Thursday, July 07, 2005

mathematical elimination

now approaching the all-star break in much the same manner as the cherokee approached oklahoma, the only salient question about this or any cubs season almost seems laughable to ask: do they still have a shot? or is this year already a writeoff, with three months to play, in spite of $100 million spent?

both of dusty's cub teams -- 2004 and 2003 -- ended with win totals in the high 80s, and it should be noted that in neither case were they good enough to have won the wildcard. only an awful NL central in 2003 lifted the cubs into the playoffs, despite their record. this year, with saint louis streaming away from the pack, that isn't an option.

as context, the 2003 club was 47-47 at the break; 2004 was 47-40. again, neither of these teams could have won the wildcard.

as we've analyzed before, 2004 houston and 2001 saint louis were the worst-at-the-break squads ever to get the wildcard, each being .500 at the time. but that's not quite the whole picture -- the 1995 dodgers and 1997 astros came back from losing records to win their divisions, and the 2003 cubs also came up from even to win the central.

taking a broader perspective on the playoffs, then: in the ten year history of the wildcard, there have been 82 NL teams that were .500 or better at the break. 38 have made it in, with those two aforementioned being worse than break even.

if we develop a histogram of who ended up in the national league playoffs in the last ten years from their all-star-break record, we can get a good idea of what the chances really are going forward.

  • 30-25 over -- 4 of 4 -- 100%
  • 24-20 over -- 5 of 6 -- 83%
  • 19-15 over -- 8 of 10 -- 80%
  • 14-10 over -- 8 of 17 -- 47%
  • 9-5 over -- 8 of 25 -- 32%
  • 4 over-to-even -- 5 of 18 -- 27%
  • under .500 -- 2 of 74 -- 3%
it should be further noted that the two teams which defied the odds and overcame a losing rep were massively aided by their division. the 1997 houston squad, despite being 43-45, was only two back of 43-43 division leader pittsburgh (who went on to finish 79-83 and second in the central). the 1995 dodgers were five back at the break of the colorado team they overtook (which also snuck in). the 2003 cubs were just three back of division leader houston.

the cubs are, of course, 14 back of a cardinals team which is 24 over as i write and all but assured of winning this division. the avenue that put those two strange teams in the ring is closed to these cubs.

i can find no playoff team of the last forty that had to overcome a deficit of more than the 2001 cardinals did, being 5.5 out of the wildcard for the midsummer classic, to make the playoffs in any way.

the cubs are eight back of wildcard leader atlanta as of this writing.

what does it all mean? essentially, if this cub team sweeps the marlins, and miraculously find themselves within five games of the braves thanks to a milwaukee sweep, they have some extremely miniscule chance of falling into the playoffs.

in other words, we can back up the truck for a fire sale. this thing is done. that's what the history says.

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