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The St. Louis Cardinals' magic number and how they might reach it

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It's the home stretch of the pennant race, which means talk of magical numbers.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals lost last night to the Cincinnati Reds. The Pittsburgh Pirates bested the Philadelphia Phillies. The Milwaukee Brewers topped the Miami Marlins. And so the National League Central standings look like this entering play this Thursday, September 11, 2014:

Place

Team

Wins

Losses

Pct.

Run Diff.

GB

1

Cardinals

80

66

.548

+3

-

2

Pirates

76

69

.524

+25

3.5

3

Brewers

75

71

.514

-6

5.0

4

Reds

69

77

.473

-8

11.0

5

Cubs

64

82

.438

-81

16.0

The Cards have 16 games left in the 2014 regular season. The Pirates have 17; the Brew Crew, 16. With so few games remaining, the 2014 regular season's finish line is in sight. And the mathematical eligibility for the postseason has taken its place on center stage. This is most commonly referred to as a first-place team's "magic number" or a non-first-place team's "elimination number."

A team's magic number is calculated by adding one to the total number of regular season games and then subtracting from that the first-place team's win total and the second- (or third-) place team's loss total.

There are 162 games in the MLB regular season. The Cards are 80-66. The Pirates are 76-69. So the Cardinals' magic number in regards to Pittsburgh is calculated by taking 163 -  80 - 69, which equals: 14.

The Brewers are 75-71. To calculate the Cards' magic number relating to Milwaukee, the formula is 163 - 80 - 71, which comes out to: 12.

What are the combinations of Cardinals wins and Pirates or Brewers losses that will result in St. Louis winning the division? The following chart shows how many the games the Cardinals must win, in combination with Brewers and Pirates loss totals, in order to secure a second consecutive division crown.

Cardinals

Pirates

Brewers

16-0

-

-

15-1

-

-

14-2

-

-

13-3

16-1

-

12-4

15-2

-

11-5

14-3

15-1

10-6

13-4

14-2

9-7

12-5

13-3

8-8

11-6

12-4

7-9

10-7

11-5

6-10

9-8

10-6

5-11

8-9

9-7

4-12

7-10

8-8

3-13

6-11

7-9

2-14

5-12

6-10

1-15

4-13

5-11

0-16

3-14

4-12

Even with a lead in the standings of just 3.5 games over the Pirates, the Cardinals still have a decided advantage with so few games left on the schedule. Especially when the 16 games remaining consist of one game at Cincinnati, three each against the Rockies (in St. Louis), Diamondbacks (away), and Cubs (away), and three at home against the Reds and Brewers. The Cardinals are sitting pretty, but it nonetheless sure feels like the final 16 games will be every bit the slog that the first 146 have been.

Correction: The chart incorrectly calculated the Pirates' wins and losses based on 14 total remaining games. As noted in the body of the post, the Pirates have 17 remaining total games. The chart has been corrected to reflect this reality.