In baseball, the phrase "magic number" is used to determine how close a team is to making the playoffs or winning the division. It becomes prominent every year in September as teams begin closing in on clinching.
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.
The exact formula is: Games remaining +1 - (Losses by second place team - losses by first place team)
If a new second-place team emerges, the magic number adjusts to that new second place team. The second-place team (in terms of total losses) must always be used as the barometer for the first-place team's magic number.
The first known usage of the magic number came during the pennant race between the Yankees and Red Sox during 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."
Watch: The first-place Cardinals win a game while in the playoff hunt, reducing their magic number by one.
In A Call
"playoff number," OR "elimination number" and "tragic number" when referring to how close teams are to elimination