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The NL Central and the playoff race

What do different teams in the NL Central need to reach the playoffs? Let's take a quick look.

Dilip Vishwanat

We're in the last month and a half of the regular season now. The playoff push is in full swing, and while some teams are thriving under the pressure, others are faltering. Looking at the NL Central, this has become very clear.

Entering today, the Brewers still have the lead in the NL Central, but it's the closest race in the National League (and tied with the AL Central for the closest race in baseball) with only 1.5 games separating the Brewers from the second place St. Louis Cardinals. After the Cardinals, though, a big gap has formed because of two losing streaks.

Just ten days ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates had moved into second in the division at 64-55, were 1.5 games behind the Brewers, and had a 67% chance of making the postseason (according to Baseball Prospectus). After that, they lost seven in a row before stopping their skid with a comeback win on Wednesday. In those ten days, their playoff chances dropped to 22%.

The Cincinnati Reds have had an even rougher road. On July 11, they were 50-43, 1.5 games out of first place, and had a 52% chance at the postseason. Since then, they are 11-24 in their last 35 games, and their playoff odds have dropped to 1%. They are currently in the middle of a six game losing streak, and are basically out of the playoff picture now. Of course, there's still a chance until that elimination number is 0.

What does each team need to do to make the playoffs now? Around BCB, we generally talk about the 90 win mark, and how that is generally seen as the mark to make the playoffs. As of today, here's how the NL Central teams need to perform to reach that mark:

Brewers: 19-16
Cardinals: 21-15
Pirates: 25-10
Reds: 29-5
Cubs: 35-0

The Brewers are on pace to hit that mark now. Cardinals are a little behind but can still make it. Pirates have work to do, but still have a chance (especially if other teams falter towards the end). Meanwhile, it's obvious from this that the Reds and Cubs have little to no shot at it.

For further perspective, note that there are only about 11 series remaining this season for each team. Looking at it that way, it's a little easier to see what each team needs to do. Brewers & Cardinals can each lose a series or two and still be fine. Pirates need to win every series (and sweep one or two as well) to reach that mark.

However, that's just for the division and a probable guarantee at the postseason. In reality, the mark for making the postseason will be a little lower than that. Looking at the second place team in the wild card race (the San Francisco Giants), they are on pace for 86 wins right now. To match that, here's what each team would have to do:

Brewers: 15-20
Cardinals: 17-19
Pirates: 21-14
Reds: 25-9
Cubs: 31-4

That looks a little better in terms of what a team can accomplish. Brewers and Cardinals are fine as long as they play at least .500 the rest of the way (or even a little under). Pirates need to get on a winning streak, but can still afford to lose a series or two. Even the Reds still have a shot, but need to start winning now. Of course, there's much less of a playoff guarantee at 86 wins, but that's a much more obtainable mark.

There's one interesting quirk in the remaining schedule for the division, and that is the games remaining against the other division teams. Every team still has a home series and road series remaining against each of the other teams in the division. This equals around 25 games remaining for each division team against division opponents. That can also reshape the remainder of the race.

With a month and a half left to play, there's still a lot that can happen. It's always possible that a team could come from nowhere to make an amazing run and make the playoffs. However, looking at the standings as of today, some teams have an easier road ahead, and others have a harder one.