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Magpie made a comment yesterday that made me think.

He said:

    You wouldn't say [that the NL Central is the most boring division in baseball] if you were responsible for the NL West. At least you've got a genuinely good team, and two legitimate Wild Card contenders. You've got the Cubs and Houston playing 7 games over the last 10 days of the season, and those could be big, big games.
Magpie makes a good point. To be honest, I guess I've always assumed that the NL Wild Card winner would come out of the NL East. If you look at the Wild Card standings, though, there's no reason why that has to be the case:
NL Wild Card Standings

Philadelphia  4.5 GB
Houston       5.0 GB
New York      5.0 GB
Chicago       5.0 GB
Florida       5.5 GB
Yes, even the last place Marlins have a chance to win the Wild Card. Atlanta's lead certainly isn't insurmountable, particularly since if they play well they'll likely take the NL East instead of Washington.

As an aside there are only 9 teams that are not within 6 games of a playoff spot:

American League
Seattle, Kansas City, Tampa Bay

National League
Milwaukee, Arizona, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Colorado
In likelyhood this means a great seller's market for veteran players. It would be great for a team like the Pirates if the Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles all got in a war for starting pitching talent.

There's a few reasons why the Astros or the Cubs are likely better shots to win the Wild Card than their positions indicate. Here's three I've come up with, though I'm sure there are plenty more.

1. The Astros are Improving

Houston's record by month:
April:   9-13
May:    10-19
June:   16- 9
July:   13- 5
The Astros were underperforming in the first couple months of the season and are certainly overperforming this month. Which Astro team will show up in August and September?

Note that Lance Berkman came off of the DL on May 6th. Berkman slugged .325 in May, .538 in June, and an eye popping .672 in July. Is Houston's reversal of fortune all due to one player?

2. The Cubs Pitching Might Be Healthy

That's a big might, as Kerry Wood just had an MRI on his elbow. If Prior can stay healthy and Wood pitches some quality innings in September, the Cubs will win their share of low scoring games. Getting Nomar back would be a huge boost - he's expected back on August 1.

3. The Cubs and Astros play in a division with the Reds and Pirates

In September the 5 NL East teams will spent most of the month trying to beat the snot out of each other. The Cubs will have 5 games against the Pirates and 3 against the Reds (but unfortunately 7 against the Cardinals!). The Astros? 4 games against the Pirates and 1 against the Reds. But 5 against the Cardinals. Maybe it won't be so easy after all.

Question of the Day: How likely is it that the NL Wild Card will go to an NL Central team?

The NL Wild Card | 4 comments | Create New Account
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Pepper Moffatt - Thursday, July 21 2005 @ 02:28 PM EDT (#123409) #
I didn't realize Prospectus had their Post Season Odds report out yet. Here's what it gives for NL Wild Card odds, as of today:
NL Wild Card Odds

Chicago      20.2
Braves       14.7
Nats         14.2
Astros       13.0
Mets         12.9
Phils         9.6
Marlins       6.2
Brewers       5.9
I would have guessed the Astros have a better shot at the Wild Card than the Cubs. Actually, damn the projections, I think they do still have a better shot.

What about the Jays? 3.3% chance of winning the division, 2.3% chance of winning the Wild Card.

Are you a buyer or a seller when you have a 6% chance of making the playoffs?

Mick Doherty - Thursday, July 21 2005 @ 03:19 PM EDT (#123412) #
Prof Moff, you're the economist and I am a mathaphobe, but it seems to me to be shaky to add two probabilities together to get a third (while rounding up in the process). Wouldn't the actual playoff chance lie somewhere between the higher divisional odds and the lower Wild Card odds?
Pepper Moffatt - Thursday, July 21 2005 @ 03:28 PM EDT (#123414) #
I think it's correct in this instance, since you can't both win the Wild Card and the AL East. I know what you're getting at, though. If we want to know the probability that two independent events will occur, we usually use the formula:

Prob(A or B) = Prob(A) + Prob(B) - Prob(A and B).

Here, though, Prob(A and B) is zero (by definition), so it's okay to just add them up.

The chance of making the playoffs has to be (weakly) higher than the chance of winning the division, by definition, since winning the division automatically gives you a playoff spot.

Fun with math. :)
Magpie - Thursday, July 21 2005 @ 05:30 PM EDT (#123436) #
Fun with math.

Oh dear.

The NL Wild Card | 4 comments | Create New Account
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