As the calendar nears September, baseball’s playoff race is beginning to heat up, and as a result, fans are once again having to bust out their calculators.
That is because of a statistic known as the “magic number,” which illustrates how close a team is to clinching a playoff spot.
Whether it be a division crown or a wild card spot, playoff berths in Major League Baseball are always special, and fans can be forgiven for getting a bit excited about how close the season is to wrapping up.
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So what does a magic number represent? And how do you calculate it?
For starters, here is the formula for the number:
Magic number = 163 – (Playoff team’s win total + trailing team’s loss total)
The number represents the combination of a team’s wins and an opponent’s losses that would result in a fan’s favorite team mathematically-clinching a playoff berth.
By way of example, we can take the Chicago Cubs, who beat the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon.
The victory gave the Cubs a record of 71-62 on the season, and a two-game lead over the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks for a wild card berth.
Assuming that the Diamondbacks win on Wednesday night, they would leapfrog the Giants in the wild card standings.
The Giants currently have a record of 69-64. As a result, the Cubs’ magic number to eliminate the Giants would be:
163 – (71 + 64) = 28
That means that a combination of 28 Cubs wins and Giants losses would eliminate San Francisco and secure a playoff berth for the Cubs in the National League.
Of course, the Cubs could still win the division, as they only trail the Brewers by three games after taking two-of-three from Milwaukee this week.
The Brewers’ magic number to eliminate the Cubs is 27, for those keeping track at home.