The Cubs and Cardinals entered their series Monday night 16 games apart in the standings but with a couple of by-the-numbers similarities.
Through Sunday, both were 21-22 in one-run games. Both also had won four games fewer than their runs and runs allowed would suggest through the Pythagorean projection — a much bigger deal to the Cardinals in their tight wild-card race with the Mets and Giants than to the runaway Cubs.
The Cubs (34-21,+7) and Cardinals (32-23,+5) were strong in one-run decisions last year and exceeded Pythagorean.
But their ups and downs against the norm are nothing compared to the Rangers, who are rolling to the American League West title in rare fashion at +11 vs. Pythagorean.
Most teams come close to their projection, with the formula: runs^2/(runs^2 + runs allowed^2) = winning percentage. The Reds, Marlins, Astros and Mariners are right on their projection, and 23 of the 30 major-league teams are within four games of Pythagorean.
The White Sox (68-74) are one game better than the 67-75 record suggested by their runs data.
Exceptional bullpen performance or unusual runs of clutch hitting — for better or worse — can move record vs. Pythagorean a bit.
Chance is a factor, too, and we see regression to the mean from season to season, though roster changes can outweigh the regression effect.
Chance or not, a rare run vs. Pythagorean can boost a team into the postseason or knock a good team out.
We’re seeing that with the Rangers, who are 85-59 and a giant step ahead of the Cubs’ +7 vs. Pythagorean that led the majors last year.
By the formula, the Rangers’ 697 runs and 676 runs allowed normally would lead to a 74-70 record that would leave them 1½ games behind the Astros and Mariners in the AL West instead of 9½ games up.
That’s fueled by a 31-10 record for a .756 winning percentage in one-run games, not far off the 2012 Orioles’ major-league-record .763 percentage on a 29-9 record in one-run games.
Those Orioles also were +11 vs. Pythagorean, making them one of seven teams who finished the regular season +10 or better since League Divisional Series began in 1995. Since then, no team has reached the World Series and only one has won more games the next season:
υ 2012 Orioles, +12 at 93-69, lost ALDS, +0, 85-77 in 2013.
υ 2009 Mariners, +10, 85-77, no playoffs, +2, 61-101 in 2010.
υ 2008 Angels, +12, 100-62, lost LDS, +5, 97-65 in 2009, lost LCS.
υ 2007 Diamondbacks, +11, 90-72, lost LCS, +0, 82-80 in 2008.
υ 2005 Diamondbacks, +11, 77-85, no playoffs, -4, 76-86 in 2006.
υ 2004 Yankees, +12, 89-73, lost LCS, +5, 95-67 in 2005, lost LDS.
υ 1997 Giants, +10, 90-72, lost LDS, -2, 89-74 in 1998.
Compared to those outliers, the Cubs’ and Cards’ -4 is right on Pythagorean, though any shortfall in wins could loom large for the Cardinals.
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