Major League Baseball

First Place Elimination Example with American League East

It is not always as easy to demonstrate that has been eliminated from first place as it was the Giants. For example, consider the standings in the American League East at the end of play on Friday, August 30, 1996.

Americal League East

Clinch Avoid Elim
W L GB Streak 1st Play 1st Play
New York 75 59 - won 1 24 22 2 1
Baltimore 71 63 4 won 1 * 27 6 5
Boston 69 66 6 1/2 lost 1 * 26 8 7
Toronto 63 72 12 1/2 lost 1 * * 14 13
Detroit 49 86 26 1/2 won 2 * * Elim 27

It is not apparent from the standings that Detroit has been eliminated. If we look at the schedule of remaining games in the AL East and try to construct a scenario where the Tigers win the division, we find that it is impossible. The table below lists some of the remaining series between AL East teams.

Remaining Series in the AL East
Baltimore vs. Boston 2 Games Left
Baltimore vs. New York 3 Games Left
Baltimore vs. Toronto 7 Games Left
Boston vs. New York 8 Games Left
New York vs. Toronto 7 Games Left

By winning all of their remaining games, Detroit can finish the season with a record of 76 and 86. If the Yankees win just 2 more games, then they will finish the season with a 77 and 85 record which would put them ahead of Detroit. So, let's suppose the Tigers go undefeated for the rest of the season and the Yankees fail to win another game.

The problem with this scenario is that New York still has 8 games left with Boston. If the Red Sox win all of these games, they will end the season with at least 77 wins putting them ahead of the Tigers. Thus, the only way for Detroit to even have a chance of finishing in first place, is for New York to win exactly one of the 8 games with Boston and lose all their other games. Meanwhile, the Sox must loss all the games they play agains teams other than New York. This puts them in a 3-way tie for first place as shown in below.

Hypothetical Final Standings

Detroit 76 86 -
Boston 76 86 -
New York 76 86 -
Baltimore ? ? -
Toronto ?? ?? -

Now let's look at what happens to the Orioles and Blue Jays in our scenario. Baltimore has 2 games left with with Boston and 3 with New York. So, if everything happens as described above, the Orioles will finish with at least 76 wins. So, Detroit can catch Baltimore only if the Orioles lose all their games to teams other than New York and Boston. In particular, this means that Baltimore must lose all 7 of its remaining games with Toronoto. The Blue Jays also have 7 games left with the Yankees and we have already seen that for Detroit to finish in first place, Toronto must will all of these games. But if that happens, the Blue Jays will win at least 14 more games giving them at final record of 77 and 85 or better which means they will finish ahead of the Tigers. So, no matter what happens from this point in the season on, Detroit can not finish in first place in the American League East.

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