This is the fourth installment of this year’s Team Entropy series, my recurring look not only at the races for the remaining playoff spots but the potential for end-of-season chaos in the form of down-to-the-wire suspense and even tiebreakers. Ideally, we want more ties than the men’s department at Macy’s. If you’re new to this, please read the introduction here.
The past couple of days have been very, very good ones for Team Entropy, at least in the NL (all five playoff teams in the AL have been determined). With the Cubs (now 91-66) losing back-to-back games to the Pirates while the Brewers (91-67) beat the Cardinals (87-71) twice, the top two teams in the NL Central are separated by just half a game heading into Wednesday evening. The two losses have dropped the Cardinals half a game behind the Rockies (87-70) in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot, while the resilient Rox, who have won five straight since being swept by the Dodgers (88-70) last week, are just half a game out of first place in the NL West. Five teams fighting for four playoff spots in three races, separated by three half-game margins. It’s that simple — and that complex.
The half-game stuff will resolve itself one way or another on Thursday, when the Cubs and Rockies both play (the last of a four-game set against the Pirates for the former, the first of a four-gamer against the Phillies for the latter) while the Cardinals and Dodgers are idle. After that, every team will have three games remaining, with the Cubs hosting the Cardinals, the Rockies hosting the Nationals, the Brewers hosting the Tigers, and the Dodgers visiting the Giants.
The current iteration of our playoff odds ties page shows a 23.9% chance of a tie in the NL Central after 162 games, with a 19.8% chance of a tie in the West and a 26.4% chance of a tie in the Wild Card race. Given all of that, it’s worth a quick review of how this works, but let’s start with the latest iteration of my Big Board, showing the head-to-head records of the relevant teams.
|Cardinals||9-7 (0,3)||8-10 (1,0)||—||5-2||4-3|
Let’s start with the NL West, where things are relatively simple. If the Dodgers and Rockies wind up tied after 162 games, the two teams would play a tiebreaker at Dodger Stadium on Monday, October 1, on the basis of Los Angeles’ 12-7 season series advantage. The winner would be the division champion, the loser a potential Wild Card team, with that Game 163 result having no impact in such a determination.
As for the NL Central, if it’s a two-way tie between the Cubs and Brewers, the teams would play a tiebreaker at Wrigley Field on the basis of Chicago’s 11-8 season series advantage. If the Cardinals are somehow one of those two teams — a very long shot given that St. Louis’ elimination number is down to one — they would be the road team if it were the Brewers they were tied with (Milwaukee clinched the season series on Tuesday night), and the home team against the Cubs, whom they would have swept to claim the season series 10-9 as part of such a scenario coming to fruition.
If all three Central teams wind up tied, a pecking order based on head-to-head records against the other two teams would lead to a draft for club designations in a scenario where Club A hosts Club B, with the winner hosting Club C. The winner of the second game would be the division champion. Note the the actual order here is still up in the air, but currently, the Cubs (18-17, .514) are in the catbird seat, followed by the Cardinals (17-17, .500) and Brewers (18-19, .486). Can’t get much tighter than that, but if the second and third teams tie, it’s based upon head-to-head records between the two.
Now, if the two non-champions from that scenario finish ahead of the NL West’s second-place team, they’re the two Wild Card teams, with home-field advantage determined by head-to-head records. But if the NL West’s second-place team is also involved in this tie, we’ve hit Team Entropy paydirt. That team becomes Club D in a scenario where A hosts B and C hosts D. The results of the latter game determine what happens next. To quote from MLB’s tiebreaker page:
1. If Club D wins, it would be declared one Wild Card Club and the winner of the game between Club A and Club B would be declared the Division Champion. The loser of the game between Club A and Club B would host Club C to determine the other Wild Card Club.
2. If Club C wins, then the winner of the game between Club A and Club B would host Club C. The winner of the game would be declared the Division Champion and the loser would be declared one Wild Card Club. The loser of the game between Club A and Club B would host Club D to determine the other Wild Card Club.
Dizzy yet? I can’t say I blame you. Essentially, under such a scenario it will take until a pair of Game 164s to decide both the division winner and the two Wild Card teams — and then we get the actual Wild Card game! Let’s not even think about the travel implications and other logistical nightmares in play for the teams, the leagues, and the networks. They’re all making money hand over fist. This is about what we want as fans of chaos.
Compared to all of that, a mere three-way tie for two Wild Card spots seems kind of anticlimactic. But still, it’s MORE BASEBALL! Pecking order, A-B-C designations — there are too many permutations and too many undecideds to lay them all out right now, but feel free to try it using the board above — and then A hosts B, with the winner claiming one Wild Card spot and C hosting the loser to determine the other one.
Finally, if it’s just two teams tied for the second Wild Card spot, we’re back to normal tiebreaker rules, with the home team determined by head-to-head record in the season series. As we haven’t seen such a game since 2013, even this would constitute a victory for Team Entropy, but right now, we can afford to dream bigger.
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.