Major League Baseball released its postseason schedule on Aug. 28, which very carefully lays out what will happen starting on Oct. 3, when the playoffs are to begin with the American League wild-card game. The NL wild card game is the next day, and the two AL Division Series will start the day after that.
Unless, of course, they don’t.
With three weeks to go in the regular season, there is still the remote possibility that Major League Baseball will have to confront a scenario that is so unlikely it doesn’t have a formalized plan in place yet to deal with it. In other words: What if there is a tie involving five or more teams for a playoff spot?
Never before has baseball had to handle multiple tiebreaker games in the same season, and although MLB’s current tiebreaker rules have several contingencies for up to four teams finishing the year with the same record, there is nothing on the books for a tie involving more than four teams.
That gives us the perfect opportunity to imagine what shaking out all of this craziness might look like. As with any multi-team tiebreaker, the first step would be figuring out how to order the teams. All of the teams would be sorted according to the various tiebreakers, after which each team would get to pick, in order, whether it wants to be designated as Team A, Team B, Team C, etc. The tiebreakers are as follows:
1. Head-to-head winning percentage for each team against all the other tied teams during the regular season.
The team with the highest such mark gets to choose its designation first, second-highest gets the second choice and so on. If any two teams are tied here, they go to the following tiebreakers, in order:
2. Higher winning percentage in intradivision games.
3. Higher winning percentage in intraleague games
4. Higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games
5. Higher winning percentage in the last half plus one intraleague game, provided that such an additional game was not between the two tied clubs. Continue to go back one intraleague game at a time until the tie has been broken.
It gets even more complicated if there are three-team ties within any of those categories.
Then there are some important questions to consider: a) Will MLB re-seed after each round of a tiebreak? That seems unlikely because the tiebreakers for four-team wild-card ties already spell out that that would not be the case; b) Will teams get a bye? It could be useful in an odd-numbered scenario, but it also seems unlikely, as MLB would surely prefer that the games on the field decide the outcome; c) Will the higher-designated team get placed in a pod of two teams or three teams?
Will those variables unknown, here's what could be necessary to decide the various races still up for grabs. We'll start with the American League wild-card race, where the Yankees own the first spot, the Twins are in position for the second and the Angels, Royals, Rangers, Mariners, Rays and Orioles are still lurking. For the sake of simplicity, we'll consider that the team designations in our examples reflect that order: