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When sports teams are vying for a spot in the playoffs, especially in Baseball, you’ll often hear discussion about your favorite team’s "Magic Number", but not much explanation of what that statistic actually represents.

According to MLB.com, "a team’s magic number represents the combination of wins needed by that team and losses by its closest competitor to clinch a given goal. Every time a team wins, its magic number decreases by one. Similarly, every time that team’s closest competitor for the division (or Wild Card) loses, the magic number also decreases by one." Basically, the magic number is used to measure how close a team is to clinching a spot in the playoffs.

MLB.com goes on to discuss the first ever usage of the statistic during pennant race of the 1947 season. "An article in the Sept. 12, 1947 edition of the Washington Post stated: The Yankees reduced the magic number to four. That is the combination of games the Yankees must win or the Red Sox must lose in order to insure the flag for the Yankees."

As far as applying this information, we can create a hypothetical scenario for showing how this statistic can be determined. Suppose there are ten games left in the season in a hotly contested division (we'll exclude the possibility of a Wild Card spot for simplicity's sake). Team A, who is currently in the lead, has a record of 87-65, while Team B is just behind them with a record of 85-67.

The formula for determining Team A’s magic number is the following:

M = G + 1 - (L B - L A)

- M = Magic Number
- G = Games Remaining
- L A = Team A’s Total Losses
- L B = Team B’s Total Losses

Plugging in the numbers we know, it looks like this:

M = 10 + 1 - (67 - 65)

Now, to apply simple algebra so that we can solve for M:

M = 10 + 1 - 2

M = 11 - 2

M = 9

In our hypothetical scenario, this tells us that any combination of wins for Team A and losses for Team B that results in a total of 9 will secure Team A's division victory and spot in the playoffs.

If you are curious about the current standings of your favorite team or sport, you can find that information here and apply the Magic Number formula yourself!

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The Magic Number is:

Games in a season - (1st place team's wins + 2nd place team's losses) + 1

So if the Mets are 97 - 60 and the Phillies are in second place at 94 - 63, the Mets' Magic Number is 162 - (97 + 63) + 1 = 3. That means that any combination of 3 Met wins or Phillie losses would make it mathematically impossible for the Phillies to equal the Mets' win total. Magic Numbers are never expressed in the negative. Once a team's Magic Number hits 0 the other team is eliminated, and people stop discussing the Magic Number.

This is the number that either the team in the lead has to win to clinch the playoffs, or the number of games the team in second has to lose for the team in the lead to make the playoffs.

For example: If in the standings the Yankees are leading the Boston Red Sox by 5 games, and there is only 5 games left to play in the season, then the magic number would be 1. The Yankees only have to win 1 game and then there is no chance for the Red Sox to catch them by the end of the season. This is because if the Yankees win 1 game then the Yankees are still leading by 5 games and there is only 4 games left to play. Likewise if the Redsox lose 1 game then the Yankees will still be leading by 5 games with only 4 games to play, knocking the Red sox out of the playoffs.

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Q: In baseball how do you determine the magic number?

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