One thing you don't generally get from a major league season is a true Cinderella story, or at least not any more. Certainly, there are some such tales littered in the annals of baseball history, such as the 1914 Braves or the 1969 Mets or the 1991 Twins. Those clubs launched themselves from cellar-dweller status, or something close to it, all the way to the sport's pinnacle in one season.
Now, though, and perhaps this is an unfortunate outcome from the rise of analytics and probabilistic forecasting, it's hard to envision a championship team that we flat out did not see coming. We do sometimes get a surprise postseason entrant, usually a rebuilding team that turns the corner quicker than anticipated. But we haven't had what we'd really paint as a Cinderella champion since the Twins beat the Braves in 1991's classic World Series.
Generally speaking, teams forecast to be elite turn out to be at least pretty good, and teams forecast to end up at the bottom turn out to be pretty bad. The probabilities we establish -- based on rosters as they stand when we enter a season -- hold up over 162 games. And while the 10-team playoff format is generous, it does mostly rule out a true Cinderella-interloper sneaking onto an October bracket.
The 2020 season is different than any before it for a lot of reasons, but this is yet another: The possibility of a true rags-to-riches club crashing the postseason party looms larger than usual. And perhaps that is about the best thing we can say about this uncertain campaign -- that anything can happen.
Before the season -- the original season we thought we were getting back in mid-February -- my system identified six teams that had at least a two-in-three shot at the playoffs, and at least a 5% chance of winning the World Series. Those elite teams were the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, Twins, Nationals and Braves. Conversely, there were seven teams that had a 2% or lower shot at the playoffs and a zero (or near-zero) chance at winning it all: Pirates, Giants, Royals, Mariners, Tigers, Marlins and Orioles.
Those tiers began to blur once the 60-game schedule was settled upon. They blurred further when -- just as the season started -- the playoff format was expanded from 10 to 16 teams. And they have continued to blur each night, as each game is booked, carrying with it 2.7 times the usual degree of impact as a regular-season game from any other season.