September 10, 2012
Milwaukee's Impossible Road to the Wild Card
The Brewers have won 15 of 20 and, after a two-out, two-run home run from Norichika Aoki to tie the game up in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday, the club was ever-so-close to sweeping the Cardinals and moving to within four games of the Wild Card spot. As it happened, however, St. Louis came through in the bottom of the tenth inning to win the game and keep the Crew six games back and tied with the Phillies for the final spot. In short, Milwaukee has a very long, if not impossible, road to the playoffs. That isn't going to keep Brewers fans from believing, however, especially after the 2011 Cardinals (and 2007 Rockies before them) showed them that a big September might be all it takes. Are they right to believe?
As of Monday morning, Milwaukee was six games out of the final Wild Card spot with two teams—the Dodgers and Pirates—between them and the holder of that spot, the Cards. That's three teams that must somehow flounder in these last three weeks while the Brewers surge. Considering that some of those teams ahead of the Brewers also play each other, the situation is pretty bleak.
Here are the remaining schedules of the four teams ahead of the Brewers in the Wild Card standings, with games against each other bolded.
Atlanta Braves: at Milwaukee (3), vs. Washington (3), at Miami (3), at Philadelphia (3), vs. Miami (3), vs. New York (3), at Pittsburgh (3)
Of the Brewers 22 remaining games, six are against Wild Card contenders ahead of them. This is actually a good thing for Milwaukee, as it gives the Brewers the most direct chance to make up ground on their Wild Card opposition. However, that only goes so far. The Cards and Dodgers have a four-game set coming up this weekend while the Braves and Pirates close out the season with a three-game set. During those seven games, Milwaukee will not be able to make up ground on at least one team, making everything else that much more difficult.
How difficult you might say? The table below describes how many games the Brewers need their opponents to lose in order to make the playoffs, assuming a) Milwaukee wins all six games against the contenders and b) the contenders split any games amongst each other (we'll give Atlanta the 2 games-to-1 split in its three-game series with Pittsburgh).
* If Milwaukee finishes with 79 losses, the Braves could only tie them in this scenario.
In case the table is a bit hard to read, let's look at the Dodgers. Currently, Los Angeles has 67 losses. If Milwaukee sweeps both Atlanta and Pittsburgh and the Dodgers split their four-game set with St. Louis, Los Angeles will have 69 losses with 17 games to play. If the Brewers then finish out the season 16-0 (or, to be more precise, 22-0 after accounting for the six wins against Atlanta and Pittsburgh), the Dodgers would fall behind the Brewers if they lost three games. If the Brewers finished up those 16 games with a .750 winning-percentage, Los Angeles would fall behind them with 7 losses; a .500 finish for Milwaukee would mean the Dodgers would need to avoid 11 losses and a .250 skid would mean the Dodgers would just need to do better than 2-15.
What makes this table such bad news for the Brewers is not that it relies on them finishing the month 22-0 or 18-4. That's incredibly difficult, we know, but we've seen it happen in the past. No, what makes this table so dire is that not only will Milwaukee need to finish the season on a scorching hot streak but, at the same time, they will need three of the four teams on the table to finish correspondingly bad. Milwaukee isn't hoping for just one or two bad months. They need three of them. Any limited success from even two of their opponents will quickly squash the Brewers' dreams. Don't forget that this all operates on the assumption that Milwaukee sweeps its two series against Atlanta and Pittsburgh!
Not that any of this should be at all surprising. The Playoff Odds Report gave the Brewers a 0% chance this morning. Now we know why.