In 22 seasons of wild-card-era zaniness, it has never happened. In 48 seasons of division play, packed with epic endings and crazy finishes, it has never happened. Never, ever, in all that time, has baseball had to break a three-way tie for any playoff spot. Let alone two.
But is this the year? The New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals through Wednesday's games have exactly the same record (80-72). Three teams. Two spots. Ten games left in each of their seasons.
So if this is the year, how would baseball break that tie? Thanks for asking. Here is how:
First, let’s tell you, with 99.9 percent certainty, who would play whom and when. Then we’ll explain how and why.
Monday, Oct. 3: Mets at Cardinals. The winner would win the first wild-card spot and host the NL wild-card game on Oct. 5.
Tuesday, Oct. 4: Loser of the Mets-Cardinals game plays the Giants in San Francisco. The winner heads for either New York or St. Louis to play in the wild-card game the next day. The loser heads for the fishing hole, the putting green or possibly both.
Wednesday, Oct. 5: The survivors play in the NL wild-card game. The winner goes on to Chicago to play the Cubs in the NLDS. As for the loser, see above.
How and why
Seeding is determined by the season series. The Cardinals (thanks to two huge wins in San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday) won the season series against the Giants, four games to three. And the Mets also won their season series against the Giants, 4-3. Meanwhile, the Cardinals and Mets split their season series 3-3, but the Cardinals would hold the tiebreaker because of a better record in their own division.
So the Cardinals get first dibs on which scenario they’d choose. And while it may be true that it’s never come to this, there have been enough close calls through the years that teams have at least had to choose their path. So we know that every team that has been in the Cardinals’ position has opted for the schedule we just outlined: Two chances to get in. Host the first game. Play the second game on the road if they lose.
The Mets would then get the second choice -- which comes down to whether they’d prefer two road games, only needing to win one, or one home game with the whole season riding on it. So is it theoretically possible they would decide that their rotation is so thin, they would rather just play one tiebreaker game instead of burning both Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon before they even get to the wild-card game? Sure. Theoretically. But no team has ever made that choice. So it’s highly unlikely.
Could this create all sorts of travel havoc if it actually happens? Of course it could. That’s part of the fun. Not so much for the Cardinals and Giants. They both finish their seasons at home, so they’re OK. The Mets, on the other hand, spend the last week of the season on the road. And let’s just say this: We hope they enjoy airline food.
It’s possible they could play Sunday (Oct. 2) in Philadelphia, Monday in St. Louis, Tuesday in San Francisco, Wednesday in St. Louis and Friday in Chicago. That’s five games in four cities, with none of them in the same locale two days in a row.
And if all that happens? It comes to 3,264 miles flown over approximately three and a half days. Or if you want to count the Mets’ travel from their series in Miami to Philadelphia, before they ever get to the final weekend, we’re talking 4,287 miles over six or seven days.
So yeah, that’s just crazy. But as Betty White once said (on a slightly different topic), it sure beats the alternative!