With just ten games left in the season and not a single playoff spot clinched in the National League, it would seem like there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how the final standings will end. But that’s not really true.
Sure, there are still plenty of hypothetical scenarios. Jayson Stark wrote a fun piece at The Athletic yesterday rooting for maximum chaos: A 4-way tie between the Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers and Rockies. That would set off a complex series of one-game playoffs, and if that failed to settle things, I’m pretty sure it would go to an actual duel.
Who wouldn’t love to see that? It would be amazing. But it’s not going to happen.
When you dig into the Fangraphs Playoff Odds, it becomes clear that everything in the National League is all but settled... with the Cardinals involved in the only thing still resembling a race.
Fangraphs playoff odds don’t just look at every remaining game as a coin-flip (though actually, they have a set of odds that does that too.) They incorporate ZiPS and Steamer projections for each player, along with depth chart estimates for who will actually be on the field. Then they simulate the season 10,000 times.
I look at these odds religiously throughout the season, even more so as the season winds to a close - and you should too. I’m going to level with you: We are all stupid meat sacks, driven by emotion and hunger and the occasional dream where we are still in high school. It’s easy for us to get distracted by what is hypothetically possible, whichever team is “hot” at a given time, etc. It’s times like this we need the cold precision of machines.
So what do the machines tell us? Let’s start with the division winners:
The Braves, Cubs and Dodgers are all over 90% likely to win their divisions. “But wait,” you might be saying at your cubicle or mobile device, “I know the Braves and Cubs each have fairly solid leads, but aren’t the Dodgers only a game and-a-half up on the Rockies?”
That’s true, but the machines know so much more about these two teams. They know that the Dodgers were projected to be the best team in the league before the season even began, then they added friggin’ Manny Machado and Brian Dozier at the break. The robots also know that the Rockies are a franchise who has a statue outside their stadium of a “player” - not an actual, great player from team history, but the abstract idea of a player.
Fangraphs gives the Rockies a 10% shot at the division, which ain’t nothing. The Brewers and Phillies cling to a 4% shot at their respective divisions. (The Cardinals are under 1%.) Even switching to the coin-flip model barely moves the needle in the Central or East. Out west, it still gives the Rockies just a 1 in 4 shot.
So let’s call the divisions all but settled. What about the wild card?
Good news, Cardinals Nation: Fangraphs has the Redbirds at 78% to get into the wild card. The Brewers are at 94%, as one would expect, so they are all but in. The Rockies have a 19% shot. St. Louis odds jumped 10% after last night, when they won and the Rockies lost.
So there you have it. Heading into today’s game, which starts just over an hour after this posts, the Cardinals have 4 out of 5 odds of making that wild card game.
If you’re keeping an eye on other scores from around the league, you really only need to be watching the Rockies. As long as the Cards stay ahead of the Rockies, they are in. And what if the Rockies pass the Dodgers? Well, two things: That’s pretty unlikely to happen, and even if it does, staying ahead of the Rockies would still be (more than) enough to get the Cardinals in.
There’s always a chance that one of these teams goes 8-2 or 2-8 and shakes things up, but barring that, the playoff picture in the NL is pretty well settled.
And what a narrative-rich playoff it will be for the Cardinals, if they can close it out.
With the Brewers having the first wild card spot all but sealed, the Cardinals would face them in the wild card game. Should they win that game? They would almost certainly play The Hated Cubs, who currently hold the best record in the league by a healthy five games.
In other words, following a weekend dalliance with the Giants, the Cardinals road to the NLCS would go: Brewers, Cubs, Brewers, Cubs.