With the Mets stumbling out of the gate in this shortened season, the concern is that they are digging a hole from which they won’t be able to recover. The issue is that while we have a fairly good idea what type of record you need to make the playoffs in a normal year, few know what it’s going to take in a 60-game season. And the other thing to consider is that we are operating with a different playoff format in 2020. Eight teams from each league are going to make the postseason – two from each division plus the next two teams with the best record.

Chris touched on this back before the season started, saying that the Mets would only make the playoffs once in the past five years. But that was before the new playoff structure was announced. So, let’s look at how the entire National League would look after 60 games played in each of the last three seasons.

It’s important to note a few things first. What follows are the teams’ records after 60 games. But teams never have 60 games played at the same date. In a normal year, you can add up the wins and losses for all 30 teams at the end of the year and it will produce a .500 record. That would not be the case in this look. Also, this 60-game look has teams playing wildly different schedules. This year, the schedules will be much more (but still not perfectly) alike for teams in the same division.

2019          
Braves 33-27 Brewers 34-26 Dodgers 41-19
Phillies 33-27 Cubs 34-26 Rockies 31-29
Mets 28-32 Cardinals 31-29 Padres 31-29
Nationals 27-33 Pirates 29-31 D’Backs 30-30
Marlins 23-37 Reds 28-32 Giants 25-35

The top three seeds go to the division winners. So, the Dodgers would be the first seed and the Braves would be the third seed. The winner of the Central would be the second seed. There will be no tie breakers played like there would be in a normal year. Instead, the winner of the tie will be chosen based on this formula:

The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record (if applicable). If that’s also a tie, the next tiebreaker is intradivision record. If that’s still a tie, the next is record in the final 20 division games (plus one until the tie is broken).

After 60 games last year the Brewers and Cubs played six games and they were tied 3-3. The Brewers won the season series, 10-9, and so for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call them the winners and the second seed. The next three seeds go to the teams that finished in second place in their division. That makes the Cubs fourth, the Phillies fifth and the Rockies sixth. The final two teams are considered the Wild Card teams and in this look that would have been the Cardinals and Padres. Maybe the Padres would have finished second – honestly did not look.

The playoff format is a 3-game set in the Wild Card round, with the matchups 1-8, 2-7, 3-6 and 4-5. The Division Series is best-of five, with the winners of 1-8 squaring off against the 4-5 winner and the winners of 2-7 and 3-6 also facing one another. The League Championship and World Series will be best-of-seven affairs.

Here’s our 60-game standings for 2018:

2018          
Braves 35-25 Brewers 37-23 D’Backs 32-28
Nationals 35-25 Cubs 36-24 Rockies 31-29
Phillies 32-28 Cardinals 33-27 Dodgers 30-30
Mets 27-33 Pirates 30-30 Giants 30-30
Marlins 21-39 Reds 21-39 Padres 26-34

The interesting thing here is a reminder of what a poor start the Dodgers got off to in 2018. The final record looks really good but LA was 16-26 after 42 games. They played great from that point on but their 30-30 record would have left them out of the playoffs.

Our first two years give us fairly “normal” looking results. But 2017 shows us the wackiness that is possible in a 60-game season. Here are those standings:

2017          
Nationals 38-22 Brewers 32-28 Rockies 37-23
Mets 27-33 Cubs 30-30 D’Backs 35-25
Braves 27-33 Reds 29-31 Dodgers 35-25
Marlins 27-33 Cardinals 28-32 Giants 24-36
Phillies 21-39 Pirates 26-34 Padres 23-37

The NL West had three really good teams while the NL East had just one. In their first 60 games of 2017, the Mets played the Giants, Brewers, D’Backs, Angels, Padres, Pirates, Angels and Rangers. They actually had two series against both Miwaukee and Pittsburgh. In all, they played 27 games against teams they wouldn’t face under the 2020 schedule. The Mets went 11-16 in those games.

So, there was a 3-way tie for second place in the NL East here. And their records were so bad that the teams that didn’t win the tiebreaker would not make the playoffs. Would the Mets have won? Feel free to jump through all of the scenarios and post the results. The assumption here is that the Mets won. Hey, there’s a one in three chance of it being right!

Overall, the magic number in this three-year look seems to be 31 Wins. In our three-season sample, a team won 31 or more games 21 times and made the playoffs each of those instances. The Mets will have to go 26-20 the remainder of the way to hit 31 wins.

*****

The teams within a division playing fairly equal schedules should lessen the chance of something like the 2017 standings above happening. But it won’t reduce it completely. It’s certainly possible that Interleague play will throw a monkey wrench into things. If nothing else, it should be a little fairer for the Mets, as the rest of the teams will have to face the Yankees, even if not as often as the Mets do. So, instead of the Nationals having a huge built-in edge by playing the Orioles as their national rival, they’ll have to play a team that isn’t 40 games below .500 when they venture outside the NL.

And the other thing that could mess with the results is how teams fare when they have to play multiple doubleheaders to make up games that were lost earlier in the season. Teams aren’t used to playing doubleheaders and now we have the additional uncertainty of how they’ll react playing 7-inning games in those.

Back in 2017 in the middle of the season, Devan Fink from Beyond The Box Score wrote an article about doubleheader results. He found that in the period from 2008 to 2017, there were 231 doubleheaders in MLB and 120 of those resulted in sweeps. However, in 2017 alone there were 14 doubleheaders at the time of the article and 11 of those ended up as being split with each team winning a game. The example he used was flipping a coin. In the long run you expect results to approach 50-50 but anything can happen in a small sample.

Baseball-Reference shows the Marlins with three doubleheaders scheduled right now. But they also only have 58 games on their schedule. So that’s likely two more twinbills coming their way. And a rainout or other Covid cancelations are certainly possible. So, they could be playing even more doubleheaders. Right now, the Marlins are in first place, thanks to an unsustainable record in one-run games. But what happens when the twinbills hit?

One thing that gets lost about the magical 1969 season for the Mets is that they played 22 doubleheaders that year. They swept 11, split 8 and got swept 3 times, giving them a 30-14 (.682) record in twinbill games. In their last nine doubleheaders, they went 14-4. Can any team replicate that type of winning percentage if they play five or more 2020 doubleheaders? If so, that team will be in excellent shape.

4 comments on “Why the Mets’ magic number is 31

  • TJ

    It will be interesting how the math all works out, but 31 is as good a number as any. One thing is certain, the Mets are not only teetering on the edge of playoff contention, they are teetering on the edge of embarrassment. They have played lousy ball for close to a quarter of the season. My wife, who barely watches, was beside herself with Ramos swinging 2-0 with the bases loaded, 2 outs, down one. The Mets routinely beat themselves, but against a Marlin team with no payroll, devastated by illness and plucking bodies from the bottom of opponent rosters, yikes. I think Gary said they have 10 of their next 20 against the Marlins. Anything less than 7-3 could doom them. Anything below .500 and they can send cardboard cutouts to finish the season and keep the players safe.

  • Name

    I still think it’s going to be below .500 can nab a playoff spot, even more so if some teams do not make it to 60 games.

    My initial prediction of 27-33 is too low since at this juncture the NL has slightly more wins in interleague games (38-35), but i think 28-32 is still possible to get it.

    As of 8/9, the Mets 7-9 record is actually tied with Cincy for 8th best, although they would lose tiebreaker against them and be 9th.

    • Brian Joura

      I think a sub .500 record is on the table but I wouldn’t give it a good shot — maybe 20%

      In the 2017 example, we have the second-place team in the NL East and one Wild Card team making it with below .500 records. I’m trying to decide which scenario is more likely for a team with a win total in the 20s to make it. I guess it’s possible that the circumstances you need for a team to make one of the scenarios happen also makes it more likely for the other one to happen, too.

      Do you think we’re more likely to have a league with two sub .500 teams make the playoffs than a league with one? Or does the schedule, where you don’t play teams from the other divisions in your league, eliminate that from consideration? The more I think about it, the more I think the latter is true.

      I’m trying to get ideas by looking at the current schedule but the wildly different games played makes that just about impossible. But is it possible that the Pirates are that bad? If they are, that probably eliminates a team from the Central making it with a poor record. None of the teams in our three-year look finished with fewer than 21 wins. The Pirates are on a pace for about 11. It’s hard to believe a team not decimated by Covid would finish with only a dozen or so wins. But I could see them only winning 20.

      In the standings above in 2018, both the NL East and NL Central had a 21-win team. And both divisions had three teams with 32 or more wins. The other time was the 2017 NL East but, at least with the Mets, those losses were happening to teams in the Central and West that they won’t play this year. I just checked and both the Braves and Marlins played a bunch of teams outside the NL East in the first 60 games in 2017, too.

      It looks like you’re going to need a division where one team is clearly better than the other teams and three of the other four teams are at the same level and play the same in both division and Interleague games. Maybe the Braves or the Cubs are really a cut above the other teams in their division. But the Braves have taken advantage of 7 games against the Mets. Outside of the Mets, they’re 6-4. Outside of the Braves, the Mets are 5-4. At least the Cubs’ good record hasn’t come thanks to just one team. They’ve yet to play more than one series against the same team.

      • Name

        It’s now been two weeks and once again, the Mets below .500 record of 12-14 would qualify them for the 8th and final spot.
        In the AL the 8th spot is tied for by Baltimore/Toronto with .500 records.

        If i had to simplify my reasoning, I think the top heavy nature of the game will ultimately mean that each league will have an under .500 representative in the playoffs

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