- The NL East race is over and the West is all but settled, but the NL Central and Wild Card races are charging toward chaos. Behold our latest entry into Team Entropy.
Continuing what I started with the American League playoff picture on Monday, it's time to turn attention to the potential tiebreaker messes that could ensnare the National League, messes that produce extra baseball in the form of play-in games. If you’re rooting for that kind of schedule-twisting chaos, then welcome to Team Entropy.
At this point, the NL East is off the table as the Nationals have clinched, and with a 10-game lead with 17 games left to play, the chances of the Dodgers—who finally snapped their 11-game losing streak on Tuesday night—coughing up the NL West are less than 0.1% according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds, so for the moment, we can set that one aside. The opportunity for mayhem remains given that both the NL Central and the wild card races are still in play.
Currently, the Cubs (78-66) lead the Cardinals (76-68) by two games and the Brewers (76-69) by 2 1/2 games; that pair trails the Rockies (80-65) by 3 1/2 and four games, respectively for the second wild card spot. The BP odds are at 4.4% for St. Louis and 2.3% for Milwaukee, compared to 25.7% and 12.4% for the division. Sticking to the division-only scenarios for the moment, we could have two- or three-team ties that wind up yielding only the NL Central champ, with the losers packing it in until 2018.
If two teams are tied, the host of the tiebreaker game would be determined via the following rules:
1. Head-to-head winning percentage during the regular season.
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 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.
None of the three teams has yet clinched a season series against either of the other two; the trio still has 14 games to play that will determine how this all breaks down. After being swept by the Brewers at Wrigley Field this past weekend, the Cubs are 7-8 against them, with a four-game series still to come from September 21-24 at Miller Park.
The Cubs are 8-4 against the Cardinals, with a three-game series at Wrigley from September 15-17 and then a four-gamer at Busch Stadium from September 25-28. The Brewers are 9-7 against the Cardinals with a season-ending three-game series in St. Louis from September 29-October 1. Since all of those season series are 19 games, there's no chance of an even split between two teams that would bring intradivision records into play; win the season series against the rival that ties you and you host the tiebreaker game.
If all three teams are tied, then the determination of a pecking order is based upon head-to-head records among them. At the moment, it would shake out as Cubs .556 (15-12), Brewers .548 (17-14) and then Cardinals .393 (11-17), but as mentioned before, there's a lot of baseball left to play. It's possible that within a three-team tie, two or even all three of three might wind up tied in head-to-head winning percentage, at which point the intradivision records come into play.
Currently, the Cubs are in a commanding position, as they have a .565 winning percentage (35-27) with six intradivision games to play, while the Brewers have a .516 winning percentage (32-30) with six to play and the Cardinals .466 (27-31) with 10 to play. My brain isn't big enough to be 100% certain whether it's possible for the teams to all be tied on the basis of overall records and head to head and intradivision, but with so many games left, it appears possible. In that case, the fact that the Cardinals have been so lousy in interleague play (8-12, compared to the Cubs' 11-7 and the Brewers' 11-9) would mean conversely that they've been the best of the three in intraleague play. Got that? Good.
Once the pecking order is established, the teams would choose whether they wanted to be Club A, Club B or Club C in the following scenario: Club B @ Club A on October 2, and then Club C @ Club A/B winner on October 3 to determine the division champion. Realistically, first pick is an A/C decision, in that the Cubs (if they hold on) could either choose to take their chances by playing the first tiebreaker at home, or let the Brewers and Cardinals duke it out first, and be the road team against the winner.
NL wild card
Over the past two nights at Chase Field, the Rockies (80-65) have beaten the Diamondbacks (83-62) twice to trim the latter's lead for the top wild card spot (call it WC1) to three. If the pair winds up tied, home field advantage would be decided on the basis of their head-to-head record in the 19-game season series. Currently, Arizona leads 9-8 with two left to play, and with an odd number of games, there’s no chance for an even split.
If one of the three NL Central teams finds its way into a two-way tie for the second wild-card spot (WC2), home-field advantage in the tiebreaker game would be based on head-to-head record among the trio. The grid looks like this:
Series in bold still have games to be played, as noted above, while the rest are done. The only 3-3 split here is between the Cubs and Diamondbacks, both of whom would have to be deposed from their current positions in order for a WC2 tie even to be possible. In that unlikely event, Arizona has a slight advantage at the moment in the next level tiebreaker, intradivision play, having gone 38-26 (.594) against the rest of the NL West, while the Cubs, as noted, are 35-27 (.565). If that advantage were to hold amid the drastic turns of events that takes both teams down a peg, the tiebreaker game would be in Arizona.
If there's a three-team tie atop the wild card standings, the pecking order goes back to head-to-head records among them. Note that this would take a lot of doing given the current gaps of 6 1/2 games between the Diamondbacks and Cardinals and seven between the D'backs and Brewers (the Cubs are closer, but as they're in first place I'll set them aside). For example, a tie at 90 wins, with Arizona going 7-10 the rest of the way, would require Colorado to go 10-7 and St. Louis to go 14-4. But if something like that comes to pass, the current hierarchy goes Cardinals .615 (8-5), Diamondbacks .500 (12-12), Rockies .435 (10-13).
If it's the Brewers crashing the party rather than the Cardinals, they're at the back of the line with a .429 winning percentage (6-8) behind the Diamondbacks .542 (13-11) and Rockies .500 (12-12); in either scenario, those last two teams could swap places if Colorado completes a four-game sweep. After the teams pick their A-B-C designations, it's Club B @ Club A, with the winner declared WC1; the loser would then travel to Club C, with the winner of that game becoming WC2.
If, say, the Rockies, Brewers and Cardinals wind up tied for WC2, the head-to-heads shake out currently with the Brewers (.521, 12-11) ahead of the Cardinals (.500, 11-11) and Rockies (.462, 6-7). After doing the A-B-Cs, it's Club B @ Club A, with the winner hosting Club C; that winner of that game then travels to Phoenix to face the Diamondbacks for the actual wild card game.
If four teams wind up tied for WC1 — and oh, what a glorious thing that would be — the current order (assuming the Cubs win the Central) is St. Louis .517 (15-14), Arizona .516 (16-15), Milwaukee .500 (15-15) and Colorado .467 (14-16), but the remaining games could shake that up. The four teams would choose A-B-C-D designations within this scenario: Club B @ Club A and Club D @ C. The two winners would be the wild card clubs, with home-field advantage determined by head-to-head records, then intradivisional records, and so on as above.
An even hairier situation would occur if multiple teams wind up tied for the Central and a wild card spot. Suppose the Cubs, Cardinals and Rockies all finish with 87 wins and the Diamondbacks have more. Home field advantage for both the Central tiebreaker game and the one between the loser of that game and the Rockies to determine WC2 would be decided based on head-to-head records. If the Diamondbacks also finished tied (with 87 wins in this example), then the loser of the Central tiebreaker gets thrown into the three-way tiebreaking system, and then it's Club B @ Club A to determine WC1, with the loser at C to determine WC2.
Are you ready to stop this crazy train? Of course not. So how about a four-way tie between the Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers and either the Rockies or Diamondbacks? The NL West team would automatically become Club D, and the other three do the A-B-C thing as usual. First it’s Club B @ Club A and Club D @ Club C, and then there are two scenarios. If Club D beats Club C, they're a wild card team, with the A/B winner the Central champ, but if it's Club C beating Club D, then the A/B winner hosts C for the Central title, with the loser the wild card team.
I'll stop there, because my head is about to explode. Suffice it to say that I'll continue tracking these races over the next two and a half weeks, updating as needed for both leagues.