baseball

Explaining the Mariners’ magic number to reach the playoffs

With 162 games in the baseball season, it’s easy to think that some of them don’t matter.

But this is September, and they definitely do. It’s why watching the Mariners in this last stretch has been difficult for fans. Because this is when winning matters most and — after going 4-6 over their last 10 games — they haven’t been doing much of it lately.

There are 15 games left in the regular season, and a lot can still happen.

Right now, the Mariners hold the third and final AL wild card spot and sit 5 games ahead of Baltimore and 5.5 ahead of the White Sox in the wild card standings. The Mariners hold the season-series tiebreaker over the Orioles so if the teams finish tied, Seattle would get in. The White Sox, meanwhile, hold the tiebreaker over the Mariners, making Chicago a team to keep a close eye on.

Despite their recent scuffles, the Mariners’ playoff odds haven’t budged much. Fangraphs gives them a 99.3% chance to make the postseason with a 3.8% shot to win the World Series, while FiveThirtyEight has them at a greater than 99% chance with a 2% chance at the title.

So what does that mean for the Mariners and how far off are they from clinching a playoff berth for the first time in 21 years? Well, that brings us to the magic number, or the number of games until a playoff spot is guaranteed.

The magic number is calculated by looking at the number of games a team needs to either win or have its closest competitor lose. It’s determined using the number of games left and subtracting your wins and opponent losses.

MLB uses this formula: Games remaining +1 – (Losses by second place team – losses by first place team)

Let’s look at it in terms of the final AL wild card spot.

Now we know the number of games remaining (15). The Orioles (the second place team) have 71 losses, and the Mariners (the first place team) have 66. Using some simple PEMDAS math, we get the following.

Magic number = 15 + 1 – (5) = 11

Except that this isn’t the real magic number because the Mariners hold the tiebreaker over the Orioles. It’s like there’s an additional loss for the O’s if they were to finish with the same record.

Real magic number = 15 + 1 – (6) = 10

And you thought you’d never use algebra in real life after high school.

Too long, didn’t you read? The magic number for the Mariners is 10.

Every time the Mariners win, that number decreases. Every time the Orioles lose that number decreases. Now if the White Sox overtake the O’s, we’ll have to substitute the White Sox’s losses for the Orioles’. We can cross that bridge when we get there.

Now, let’s get to some power rankings.

SI.com: No. 10

The Athletic: No. 9

We’re all tired of hearing about the Mariners’ postseason drought. Jerry Dipoto most of all, which is why he’s probably sleeping about 90 minutes a night as his team tries to make good on a rebuild that started in 2018.

I expected the Mariners to win 90+ games this season, but not quite like this. I figured Robbie Ray would be outstanding after moving from Toronto to Seattle, and he’s been great at T-Mobile Park (2.73 ERA). But he’s been pretty bad on the road (5.08 ERA). Their big offseason trade was supposed to be about Jesse Winker, but in future years it’ll probably be known as “the Eugenio Suárez trade.”

Suárez is out with an injured finger, which isn’t great. But the finishing schedule is pretty favorable: A’s, Royals, Rangers, A’s, Tigers. No excuses.

CBS Sports: No. 11

I didn’t even mention the Mariners in the intro, but it wasn’t an oversight. It’s because the rest of their schedule is pathetically weak (A’s, Royals, Rangers, A’s and Tigers). Should be smooth sailing. Then again, they just lost three of four to the Angels.

Bleacher Report: No. 12

The Mariners were dealt a blow when they lost three of four in their recent series against the Los Angeles Angels, but they still entered play on Tuesday with a five-game cushion over the Baltimore Orioles for the third AL wild-card spot. Rookie George Kirby has a 2.03 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break as he makes his case for a spot in the potential postseason rotation.

MLB.com: No. 9

USA Today: No. 9

Eugenio Suarez heads to the IL with a broken right index finger.

Correction: For the magic number calculation to use the White Sox’s losses instead of the Orioles’, the White Sox would have to overtake the Orioles, not the Mariners, as stated in an earlier version of this story.

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