As of the morning of August 28th, the Atlanta Braves were 27 games out of first place in the National League East, while only 20.5 games back of the National League Wild Card. While, we do not see an asterisk next to their name, indicating elimination from the playoffs, we are interested in identifying the probability for the Braves to make the playoffs.
Atlanta Braves (48-82; 27 GB NL East, 20.5 NL Wild Card; 32 Games Remaining)
Down 27 games with 32 games to go, the Atlanta Braves need not only the Washington Nationals to historically collapse, but also the Marlins and Mets wildly tank in September. While this is completely unlikely, we’d like to iron out the actual details in best-case scenario fashion and identify the true probability of making the playoffs.
In order to win the wild card, the Washington Nationals can post at best a 5-27 record while the Marlins and Mets can post 13-19 and 14-18 records, respectively. Similarly, the Phillies can post no better than a 20-12 record; an unlikely feat in itself.
The Braves remaining schedule includes 6 games against the Nationals, 7 games against the Marlins, 6 games against the Mets, and 6 games against the Phillies. This accounts for 25 of their remaining 32 games. Of those 5 other games, the Giants and Padres are on tap. So the remainder of the season is a battle for the East.
Unfortunately, Atlanta does not control their own fate. At best, the Braves can only recover six games on their East opponents. After that, climbing back requires other teams to beat the Nationals, Marlins, Mets, and Phillies. So let’s look at the Braves’ best case scenarios and eliminate inconsequential games; those games being games that have no impact on the race.
Suppose the Braves sweep all their remaining games. If this happens, the Braves finish no better than 80-82; which keeps them still two games shy of the 2005 82-80 Padres for winning a division with the fewest games. With sweeps of each team in their division the standings would look as such:
Nationals (75-61), Marlins (67-70), Mets (66-70), Phillies (60-76), Braves (80-82).
This still keeps the Braves out by 15 games to the Nationals. Therefore an optimal scenario requires the Nationals to lose inversely proportionate games to the Phillies; so that the Marlins and Mets don’t surge ahead and win the division. In this case, the Nationals must go 1-5 against the Marlins, 1-5 against the Mets, 0-7 against the Phillies. The Marlins would require to go 3-4 against the Mets and 1-5 against the Phillies. The Mets would then require to go 2-5 against the Phillies. This would then lead to the standings of:
Nationals (77-78), Marlins (76-80), Mets (77-79), Phillies (77-79), Braves (80-82)
Remember, this is the best case scenario. Any other scenario forces one of the four other NL East teams to hit 78, 79, 80 wins; all detrimental to the Braves’ chances of making the playoffs. The probability for the best case scenario to happen is 0.0000000000000000004502 percent! That is, a 4.5 x 10-20 percent! In other words, the best case scenario is highly unlikely. To force the remaining 6 or so games for each of the National League East teams, the probability can only get smaller…
What about the wild card? This probability is even smaller. To identify the Braves are currently 21 games behind the Cardinals with 32 games remaining. The Braves elimination number is considered by MLB as 12 games; but it’s in reality much lower than that. For instance, the Braves are 11 games behind the Cardinals and 10.5 behind the Pirates. And the Cardinals play the Pirates six more times in September. Therefore, if the Braves win 11 straight games, the Cardinals nor the Pirates can lose 11 straight games. In fact, the optimal scenario is that they split the remaining series 3-3; which means the Braves real elimination number is 9 games; not 12. If we include all other scenarios, we will find out that the Braves elimination number is actually 4 games instead of 12.
So let’s break down the optimal scenario for the Braves to win the wild card. To do this, assume all division winners win every game against Braves’ opponents in the Wild Card. Furthermore, assume that the Giants (current Wild Card leader) wins all games as well. And similarly for all American league teams playing any team not named Braves, Giants, Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals. Then, with the Braves winning out, the Wild Card race looks like:
Cardinals (68-71), Pirates (66-71), Marlins (67-82), Mets (66-79), Rockies (62-82), Phillies (60-75), Brewers (56-83), Reds (55-85), Padres (55-91), Diamondbacks (54-95), Braves (80-82).
This means that four teams get eliminated, with an extra 22 inconsequential games. This keeps the Braves’ elimination number in tact at 12; but the probability of the best case scenarios is now at 1.5046 x 10-34 percent.
Now, to keep the elimination number in tact, the remaining teams will lose to eliminated teams. In this case, the Cardinals, Pirates, Marlins, Mets, Rockies, and Phillies will lose to the Brewers, Reds, Padres and Diamondbacks; up to 82 losses. In this case, the standings become: 119, 23
Cardinals (68-77), Pirates (66-86), Marlins (67-83), Mets (66-82), Rockies (62-98), Phillies (60-75), Braves (80-82).
This means that three more teams get eliminated with an extra 18 inconsequential games. This reduces the probability for the best case scenario to 1.7937 x 10-41 percent. Continuing this process, we have the Cardinals, Mets and Phillies to lose all games to the Marlins, Rockies, and Pirates. This gives the standings of:
Cardinals (68-86), Mets (66-89), Phillies (60-85), Braves (80-82)
Thus the Braves make the playoffs under best case scenario, with the final three teams getting eliminated with 11 inconsequential games. This drops the probability under the best case scenario to being 5.4738×10-46 percent! Note that the Brewers and Marlins are only one game behind the Braves! So, we take the inconsequential games and split them evenly (redistribute to pull down other teams’ losses to push the Marlins and Brewers losses up. In this case, the series between the Marlins-Mets is the only series we can fudge. In this case, the Marlins move to 86 losses with the Mets. Similarly, the Cardinals can fudge with the Rockies for three games. This means the games can barely move around as the hugely losing teams are the Rockies-Diamondbacks-Padres; who primarily play each other throughout September. Thus the equilibrium sits at 86 losses. This means the Braves elimination number is 4.
So while the Braves have not been eliminated, if they lose 4 games, they are completely eliminated from the playoffs.