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How did the St. Louis Cardinals' series win against the Pittsburgh Pirates impact the pennant race?

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Entering this week's three-game series at Busch Stadium, the St. Louis Cardinals had the best record in all of baseball, so they sit atop the National League Central standings. The Pittsburgh Pirates were in second place in the division with the third-best record by winning percentage in MLB. Today, I thought could use the Fangraphs playoff odds page to see how the Cards' 2-1 series victory impacted the clubs' respective postseason odds.

Fangraphs explains its playoff odds as follows:

The FanGraphs Playoff Odds are an adaption of the playoff odds originally created by Greg Agami and Sean Walsh. To generate the playoff odds we simulate each season 10,000 times.

In order to see how the just-completed series affected the National League pennant race, we need to go back to the morning of August 11, 2015. That was the day the series began. How were the Cardinals and Pirates positioned entering play on that day?

The Cardinals are as close to a sure thing of making the postseason as you're going to find. Of course, qualifying for October includes the play-in game. Thanks to the Pirates and Cubs being quality ball clubs, the Cards' 75.4% odds of winning their division was the second-highest in the NL behind the Dodgers and third-highest in MLB with Kansas City having a 99.4% chance of winning the AL Central before the first pitch on Tuesday.

Now let's jump forward to this morning, after St. Louis took two of three games from Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals' overall playoff odds didn't change in the least. This isn't particularly surprising, given how high they are. St. Louis is as close to sure bet to qualify for the postseason tournament as you're going to find.

What did change is the Redbirds' odds of winning the division. They ticked upward a bit at the expense of their wild-card chances. This is a welcome development. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure my heart is quite ready for the experience of another play-in game (infield fly rule call or not).

The Pirates of course lost ground—to the Cubbies as well as the Cardinals. Entering play on Tuesday, the Cubs and Pirates combined for a 24.6% chance of winning the division. Today, their combined odds are 21.6%.

The 162-game campaign of the MLB regular season means that very few series are make-or-break. Instead, the wins and losses accrue over time. The debits and credits having a small impact on the pennant race's outcome. This week was an example of an in-between step forward for the Cards. With the number of games dwindling, they strengthened their position as the clubs head down the home stretch.


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