OK, so I am a wee bit premature with this, not to mention a tad anxious. But my mission tonight is to educate those of you who do not already have an understanding of the magic number.
The magic number is used to determine when and how the first place team would "clinch" their position in the playoffs. It is any combination of first place wins and/or second place losses that would mathematically eliminate the second place team. The wins and losses do not need to occur on the same day. For example, if the magic number is seven and the first place team wins and the second place team loses, the magic number is decreased to five. If both teams win or both teams lose, the magic number is only reduced by one.
The number of games out of first place a team may be is determined by the number of wins and losses a team has over the course of a season. To make up ground, the second place team would have to win and the first place team would have to lose. A win or loss by both teams would not change the standings. If the second place team were to win and the first place team does not play that day (due to a rain out or day off) the second place team would gain a half game in the standings. (If they lose they would drop a half game.) And vice-versa; if the first place team should win and the second place team does not play, the first place team would gain a half game in the standings (If they lose, they would lose a half game.)
When the magic number is 1, the first place team would have to lose every remaining game, and the second place team would have to win every remaining game just to tie. At that point, both teams would have the same number of wins. Then, of course, a tie-breaker game would determine the winner. At the point where the magic number has been diminished, the first place team has clinched their playoff berth, because there are not enough games remaining for the second place team to catch up to them.
The formula for figuring out the magic number is quite simple: Take the number of games yet to be played, add one, then subtract the number of games ahead in the loss column of the standings from the closest opponent. At the start of a season, every team has a magic number of 163 (162 games plus one).
And so, with a magic number of 35 today, we can see that the Mets have to keep up the awesome way they have played over the past week, because there is still plenty of time and games left for the Braves and Phillies to catch up. Just because we have a five game lead right now, doesn’t mean we should take anything for granted. But I believe, as I know you all do, that the Mets will do it again in 2007!