Chicago Baseball

Baseball Lessons: How to Calculate a Magic Number

As the Chicago Cubs have inched closer to a playoff berth, many outlets (including NBC Chicago) have been counting down to that momentous day by using a figure called a “magic number.”

While the concept has been around for many years, it always pays to have a refresher course on what the magic number symbolizes, and how the figure is calculated.

For starters, the magic number represents how close a team is to clinching a playoff spot. The number is a combination of the number of wins (by the team in first place) and losses (by the team in second place) that would create a scenario where a team is mathematically incapable of being overtaken in the standings.

But how exactly is the magic number calculated? Here is the formula for baseball purposes:

163 – (1st place team wins) – (2nd place team losses) = Magic Number

For a real world example, if the Cubs have 83 wins, and the Milwaukee Brewers have 62 losses, then the team's magic number would be calculated like so: 

163 – 83 – 62 = 18

If the magic number gets down to one, then it means that the best the second place team in the scenario can manage is a tie, but once the magic number hits zero, then the first place team has clinched a playoff berth.

The magic number cannot go back up. 

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