What an Elimination Number Really Means for Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians are stumbling their way to the finish line of the 2015 season. What’s difficult for some fans to believe after a horrendous start to the season for Cleveland is that they are still alive in the playoff hunt. Cleveland has not helped its case by losing five of their last nine games though.

This has created a unique situation that has been further complicated by the Los Angeles Angels swift path to the lead for the second wild card spot in the American League. The Angels have won seven consecutive games, and with five games remaining in their 2015 campaign, they have a half-game lead over the Houston Astros. They also have a game and a half on the Minnesota Twins, who have six games remaining. Meanwhile, in the background of all this, the Indians are five games back. Five games back with six, possibly seven games remaining. And if that seventh game is played and won, that could make it eight games remaining in the 2015 regular season for the Cleveland Indians to qualify for a one-game playoff that if they won would get them into the first multiple-game round of the playoffs.

The crazy thing is that the Indians do NOT have to win all of their remaining games to clinch the playoffs. The Indians can in fact finish the season 6-1 and tie for the second wild card spot with the Angels, Astros and Twins.

The elimination number of the Cleveland Indians is two and there are two teams that possess the power to directly eliminate Cleveland without having Cleveland lose a game for the remainder of the year. Those two teams are the Astros and Angels. As far as the Twins are concerned, Cleveland’s job is simple enough. Cleveland is 3.5 games behind the Twins. They also play three games against each other. If Cleveland wins out because they have one more game than the Twins left on their schedule (provided they win out and Houston and Los Angeles provide the right atmosphere for Cleveland to be playoff eligible thus causing a make-up game against the Tigers to be necessary — a game that would be played October 4), then even if the Twins win their three remaining games against Kansas City, the two teams would still be tied.

If that seems complex, it only gets crazier for Cleveland fans. Between the Astros and Indians or Angels and Indians, there can only be one Houston/Los Angeles win or Cleveland loss for the remainder of the season. If there is both a Houston/Los Angeles win and a Cleveland loss, two Houston wins or two Los Angeles wins, Cleveland will be eliminated from the playoffs. How likely is it that both Houston and Los Angeles lose out? Minus the fact that Los Angeles is currently on a seven-game winning streak and assuming that both teams have a 50/50 shot at winning all of their remaining games, there is a 3.1 percent chance that Los Angeles loses out and a 6.3 percent chance that Houston loses out. This also means that the chance that both of these occur is about two percent. The chance that the Indians would win seven consecutive games is 0.8 percent. Now the chance that all three of these things would happen to result in the Indians being placed with sole possession of the second wild card in the American league is 0.02 percent. Basically, the Indians have a one in five-thousand shot at making the playoffs without a play-in game.

Not to put a thorn in the side of that already devastating number, but those odds are based on each game being a 50/50 shot that any team wins, which would be the same as the flip of a coin, but the MLB season is a very long season, with loads of data that writers and statisticians can utilize.

Cleveland has played seven games at home this season against Minnesota and has only won three of those contests. They have played the Boston Red Sox three times this season (all on the road) and have only won one game. The odds of the Indians winning three consecutive home games against Minnesota and three consecutive against Boston are .003.

Los Angeles has one remaining game against Oakland at home and they have won five of eight games against the Athletics at home this season. They then have four games at Texas–where they have won five of six games played this season. The odds of the Angels losing all of those games are .0009.

Finally, Houston has one remaining game on the road against the Mariners. They have gone 4-3 at Safeco Park this season. They then have three games against the Arizona Diamond backs, a team they have won two of three contests against. The odds that the Astros lose out are .016.

The odds of BOTH Houston and LA losing out this year are .0000052. Tack that on to the odds of Cleveland winning out and the odds of everything coming full circle become .0000000151. What does that crazy abstract number mean? The Indians have a 1 in 6,622,516,556 chance at making the playoffs. Yes, that was six billion, six hundred and twenty-two million, five hundred and sixteen thousand five hundred and fifty-six to one. Since there are a little bit over seven billion people living on Earth, the odds of this scenario happening is very similar to someone throwing every person on the globe’s name into a giant hat and somehow picking your name out of it.

Cleveland fans may want to take Han Solo’s approach to troublesome situations. To paraphrase: “Never tell them the odds.”

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