibility of the Red Sox beating out Oakland for home-field advantage, but not beating out Detroit, the odds are slightly lower, but still about 7 out of 11.

Now let’s break down some of the above statements to see what’s behind them.

First, why is it that the Red Sox will lose any tiebreaker against the Oakland A’s?

The first tiebreaker is record in head-to-head games between the teams.  With each team winning 3 of the 6 games they’ve played against each other, that tiebreaker has no effect.

The next tiebreaker is intradivision record (record against the other teams within their own division).  Each team will finish with 76 intradivision games, and currently each team has 30 intradivision losses.  So this tiebreaker will go to the team that gets fewer intradivision losses the rest of the way.

This may seem hard to predict, but we can use two facts to our advantage here: 1) To end up tied, the Red Sox must lose exactly one more game the rest of the way than do the A’s. 2) There is only one non-intradivision game left for either team, and that is tonight’s Red Sox-Rockies game.

If the Red Sox win tonight’s game with the Rockies but end up tied with the A’s, it will be because they lost one more of their other games, all intradivision games, than did the A’s.  Since both teams currently have the same number of intradivision losses, that will give the Red Sox one more intradivision loss than the A’s, and the worse intradivision record, and so they lose this tiebreaker to the A’s.

If on the other hand the Red Sox lose tonight’s game with the Rockies but end up tied with the A’s, it will be because they lost the same number of their other games, all intradivision games, than did the A’s.  Both teams end up with the same intradivision record in this case, and so we move on to the next tiebreaker.

The next tiebreaker is higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games – games against other teams in the American League.  Currently, the Red Sox are 40-28 in these games, and the A’s are 40-27.  The Rockies game is again the only one of the remaining games that doesn’t contribute to this tiebreaker, which means, since we are considering the case in which the Red Sox and A’s lose the same number of the other games, all of which are intraleague games, the Red Sox would end up with one more loss in the same number of games for this tiebreaker, thus having the worse record, and losing the tiebreaker.

All of the above considered, the Red Sox will lose any tie with the A’s for best record, and therefore must maintain or grow their current one-game lead over the A’s to get home-field advantage.

Next we consider the question of why this means the Red Sox have a 7 out of 11 chance of getting home field advantage.

Of the 256 possible outcomes of the 8 remaining Red Sox and A’s games, in 163 of them the Red Sox at least match the A’s win for win, if not surpass them.  This represents 63.7% of the 256 possible outcomes.  If we assume all outcomes have an equal possibility of occurring, that means the Red Sox have a 63.7% chance of ending up with home field advantage over the A’s, or about 7 out of 11 (which is 63.64%).  But saying all outcomes have an equal possibility of occurring is to assume that both teams have a 50-50 chance of winning each of their remaining games, and that’s probably not the case.  If instead we assume a 60% chance for each team winning each remaining game (which essentially matches their winning percentages on the season), we can redo the calculation, weighting less likely outcomes (like loss-loss-loss-loss) lower than more likely outcomes (like win-win-win-win).  When you do this, the Red Sox’s odds turn out to be just a little bit better, 64.0%, to end up with home field advantage over the A’s.  Still pretty much 7 out of 11.

To get their chances of ending up with home field advantage, period, we have to subtract the likelihood of the Tigers tying or surpassing the Red Sox, while the A’s do not.  These odds, right now, are very small.  Assuming 50-50 chances in the games, the Red Sox have a 63.5% chance of ending up with home field advantage, and assuming 60-40 chances in the remaining games for each division leader, the Red Sox have a 63.9% chance.

No matter how you slice it, it’s pretty much 7 out of 11.

Of course you could argue that due to schedules, the odds are better now for one team or the other.  But I think the schedules are not too slanted for one team or the other right now, so I’m sticking with 7 out of 11.

I hope somebody out there enjoys reading this even half as much as I enjoyed producing it.

My sources for the data and tiebreaker information in this post were:

Royals don’t have a shot

My last blog post is now no longer applicable.  With the Royals losing last night and everybody ahead of them winning, they’re out of it.  Don’t care that there’s still a mathematical chance for them; it’s too slim to heed.  We all can ignore Kansas City, Baltimore, and New York now, and just focus on the Rays, Indians, and Rangers.

I predict Rays and Indians.  (Yeah, a stretch, I know.)

6-team AL wildcard race now looking like a 3-team race

It’s been exciting watching the wild card race in the American League evolving these last couple of weeks, with 6 teams having a real shot.  With division leaders pulling away, making the division races relatively uninteresting, and with the National League’s 5 playoff entrants pretty much a done deal (with only positioning remaining a question), this race has provided most of the late-season playoff race drama.

But as we approach the last week of play of the regular season, 3 of those 6 contending teams now look like outside longshots.

Each of these 6 teams has either 7 or 8 games remaining in the season.  It’s not likely that any of them will lose more than 3 or 4 of these remaining games.  However, the Yankees, Orioles, and Royals, each with 73 losses, will require at least two of the Rays (now at 69 losses) , Indians, and Rangers (70 losses each) to lose 3 or 4 games just to have a chance at tying.  Were the Indians and Rangers both to lose exactly 3 of their remaining games, one of the 73-loss teams would have to win all their remaining games just to tie.  Not unheard of; the 2007 Rockies faced this sort of scenario with just over 2 weeks to go that season, needing to win their last 15 games to make a wild card berth probable; they won 14 of those 15 to tie for the wild card and force a one-game playoff for the spot (which they won).  These streaks would be half as long, and with 3 teams poised to try for it, it’s not too out-of-the-question that one may do it.

At this point, scheduled opponents can make a big difference.  The Orioles seem to have the short end of the stick here, with 2 of their remaining 8 games against the Rays (who are fighting to keep their slim wild card lead). and 3 against the Red Sox (who will likely be trying to maintain their lead for home-field advantage against the other division leaders, Detroit and Oakland).  The Yankees also have 3 games against the Rays, but otherwise have an easy schedule, with 3 games against the bottom-dwelling Astros.  The Royals seem to have the best schedule of all though, with today’s game against the Rangers their only one against a contending opponent.

Though the Rays have the best record right now by a slim margin, if the Yankees or Orioles make a charge now, the Rays’ position in the standings will fall rapidly, while the Rangers and Indians, with easier schedules, would most likely stay put at the lead of the wildcard race.  Unfortunately for the Yankees and Orioles, this would only allow them to leapfrog one of the three leading teams; not enough to take a wildcard berth.

In the end, two of the 3 leading teams must falter, and that just doesn’t seem all that likely.  The Yankees, Orioles, and Royals are all positioned to make it interesting by winning, but won’t likely catch a wild card berth even if they do.

Seriously, Mr. McCain?

I like Senator John McCain, most of the time.  He’s a rare beast as a Republican politician with integrity.  But I don’t usually agree with his positions on things, and that’s okay when it comes to political positions.  But he’s overreached with his Twitter comments on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ celebration of their division title win by jumping into the Arizona Diamondbacks’ outfield pool.

I actually kind of dislike the Dodgers, but I think their celebration was great.  In baseball it’s understood that you get to celebrate at times like this, and I’m sure the Diamondbacks don’t mind it.  I recall the Red Sox two recent World Series victories happening on the road, and both the Cardinals and the Rockies organizations were very gracious about allowing the Red Sox to linger through extended celebrations on their fields.  I bet if there were pools to jump in there, the Sox would have been jumping.  Because it’s FUN.  The baseball season is long … so what’s wrong with a little fun at the end of it?

Now I think I see the problem.  McCain probably doesn’t get this concept of fun.  Which actually kind of makes me feel sad for him.

Lester determined

Jon Lester has been pitching like an ace of late, in every outing.  Watching him do so, it’s been very apparent how highly motivated he’s been over these past several weeks.

Tonight, he’ll have some extra motivation, being able to clinch the division title for his team with a win.  It would be only the second division title in the last 18 years for the Red Sox.

I pity the poor Blue Jays hitters.

Red Sox: falling in love with the home run loses close games

I have little patience for seeing a rally squashed by a big swing-and-miss.  I’m talking about hittable pitches here.  My patience for this is especially thin in close games in which runs are at a premium.  The intent of these batters is clear: to hit a “big smash” over the fence, with all the glory, cheering, and maximal dramatic impact that that entails.

I saw this a few times in last night’s Red Sox loss in extra innings.  When all the Red Sox needed was a base hit to break the tie and score the run that would have won the game eventually, I saw two players take big, swinging-for-the-fences types of cuts to strike out.  They’re players who’ve had this problem before, and have overcome it before, so it’s troubling to see them regressing at this time.  Perhaps you know who I’m talking about.

In the fifth inning, the game tied at 2, David Ortiz is up with 2 outs and a runner on 3rd.  On a pretty straight pitch down the middle of the plate and slightly in, the kind of pitch he’ll normally demolish, Ortiz took a bigger cut than usual and completely missed.  Contrast that to his first inning home run, on a very controlled swing in which he looks like a guy who’s trying to make good contact.  He did, and it went plenty far enough, several rows deep into the stands.

In the ninth, with the game tied at 3 and a runner on first, Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out taking a big cut on a pitch unquestionably over the plate, while slightly down and away.  A pitch he would probably do well to go the other way with for a base hit.  But instead, he tried to yank it over the fence, and shortened what could have been a game-ending half inning for the Red Sox.  Contrast that to his 12th inning leadoff base hit, a controlled swing on which he made good contact and lined one down the right field line.

These guys have both fallen in love with the home run in the past, and it’s gotten them into trouble, causing their on base percentages to plummet.  Thankfully, neither one has been that guy over the latter part of this year.  But with the amazing roll the Red Sox have been on lately, perhaps the feeling that “nothing can go wrong” has set in, and they’ve forgotten two crucial facts:

  1. The hardest part of hitting a baseball is lining up the ball with the sweet part of the bat.
  2. Guys like Papi and Salty are big and strong enough that they don’t need to swing their hardest to send the ball far over the fence – especially when they hit that sweet spot on the bat.

Succeeding at hitting at the major level is hard to do.  The Red Sox have made it look easy lately, and perhaps they’re starting to forget how much effort and focus it takes to make it look easy.  Guys, don’t get carried away now!

Red Sox have a better than 99.99999999999% chance of making the playoffs

For the Red Sox to not at least tie for a playoff spot, a lot of things would have to go exactly right (or wrong, depending on your perspective) at this point.  3 teams would have to overtake Boston to knock the Red Sox out of both the division title and both wild card spots.  As it turns out, only 3 teams in the American League that can still overtake the Red Sox in the race for the 3 playoff spots available to the Red Sox:  the Rays, the Indians, and the Rangers.  Since Baltimore can only tie at this point by winning all their remaining games, and since doing so would knock the Rays out of contention by giving the Rays at least 4 losses when they can only afford 3 to catch the Red Sox, the only scenario that can work is the Rays beating Baltimore.

Because Cleveland has 69 losses against Boston’s 92 wins, they must win all their 12 remaining games, and the Red Sox must lose all their 11 remaining games, for Cleveland to overtake them.

Tampa Bay, with 67 losses, can afford to lose no more than 2 games and still overtake the Sox; Texas, with 68 losses, can afford to lose no more than 1 game.  These teams are scheduled to play 3 more games against each other, however, so between them they must lose at least 3 more games.  Therefore, for both to overtake the Sox, the Rangers must beat the Rays 2 games out of 3, and both teams must win all their other remaining games (10 each).

So between the 4 teams, Boston, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Texas, 43 scheduled games must go a certain way, while the other 3 have a little more flexibility, with 3 of the 8 possible outcomes working to bump out the Red Sox.

If we assume each game has a 50-50 chance of going to one team or the other, that makes (3/8)*(1/2 to the 43rd power) as the chances of this happening: that’s less than one in 23 trillion.

However, the chances of the Red Sox losing any one of their games has to be less than 50% right now, and with Texas scuffling through a 7-game losing streak right now, I’d say the odds are even slimmer.

Yeah, it’s not yet a mathematical gaurantee, but come on, do you really need better odds than that?