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How did the St. Louis Cardinals' series loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates impact the NL Central race?

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals hosted the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates for a three-game series this weekend. Entering play on Friday night, the Cardinals held a 6.5-game lead over the Pirates in the National League Central standings. The Cards had a chance to further cement their hold on the division's top spot and a guaranteed berth in the National League Division Series. A sweep of the Buccos and the Cardinals would have pushed their lead to 9.5 games. A 2-1 series win and St. Louis would lead the Pirates by 7.5 games this morning. But Pittsburgh answered the bell and won the series thanks to two convincing victories of the Cardinals, including last night's 7-1 drubbing.

How did the Pirates' 2-1 series win impact the Central race?

As per usual, we will consult the Fangraphs playoff odds page to answer this question. Here is how the Fangraphs playoff odds are generated:

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

There are three different modes that one can us on the Fangraphs playoff odds page. I prefer the Fangraphs Projections Mode, which is described thusly:

This mode uses a combination of Steamer and ZiPS projections and the FanGraphs Depth Charts to calculate the winning percentage of each remaning game in the major league season.

For reference, we'll start with how the clubs were positioned entering the series opener on Friday, September 4. In other words, after the conclusion of all games on Thursday, September 3. I've included the entirety of the Central division in this chart so that no one will accuse me of writing the Chicago Cubs completely off—and we'll see why in a moment. Including the whole division also allows us to contemplate how far the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds have fallen. After all, the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs would not have all reached the heights they have without the Brewers and Reds bottoming out so completely.

The columns are self-explanatory, but just in case:

  • W-L:  Team's then-current total of wins and losses
  • W%:  Team's then-current winning percentage
  • GB:  Number of games out of first place
  • DIV%:  Percentage odds of winning the NL Central
  • WC%:  Percentage odds of winning one of the two NL wild-card berths
  • OFF%:  Percentage odds of making the playoffs, either as the division winner or a wild-card team

That was how the Cards and Buccos were positioned before the weekend series began. St. Louis led Pittsburgh by 6.5 games. With 29 games left on their slate, the Cards had a 93.7% odds of winning the Central. The Pirates had 5.8% chance of winning the division with 31 games to go. Sitting 10.5 games out of first, the Cubbies had a 0.5% shot and besting the Cardinals and PIrates to win the Central.

How did the events of this weekend alter the teams' postseason odds?

The Pirates' besting of the Cardinals knocked the Redbirds' Central odds down by 1.4%. But Pittsburgh's success only improved their chances of winning the Central by 0.6%. The Cubs increased their odds of winning the Central by 0.8% thanks to the Pirates' series win in St. Louis and Chicago's sweep of the Diamondbacks. The weekend's outcome thus had a small impact on the Central race.

Fangraphs projects the three likely Central postseason teams to finish with the following winning percentages and records:

  • Cardinals, 14.7-11.3 (.566)
  • Pirates, 15-12 (.555)
  • Cubs, 15.2-11.8 (.563)
Note: I had followed simple rounding rules, but that caused incongruity between the winning percentage and the whole-numbers wins and losses totals. So we're going with what Fangraphs shows, to the nearest tenth of a win.

Such a finish would see the Cards notch 102 victories, the PIrates 96, and Cubs 93. It would be a comfortable conclusion to the home stretch for the Cardinals. But as 2011 taught us, they play the games for a reason. What is most probable is not necessary what will happen. And so there is reason to be concerned as the Cards begin the season's final month of games against a very good Cubs team this afternoon.

FanDuel

SBN and FanDuel have entered into an exclusive partnership with respect to daily fantasy baseball. The Rockies have hit .234/.283/.385 on the road this season. They visit Petco Park this week and face Ian Kennedy on Monday. Kennedy has pitched better on the road than at home this year. Nonetheless, for his career, Petco has been friendly to Kennedy. I like Kennedy as a value play against the Rockies. Play FanDuel here.