Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Improbable Math of September

September is the time for improbable math.

It's when you look at the number of games your team sits out of a playoff spot, and the number of games left, and you squint and you hope and think maybe, just maybe...

Maybe if we win all our games, and the three teams ahead of us keep losing, we'll make it.

Maybe we'll get hot.

Maybe the Reds will go 6-6, and that means all we have to do is go 11-2 to catch them. It's doable, right? We've still got games against the Marlins.

It's a beautiful thing, the counting and the recounting and the hoping and praying and rejiggering and the feverish thoughts of "if we can sweep them here, we're only 2 back." Year after year, the teams that start September 5 out tend to end September 5 out, but it doesn't matter. The dream flares to life because every once in a while, there's a 1964 Phillies squad out there waiting to collapse. Or a '78 Red Sox. Or a 2007 Mets. Or a 2011 Red Sox. Or....

Or any number of reasons to hope that this year, this year, it's the team ahead of us that's going to choke. That it's our guys who are going to rise up and roar into the playoffs, the way the Rays did in 2011. And so fans in Cleveland and Kansas City, where they're starved for a winner, watch the Rangers go into a 7 game freefall and start running Monte Carlo simulations to see what their playoff chances are. Fans in Baltimore and New York watch the Rays' high-wire act and pray for one more slip. Fans in Cincinnati get whiplash from  going back and forth; eager to catch the slow-motion Pirates and Cards, terrified of the suddenly resurgent Nationals.

The math says it probably won't work out for any of them. But the math also says you probably won't get a hit when you step up to the plate. It says that ball probably won't be caught, it says that 9th inning lead is probably safe, it says the odds are always against you.

But the math doesn't say never, and that's what September is all about.

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