We've just a handful of days remaining in the 2019 Major League Baseball regular season, but we've still got some things to sort out when it comes to the 10-team playoff field and the seeding of those 10 teams. But what if the 162-game sprawl of the regular season isn't enough to provide us with the necessary clarity? That's when we'll turn to the various and sundry (and somewhat complicated) tiebreaker scenarios.
Speaking of which, we're here to provide you with a brief walking tour of those tiebreakers. Let's jump in.
What if two teams wind up tied for a division title?
At this writing, it seems highly unlikely that the 2019 season will yield a tie atop the standings of any division. If the unlikely does come to pass, however, then the two teams tied for the division lead would play a one-game tiebreaker on Monday, Sept. 30. The team with the better head-to-head record would host the tiebreaker.
Right now, just two divisions -- the NL Central and the AL Central -- have yet to be decided. Very likely, the Cardinals and Twins will prevail in those respective divisions. If the unexpected happens, though, the Cardinals would host the Brewers, and the Indians would host the Twins.
If the losing team in the divisional tiebreaker reverts to wild-card status, then they play in the Wild Card Game. If they revert to a tie for the second and final wild-card spot, then they play another tiebreaker to determine who advances to the Wild Card Game. If we have a tie for a division title and a concurrent three-way tie for the two wild-card spots, then it's a little different. In that case, the division title tiebreaker would be played, as would a wild-card tiebreaker between the two wild-card contenders from outside the tied division. The losers of those two tiebreaker games would then play a second tiebreaker to determine who played the winner of the initial wild-card tiebreaker in the Wild Card Game.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
What if three teams wind up tied for a division title?
This won't happen in 2019, but let's proceed for informational purposes only. In this instance, the the three teams would be designated Teams A, B, and C based on combined head-to-head winning percentages -- e.g., the Cardinals' combined 2019 record against the Brewers and Cubs. The team with the best combined head-to-head record gets choose A, B, or C. Here's the format:
- Team A hosts Team B on Sept. 30.
- The winner hosts Team C on Oct. 1.
Basically, the choice for the top team comes down to A or C. Would you rather be tasked with winning two games, both at home, or only one game, albeit on the road?
In the unlikely event that all three teams were also tied for a wild-card spot, then the loser of the second tiebreaker game would earn the wild-card spot. If three teams tied for a division title and also tied with a team outside the division for a wild-card spot, then you'll have Teams A, B, C, and D. Team D would be the team from outside the division of note. If Team D beats Team C, then Team D is the wild-card winner, and the winner of A-B takes the division crown. If Team C beats Team D, then the winner of A-B plays Team C. The winner of that game is division champ, and the loser takes the wild-card berth.
What about wild-card ties?
Some of those scenarios are laid out above, but let's break down some wild-card specific situations:
- Two teams tie for one wild card: Very straightforward. One-game tiebreaker with home-field advantage going to the team with the better head-to-head record.
- Three teams tie for one wild card: Teams A, B and C are assigned as noted above and they play as noted above -- i.e. B at A, followed by the winner of A-B at home against C with the bid at stake.
- Four teams tie for one wild card: Team A plays Team B, and Team C plays Team D. The winner of C-D visits the winner of A-B to determine who gets the playoff spot.
- Three teams tie for both wild cards: Game 1: Team B at Team A, winner gets wild card; Game 2: Team C at loser of Game 1, winner gets remaining wild card.
And what about ties for the top wild-card spot and home-field advantage?
Under these scenarios, no tiebreaker game is played. Essentially, this boils down to home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game and in Game 5 of LDS play or Game 7 of LCS and World Series play. If teams have the same regular season records, then the tie broken in the following manner:
- Team with the best head-to-head record plays at home.
- If that's tied, then the team with the best division record (e.g. the Yankees' record against AL East teams) would play at home.
- If that's tied, as well, then the team with the best intraleague record (i.e., NL vs. NL and AL vs. AL) would play at home.
Got all that? Of course you do. We believe in you.