Remember the big fight scene midway through Anchorman? You know, the one where Will Ferrell's news crew is poised to brawl with Vince Vaughn's news crew, and then Owen Wilson, Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller show up ready for battle with each of their news crews?
That's basically what the American League wild-card race is like right now.
The race will eventually come down to a battle between two clubs for the right to go to the divisional round, but right now, there are six teams in the mix and they're all quite close to one another. By season's end, there might be a two-way tie. Or a three-way tie. Or even—Gasp!—a four-way tie.
Want to know what happens if it comes to a four-way tie? Madness, as that means that Major League Baseball's complex tiebreaking rules will have to be put into practice.
We'll get to those in a minute. But first, take a moment to re-familiarize yourself with the current standings in the American League wild-card race, for this is need-to-know stuff:
That's what "close" looks like. The Tampa Bay Rays are nursing a slim lead for the top wild-card spot, but the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees are all separated by only 2.5 games.
Some perspective: This time last year, the Oakland A's held a two-game lead for the top wild-card spot, and there was only one team within 2.5 games of the Orioles for the second spot. That situation looks petty by comparison.
We're going to be getting more specific before long, but for now, let's just entertain the notion that four teams end up with the same record and tied for the top two wild-card spots. What then?
After Clubs have been assigned their A, B, C and D designations, Club A would host Club B and Club C would host Club D on Monday, Sept. 30 (tentatively). The winners of each of those games would be declared the Wild Card Clubs.
Basically, there would be a final four. The four teams would square off and two winners would be left standing. These teams would then move on to play in the actual play-in game, which is currently slated to take place on Wednesday, Oct. 2.
Where things would get really interesting, however, is if four teams tie for a single wild-card spot. That could happen this year, and here's what would go down:
After Clubs have been assigned their A, B, C and D designations, Club A would host Club B and Club C would host Club D on Monday, Sept. 30 (tentatively). The winners of each of those games would then meet on Tuesday, Oct. 1 (tentatively), hosted by the winner of the game between Club A and Club B, to determine the Wild Card Club.
There would once again be a final four scenario, but it wouldn't be over so quickly. Two games would produce two winners, who would play each other the next day. The winner of that game would then go right to the Wild Card play-in game the day after.
Think about that for a second. I'm fairly certain it would be an MLB first. A four-way tie for one wild-card spot would set one team up to play three straight elimination games in three consecutive days against three different teams.
Whether it's a four-way tie for two spots or one, what would be accomplished either way is that a play-in scenario would indeed become a playoff scenario. That's why those "A, B, C and D designations" would be needed, as it would determine which teams would be the home and road clubs for each game.
So...how does that work?
Simple. Except not, because it leads us to another set of tiebreakers.
In the event of a four-team tie in which A, B, C and D designations would have to be chosen, the four clubs would be lined up in a pecking order from which they would pick their preferred designations. Doing so should be simple enough, as the rule reads:
The Club with the highest winning percentage in games among the tied Clubs chooses its designation first, followed by the Club with the second-highest winning percentage and the Club with the third-highest winning percentage.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty in regard to individual records, let's just say that the Rays, Rangers, Indians and Orioles end up tied for the two wild-card spots. The Rays would show their record against the Rangers, Indians and Orioles, the Rangers would show theirs against the Rays, Indians and Orioles and so on. Whichever club bears the record with the highest winning percentage would get to pick its designation first.
That club would presumably pick Designation A so it could host one of the playoff games, and the club with the next-best record would presumably pick Designation C so it could also host the other one. Then, the club with the third-best record would pick its preferred matchup, and the club with the worst record would be left with whatever's left.
Now, things do get messy if it comes to a situation in which all four clubs produce records against the other three clubs that have identical winning percentages. In that case, it would be on to the next tiebreaker: winning percentage in intradivision games.
Now, in the event that all four teams also have identical winning percentages in intradivision games, the next tiebreaker is winning percentage in the last half (i.e. 71 games) of intraleague games (AL vs. AL).
If there's still a tie between the four clubs, then intraleague games played before the halfway mark will be taken into account...but only one game at a time, and provided that the additional games being counted weren't played between any of the tied clubs.
Let's stop now for an appropriate GIF:
Indeed, but now for the good news. After eyeballing and tinkering around with the various teams in the AL wild-card race, their records against one another and their intradivision records, I failed to devise any scenario in which every last one of the four-team tiebreaker rules would come into play. Provided I didn't miss anything, things won't be getting that complicated.
But if you're looking for some specific scenarios that could play out, I came up with a couple.
Scenario No. 1: A Tie Between the Rangers, Indians, Orioles and Yankees for One Spot
The Rangers are 81-68 and have 13 games remaining. Let's say they go 8-5 in those 12 games, while the 82-69 Indians go 8-4 in their last 12, the 79-70 Orioles go 10-3 in their last 13 and the 79-71 Yankees go 10-2 in their last 12.
What you'd get is this: four teams with 89-73 records fitting into one spot in the American League wild-card race. It would be time to choose a designation and then...a playoff!
We already know how things would play out in terms of the designation choosing, as none of the four teams we're talking about have games remaining against any of the other three. The deal would be:
- Rangers vs. Indians, Orioles and Yankees: 7-13 (.350)
- Indians vs. Rangers, Orioles and Yankees: 10-10 (.500)
- Orioles vs. Rangers, Indians and Yankees: 17-16 (.515)
- Yankees vs. Rangers, Indians and Orioles: 19-14 (.576)
The Yankees' edge would give them their pick of the four designations. Then it would be the Orioles, Indians and Rangers, in that order.
The Yankees would presumably choose Designation A so they could conceivably host two elimination games before getting to the big play-in game. The Orioles would probably take C so they could host one of the initial games. The Indians would be B so they could head home to host a game after possibly surviving the first round. The Rangers would be D, resulting in the following:
- Indians at Yankees on 9/30
- Rangers at Orioles on 9/30
- Rangers/Orioles at Indians/Yankees on 10/1
- Winner at Rays on 10/2
So there's that, and now we can move on to another relatively straightforward scenario that involves a four-way tie for two wild-card spots.
Scenario No. 2: A Tie Between the Rangers, Rays, Indians and Orioles for Two Spots
Let's say the Rangers bounce back and win the last three games of their four-game series against the Rays before finishing 5-5 in their last 10 games. Meanwhile, the Rays go on to split a four-gamer against the Orioles and go 5-1 in their last six games. Then, the Indians win their next two against the Royals and go 7-3 in their last 10. Finally, the Orioles sweep the Red Sox, split against the Rays and finish 5-1 in their last six. While all this is going on, the Yankees and Royals both fall off the table.
Here's what you'd get: the Rangers, Rays, Indians and Orioles all with 89-73 records. Their records against each other would be:
- Rangers vs. Rays, Indians and Orioles: 8-12 (.400)
- Orioles vs. Rangers, Rays and Indians: 16-17 (.485)
- Rays vs. Rangers, Indians and Orioles: 17-15 (.531)
- Indians vs. Rangers, Rays and Orioles: 11-8 (.579)
So here, the pecking order would be Indians, Rays, Orioles and Rangers, and the likely format would be:
- Orioles at Indians on 9/30
- Rangers at Rays on 9/30
As for how home-field advantage for the eventual Wild Card play-in game would be decided, it would be a simple matter of the head-to-head records of the two survivors. There wouldn't be any conflicts in this case, as nobody would go to the party with a .500 record against the other team.
Once again, simple enough. But now...let's get weird.
Scenario No. 3: Four-Way Tie Between Rays, Indians, Orioles and Royals for One Spot
Imagine the Rays dropping their next three against the Rangers and then finishing the season with a split against the Orioles followed by six straight wins.
Now imagine the Indians splitting against the Royals and finishing 8-2 in their last 10 games.
Think about the Orioles sweeping Boston, splitting against the Rays and winning their last six.
There's also the chance of the Royals winning out after splitting the two games against the Indians.
Meanwhile, the Rangers secure the top wild-card spot with a strong finish and the Yankees tank in the background.
What you'd get: Rays, Indians, Orioles and Royals all with 90-72 records. It would be time for the clubs to put their records against one another on the table. And that would go:
- Orioles vs. Rays, Indians and Royals: 14-19 (.424)
- Royals vs. Rays, Indians and Orioles: 19-14 (.575)
- Indians vs. Rays, Orioles and Royals: 16-16 (.500)
- Rays vs. Indians, Orioles and Royals: 16-16 (.500)
All good, all good...Uh...Uh oh.
Fortunately, MLB is prepared for such a scenario:
If two Clubs have identical winning percentages, then the two-Club tiebreak rules shall apply to determine which team selects its designation first.
That means head-to-head winning percentage, in which case the Rays would get the nod by virtue of their 4-2 record against the Indians in 2013. The Indians' winning record against the Orioles and Royals would be moot, as would the Rays' losing record against those two clubs. Them's the breaks.
So, the pecking order would go Royals, Rays, Indians and Orioles, and then the stage would be set for a final four that would lead up to the play-in game on Oct. 2.
Now then...because I have a roaring headache and my nose is starting to bleed, that's enough of the theoretical scenarios.
Save for that one mythical beast, of course.
So...What if There's a Five-Team Tie?
There's a scenario out there that involves, say, the Rangers going 7-6 in their last 13, the Indians going 7-5 in their last 12, the Orioles going 9-4 in their last 13 and the Yankees and Royals both going 9-3 in their last 12, all while the Rays secure the top wild-card spot with a strong finish.
Then you'd have five teams at 88-74, and all of them would want that second wild-card spot.
Want to know what would happen then?
Shoot, so would I. But this is a question without an answer. At least for the time being.
Major League Baseball's tiebreaking protocols don't have any rules in place for five-team ties. I reached out to the commissioner's office via phone and email, but have yet to get a response. It's possible that MLB is still working on figuring something out. Or maybe Bud Selig and his minions are waiting patiently and hoping that such a mess doesn't come to fruition.
As much as I'd like to say that I have a brilliant solution to such a troubling conundrum, I frankly don't. It's complicated enough whittling four teams down to one. Whittling five teams down to one is a whole different animal. Giving one team a bye while the other four duke it out for the right to face the one team with a bye wouldn't be fair, nor would it be entirely practical in light of the time constraints.
That means the most logical solution to the possible five-way-tie scenario is this: It simply can't be allowed to happen. If it does, Earth will implode like planet Vulcan.
Maybe it will all work out in the end. Either that, or the baseball gods will prove for the umpteenth time that they have a weird sense of humor.
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