The Key to Winning Pennants in the Major Leagues. It’s simple!

The regular Major League Baseball season has ended. The 10 winners are in the playoffs. The non-winners move to the off-season and start planning the next season. These teams, like my own favorite, the Minnesota Twins, try to take solace in the fact that they finished only 12 games behind the division winner, Kansas City. That is 12 games over 26 weeks; only one game every 2.3 weeks. Easy right? They will say that they are only .074 points behind KC. Next year, they hope, with phenoms Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, new pitchers, improvement from all players etc. etc, they can close the gap. The gap, however, is more formidable than first seen. All teams, by the way, do this analysis, but it is wrong.

Baseball is much more complicated than that. There is more balance in baseball than in any other team sport. All teams win 2 of 5 games and lose 2 of 5 games. It is that “Fifth Game” that determines pennants and there are only 32 of them. I call this “Fifth Game Theory,” href=”″>here The chart below shows the distribution of teams at the end of the season. For the most part, you can use the GB (games behind) column to see the difference in “Fifth Games” won. (The Phillies with 64 wins and Reds with 63 are rare outliers, but they were really bad.)

American League -East

      American League- East
      Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
      Toronto Blue Jays 162 93 69 0.574 – 53-28 40-41
      New York Yankees 162 87 75 0.537 6.0 45-36 42-39
      Baltimore Orioles 162 81 81 0.500 12.0 49-32 32-49
      Tampa Bay Rays 162 80 82 0.494 13.0 41-40 39-42
      Boston Red Sox 162 78 84 0.481 15.0 43-38 35-46

American League – Central
Team GP  GB Home Road
Kansas City Royals 162  –
Minnesota Twins 162   12.0 46-35 37-44
Cleveland Indians 161  13.51 36-45
Detroit Tigers 161 74 87 0.460 20.5 38-43 36-44

American League – West
Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
Texas Rangers 162 88 74 0.543 – 43-38 45-36
Houston Astros 162 86 76 0.531 2.0 53-28 33-48
Los Angeles Angels 162 85 77 0.525 3.0 49-32 36-45
Seattle Mariners 162 76 86 0.469 12.0 36-45 40-41
Oakland Athletics 162 68 94 0.420 20.0 34-47 34-47

National League – East
Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
New York Mets 162 90 72 0.556 – 49-32 41-40
Washington Nationals 162 83 79 0.512 7.0 46-35 37-
Miami Marlins 162 71 91 0.438 19.0 41-40 30-51
Atlanta Braves 162 67 95 0.414 23.0 42-39 25-56
Philadelphia Phillies 162 63 99 0.389 27.0 37-44 26-55

National League – Central
Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
St. Louis Cardinals 162 100 62 0.617 – 55-26 45-36
Pittsburgh Pirates 162 98 64 0.605 2.0 53-28 45-36
Chicago Cubs 162 97 65 0.599 3.0 49-32 48-33
Milwaukee Brewers 162 68 94 0.420 32.0 34-47 34-47
Cincinnati Reds 162 64 98 0.395 36.0 34-47 30-51

National League – West
Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
Los Angeles Dodgers 162 92 70 0.568 – 55-26 37-44
San Francisco Giants 162 84 78 0.519 8.0 47-34 37-44
Arizona Diamondbks 162 79 83 0.488 13.0 39-42 40-41
San Diego Padres 162 74 88 0.457 18.0 39-42 35-46
Colorado Rockies 162 68 94 0.420 24.0 36-45 32-49

The argument that the Twins are within 12 games of the Royals is not the way to look at it. (You can insert your team here as well, like “Giants 8 behind Dodgers”)The proper way to look at next season, or any season, is to grant each team 65 wins and 65 loses for 2016. That means the winner will be the team that wins the most “Fifth Games;” that one game in five that is won or lost late in the game on a pitch, swing, catch or error. The Twins won 18 of these games in 2015,.562, while the Royals won 30 or .937; A huge difference. Instead of being 12 games in back of 162, they are 12 back in the 32 game “Fifth Game” schedule. In other words, the Twins have to improve dramatically in “Fifth Game” wins to get close to KC. Of course, the Royals have to win “Fifth Games” with the same efficiency​ as in 2015, but they are really good.

So what does a team have to do to improve its “Fifth Game” record. First, pitchers must avoid walking batters in late innings. That is a simple but true statement. Never walk the lead off hitter, never. Middle of the plate fast balls are better than walks. (I am amazed by how many “Fifth Games” are lost to walks to lead-off hitters in the late innings.) A team must have hitters who can adjust to situations by preparing for the moment and make a single when the game is in doubt. The old adage, “up the middle to win the game” is always true. That forces the batter to focus on the ball, hit it square in front of the plate, and go up the middle. This is the sign of a smart hitter. Then, make sure your fielders can play under pressure. It is not the extraordinary play that wins games most of the time, it is the error on a simple play that loses them. A prime example occurred in the Rangers/Royals last game the ALDS when Texas Rangers’ second basemen, Rougned Roberto Odor, missed a pop up he had called for. The Royals scored three runs after that and won. If Odor made that play, it may have been different. (Teams measure their competence by their play in the field. Errors destroy this competence/confidence and that’s not good) Players who can play “Fifth Games” are discovered by diligent scouting and it is your own team you should scout hardest.

There are players who win “Fifth Games” by making the right pitch, catching and throwing the ball accurately, and being prepared to hit the opposing pitcher. These are mental preparation matters and that’s what wins baseball games and players with these skills win pennants. This is sometimes called “Small Ball,” but it wins critical games, go with it. That’s how teams win pennants.

A Brief Look at the MLB Pennant Races on July 21.

On July 21, with about 65 games to go, Major League Baseball shows that competive balance. has been achieved, for now, anyway.”Competitve Balance ” is a concept that I was once asked to define. I did so by developing “Fifth Game Theory.” Read the post Here.

In essence, this points out that all teams should win two of five games and lose two of them as well. This leaves te fifth Game as the one that determines. Pennant winners and losers. There are 32.4 such game (round it up or down) so a team that wins all Fifth Games will finish 32 games ahead of a team that lose all of them. Seldom does a gap like this appear. Most of the time,  team winning percentages are in the range of. 400 up to. 600. (The example shown before shows two teams with these percentages)

This year at this point, only the Rangers are under at  .398 and only the A’s and Angels are over at. .622 and. .608. 
Given that for the next 64 games, even the leaders will lose two of four, it will be wins in the Fifth Games that will determine the division winners. In the National League, each division has two teams tied for the lead. In the American League, LA is 1 1/2 games behind the A’s, NYY and Toronto are but three games behind Baltimore and Detoit is 5 1/2 games ahead of Cleveland.  This has the look of a dramatic, multi-team, pennant race. Remember as well, that there are now two wild cards in each league, so predicting the outcome is impossible, at least for me today.Pay attention to the next two months and remember as we get close to September, that “Fall Baseball is War.” Here

MLB Playoffs: Fall Baseball is War, Part Two

On September 3, I wrote that “Fall Baseball is War” here. With that in mind, September 18 was the Battle of the Bulge. The stituation going into that night’s games found Detroit, Atlanta, La Dodgers, Boston and Oakland comfortably in first place in their divisions, and St. Louis two games ahead of Pittsburgh. but Pittsburgh, and Cincinatti 2.5 game back, along with St. Louis will make up the Division winner and NL Wild Card races, so there is little drama in the National League, unless, of course, Washington wins them all going forward.

The war is in the American League Wild Card race where Tampa Bay and Texas now lead, but Cleveland is  .5 games back and Baltimore, New York and Kansas City are within  2.5. Anything can happen and the teams that are hot will prevail.

The fact that Fall Baseball is War is shown by the scores last night. The Angels beat Oakland 4-3 in ten innings, Baltimore beat Boston 5-3 in twelve innings, Tampa Bay beat Texas 4-3 in twelve innings, Cincinnati beat Houston 6-5 in thirteen innings, and Miami beat Philadelphia  4-3 in ten innings. The five extra inning games were joined with the Yankees 4-3 (four in the eighth for the Yankees) win over Toronto, San Diego beat Pittsburgh 3-2, scoring two in the ninth, St. Louis beat Colorado 4-3, and the New York Mets beat San Francisco 5-4  scoring four in the bottom of the ninth. So the five extra inning games were matched by four one run games. 

These bitterly contested games came after 152 had been played and only the AL Wild to be decided. What is most indicative of the furious nature of Fall Baseball is that Houston, with only 51 wins and 101 losses, battled Cincinnati in a thirteen inning game, and Miami with 56 wins and 96 losses went ten to beat the Phillies. The intense comprtitiveness of a MLB season never lets up. Baseball players never quit. Every at-bat, every pitch thrown in reflected in their careet records and is used to deterine salaries for the coming year or multi-years. Even the last batter, on the last pitch thrown to a Houston player, will be trying with all his skill to make a hit, and the pitcher making that pitch will be trying to get an out. This is the very nature of a Major League Season, the long season, where the differences between teams at this point may appear to be great, but really comes down to the ability to win the Fifth Games, of which there are thirty-two each year. (SEE: Fifth Game Theory). These are the games, won or lost, that determine winners, even down to the last game.

Perfect Fifth Game in New York

I posted an article on “Fifth Game Theory” here; that explains how pennants are won by those who win the Fifth Game. In short, most all teams win two of five games and lose two of five games, That leaves the fifth game to determine who wins the pennant. Tonight in New York, the Red Sox tied the game in the top of the ninth at 3-3 and in the bottom of the ninth Ichiro Suzuki singled, stole second, advanced to third on a fly ball and scored the winning run on a wild pitch. A perfect Fifth Game outcome. 

Remember that “Fall Baseball is War” here and that is how this season is finishing.