Calculate the Magic Number in Baseball

Follow This Simple Mathematical Formula

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As the baseball season winds down, there's a lot of talk about the "magic number" for a team to clinch first place. It's used to quickly determine how close a team is to its goal. A team must be in first place in the particular standings to truly have a magic number.

The magic number can never go up. It only subtracts. A team can't have a magic number of nine on one day and 10 the next.

How Is It Computed?

The short method: Take the number of games yet to be played, add one, then subtract the number of games ahead in the loss column of the standings from the closest opponent.

But it might be even easier to do it with one glance at the standings if you can follow this simple mathematical formula: Games in a season plus one, minus wins, minus losses by the second-place team. Because games plus one should equal 163 in all instances, it can be summed up as:

163 - wins - losses by the second-place team

Before the season starts, every team has a magic number of 163. That would be 162 games plus one, with zero wins and zero losses by the second-place team.

For example, if the Team A is 90-62 with 10 games remaining and Team B, the second-place team, is 85-67, Team A's magic number could be computed as follows: 163 - 90 - 67 = 6. So Team A has a magic number of six with 10 games remaining, meaning any combination of wins by Team A and losses by Team B equaling six would give the division title to Team A.

When the Number Reaches One

When the magic number is one, that means the team has clinched at least a tie for the championship. Once it reaches zero, the team has won the title.

The 'Tragic Number'

The opposite of the magic number is the elimination number, or the "tragic number," which is the reverse of the magic number. It's the combination of losses and wins by the front-running team for a team to be eliminated.

What About the Wild Card?

A team might be in second place in the standings but could still have a magic number for the wild card, which is the team with the best record not in first place. To compute that number, replace the second-place team with the other teams, not in first-place and redo the formula.

An example: Team A has a magic number of nine in the American League East over Team B. That means that any combination of nine wins by Team A or losses by Team B will give Team A the division title.

But Team B has the best record of any second-place team, which gives them the lead in the wild-card race for the final playoff spot in the American League. They have 85 wins and Team C, the next team behind them, has 67 losses. So take the formula (162 + 1 - 85 - 67) and Team B's magic number to clinch the wild card is 11.