Just 24 hours ago in this space, we let you know exactly how insane life could get in the National League if the Giants, Mets and Cardinals wind up in a three-team tie. But have you looked at those American League wild-card standings lately?
Wow. Let’s just say the AL tiebreaker scenarios could make the NL look almost as neat and fuss-free as a penalty-kick shootout. Four AL teams within two games of each other in the loss column. Six teams within three games. Can you say six-team tiebreaker?
OK, that can’t ever happen, right? It’s so unlikely that MLB doesn’t even have rules in place for how it would break a six-way tie. Or even a five-way tie. If that actually happens, the rules just say, basically, that Rob Manfred can figure it out. Lucky him.
But three-way and four-way ties? There are lots of rules for how those would work. So we’re going to plow into this and run through the likely scenarios.
A word of warning, however: In the interest of keeping this rundown shorter than, say, “Atlas Shrugged,” we’re going to leave the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners out of it. For now. If they’ve charged back into the thick of it in a few days, we’ll crank out a sequel. We promise. All right, here we go . . .
If there's a four-way tie for two spots
C’mon now. Settle down. Baseball has never, ever even had a three-team tie for any postseason spot. So the chances of a four-way tie, as fun as that might sound, are only slightly better than the odds of Bartolo Colon leading the league in stolen bases.
But for entertainment purposes only, let’s just say the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros end the season with the same record.
How they'd break the tie: No, they would NOT play a three-day round robin. There would be two different games the day after the season. Winners advance to the wild-card game the next day. Losers say sayonara. The host of the wild-card game would be the team that won the season series from the other. Got it? Simple so far, right?
Where they'd play: Sorry we can’t give the exact matchups. Way too complicated. Based on their records against each other so far, the Blue Jays and Astros would get to choose where they’d like to play the tiebreaker game. Excellent chance they’d select: Home game! Then this gets fun.
As of now, the Tigers would then have the option to pick their opponent, which means deciding whether to play at Toronto or at Houston. But even that could change, because the Toronto-Baltimore season series isn’t over yet. So if the Orioles sweep the Blue Jays next week, it becomes Baltimore’s choice, not Detroit’s. You might want to file away that the Orioles went 1-6 against the Astros this year. Just in case.
At any rate, somebody would be playing season-defining games Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- very possibly all in different cities. We’re exhausted just thinking about it.
Potential travel madness: Every one of these teams finishes the regular season on the road. So the Orioles, for instance, could go from New York to Houston to Toronto/Detroit to Texas -- in a span of about 80 hours. Or the Astros could go from Anaheim to Houston to Toronto/Detroit/Baltimore to Texas. Or the Tigers could zig-zag from Atlanta to Toronto to Houston to Detroit/Baltimore to Texas. Only the Blue Jays, because they figure to host the wild-card game if they get that far (thanks to winning all the tiebreakers), would be immune from some of that insanity. But what the heck. There are no frequent-flier miles in it for them anyhow.
If the Orioles, Blue Jays and Tigers tie
How they'd break the tie: This isn’t as simple a question to answer as it seems. And why is that? Because these teams could tie just for the last wild-card spot or for both wild-card spots. So the tiebreaker rules change depending on what’s at stake.
Where they'd play: If they tie for both spots? It would almost certainly work this way, based on the season series (unless the Orioles sweep the Tigers):
Monday, Oct. 3: Orioles at Blue Jays. The winner is the first wild card. The loser gets another shot.
Tuesday, Oct. 4: The Tigers host the Baltimore/Toronto loser. The winner is the second wild card and plays in the wild-card game the next day. The loser can second-guess all the games that got away.
Wednesday, Oct. 5: The AL wild-card game, previously scheduled for Tuesday, finally gets played, almost certainly in Toronto or Baltimore. And the winner has to start the ALDS the next day, at the home of the club with the league’s best record (as of today: Texas). That nutty enough for you?
But suppose those teams tie for just the second wild-card spot, unlikely as that might be. Then . . .
Monday, Oct. 3: Orioles at Blue Jays. Winner lives to play a second tiebreaker game. The loser? Gonzo.
Tuesday, Oct. 4: Tigers at winner of Baltimore/Toronto. Winner becomes the second wild card. Loser: Done for.
Wednesday, Oct. 5: See above. The survivor of those two games travels to Houston or Seattle or New York, or wherever Wild Card No. 1 resides. And the winner still has to travel yet again, to start the ALDS, the next day. Following all this? Phew.
If the Blue Jays, Orioles and Astros tie
How they'd break the tie: Once again, we’d have to ask: Did they tie for one wild-card spot or two?
Where they'd play: As we were saying, that depends. If it’s for two, it probably would go like this:
Monday, Oct. 3: Astros at Blue Jays (unless the Orioles sweep Toronto). Winner wraps up the first wild card. Loser gets back on a plane.
Tuesday, Oct. 4: Houston/Toronto loser at Baltimore. Winner becomes wild-card No. 2. Loser has been there, done that.
Wednesday, Oct. 5: It’s the wild-card game! Tuesday’s winner travels to Toronto or Houston, depending on who won Monday. You know the rest.
But if it’s just for the second wild-card spot . . .
Monday, Oct. 3: Astros at Blue Jays. Winner: Still alive. Loser: Not so much.
Tuesday, Oct. 4: Astros-Blue Jays winner hosts the Orioles. The survivor is wild-card No. 2. The loser’s fun and games are over.
Wednesday, Oct. 5: The team that emerges from this tiebreaker insanity gets to travel to Detroit, Seattle or New York for the wild-card game. If you’ve been following along, you can take it from there.
If the Orioles, Tigers and Astros tie
How they'd break the tie: Have we mentioned lately this depends on whether two wild-card spots are on the line or just one? Right. So here goes. . . .
Where they'd play: Let’s start with a three-way tie for both spots. The most likely scenario:
Monday, Oct. 3: Tigers at Astros. The winner is in -- and gets to host the wild-card game. The loser? You know where this is leading, don’t you?
Tuesday, Oct. 4: Tigers/Astros loser at Orioles. The winner is the second wild card. And the loser, well, isn’t.
Wednesday, Oct. 5: You have this down by now, we’re guessing. Monday’s winner hosts Tuesday’s winner in the wild-card game. Surviving that means partying quick -- because the ALDS starts the next day!
If there's a two-way tie
If there’s a two-team tie for both wild-card spots? That’s easy. Both teams are in. The team that won the season series gets to play the game at home. If one of those ties involves Toronto, the Blue Jays won or lead the season series against all of these teams (unless they get swept by Baltimore). So they would host that wild-card game. Otherwise . . . too complicated!
But if there’s a two-team tie for just the second wild-card opening? Here’s how that lines up:
Orioles-Blue Jays: Blue Jays lead the season series, 9-7, with three games left. If they win any of those games, they would host the tiebreaker game.
Tigers-Blue Jays: Blue Jays won that season series, 4-3. So they’d be at home.
Astros-Blue Jays: Blue Jays won that season series, 5-2. Ditto.
Tigers-Orioles: Orioles won the season series, 5-2. That game would be in Baltimore.
Orioles-Astros: Remember when we mentioned the Astros won that season series, 6-1? It would apply here. They’d break this tie in Houston.
Astros-Tigers: Tigers won the season series, 4-2. So they’d play it off in Detroit.
Best we can tell, the winner of the Most Ridiculous Travel Trophy in any of these scenarios would be the Astros, because they finish the season in Los Angeles of Anaheim. So they could wind up flying from Orange County to Toronto, Toronto to Baltimore, Baltimore back to Toronto and Toronto to Texas. All on back-to-back-to-back-to-back days. And would have to play the very next day wherever the heck they landed.
That could come to 4,038 miles in the air -- plus 45 innings of baseball -- in not much more than 96 hours. But you think they’d complain if that’s what it came to? We’re going to hazard a wild guess: No!