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Miami Marlins very far from the playoff race in September

The Miami Marlins may think they are still in the playoff race, but given the talent involved and the number of teams in the race, the Fish are looking at a steeper-than-ever climb.

Michael Hill thinks the Marlins can still contend in September. Is that realistic?
Michael Hill thinks the Marlins can still contend in September. Is that realistic?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins have had an excellent season given the expectations on the team at the start of the year. While this blog had the team closer to 75 wins than last season's win total of 62, most sources had the Fish as the division's bottom-dwellers. Now 136 games into the season, Miami is close to .500 at 67-69 and should easily reach 75 wins and more this season. This season has been a smashing success.

But the Marlins are still gunning for a playoff spot, and recently, they said that the team will not be evaluating young players during September call-ups. For that reason, guys like Andrew Heaney, the Marlins' top prospect, will not likely be seeing Major League time.

"The whole year is part of that evaluation process," [Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill] said. "For us, I think it's a little bit different in that we're trying to win up here. We might not to be so inclined to go young or give innings or at-bats to a young guy, because we're competing for a playoff spot. From that standpoint, [September] changes a little bit, because we are trying to be one of 10."

Never mind the fact that Heaney is likely at this point better than Brad Hand, Brad Penny, and a few more pitchers on the Marlins' roster right now. Hill thinks that the Marlins have no room to mess with their youth because the team is in the thick of the playoff race.

A little more than a month ago, we discussed this very problem regarding the Fish. Back when there were still a number of games left to play, we talked about how the Marlins' odds were still slim, and that the road to contention was extremely difficult. Back then, the Fish were five games out of the division and four out of the Wild Card race. After a bit over a month, the club now finds itself essentially out of the division entirely and 5.5 games back of the Wild Card, thanks to a 13-14 month of August.

Back then, here is what I said about Miami's chances mathematically:

What are the odds that this happens? If the Marlins are truly a .500 team, and we assume a binomial distribution for winning baseball games, then we can estimate the odds of a 15-5 or better run in the next 20 games to be at 2.6 percent. But in order for us to overtake the Braves and Nats, they have to perform at .500 as well. Assume a .545 expected win percentage (their current records). The chances of them doing .500 or worse in the next 20 games is 42.6 percent. That means that the odds Miami catches these two squads for the NL East division in the next 20 games is at just 0.4 percent!

The odds of catching them within 40 games was just under one percent. Now Miami is still nearly six games back with three to four teams with which to contend for this Wild Card spot. Let's re-update those Marlins odds at the playoffs and see if Hill should really be tossing developmental time to chase the playoffs.

One-Team Scenario

Let's eliminate the other competition and focus on just the leader for a second. Miami finds themselves 5.5 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers today. Let's make the assumption that the Marlins will have to be six games better than the sliding Brewers to win the Wild Card. Now, let's assume for our sake that both teams are true-talent .500 ballclubs. That makes the math easier and it is probably the rosiest projection we can make for Miami at this point. This means that the Fish and their lone competitor are on an even level.

What are the odds that the Marlins beat their equivalent team by six games? In one scenario, the Marlins would have to go 19-7 to get by a .500 performance from the Brewers. A true-talent .500 Brewers team would have about a 50 percent chance to make it to .500. What are the odds a .500 Marlins team goes 19-7 the rest of the way? The odds of getting at least 19 wins in the next 26 games is at 1.4 percent. Combined with the odds the Brewers split the next few and you get a 0.7 percent chance to win the race.

We can go the other direction as well. What are the odds the Brewers continue to slide and just win seven of their next 25 games? If we assume a binomial distribution, you are looking at just a 2.1 percent chance the other way. Combined with a 57 percent chance of getting 13 or more wins for the Fish going forward and that's only a 1.3 percent chance.

Of course, there are multiple iterations of these scenarios. Let's assume that there are about eight legitimate win combinations in the above scenario that could happen (the rest being very low probability). With some calculating, I came up with a likelihood of almost 17 percent for the Marlins to pass the Brewers if both teams were truly .500 clubs.

The Reality

But Miami and Milwaukee are probably not really both .500 teams. But even if they were, the other issue is that Miami is not dealing with just one team. The Marlins have to contend with the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates as well, both of which are ahead of the Fish. That puts on additional wrinkles into this simple calculation. Even with the most optimistic expectations, we would expect Miami to pass the leader in under one-fifth of scenarios.

FanGraphs has multiple modes on their playoff odds, and one of them is the "coin flip mode," where the assumption is that each team is a .500 club that has an equal chance against the other. In this mode, the Marlins are currently at just a 0.9 percent chance at the Wild Card and a 1.2 percent chance overall.

None of this is bad, per se. Miami should be happy it can even claim a percentage point of a chance in any scenario. But the Marlins are not real playoff contenders, and using this September to test out young players who should be contributors in 2015 is not a bad idea given the team's odds.