cubs win standings flags scoreboard

Last night, behind the brilliant pitching of Kyle Hendricks (what else is new?), the Chicago Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 52nd eleventh time this season.

The win was the Cubs’ second in a row and helped clinch their eleventh series victory since the All-Star Break.

Oh, and it also moved their Magic Number to 18 … in August.

Even before the month of September, the Chicago Cubs magic number sits at a hilariously low 18. If you’re not quite sure what a magic number is, I’ll try to explain it simply. A team’s magic number is used to express how close they are to clinching a spot in the playoffs. Think of it like a countdown clock. When the ticker hits “0,” the Cubs will have guaranteed their spot in October.





The fact that we’re talking about it before September, then, should tell you how excitingly early this is.

But time doesn’t wind down the Magic Number – wins and loses do. Every time the Cubs win, the number ticks down (regardless of how well the second place Cardinals perform). Every time the team chasing the Cubs for that spot (the Cardinals, in this case) loses, the number ticks down (regardless of how well the first place Cubs perform). If both teams win on a given night, for example, the Magic Number goes down one. If both teams lose, it goes down one.

The only way the number doesn’t go down is if the Cubs lose and the Cardinals win. So, yes, theoretically, the Cubs could clinch in just nine game days, if they won nine in a row as the Cardinals dropped nine in a row (well, there’s also the Pirates, who would probably pass the Cardinals at that point), but I think we have more patience than that.

The equation: 162 + 1 – Wins (Team A) – Losses (Team B).

By plugging in the number of Cubs wins (84) and Cardinals losses (61), then, your final equation reads 162 + 1 – 84 – 61 = 18. Performing the same function with the Pirates (63 loses), leaves you with a Magic Number of 16.



For perspective, here are the Magic Numbers for the divisional leaders:

National League

  • East: Nationals (22)
  • Central: Cubs (18)
  • West: Dodgers (30)

American League

  • East: Blue Jays (29)
  • Central: Indians (27)
  • West: Rangers (22)

As you can see the Cubs magic number of 18 is four better than the next best team, but about ten or more games better than most. We’ve long suspected the division is theirs (hell the playoffs odds at FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus have read 99-100% for weeks), but now we can track it day by day.

So keep an eye on those scoreboards, because the countdown begins today. October baseball is just around the corner and the Cubs have nearly guaranteed their seat at the table.






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