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MLB Bold Prediction: Sub-.500 AL team earns wild card berth.

Three MLB teams won more than 100 games last season, tying an MLB record. In four previous instances, two teams came from one league and the third was from the other. That was the case with Houston, Cleveland, and the Dodgers in 2017, too.

The Washington Nationals missed making it four 100-win teams by only three games. That would have put two in each league.

by Pat Opperman
by Pat Opperman

Simple Math explains that 100 wins puts a team 38 games over .500, or 19 losses better than the break-even mark of 81 victories. Furthermore, it explains how the more 100-win teams there are, the fewer wins there are for the other teams to share.

Each league plays 1215 games in a season. Two 100-win teams in the same league means there are 13 teams to share the 1015 remaining games, or 78 wins per team. What if a third team also won 100 games? What if four teams from the same league hit the mark?

What are the odds?

On any given day, any MLB team can beat any other team. Baseball is a team sport made of individuals. An ace pitcher is more consistent, but even the worst can pitch an occasional shutout. A hot batter can lift the weakest team on a surprising run.

That is why powerhouse teams lauded by baseball fanatics and historians generally win only six or seven of every ten games. When Seattle tied the record for wins with 116 in 2001, they still lost 29% of the time.

It’s far from parity, but that chance of victory keeps diehard fans watching during even the worst campaigns. It’s why 100 wins, or a .617 winning percentage, is the gold standard of excellent baseball teams even though one of every three games is a loss.

So… it can’t happen?

Part of Major League Baseball’s appeal is the possibility of seeing something new or different every day. The odds of four 100-game winners are long. The odds of four 100-game winners in the same league are infinitesimal… but it’s possible.

This thought occurred to me as I wrote an article about the 2018 pennant races. Minnesota and California hope to compete with Cleveland and Houston, but neither team is likely to scare the defending champions. In the article, I predicted the Indians and Astros would both top 100 wins rather easily.

Then I wrote the line that got me thinking: “It is a legitimate question whether two teams from the same decision can win 100 games.”

And you were serious?

Why not? The Red Sox and Yankees won 93 and 91 games respectively in 2017. Then they got better.

New York traded for slugger Giancarlo Stanton and put him in a lineup that already led both leagues in home runs. Sonny Gray will be in the rotation for the entire season, solidifying a very strong pitching staff.

Boston hit relatively few home runs in 2017, but still scored the sixth-most runs. They added JD Martinez to improve the team’s offense. Chris Sales was the Cy Young runner-up a year ago. The rest of the rotation presented issues at various times, but they still won the division. If one or two starters bounce all the way back in 2018, the Red Sox could be unstoppable.

It is well within the realm of possibility for both rivals to top the 100-win mark.

What’s left for the rest?

My bold prediction has the Astros (107), Indians (104), Red Sox (104), and Yankees (102) winning 417 games in 2018. That leaves 798 wins for the 11 remaining AL teams. That works out to 72.5 per team.

by Pat Opperman
by Pat Opperman

For another team to beat the 81-win mark becomes that much more difficult, especially with the inherent “any-given-day” equation explained above. But there is another necessary tangible that comes into play.

There can’t be one or two teams taking the brunt of the losses. If Tampa Bay or Baltimore loses 120 games, the math shifts in favor of someone else finding 82 victories.

For my theory to work, I am counting on those clubs, and every other club, losing less than 100 games. As you can see on the final predicted standings table to the right, Detroit is the worst team in the American League with exactly 100 losses.

Sounds far-fetched

The idea of a sub-.500 team capturing a wild card slot is not as far-fetched as you might think. In fact, just last season the two AL wild card teams were the only non-division leaders with a winning record.

Minnesota won 85 games to join the Yankees as the AL wild card teams. California, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay tied for sixth place with 80-82 records.

Your World Series Champion Houston Astros joined the Yankees and Red Sox in making their team better, obtaining Gerrit Cole for their rotation. If the playoff teams won just five more games combined from the Twins last season, MLB would already have a sub-.500 wild card team.

The inter-league games tangible

Inter-league play means win totals aren't limited to 1215. If the American League dominates the National League, it could help someone win extra games and kill my bold prediction.

On the other hand, if the National League beats up on the American, things could be even worse for the Junior Circuit.

Last season, American league teams went 160-140 in interleague contests. However, the four division leaders were 24 games over .500, meaning the rest of the league finished four games under.

Minnesota (80-82) will emerge from a complicated four-team playoff to grab the second wild card slot. You heard it here first.

Think it’s possible? Think I’m nuts? Leave a comment either way!