How close are the Milwaukee Brewers to locking up the NL Central? Here's their magic number and their postseason odds

JR Radcliffe
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Aug 21, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA;  Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich (22) crosses home plate after hitting a grand slam home run against the Washington Nationals in the eighth inning at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

There are just two weeks remaining in the season, and the Milwaukee Brewers already know they're headed to the playoffs. Now, it's about shoring up a National League Central title. The team will wake up Sept. 20 with an 11½-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. 

What's left to accomplish? 

What's the Brewers' magic number to reach the playoffs?

It's zero. They're in, clinching at the earliest point in the season in franchise history (easily eclipsing the Sept. 23 clinch of 2011). But the magic number to win the division is still at three.

The Brewers lost to the Cubs on Sunday and red-hot St. Louis won again, meaning Milwaukee could not drill down their magic number. The Brewers can do no worse than a wild-card spot, and the Cardinals are the only competition left in the battle for an NL Central title. 

The Brewers can win the division as early as Tuesday. It remains a question of when, not if.

The Brewers have 13 games remaining in the 2021 season. Once the magic number hits zero, the Brewers have the NL Central title.

To calculate a magic number, start with 163 (the total number of games in an MLB season — plus one, since we're going for an outright win in the standings and not a tie. Subtract the number of wins from the frontrunner and then the number of losses from the next-closest team. For example, 163, minus 91 (Brewers wins), minus 69 (Cardinals losses) equals three to win the division.

If the Cardinals are still alive, how have the Brewers clinched?

The Brewers can do no worse than a wild-card spot, even if St. Louis were able to catch Milwaukee. 

The Brewers are 4½ games behind the first wild-card team (the Dodgers) and 14½ games ahead of the Reds, the next closest competition to St. Louis for a wild-card berth (San Diego is tied with Cincinnati in the loss column and 15 games back).

Since St. Louis can't win both the division and wild card, and Milwaukee has ensured a better record against the next teams on the list (the Padres and Reds), Milwaukee can do no worse than a wild-card spot.

It should still be an entertaining battle between the Cardinals, Reds and Padres for the last playoff spot. But for Milwaukee, it's just a matter now of securing a division title and a chance to avoid that one-game wild-card playoff immediately after the season.

More:With 500 victories and counting, Brewers manager Craig Counsell still feels 'responsible for baseball in this city'

More:Brewers will open 2022 season at home on Thursday, March 31, against the Arizona Diamondbacks

When is the earliest the Brewers could clinch the division?


The division magic number shrinks by one digit with every Brewers win and every Cardinals loss. Starting Monday, St. Louis will be in town for a four-game series, and every outcome could potentially chip off two numbers (or none, if the Cardinals win).

Needing three, the Brewers can chip off two digits with the next win, and the win after that will get it done. It's pretty simple: If the Brewers win two of four games in this series, they are officially NL Central champs.

Even if the Brewers get swept, they'd still have three more chances on the homestand against the New York Mets and would guarantee a division berth with a sweep or if any combo of Brewers wins and Cardinals losses at Wrigley Field against the Cubs equals three.

How close are the Brewers to the top overall seed (or the No. 2 seed)?

Milwaukee entered Sunday 5½ games behind the Giants for the top spot in the National League (and the claim to home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs that comes with it).

The Giants became the first MLB team to clinch a playoff spot with a win over San Diego on Sept. 13. The Dodgers followed suit shortly thereafter. 

But there is some wisdom to securing the No. 2 seed. The current postseason layout would feature the Dodgers facing the Cardinals in the wild-card game, and the winner of that battle facing the top-seeded NL West champion Giants. The Dodgers and Giants both have better records than the National League East-leading Braves, which would be the team lined up to face the Brewers if the season ended today. Milwaukee simply wouldn't have to play both of the current two best records in the NL at any point in the postseason.

Entering Sunday, Atlanta (76-70) is still the team to beat in the NL East, but the Braves lead over Philadelphia (76-72) is down to one game, with New York (72-76) all but eliminated at 5½ back.

Milwaukee came into Sunday with a 14-game lead over Atlanta, and the magic number to secure a better record than the NL East winner (and the No. 2 seed) is down to two.

For optimistic Brewers fans, Milwaukee is one-half game back of Tampa Bay, the team with the best record in the American League. Home-field advantage in the World Series is awarded to the team with the best regular-season record.

When do the playoffs begin?

The American League and National League wild card games will take place Oct. 5 and 6, respectively, with the season ending Oct. 3.

The AL division series will begin Oct. 7, with the NL division series starting Oct. 8. That means if the season ended today, the Brewers would host games at American Family Field on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 8-9.

How many wins are the Brewers on pace to get?

If you round up, the Brewers are on pace for 99 wins (98.9 to be exact), which would surpass the 2011 and 2018 teams for the most wins in franchise history (96). The 2018 team played 163 games (including a one-game tiebreaker) to reach that mark. 

The Brewers could go 6-7 the rest of the way and still reach the franchise record for wins at 97.

What are the odds the Brewers win the division?

(Through Saturday's games)

Fangraphs gives the Brewers a 100% chance to win the division. The Brewers have been given a 11.2% chance to win the World Series. (Largest World Series winning percentage: Dodgers at 18.9%)

Baseball Reference gives the Brewers a >99.9% to win the division. The odds of winning the World Series: 17.2%. (Largest WS percentage: Brewers)

Have the Brewers ever had a lead this big, this late?

The Brewers ran their franchise-record division lead to 14 games this month before slipping back to the current mark of 11½. Some other notable years:

  • The 2011 Brewers led the division by 10½ games after play on Sept. 5, the most games a Brewers team had ever led a division race before 2021. Milwaukee won the division by six games that year.
  • The 2007 team led by as many as 8½ before missing the playoffs, though that high-water mark came June 23. The Brewers had fallen back into a tie by Aug. 1
  • The 1982 Brewers never led the division by more than 6½ games and never led by more than 4½ in September.
  • The 1981 Brewers never led the division by more than two games, and the 2019 Brewers never led by more than three games.
  • The 2014 team led by as many as 6½ on July 1. Team Streak in 1987 led by no more than five games.
  • The 2018 Brewers never led the division by more than 4½ games; in fact, they still trailed the Cubs by five games at the conclusion of play Sept. 2, and the deficit was six as late as Aug. 28.
  • The 2020 team never led the division.
  • The 2021 Brewers reached 31 games over .500 for the second time in franchise history, matching the 1982 team, and then extended that to 34 after the sweep of Cleveland.

More:The last time the Brewers went 31 games over .500, it was because of a home run from an unlikely source

Has a team ever lost a lead this big, this late?


The 2011 Red Sox became the first team in history to not make the playoffs after holding a nine-game lead in September over the nearest playoff threat. No team has blown a 10-game lead or greater in September.

The 1964 Phillies lost a 6½ game lead with 12 to go after losing 10 straight, so anything is possible, of course. But probably not this possible.

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.