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  • In a year that looked destined for insanity, only the NL Wild Card has left us with a tantalizing race at the end of the season. Here is how the tiebreakers would work out.
By Jay Jaffe
September 27, 2017

Last weekend, the Team Entropy bandwagon swerved into a ditch, significantly reducing the chances of tiebreaker-related chaos in both leagues. Between the Twins' three-game sweep of the Tigers, the A's three-game sweep of the Rangers and series losses by the Angels, Orioles and Mariners, the AL wild card race effectively ended. Meanwhile, the combination of the Red Sox's sweep of the Reds and the Yankees' series loss to the Blue Jays significantly reduced the changes of an AL East tie, and the Cubs' series win over the Brewers more or less shut down the NL Central race. The games on Monday and Tuesday—particularly the Cubs' split with the Cardinals—only further solidified those situations, but hope isn't entirely lost, because the second NL wild card spot remains in play. Here's what you need to know.

NL Wild Card

The Diamondbacks (91–68) have clinched home-field advantage for the wild card game scheduled for October 4. The Rockies (86–73) are their most likely opponent; after Wednesday afternoon’s 15-9 slugfest against the Marlins, they hold a two-game lead on the Brewers (83-74) and a three-game lead on the Cardinals (82–75). The Rockies’ remaining games are at home; after an off day on Thursday, they close with three against the Dodgers (101–57), who probably won’t be doing much to further tip their hands—at least, beyond the 16 games the two teams have already played—in the event of a possible Division Series matchup. The Brewers play two against the lowly Reds (66–81) at Miller Park then finish with three against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Redbirds host the Cubs (88–69) for two more prior to that season-ending series.

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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.

For the three teams to tie with 86 wins, the Rockies would have to go 0–3, the Brewers 3–2 and the Cardinals 4–1. It’s mathematically impossible for the two NL Central combatants to both finish with 87 wins, as the Brewers would have to go 4–1 (losing no more than one game in St. Louis) while the Cardinals go 5–0, including 3–0 against the Brewers; at best, one of those two could tie the Rockies (who would have to go 1–2). The Cardinals can’t get to 88 wins, but if the Brewers run the table and the Rockies go 2–1, they tie.

Here are the head-to-head records involving the three teams:

Team

MIL

STL

COL

MIL

--

9–7

3–4

STL

7–9

--

4–2

COL

4–3

2–4

--

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 — if both teams reach 86 or 87 wins and the Rockies don't—is straightforward.

For a three-team tie, the combined head-to-head records among them determine the pecking order. Currently, the Brewers have the highest winning percentage against the other two at .521 (12–11), followed by the Cardinals at .500 (11–11) and then the Rockies at .462 (6–7). The aforementioned series could shuffle things, but there's no way the Rockies would wind up with the priority. Once the order is determined, the teams draft Club A, Club B or Club C designations in the following scenario: Club B @ Club A on October 2, and then Club C @ Club A/B winner on October 3, with that winner facing the Diamondbacks in Arizona on October 4.

The rest

• In the AL East, the Red Sox (91–66) enter Wednesday with a three-game lead over the Yankees (86–99) with five games to play for each, all of which are at their respective home parks. The Sox, who have a magic number of three, play one more game against the Blue Jays (75–83) and then four against the Astros (97–60), who still have a shot at reclaiming the top AL seed from the Indians (98–59) and thus something to play for despite the potential Division Series preview. The Yankees have two more against the Rays (76–81) and then three against the Blue Jays. They hold the tiebreaker over the Red Sox via their 11–8 season series edge, so if the two teams wind up tied, they would play a one-game tiebreaker in the Bronx on October 2 to determine the division champion, with the loser almost certainly winding up as the host of the wild card game. Speaking of which…

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• Thanks to the five-game winning streak they took into Wednesday, the Twins (83–74) led the Angels (78–79) by five games with five to play. The rest of the sub-.500 "contenders"—namely the Royals (77-80), Mariners (77-81), Rays (76-81), Rangers (76-81) and Orioles (75-83)—have been mathematically eliminated. A single victory by the Twins in any of their last five games (two at Cleveland against the Indians, then three at home against the Tigers), or a single loss by the Angels (two at Chicago against the White Sox, then three at home against the Mariners) will make Minnesota the first team to reach the postseason a year after losing at least 100 games.

• In the NL Central, a single loss by the Brewers or a win by the Cubs, who close with three at Wrigley Field against the Reds, delivers the division title to Chicago. They would have the third seed in the NL, facing the Nationals (95–62) in the Division Series while the Dodgers await the wild card winner.

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