MLB Playoff Format 2013: Tiebreaker Scenarios, Wild Card Games and Seedings

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

Sep 22, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Members of the Atlanta Braves celebrate on the field after the game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Braves defeated the Cubs 5-2 and clinched the National League eastern division championship. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

As with any league, navigating through the swamp that is the MLB playoff structure can be a tricky thing to do.

There might only be a total of 10 teams that make the postseason. That doesn't make it easy to try and figure out exactly how and where teams will finish and what happens when teams finish with the same record.

In an effort to try and make things a little clearer, here's a full breakdown of how the postseason will unfold.

Note: * denotes games that may not be necessary.

 

How the Playoffs are Seeded

Because of the expansion of the postseason last year, there will be a one-game playoff to see which wild-card team will advance. In the event of a tie, the team with the better head-to-head record would host the game.

It adds a bit more incentive for teams to win their division, while also protecting the division winners by having them avoid that one-game playoff. Previously, there was no real negative to winning the Wild Card, as you could finish second in your division and be put on a level playing field with the team that actually won your division.

While it's not the most optimal scenario, it's better than the old way.

Sep 23, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Wil Myers (9) is congratulated by left fielder Sam Fuld (5) after he scored a run against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from the wild-card rules, the playoffs are just as they've been for years.

The team with the best overall record will host the winner of the wild-card playoff and is the top seed for its league in the postseason. Then the other two division winners will face off. Since there are only two playoff series before the World Series, there's no need to restructure the later rounds.

MLB.com has a great visual of what the playoff bracket would look like in real time.

 

Tiebreaker Scenarios

This is where you can get really bogged down. By trying to prepare for every situation, the league has created what seems like thousands of different tiebreaker scenarios.

When you have two teams with the same record, it's easy enough. The team with the better head-to-head record gets home-field advantage. If they have the same record there, then you go to the better record in intradivision games and then to the last half of intraleague games. Let's just hope the league doesn't have to jump to the fourth step, which states:

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.

If there are more than two teams involved, then the teams are given designations of A, B, C and D, depending on how many are tied at the end of the season. Those designations are used to either determine the seeding in the playoffs, or which team will win the division outright, rather than having to win the one-game wild-card playoff.

 

Playoff Races

American League

The American League playoff picture is pretty much set in terms of the division winners. The Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics have already clinched their respective divisions. They're into the postseason, with the Red Sox in the lead for the top seed by virtue of their 95-62 record.

The Central is mathematically still up for grabs, but the Detroit Tigers have all but sealed the division. They've got a big enough lead to be able to coast until the end of the season.

So as of right now, Boston would play the winner of the Wild Card Game and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, because they've got the best record in the American League, and the AL won the All-Star Game.

The A's would get the Tigers in the ALDS.

 

National League

As with the American League, two divisions in the National League have already been decided, and they're the East and West.

The Atlanta Braves won the NL East, while the Los Angeles Dodgers took home the NL West. Atlanta has a slightly better record, so it would get home-field advantage up until the World Series.

The Braves would play the wild-card team, while the Dodgers would get the winner of the NL Central, which looks to be the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards are only two games up, so there's the chance another team will snag the division right at the end.

 

AL Wild Card

The wild-card spots are very much up for grabs in the American League. Six teams all have a chance to get into one of those two openings.

The Indians still have a shot at winning the AL Central, but at five games back, their best hope to get to the postseason will be through the Wild Card. The other five teams are all out of their divisional races, so they've only got the Wild Card to play for.

Sep 19, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (center) celebrates after scoring a run in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays would host the one-game playoff if the season ended right now because they have a better overall record than Cleveland.

 

NL Wild Card

It's all over but the shouting in the NL wild-card race. The Washington Nationals are the the only team that hasn't been mathematically eliminated, but they're still five games out. With six games left, it's almost impossible that the Nats will be able to make up that gap.

The drama will come from which team will win the Central and avoid the Wild Card altogether. Both the Pirates and Reds are two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. It's possible that one of those two teams will be able to win the division.

Sep 22, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) reacts to a standing ovation after being removed from the game against the Cincinnati Reds during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Reds won 11-3. Mandatory Credit
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

As it stands now, the Reds would get home-field advantage for the wild-card playoff because they have a better record in the NL Central. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have been 8-8 against one another, but that's going to change following the teams' three-game series to end the season.