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All of Your Final Day Cardinal and NL Updated 2020 Playoff Scenarios

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Cards can clinch a playoff spot today with a win or a Giants loss

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Although yesterday’s game with the Brewers was disappointing, the events of Saturday baseball made the National League postseason picture much more clear. The Los Angeles Dodgers had already clinched the #1 seed. The Atlanta Braves had already clinched the #2 seed. The Chicago Cubs clinched the #3 seed despite their loss because the Cardinals lost. The San Diego Padres had already clinched the #4 seed. The Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds had already clinched playoff spots. The New York Mets were immediately eliminated when they lost Game 1 of their doubleheader with the Washington Nationals. This leaves four teams vying for two playoff spots. In addition to the Cardinals, the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers are all still alive. Seeds #5, 6, 7, and 8 are still to be determined.

The ultimate conclusion of this article is that the Cards can clinch a playoff spot with either a win or a Giants loss and no doubleheader will be required. The Cards will still make the playoffs if they lose and the Giants win, as long as the Cards win one game of the doubleheader with the Tigers. If the Cards make the playoffs, they can be the #5, #6, #7 or #8 seeds, depending on different scenarios. I’ll show my work below, and you can check out the reasoning behind the conclusion if you like. No hard feelings if you just want the ultimate answer, as you can skip to the conclusion section, where I’ll simply summarize the possible seeding outcomes and scenarios without explanation.

IF THE CARDS WIN

If the Cardinals beat the Brewers today, everything is very simple. The Cards will clinch the #5 seed without it mattering what happens to anyone else and the Cards will not be required to play the doubleheader against the Tigers. The doubleheader would not have to be played because if the Cards win tomorrow and lose both games of the doubleheader, the Cards would end up with a 30-30 record and it would not be possible for two of the remaining clubs in contention to even match that, much less beat it and knock the Cards out. Because the games would not affect who makes the playoffs, and the #3 seed (home field advantage) is no longer up for grabs, the games will not be played even though they could affect the seeding.

If the Cards win today, their record will be 30-28, with a .5172 winning percentage. The reason that the Cards would clinch the 2nd place spot in the NL Central over the Reds with a victory is that with their loss last night, the best the Reds can do is finish at 31-29 with a .5167 winning percentage. It’s a very tiny amount of percentage points, but winning percentage controls in this situation. The Reds would automatically be the #7 seed because they can’t possibly finish 2nd in the NL Central division. They can’t be the #8 seed because if they win today, their winning percentage would be higher than any of the other clubs in contention. And even if they lose today, the Giants are the only possible club that could match them in winning percentage, but the Reds would win the division record tiebreaker over the Giants 21-19 to 19-21.

Going into yesterday’s games, the Marlins could only be the #5 or #6 seed because they had clinched the 2nd place spot in the NL East. The Cards victory would secure them the #5 seed over the Marlins for the same reason that the victory secured the 2nd place NL Central spot over the Reds. With their loss last night, the best the Marlins can get is a 31-29 record, with a .5167 winning percentage, which would lose out to the .5171 winning percentage of the Cards, and make the Marlins the automatic #6 seed.

The only question left is who the #8 seed would be. If the Giants win, then they will be the #8 seed, and if they do not, they are out. If the Giants win, they will finish at 30-30 and neither the Phillies nor Brewers could match that. If the Giants lose, the #8 seed depends on what the Phillies do. If the Giants lose and the Phillies win, that would put the Giants, Phillies and Brewers in a 3-way tie for the #8 seed at identical 29-31 records. This article confirms that the 3-way tiebreaker for clubs that are not all in the same division is division record. The Phillies (21-19) would beat both the Brewers (19-21) and Giants (18-22), and thus the Phillies would be the #8 seed with a losing 29-31 record. Aside from that, there’s no path for the Phillies, because if they lose, they’d have the worst record among all contending clubs, no matter what happens. And if the Giants win, they’d have a better record than the Phillies even if the Phillies won. If both the Giants and Phillies lose, the Brewers would be in a 2-way tie with the Giants for the #8 spot. The Brewers would hold the division record tiebreaker over the Giants (19-21 to 18-22) and the Brewers would be the #8 seed.

SUMMARY

If the Cards win, the Cards will be #5, the Marlins will be #6, and the Reds will be #7. The Giants will be the #8 seed if they win. If the Giants lose and the Phillies win, the Phillies will be the #8 seed. If both the Giants and Phillies lose, the Brewers will be the #8 seed.

IF THE CARDS LOSE

If the Cards lose, everything depends on what the Giants do. If the Giants win, the Cards will be forced to play the doubleheader against the Tigers. Here is why. If that happens, the Phillies would be out at either 29-31 or 28-32, and the Cardinals (29-29), Giants (30-30) and Brewers (30-30) would all be tied with a .500 winning percentage for two spots. But in that scenario, the doubleheader could affect who makes the playoffs, because the Cards could lose both games of the doubleheader and get knocked out with a 29-31 record. The Giants and Brewers would get the 2 playoff spots in that case. If the Cards were forced to play the doubleheader, and won just one game, they would knock the Giants out, which would make the second game unnecessary. Here is the reasoning. If the Cards won both games, the Cards would get one spot at 31-29 and the Brewers would get the other at 30-30 because the Brewers would beat the Giants in the division record tiebreaker 20-20 to 19-21. If the Cardinals took a split, all three clubs would finish with identical 30-30 records, but the Cardinals (21-19) and Brewers (20-20) would have better division records than the Giants (19-21) and the Giants would be the odd club out. So if the Cards won Game 1 of the doubleheader and had at least 30 wins, there would be no point in having a Game 2, because the Giants could only get 30 wins maximum and couldn’t get in regardless of what happened in Game 2. But if the Cards lost Game 1, they would have to play Game 2 because the Cards would get knocked out if they lost the second game.

Now let’s check out what would happen if the Giants lose. As you will see, the Cardinals and Brewers will make the playoffs no matter what happens and the doubleheader would not need to be played. Let’s suppose the Giants lose and the Phillies win. The Brewers would be at 30-30, and the Giants and Phillies would be tied with 29-31 records. If the Cards played the doubleheader and won both games, the Cards would be at 31-29 and both the Cards and Brewers would get the spots. If the Cards took a split in the doubleheader, both the Cards and Brewers would be at 30-30, and again both the Cards and Brewers would get the spots. It gets a little more tricky if the Cards lost both games of the doubleheader, but the result turns out the same. If the Cards lost both games, the Brewers would get one spot at 30-30. The Cards, Giants and Phillies would then be in a 3-way tie for the other spot at 29-31. At this point, the Giants would be eliminated because their division record of 18-22 would be worse than the 21-19 division record the Cards and Phillies would have. The next tiebreaker to resolve the tie in division record between the Cards and Phillies is the division record in the last 20 division games. The Cards win that tiebreaker because they would be 10-10 in their last 20 division games, while the Phillies were only 8-12. Thus, the Cards and Brewers would both get the playoff spots regardless of what happened with the doubleheader, making it unnecessary.

The result is the same if both the Giants and Phillies lose. The Brewers would be in at 30-30. The Phillies would be out at 28-32. If the Cards played the doubleheader and won both games, they would be in at 31-29. If the Cards played the doubleheader and took a split, both the Cards and Brewers would be at 30-30 and take the spots over the 29-31 Giants. And if the Cards lost both games of the doubleheader, they would be tied with the Giants at 29-31 for the final spot, but the Cards would win the division record tiebreaker 21-19 to 18-22.

The ultimate conclusion is that if the Cards and Giants both lose, the Cards clinch a playoff spot with a 29-29 record without the need to play the doubleheader. The Cards losing to the Brewers puts the Brewers automatically in and the Phillies automatically out. And if the Cards lose to the Brewers, the only avenue for the Giants to make the playoffs over the Cards is for the Giants to win their final game against the Padres and for the Cardinals to lose both games of the doubleheader to the Tigers.

SEEDING IF THE CARDS LOSE AND GIANTS WIN

This is where things get a little tricky because now one has to add the Reds and Marlins into the equation.

IF CARDS WIN GAME 1 OF THE DOUBLEHEADER

Let’s suppose the Cards are forced to play the doubleheader and win Game 1, making Game 2 unnecessary. That would give the Cards a 30-29 record with a .5084 winning percentage. If the Reds win, they would be at 31-29 with a .5167 winning percentage, which would give the Reds the 2nd place spot in the NL Central. That would knock the Cards down to the #7 seed and the Brewers to the #8 seed. The Cards would be the #7 seed over the Brewers because the Cards’ .5084 winning percentage would beat the Brewers’ .500 winning percentage. Whether the Reds were the #5 or #6 seed would depend on what the Marlins did. If the Marlins also win, the Marlins would get the #5 seed over the Reds. Both clubs would have identical records at 31-29, and identical division records at 21-19. The next tiebreaker would be division record in the last 20 games, and both clubs would be tied there too at 12-8. The way to resolve that tiebreaker is to keep going back and adding extra division games until the tie is broken. It takes 3 additional games to break that tie, and the upshot is that the Marlins win it because they beat the Mets in Game 1 of a doubleheader on August 25th, and the Reds lost to the Cubs in Game 1 of a doubleheader on August 29th. If the Reds win and the Marlins lose, then the Reds would be the #5 seed and the Marlins would be the #6 seed.

If the Reds lose, however, they would finish at 30-30 with a .500 record, and the Cards would take the 2nd place spot in the NL Central division based on winning percentage (.5084 to .500). The Reds would get knocked down to the #7 seed and the Brewers would still be the #8 seed. The Reds and Brewers would have identical records in that case, but the Reds would get the #7 seed due to beating the Brewers in the head-to-head tiebreaker 6-4. Whether the Cards get the #5 or #6 seed would depend on what the Marlins do. If the Marlins win, they would get the #5 seed because the Marlins would beat the Cards in winning percentage (.5167 to .5084). If the Marlins lose, the Cards would get the #5 seed because the Cards would beat the Marlins in winning percentage (.5084 to .500).

IF THE CARDS LOSE GAME 1 OF THE DOUBLEHEADER BUT WIN GAME 2

Now for an interesting twist. Let’s suppose that the Cards are forced to play the doubleheader, and lose the first game. That would force them to play the second game because if the Cards lost it, they would get knocked out of the playoffs. Now let’s suppose that the Cards win Game 2. That would give the Cards a 30-30 record with a .500 winning percentage in a tie with the Giants and Brewers who all. If the Reds win, they would get the 2nd spot in the NL Central based on a better winning percentage and get the #6 seed if the Marlins also win and the #5 seed if the Marlins lose, just like I said above. This time, however, the Cards would be the #8 seed and the Brewers would be the #7 seed. The reason is that the Cards and Brewers would be tied with identical .500 records, but the Brewers would beat the Cards for the #7 seed due to winning the head-to-head tiebreaker 6-4.

If the Reds lose, however, it’s a cluster. The first thing, again, to resolve is which club gets the 2nd spot in the NL Central. If the Reds lose, the Cards, Reds and Brewers would be in a 3-way tie for the spot with identical .500 records. Now we have to use a tiebreaker that nobody has talked about yet. According to this article, we would have to first examine which club has the best record against the other two. That doesn’t help in this case. The Cards went 6-4 against the Reds and a loss today to the Brewers would give them a 4-6 record against the Brewers for a 10-10 total record. The Reds were 4-6 against the Cards and 6-4 against the Brewers for a 10-10 total record. The Brewers would be 6-4 against the Cards and 4-6 against the Reds for a 10-10 total record. Now what? The article says that if all 3 records are identical, then the best record in all division games controls. That doesn’t fully resolve it, either. The Brewers would be last in that tiebreaker with a 20-20 division record, but the Cards and Reds would be tied at 21-19. The article I have referred to is not a treatise and did not exactly spell out what would happen, but I am applying common sense in concluding that with the Brewers out on that tiebreaker, it would revert to the two-way tiebreaker between the Cards and Reds again, and the Cards would prevail due to a 6-4 head-to-head record.

Now, it turns out this time that the Cards would get the #6 seed regardless of what the Marlins do. If the Marlins win, they would get the #5 seed based on a better winning percentage over the Cards. If the Marlins lose, the Cards and Marlins would be tied with a .500 winning percentage, and we’d have to go back to the tiebreakers. The clubs would have an identical division record of 21-19. The next tiebreaker is division record in the last 20 division games, which the Marlins would win 12-8 to 10-10. Either way, the Cards would get the #6 seed. The Reds would be the #7 seed over the Brewers due to a better head-to-head record, and the Brewers would be #8.

SEEDING IF THE CARDS AND GIANTS BOTH LOSE

Remember that in this scenario, the doubleheader will not be played and the Cards would clinch a spot with a 29-29 record. Because the Cards’ winning percentage would be .500, the same analysis for seeding that I outlined if the Cards were forced to play the doubleheader, lost Game 1 and won Game 2 applies here. The Cards’ winning percentage would be .500 in both situations.

CONCLUSION

The Cardinals clinch a playoff spot with either a win today against the Brewers or a Giants lose today to the Padres. The doubleheader against the Tigers would not have to be played in either scenario. The Cards would only be forced to play the doubleheader against the Tigers if the Cardinals lose and the Giants win. Even if that happens, the Cardinals can still make the playoffs by winning just one game of that doubleheader. If the Cardinals win Game 1, Game 2 should not be required. If the Cardinals lose Game 1, they will have to play Game 2, because they would get knocked out of the playoffs if they lose both games. Being forced to play the doubleheader and losing both games is the only scenario in which the Cards do not make the playoffs.

Assuming the Cards make the playoffs:

*They will be the #5 seed if they win. They will also be the #5 seed if they lose, the Giants win, the Cards win Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Tigers and the Reds and Marlins both lose. As the #5 seed, the Cards would travel to San Diego to play the #4 Padres.

*They will be the #6 seed if they lose, the Giants win, the Cards win Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Tigers, the Reds lose and the Marlins win. They will also be the #6 seed if they lose, the Giants win, the Cards lose Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Tigers, but win Game 2 of the doubleheader and the Reds lose. They will also be the #6 seed if they lose, the Giants lose and the Reds lose. As the #6 seed, the Cards would travel to Chicago to play the #3 Cubs.

*They will be the #7 seed if they lose, the Giants win, the Cards win Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Tigers and the Reds win. As the #7 seed, the Cards would travel to Atlanta to play the #2 Braves.

*They will be the #8 seed if they lose, the Giants win, the Cards lose Game 1 of the doubleheader, but win Game 2 of the doubleheader and the Reds win. They will also be the #8 seed if they lose, the Giants lose and the Reds win. As the #8 seed, the Cards would travel to Los Angeles to play the #1 Dodgers.

All relevant games are being played at almost exactly the same time, right around 2:00 p.m. central time, so there will be plenty of scoreboard watching. Cheers and enjoy!