Last week, we talked about using your preseason expectation to constrain your enthusiasm over the Brewers’ highly-successful start. This week, I want to talk about something equally important: what the Brewers need to do for the rest of the season in order to be a postseason participant.
As of Tuesday night, the Brewers are 10 games over .500, with 22 wins out of 34 games played. That amounts to a .647 winning percentage, or 65% of their games. That’s a fantastic start to any season, and the Brewers are in great shape as a result. But some people are over-interpreting its significance. Chief among the claims being made, and I’ve probably been guilty of it too, is to assert that “if the Brewers can just go .500 for the rest of the season, they’ll be in the postseason.”
This statement rests on two assumptions: (1) that if the Brewers played .500 baseball the rest of the season, they would still have the same winning percentage then that they have now; (2) that playing .500 baseball going forward would regardless assure the Brewers a postseason berth. The first statement is definitely wrong, and second is probably wrong too.
Mathematically, I can assure you that if the Brewers play .500 baseball from here on out, they will not still have won almost 65 percent of their games once the season is over. Rather, they will be at .531, and only 86 wins. That may be counter-intuitive, because there is a tendency to assume that simply adding one win and one loss, in sequence, should leave you with the same winning percentage as when you started. But winning percentage is wins over total games, not wins over losses, so as you play more games you also need to win progressively more games just to keep up the winning percentage you had before. You can also think of it this way: the more time you spend playing like a true-talent .500 team, the more likely you will in fact become one.
The “just play .500 ball” claim is also probably wrong because 86 wins is unlikely to get the Brewers to the postseason. In the last 10 years, only one team— the 2006 Phillies—would have made it to the playoffs with so few wins under the current format. There are far more examples of teams winning 88, 89, or even 90 games not making it to the postseason. Based on the last decade, 91 games is what you probably need to assure yourself a likely date in October.
So, if the Brewers are going to get to 91 wins, they’re going to have to do more than finish out the season alternating wins and losses. As of today, in fact, here are the remaining win percentages required to reach 91 wins for the Brewers, Cardinals, and Pirates respectively:
|Team||Wins||Current WP||Current Weight||Add’l Wins||Rest WP||Remaining Weight||Wins|
To be precise, what the Brewers need to do is play about .535 the rest of the year. How does that burden compare to others in the NL Central? Let’s compare the Brewers to the Cardinals, who currently are at exactly .500, and the lowly Pirates, who are struggling at 13-20 (.394). Let’s also put this into a framework that is easier to understand and track: how many series each team needs to win to put itself into that 91-win stratosphere.
Most series are three games in length. In general, the series is won by the team that wins two, but not all three games. With that being the typical pattern, how does their current record affect the frequency with which the Brewers, Cardinals, and Pirates need to win those sorts of series?
|Team||Number of Series They Need to Win||WP|
|Brewers||3 of 5||0.533|
|2 of 3||0.556|
|Cardinals||3 of 4||0.583|
|4 of 5||0.600|
|Pirates||5 of 6||0.611|
Pretty stark difference. The Brewers can get to 91 wins by winning three out of every five typical series (ok, plus a few thousands of a point), whereas the Cardinals have to win three out of every four, and the Pirates basically have to win five out of every six series they play.
It is certainly possible the Cardinals or even the Pirates will accomplish this, particularly if either team goes on a hot streak and sweeps a few series in a row, which would move the remaining odds more in their favor. But we all know that is easier said than done, particularly with a team several games ahead of you in the division. Brewers fans have spent many a summer wondering why even a 5-game lead seems unsurmountable. We aren’t anywhere near summer, but the task ahead is getting more challenging for the Brewers’ divisional competition.
So, if you’re looking for a guide to keep track of the Brewers’ necessary progress, consider tracking series wins instead. If the Brewers continue to win at least three out of five series they play, chances are you’ll be watching them for at least a few extra days in October.
But, please don’t be tempted by the “just play .500” argument. 86 wins is the Friend Zone of over-.500 baseball, and the Brewers want no part of it.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @bachlaw.