When the magic number is an illusion

I’m a bit surprised at how many tweets and posts I’ve seen that say the Mets were eliminated from the postseason after last night’s loss to the Marlins. They weren’t — it happened over the weekend against the Braves.

I’ll admit, I didn’t realize that the Mets’ technical tragic number of one was inaccurate, but I also admit that I wasn’t paying attention to what it was. In my mind, they were eliminated when they were swept in Arizona coming out of the All-Star break (if not the previous series, when they dropped three of four and were lucky to win that one in San Francisco). If you can’t beat a last-place team — nevermind a contender — on the road, you’re not going to be playing meaningful games in August, let alone September.
But when Mets Police directed me to Adam Rubin’s post on ESPNNY, it made sense. I guess I figured that if it was on Mets Police and ESPN, it would be more widely known. It’s a revealing article, but here’s the gist: Yes, the Mets’ elimination number was technically one, because after Sunday there were 14 games left to play and they were less than that behind the Phillies, which would lead one to believe that if the Mets won out and the Phillies never won again, the Mets would catch them. The only problem is that the Phillies still had six games with the Braves, meaning if Philadelphia lost every remaining game, Atlanta would pick up six wins — and just one of those wins would eliminate New York. The Mets could catch the Phillies, but not the Braves.
So what it all means is that doing the math on won-lost records and games remaining can get you the magic number in a vacuum, but then you have to look at who the contenders have left to play.
We can only hope we’re dealing with this issue from the other side next September, but somehow I doubt that.

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