In our fifth to last installment of making the playoffs, we begin to shift gears and take serious looks at the races for the MLB playoffs over the final month of the season. As of the morning of August 28th, each team has approximately 33 games remaining. Technically, the Twins, Braves, Brewers, and Reds have been effectively eliminated. You won’t see that asterisk next to their names; so let’s argue their chances quick before we jump right in and estimate probabilities of making the playoffs for every team.
Minnesota Twins (49 – 81; 25.0 GB in Central; 22.0 GB in Wild Card)
The Twins have the worst record in the American League and “need miracles” to make the playoffs this year. Out 25 games behind Cleveland, 20 games behind the Tigers and 18.5 behind the Royals, the Twins must post a minimum 24-8 record to catch the Tribe (Indians have to go 0-34 for the Twins to catch them). This means that if the Tribe win 8 games; the Twins are eliminated. Bounce this against the the 9 remaining games between the Tigers (6) and Royals (3); the Twins’ minimum record is actually higher than the aforementioned 24-8. How so?
The Twins require a minimum 20-12 record to catch the Tigers and a minimum of 18-14 to catch the Royals. Now, with the Indians playing 6 games against the Tigers, 3 against the Royals, and 6 between the Tigers an Royals; the best case scenario for the Twins are for the Royals to win 4 against the Tigers, Royals to sweep the Indians, and the Tigers to take 4 out of 6 against the Indians. In this case, the Twins have to sweep 6 against the Indians, 7 against the Tigers, and 6 against the Royals. At this point, the records for each team are Indians 75 – 68, Tigers 75 – 74, Royals 74 – 70, Twins 68 – 81. The Twins would still be 7 games out with 13 remaining. While this is possible (not probable), the Chicago White Sox are also lurking 14.5 games ahead of the Twins. Of the White Sox remaining games, each team has 7 (Indians), 6 (Tigers), and 6 (Royals) remaining with the White Sox. For the Twins requiring a 7-6 record, this would mean the Indians and Tigers could at most win 6 games before the Twins are eliminated each. The Royals are a little less restrictive with being able to win 7 games before the Twins are eliminated.
In this case, the White Sox cannot win more than 18 games (18-15 in their remaining 33 games) without eliminating the Twins. Therefore, the Twins’ best case scenario is that the White Sox win 5 of six against the Tribe, 5 of 7 against the Tigers, and 4 of 6 against the Royals. This would place the standings for each team as Indians 76 – 74, Tigers 77 – 81, Royals 76 – 74, White Sox 77 – 78, Twins 75 – 81.
This means the Minnesota Twins must sweep the AL Central and have the teams have a very certain way of winning and losing to still be 2 games out of first with 6 remaining. At this point, the Twins are not technically eliminated, but the probability of this happening is exactly 0.00000000000000000000239721 percent (2.4 x 10-19 percent). Hence we say effectively eliminated from the AL Central race. Technically? Not quite yet…
How about from the Wild Card? This is actually a worsening scenario. In this case, the Twins require the first place teams to sweep remaining competitors for their best chance to make the playoffs. In this case, the Blue Jays, Indians, and Rangers to sweep all teams ahead of the Twins in the wild card. Also, to maximize the Twins’ chances, the Boston Red Sox must sweep all teams ahead of the Twins. Finally, every National League team must sweep Twins’ opponents not named Indians, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Rangers. This will give he Twins the best chance of taking the last Wild Card spot. At this point, the wild card standings are at:
Orioles (71-72), Tigers (69-78), Astros (68-71), Mariners (68-75), Yankees (67-72), Royals (67-75), White Sox (63-82), Athletics (56-83), Angels (56-87), Rays (54-89), Twins (81-81)
This is the best case scenario. Not including games that drive losses past 82 wins (IE: Angels vs. Athletics with both as 82+ losses), the probability of this best case scenario is 4.3 x 10-33 percent!!! Now, since the White Sox, Athletics, Angels and Rays have more than 82 losses, we maximize the Twins’ chances of making the playoffs by having them sweep all other teams. This reduces the remaining wild card standings to:
Orioles (71-75), Tigers (69-85), Astros (68-85), Mariners (68-88), Yankees (67-79), Royals (67-86), Twins (81-81).
This method has eliminated the Tigers, Astros, Mariners and Royals. Not including games over the 82 loss marks and multiplying in their binomial coefficients, the probability of this best case scenario is 4.1 x 10-41 percent!! Finally, this leaves the Twins stuck with the Orioles and Yankees. Going a third layer of maximizing the probability for the Twins to make the wild card, we have the Tigers, Astros, Mariners and Royals sweep the Orioles and Yankees up to 82 losses. In this case, we divide out the probabilities of inconsequential games: IE. if the Royals beat the Orioles and the Orioles fall to 83 losses, we divide out the lowest probability loss for the Orioles against any other 82+ loss team. This allows that game to be “free” (adds probability one to the total since the game is inconsequential).
In this case, the wild card standings finally have the Twins winning the wild card. The standings are now:
Orioles (71-84), Yankees (67-88), Twins (81-81)
In this case, negating the games above 82 losses (and carrying through the binomial coefficients), the Twins have a 6.3 x 10-43 percent chance of making the wild card. This means that the Twins have billions times better chance of making the playoffs!
So while it is technically possible for the Minnesota Twins to make the playoffs, the probability is in the range of 10-21 of making the playoffs. To identify how low this probability is, you have a 1,000 times better chance winning that Powerball lottery TWICE in a row than the Minnesota Twins making the playoffs this year with 32 games remaining.