- The Cubs appear on their way to winning the NL Central, but the NL Wild Card race is morphing into a tight race that could shatter all precedent.
If you're a fan of playoff-related pandemonium and tiebreaker tumult, or just a connoisseur of confusion, then Team Entropy is for you. You're rooting for chaos in the form of scenarios that will produce extra baseball between the official end of the regular season on October 1 and the scheduled start of the two Division Series on October 5 (AL) and 6 (NL). Having examined such possibilities in the AL heading into the season's penultimate weekend, it's time to look at the NL, where things are every bit as confusing, if not more—which for our purposes counts as good news.
Officially, only the NL East is sewn up, but even with their 6–20 record since August 25, the Dodgers (97–56) have a magic number of one to clinch the NL West, where they lead the Diamondbacks (88–65) with nine games to play. I'll hold off on the doomsday scenarios there, but that still leaves much to discuss.
On Thursday night in Milwaukee, the Brewers were one out away of trimming the Cubs' division lead to 2 1/2 games, but Javier Baez's RBI single drove in the tying run, and Kris Bryant mashed a two-run homer in the 10th. Thus, Chicago (85–67) now leads Milwaukee (81–72) by 4 1/2 games, and still-ticking St. Louis (80–72 after sweeping the Reds in three ) by five. The Cubs' magic number to clinch is six, and they have three more games in their series at Miller Park, then four at Busch Stadium closing the regular season at Wrigley Field with three against the Reds (66-87). The Brewers follow the crucial Cubs series by hosting the Reds for three and then finishing with three in St. Louis. The Cardinals play three against the Pirates (69-84) at PNC before their aforementioned series against the Cubs and Brewers.
If any two of the teams wind up tied after 162 games, home-field advantage for a Game 163 tiebreaker would be determined by their head-to-head records in the 19-game season series, and with each team still having games remaining against the other two (as denoted in bold in the table below), all we know is that the Cubs have clinched the advantage on the Cardinals; everything else remains up for grabs:
Whether or not there are wild card implications (I'll get to those), if all three teams wind up tied, the head-to-head records among them are combined in order to determine the pecking order. Right now, the Cubs have a 19-12 record and a .613 winning percentage against the other two, with the Brewers at 17–15 (.531) and the Cardinals locked in third at 11–20 (.355). Once the order is determined, the teams draft Club A, Club B or Club C designations in the following scenario: Club B @ Club A, and then Club C @ Club A/B winner, with that winner claiming the Central flag.
If the three-team tie also covers one wild card spot — for example, if the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals wind up with 87 wins, fewer than the Diamondbacks already have but more than the slumping Rockies (currently 82–71, riding a four-game losing streak) — then instead of being done for the year, then the loser of that game would be the road team for the wild card game (WC2). But if the Rockies are also in the mix at 87 wins … hold your horses, we'll get to that.
NL Wild Card
Currently, the Diamondbacks have a six-game lead over the Rockies for the top wild card spot (WC1), which would yield home-field advantage in the wild card game itself. The Rockies lead the Brewers by one game and the Cardinals by 1 1/2 games for WC2. For a tie of whatever size, recall that the tiebreaker resolution is this:
1. Head-to-head winning percentage among the tied teams 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.
I'll break out the big board, including the Cubs and Diamondbacks:
The only remaining games to be played among these teams are the aforementioned ones within the NL Central, and as 19-game season series, they're guaranteed to produce uneven results, so determining home-field advantage for the Game 163 play-in to anoint a wild card team is straightforward. In the unlikely event of a wild card tie involving the Diamondbacks and Cubs, who split their six games, Chicago currently has the better intradivision record, going 39–27 (.591) against the rest of the NL Central while Arizona has gone 43–30 (.589) against the rest of the NL West. The latter has just three games within the division to play, hosting the doormat Giants (60–93) from September 25-27.
For a three-team tie that doesn't also involve the NL Central title, again the head-to-head records among them are combined in order to determine the order. Given the size of the Cubs' and Diamondbacks' leads, the most likely trio is the Rockies, Brewers and Cardinals for WC2, in which case the Brewers currently have the highest winning percentage at .521 (12-11), followed by the Cardinals at .500 (11–11) and then the Rockies .462 (6–7). Once the order is determined, the teams draft Club A, Club B or Club C designations in the following scenario: Club B @ Club A, and then Club C @ Club A/B winner, with that winner becoming WC2.
If the Brewers, Diamondbacks and Rockies wind up tied—which would take some doing given Arizona's current lead, but just suppose—that would almost certainly mean that both wild card spots are at stake. With no remaining regular season matchups among the trio, the order shakes out as Diamondbacks .577 (15–11), Rockies .462 (12–14) and Brewers .429 (6–8). The format would then be Club B @ Club A, with the winner becoming WC1, and the A/B loser @ Club C to determine WC2.
If there's a three-team tie that involves the NL Central title as well as one wild Card spot — say, the Cubs, Brewers and Rockies all with 87 wins, with WC2 on the line (the Diamondbacks having secured WC1) — the two NL Central teams would first play off, with home-field advantage determined by their head-to-head record. The loser would play the Rockies, again with home-field determined by head-to-head record; that winner would be WC2.
Back to the scenario I teased above, with the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals and Rockies all at 87 wins and WC2 also on the line. The Rockies would automatically become Club D, with the other three teams determining A, B and C as explained in the Central section. Then the format would be: Club B @ Club A and Club C @ Club D. If Club D (the Rockies) wins, they would be declared WC2, and the A/B winner would be NL Central champions, with the A/B loser out of luck. But if Club C wins, then they would travel to the A/B winner; the winner of that game would be NL Central champs, and the loser would be WC2.
If somehow the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Rockies and Diamondbacks all tie at, say, 88 wins, MLB hasn't officially unveiled its scenario, and in his otherwise exhaustive attempt at anticipating how that would be handled, neither did our own Ted Keith. From here, my best guess is that the Central champion would first be determined via the three-team tiebreaker format explained above, with the two losing teams in turn joining a four-team tiebreaker, one after losing one game, the other after losing twice.
Supposing that it's the Cardinals who emerge with the Central title (that despite having third pick in the A-B-C draft), the hierarchy for the other four is currently Arizona .562 (18–14), Colorado .515 (17–16), Milwaukee .467 (14–16), and Chicago .448 (13–16). Then the format would be: Club B @ Club A and Club C @ Club D, with the winners of each declared wild card clubs, and home-field advantage determined as above.
Again, I should stress that the last scrum is unofficial. But Rob Manfred, you can feel free to call me.