Decisions, Decisions: Home Field and the Manic Magic Number

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Terry Collins and his staff may have some interesting decisions to make this weekend regarding his pitching staff and how it sets up for a potential Wild Card Game next Wednesday night.   A lot has to do with the two team wildcard format, tie breaking procedures and how a magic number is calculated.

An important facet in this situation to understand is that a magic number, by definition, pertains to only two teams.  Therefore, the Mets have one magic number against the Giants (currently 5), and a completely separate one against the St. Louis Cardinals (currently 6).  After all, it is in essence, the combination of wins by the leading team and losses by the trailing team that make catching the leader mathematically impossible.  Many fans, tweeters, and intelligent folks are having issues understanding how any of this works in a three team field for two spots.  You are not alone, as the format can get a bit confusing.

How Come the Mets are Further Ahead of the Giants than the Cardinals?

Let’s look at the standings as they currently exist.  The Mets are one full game ahead of the Giants with both teams having six remaining games.  If the Mets go 3-3 on their final road trip, it would make sense to expect the Giants to tie the Mets with a 4-2 record, making up the necessary game and forcing some type of home field playoff.  Well, this is not the case with the two wildcard team format.  Teams that finish with the same record for the top spot (not the final spot, which will be addressed later) will default to head to head season series, which the Mets hold a 4-3 edge on.  In other words, that is tantamount to the Mets having a current two game advantage on the Giants.  The Giants would have to OVERTAKE the Mets in the standings, not just tie them.  So, in the above example, the Mets 3-3 record would task the Giants to have to go 5-1 to overtake the Mets in the Wildcard standings. Any combination of five Mets wins and Giants losses would secure home field for the Mets a Wild Card match-up against the Giants.

The above scenario is solely for the Mets Giants race for the top Wild Card spot.  The St. Louis Cardinals won the season series against the Mets.  As a result, they only have to draw even with the Mets in order to overtake them in the standings, again defaulting to the in season record between the two clubs.  As it currently stands, the Red Birds are 1.5 games back of the Mets for the Wildcard lead with seven games left to play.  The ‘extra game’ will be played Thursday, while the Mets are off.  As a result of the extra game to be played and the Cardinals holding the edge in the season series, the Mets magic number against this club is 6, or higher than the team that is ahead of them (The Giants) in the standings.  If the Cardinals go 3-4 in their final week, the Mets would need to go 3-3 to maintain their lead against them.  Anything less would give the Cardinals home field in any head to head match-up between the clubs if they are the two to qualify and the Giants go home.

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How Could This Impact the Mets Rotation in Their Final Turn?

If you told me in April I would be writing about Noah Syndergaard‘s strep throat and how it will impact home-field advantage in a Wild Card game, I would have laughed.  But after this season, it is impossible to take anything off the table with this team.

Noah was bumped from his start this past weekend due to his illness.  As a result, he is no longer lined up to pitch on Wednesday October 5th, the NL Wild Card Game.  In fact, being scheduled to pitch tomorrow, he is actually lined up to pitch on regular rest in the final game of the season in Philadelphia Sunday.  It would behoove the Mets to wrap up home-field by Saturday the latest, or they could be put in a precarious position before game 162.

If the Mets have clinched a wildcard berth by Sunday morning but have yet to secure home field, they will have to decide on whether or not to send Noah out on regular rest in order to get a home Wild Card ‘play-in’ game, or save him for a guaranteed post season start that may come on the road with their stud on extra rest.  Fans would rather see the game played in Flushing, but they would likely rather see Thor on the bump, regardless of where the game is.  Whats more? Colon is scheduled to pitch Saturday night in Philly, which would leave him on short rest the following Wednesday.

If the Mets postseason hopes come down to their final game, they would find themselves with neither Colon or Syndergaard on regular rest to pitch that play-in game.  The result? Allow Colon to pitch on three days rest, or, everyone’s consensus choice to pitch such a game in spring training, Robert Gsellman is your Wild Card game starter for the Mets.

The scenarios get much more murky if all three teams finish with the same record or a tie breaker game is necessary if two teams tie for the second Wild Card spot, which would lead to a Game 163, as non-competitive tie breaking procedures can not be utilized for a final playoff spot, but a head to head game.

How can this be avoided? Simple! The Mets Win the next six and make it all moot! Easy enough…

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About Chris the Teacher 37 Articles

A teacher and coach by day, Chris spends his summers going to see the Mets in different parks around the country having already visited 24 Major League Ballparks. Highlights include seeing Tom Glavine’s 300th win at Wrigley Field as well as the Mets Clinch the NL East in Cincinnati in 2015. A loyal Mets season ticket holder since graduating from Stony Brook University in 2005, he enjoys raising his two boys Michael and Carter (after Gary) as Met fans and appreciates the freedom his wife gives him to pursue his travels.