Who Will Make the Playoffs? Tracking the Decline of the Mets and Padres while the Braves, Reds, and Yankees Make a Run for It

As a Nationals fan, it’s been a tough season. After entering with high expectations, the team has had a disappointing run of things, losing start pitchers to injury, hitters to slumps, and close games to hungrier teams.

To cap it all off, they began to finally execute a painful but necessary rebuild, trading away two of our best players in exchange for desperately needed young prospects.

To make myself feel better about the whole thing, I thought it might be nice to enjoy a little schadenfreude on behalf of some of the other teams which are on the outside of the playoff picture (I’m looking at you, Mets), and celebrate some of this season’s surprise contenders.

To power all of the charts you see below, I’m using FiveThirtyEight’s MLB projections, sliced by week across the course of the season. Lets take a look!

Timeseries of Playoff Odds

MLB 2021 Playoff Odds Timeseries

Insights

AL East

  • To begin the season, the Yankees were favored to win the AL East. Despite a mid-season swoon, they have turned things around with a 9-1 record in their last ten games, which has put them in pole position for one of the AL Wild Card slots
  • The Red Sox made a mid-year surge up the standings on the strength of their deep lineup, but have scuffled in the past few weeks, including a Yankees sweep in their latest series. Unless they can make a late surge, it seems like they are too far behind the Rays and Yankees to be able to squeek in

AL Central

  • Perhaps the “simplest” division in all of baseball, the White Sox have simply dominated the Central from start to finish

AL West

  • A two pony race pretty much all year, the Astros and Athletics quickly asserted themselves as the two best teams in this division
  • The A’s are locked into a competitive Wild Card race with the Red Sox and Blue Jays, which seems set to run down to the wire
  • The Angels looked like they might have a chance early on in the season, with a healthy Shohei Ohtani dominating, and the league’s best player in Center Field, but injuries to Trout and Rendon, as well as chronically poor pitching, quickly doomed their chances

NL East

  • At the beginning of the season, this looked to be the division with the most “parity” - the Mets, Braves, Nationals, and Phillies all had decent odds of making the playoffs
  • The early-season favorite Mets have been perhaps the biggest disappointment: after holding the division lead, with over a 50% chance of making the playoffs from April to the end of July, the Mets collapsed in August and now hold a mere 4% chance of turning things around and qualifying
  • Where the Mets have struggled, the Braves have excelled - after an incredibly strong month of August, the Braves are now the clear favorites to run away with the division

NL Central

  • Broadly competitive for the first few months of the season (aside from the hapless Pirates), this division saw the Brewers really separate themselves from the pack in July and August
  • Potentially joining them in the playoff picture are the Reds, who have played much better baseball of late, and recently passed the 50% mark in terms of playoff likelihood. The Reds are especially interesting in the context of what is going on with the NL West…

NL West

  • The San Francisco Giants have easily been this season’s biggest surprise. Opening the year with a lot of questions about their roster and playoff odds of around 9%, the Giants are currently “locked in” to a Wild Card slot, and in a tight race with the Dodgers for the Division
  • The rise of the Giants, and perpetual dominance of the Dodgers, has put the Padres in quite the pickle: one of the best teams in baseball, but struggling to secure a playoff berth nonetheless
  • For the first few months of the season, it looked like the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres might all qualify for the playoffs, with the Division winner securing an automatic bid to the NLDS, and the second and third finishers set to face each other in the Wild Card game. However, the Padres have had some poor injury luck (Tatis' shoulder woes) and weren’t able to secure a big impact player at the trade deadline like the Giants (Kris Bryant) and Dodgers (Trea Turner and Max Scherzer), which has led to some lackluster play (2-8 in their last 10) just as the Reds are surging
  • It’s almost a guarantee that either the Reds or Padres will land that find playoff slot - I’m hoping it comes down to the wire, and can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Calendar Heatmap of Playoff Odds

MLB 2021 Playoff Odds Heatmap