Explaining, Predicting Outcomes of MLB's Wackiest 2016 Tiebreaker Scenarios
MLB's 162-game regular season might not prove enough to set the playoff picture.
In order to manufacture more drama, MLB instituted a second wild-card spot and one-game matchup for entry into the division series. The initiative has paid dividends this season, when 10 teams remain five or fewer games from one of those spots.
As cruel as it seems to bookend sports' longest season with an elimination playoff game, things could delve into further chaos if the season ends in any ties. Some teams may have to play a winner-take-all matchup for a chance at another winner-take-all game.
The close wild-card pictures create some dizzying possibilities. With a tight American League East battle also containing wild-card implications, season stalemates would produce utter madness.
Sit down. Take a deep breath. Actually, maybe grab a drink first. Some of these confusing scenarios should require a prerequisite course. With help from MLB.com, let's explain some possible tiebreakers.
First, let's run through the simple scenarios where two teams are tied for one spot. In each situation, both parties would play a winner-take-all game hosted by the club with the better head-to-head record. If that's tied as well, it's settled by the better record in division play.
Things get more complicated if those teams are also tied for a wild-card slot, which will get addressed in further detail later.
Note that, while these games are classified as regular-season games, they do not count for breaking another tie. If division winners are also tied for a wild-card bid, the loser of the division-decider will still receive a chance to make the Wild Card Game. They will, however, also lose home-field advantage in the wild-card tiebreaker matchup due to the defeat.
Two Teams Tie for American League East
The Boston Red Sox have maintained their ground in a tight American League East race. David Price should give them an advantage in a must-win scenario, but he continues to fall short of expectations with a 3.91 ERA. There's also, of course, his 5.12 career postseason ERA.
Regardless the matchup, this game would be a slugfest. Boston's league-best offense paired with Price or Rick Porcello still provides an edge over the Baltimore Orioles or Toronto Blue Jays. If the Red Sox fall out of it altogether, Baltimore's bullpen upends Toronto.
Who Wins: Red Sox over Orioles or Blue Jays; Orioles over Blue Jays
San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers Tie for National League West
While a Clayton Kershaw-Madison Bumgarner clash is fun to imagine, let's not spend too much time harping on this scenario. The Los Angeles Dodgers hold a six-game lead and 98.7 percent probability of winning the division, per Baseball Prospectus.
They do, however, meet five more times this season. In order for the Giants to create this situation, they'd need to win most of those matchups. This would also set the showdown at AT&T Park, which is significant given the Dodgers' 37-38 road record.
Who Wins: Giants
Two Teams Tie for National League Wild Card
Although the Giants are struggling, they are still healthier than the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals. They can trot out Bumgarner or Johnny Cueto, and it's an even year.
Because they close out the season against National League East laggards, the Mets can overcome injuries to their pitching staff for two more weeks. Their hopes of winning the NL pennant again are slim, but wouldn't it all be worth it to gain vengeance on Adam Wainwright in a must-win showdown?
Who Wins: Giants over Mets or Cardinals; Mets over Cardinals
Before going any further, it's important to understand the process of club designations. Throughout the article, teams will be assigned letters—example: Club A will host Club B. Club C hosts the loser.
In tiebreakers, head-to-head record comes first for determining who chooses its designation. If that's tied, inner-division games come next, followed by intraleague games.
Those simple distinctions will hopefully cover every possibility, but MLB.com breaks down an entire scroll of tiebreakers.
Designation matters because they can set home-field advantage and allow a team to choose its preferred matchup.
Giants, Mets and Cardinals Tie for NL Wild Card
Scenario: The Giants, Mets and Cardinals tie for both NL wild-card spots.
Club A will host Club B for one spot. Club C hosts the loser to determine the second spot. The first game's winner will receive home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card Game.
The designation is crucial in this scenario, as it offers one less game and home-field advantage. Among these three squads, the Mets need it the most.
The Cardinals are an MLB-best 46-30 on the road, and the Giants wield two aces in addition to Jeff Samardzija and an occasionally brilliant Matt Moore. If New York needs Noah Syndergaard during the final weekend, it could deploy Bartolo Colon and Seth Lugo in these elimination bouts.
Let's go with San Francisco, especially if Bumgarner and/or Cueto are available, followed by whichever of the other teams is fresh as Club C. If the Giants hold that designation, they'll advance to play the Mets.
Dodgers and Giants Tie for NL West, 1 Wild-Card Spot
Scenario: The Dodgers and Giants tie for the NL West title and the second wild-card spot with one team outside the division.
The Dodgers will play the Giants for the division title. The team outside the NL West then hosts the loser in a game to determine who wins the second wild-card bid.
After previously picking the Giants to win an unlikely NL West title game, that leaves the Dodgers facing the Mets or Cardinals for a ticket to the Wild Card Game.
This is dangerous domain for the Dodgers, who flourish at home and have been ousted by one of those two squads in each of the last three years. They will also have to burn though one of their few healthy starters against San Francisco.
Although a doomsday scenario that shouldn't occur, the Giants would steal the division while the Cardinals and Mets clash in the Wild Card Game.
Dodgers, Giants, Mets and Cardinals All Tie
Scenario: The Dodgers, Giants, Mets and Cardinals all tie for both wild-card spots, and the Dodgers and Giants tie for the NL West.
The Dodgers face the Giants to crown an NL West winner. The Mets and Cardinals play for one wild-card spot.
The loser of both games will compete for the second wild-card berth. Home-field advantage for all games will be determined by head-to-head records among the two clashing teams.
For those who haven't done this yet, that's three elimination games before getting to the actual elimination playoff game.
The Mets and Cardinals split their six games, so the venue depends on how the Mets fare against a remaining schedule solely featuring NL East opposition. Probably not too well if the Cardinals gained a game on them in the standings.
Staying consistent, the Giants win the NL West. If Syndergaard is rested, the Mets vanquish the Cardinals. That leaves the Cardinals salvaging a spot with their second chance.
Bad news for anyone burned out by the NL scenarios: The American League gets even more confusing.
Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays Tie for AL East
Scenario: The Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays all tie for first place in the American League East. Two teams outside the division have claimed wild-card spots.
Club A hosts Club B. The winner advances to play Club C on the road for the division title.
Boston, who gained an edge on Baltimore with Monday night's win, split its current season matchups with Toronto. The Blue Jays have a 9-7 edge on the Orioles, but all three squads face one another before 2016 ends.
This all depends on who controls the table with the Club C primary designation. Baltimore, 47-28 at home and 35-40 away from Camden Yards, especially need home-field advantage. As of this moment, it starts on the road.
Along with their potent offenses, the Red Sox have also fortified their bullpen by acquiring Brad Ziegler and welcoming Koji Uehara back from the disabled list. Yet they have the same shortcoming as all their other adversaries: rotation depth.
Let's tentatively put Boston down for besting Toronto, whose better-than-advertised pitching has struggled down the stretch.
Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays Tie for AL East, Wild-Card Spot(s)
Scenario: The Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays tie for the AL East and one wild-card spot.
The Process: Club A faces Club B. The winner hosts Club C to determine the division champion. The loser of the division title game receives the wild-card spot.
Scenario: The Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays tie for the AL East and both wild-card spots.
The Process: Club A faces Club B. The loser receives the second wild-card spot. The winner hosts Club C to crown the division champion. The loser of the division title game claims the first wild-card spot.
Club designation again dictates everything, especially in the first scenario. There's no reason to stop picking Boston, which boasts a plus-179 scoring margin and MLB-best 5.6 runs scored per game.
How will Chris Tillman or Aaron Sanchez stop a lineup in which All-Star Xander Bogaerts represents the sixth-best hitter? The Red Sox should hit well enough over the next two weeks to avoid this scenario. If they don't, they'll still come out on top.
This again leaves Baltimore besting Toronto with Darren O'Day, Mychal Givens, Brad Brach and Zach Britton cutting the game short.
2 Teams Tie for AL East, 1 Wild-Card Spot
Scenario: Two teams tie for the AL East title and one wild-card spot with one team outside the division tie.
The Process: One tiebreaker game will unfold for the AL East title. The loser will play an elimination game at the home of the team outside the division for the wild-card spot.
Scenario: Two teams tie for the AL East title and one wild-card spot with two teams outside the division tie.
The Process: The two tied AL East teams play for the division title. The other two teams tied for the wild-card spot face off, with the winner hosting the loser of the division championship game.
Scenario: Two teams tie for the AL East title and one wild-card spot with three teams outside the division tie.
The Process: MLB did not dissect this improbable scenario, so this will have to do. But following the typical protocol, it appears the usual division title bout will unfold. Then among the other three teams, Club A will face Club B with Club C hosting the division title loser.
The winners would meet for the wild-card spot. The winner of that would be too tired to bother with the actual Wild Card Game.
From the third scenario, the other wild-card team wins. With the Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees—who are left out of the AL East picture for everyone's sanity—all neck-and-neck in the standings, there are multiple permutations to consider.
The wild-card hopefuls outside the AL East all wield similar home-road splits. With nine wins over their last 12 games, the Mariners look especially dangerous. Then again, the Astros handed them two of those three losses.
Boston's too stacked not to survive somehow. Count on at least one other squad representing the AL East in the Wild Card Game.
Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays Tie for AL East, Wild Card with Team Outside Division
Scenario: The Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays tie for the AL East and with a team from a different division for one wild-card spot.
The Process: Club A faces Club B, and Club C faces Club D. In both of the following scenarios, Club D represents the team outside the division.
If Club D wins, it advances to the Wild Card Game, and the winner of Club A vs. Club B claims the AL East.
If Club C wins, it faces the winner of Club A vs. Club B. The winner claims the division, and the loser claims the wild-card bid.
Scenario: The Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays tie for the AL East and both wild-card spots with one team outside the division.
The Process: Club A faces Club B, and Club C faces Club D. If Club D wins, it advances to the Wild Card Game, and the winner of Club A vs. Club B claims the AL East. The losers of both games play for the second wild-card spot.
If Club C wins, it faces the winner of Club A vs. Club B. The winner claims the division, and the loser claims the first wild-card bid. The loser of Club A vs. Club B faces Club D for the second wild-card spot.
Scenario: The Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays tie for the AL East and both wild-card spots with two or three teams outside the division.
The Process: MLB crawls in the fetal position, gives up and cancels the playoffs? This is as likely as James Shields receiving AL Cy Young Award votes.
Oh dear. Free baseball is great, but this is probably too much extra baseball.
Houston and Seattle both went 6-1 against Baltimore with worse results against Boston and Toronto. Detroit, however, won five of seven contests over Boston despite scoring one more run in the process.
While the AL East team with the lowest designation must win twice, the team outside the division only needs one victory. That gives an edge to the AL Central or AL West contender, provided the Red Sox are Club A or B.
4 Teams Tie for AL or NL Wild-Card Spot(s)
Scenario: Four teams tie for one wild-card spot.
The Process: Club A hosts Club B, and Club C hosts Club D. The winners collide to determine who earns a spot in the Wild Card Game.
Scenario: Four teams tie for both wild-card spots.
The Process: Club A hosts Club B. Club C hosts Club D. Both winners advance to the Wild Card Game.
Allow MLB.com to explain the designation process for four-team ties:
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. If two Clubs have identical winning percentages, then the two-Club tiebreak rules shall apply to determine which team selects its designation first. If three Clubs have identical winning percentages, then the three-Club tiebreak rules shall apply to determine which teams select their designation first.
There are way too many variables floating around here to either fathom a guess. Just be grateful for the Yankees falling far enough out of the division hunt to entertain a four-team AL East tie with wild-card implications.
It's time for another drink.