The Cubs lost to the Cardinals last night, which means the Magic Number to clinch the NL Central didn’t budge. It’s at three right now, and figures to reach zero at some point during the upcoming home stand at Wrigley Field. That’ll be a nice party. The Cubs haven’t won the NL Central in eight years.
But another Magic Number of note did shrink for the Cubs, thanks to a loss by the Nationals. The Cubs’ Magic Number to clinch the best record in the National League – and the benefits that accrue thereto – is down to 12. (And, since the Cubs hold the tiebreaker over the Nationals by virtue of their head-to-head record, you could actually think of the number more like 11.)
Assuming the Cubs get there – they will – they’ll face the winner of the Wild Card Game in the NLDS, which is looking increasingly desirable given that the other NLDS options would be the surging Dodgers and strong Nationals. I’d rather see them face each other while the Cubs get to face the Wild Card winner, without the ability to use twice whichever starting pitcher they used in that game.
That race is still being led by the Giants, but they lost yesterday, while the second place Mets won. That means the gap between the two current Wild Card teams shrank to just 0.5 games, and the Cardinals are then just 0.5 games behind the Mets. You want to really think about the Cubs’ best interests? You should root for a three-way tie among those teams. In that scenario, two of the three would have to play each other (winner becomes the first Wild Card), and then the loser of that game plays the third team (winner becomes the second Wild Card).
Thus, the eventual Wild Card Game winner will have had to play at least one extra game before the Wild Card Game, and would be unable to use their top two starting pitchers twice in the NLDS (assuming those pitchers were used to win the must-win play-in games). Imagine, for example, an NLDS series against the Giants where they cannot plausibly use Madinson Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto more than one time each.
If you’re curious about MLB’s complicated tie-breaker rules, see here.
The Mets will continue their series against the Nationals today, while the Giants will wrap up against the Padres. And the Cubs and Cardinals, of course, will play at 12:45pm CT.