Runs Scored^1.82/((Runs Scored^1.82)+(Runs Allowed^1.82))

That’s the formula for “Expected Won-Loss” (X_WL), a stat that looks at a team’s run differential and determines what their won-loss record should be. There’s always some discrepancy between this expectancy and a team’s actual results, but generally only by a handful of games over the course of a long season. If you outscore your opponents, you should have a winning record. If they outscore you, you’ll lose more than you win. If they’re about equal, then your record will be around .500 too.

With the new playoff format for 2012, the three division winners and the top two non-division winners will now make the post-season. Don’t look now, but 25 games into the year, guess who those five teams in the NL would be based on X_WL?

East Division Champ: Washington (14-10)
Central Division Champ: St. Louis (18-6)
West Division Champ: Los Angeles (14-11)
Wild Card #1: Atlanta (14-11)
Wild Card #2: Houston (14-11)

Hello, Astros.

Now of course, X_WL does NOT equal actual WL, and Houston’s real record is flipped from the expected (11-14). It’s also WAY too early in the season to start paying much attention to the standings, and WAY too early to be talking about the playoffs. But the fact is that the Astros have outscored their opponents 118-104 thus far this year. Even before their just-completed sweep of the Mets, they had a positive run differential, and they’ve maintained that stat pretty much all year.

Statistics have a way of normalizing themselves over the long haul, so if the Astros continue outscoring their opponents all year, they’ll eventually start winning more games than they lose. They won’t stay below .500 for long. And while it’s admittedly ridiculous to start making plans for purchasing playoff tickets at this juncture, your 2012 Astros have a legitimate chance of, at worst, finishing the year a heck of a lot higher in the standings than anybody though they would coming off 106 losses last year.

Even .500 would be a huge accomplishment and an exciting improvement for this squad. Remember how much fun it was to watch the young kids in 1992 finish .500 after 97 losses the year before? No one else in the NL Central has particularly distinguished themselves yet this year, besides the Cardinals, so a second-place finish might not be out of reach. I hesitate to aim that high, but it has happened before. And remember, no team had ever gone worst-to-first before 1991, but the Braves and the Twins both did it that season, en route to the most improbable of World Series matchups.

Regardless, this 2012 team has been a ton of fun to watch so far on the young season. Young teams can slump just as quickly as they can streak. But what if… just what if? What a 50th anniversary gift that would be, and what a sendoff to the National League, to add one more banner to the Minute Maid Park rafters.

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