Read it and weep: Explaining all the potential tiebreaker scenarios

Stark likes Angels to take second wild-card spot (1:12)

ESPN baseball insider Jayson Stark says the Angels will figure out a way to make it to the postseason. (1:12)

It's Year 21 of the wild-card era, and you know what's amazing? Not one of those seasons has ever ended in Tiebreaker Madness.

And by Tiebreaker Madness, we mean a three-way tie. Maybe a four-way tie. Postseason schedules thrown into chaos. Travel schedules that only a United Airlines pilot could relate to -- with teams zigzagging through three time zones in three days, just to survive to play yet another day in yet another time zone.

How can this never have happened in two decades? Well, it's going to happen one of these years. You can bet your frequent-flier miles on that. And who knows? This could be the year.

Now that the AL wild-card race suddenly features three teams bunched up within a game of each other in the loss column (and the Indians and Orioles are not quite dead themselves), Tiebreaker Madness threatens again. So here's a look at how that could work:

If the Astros and Twins tie

Where they'd play: You almost need an NFL tiebreaker chart to figure this out, but if these teams finish with the same record, the Twins would almost certainly host Game 163 the day after the regular season ends.

Why they'd play there: Head-to-head record is supposed to decide these ties, but that doesn't work in this case because the Astros and Twins went 3-3 against each other. So the next tiebreaker is each team's record its own division. The Twins are currently 35-30 against the AL Central. The Astros are 34-36 against the AL West. But the season isn't over yet.

Nevertheless, even if the Twins go, say, 4-7 against the Indians, Tigers and Royals down the stretch, the Astros would have to go 6-0 against the Rangers and Mariners to get this game moved to Houston. That's because even if they both wind up with the same record in category No. 2, the Twins win the third tiebreaker, too. That's the teams' record against their own league. And the Twins (70-61) are way ahead in that one. (Houston is 66-70, thanks to its 14-3 interleague record.)

Potential travel madness: The Twins finish the season at home, so no travel madness for them. But the Astros? Not so much. Their final two series of the year are in Seattle and Arizona. So they could find themselves flying from Seattle to Phoenix to Minneapolis to New York, and then to either Kansas City or Toronto if they keep winning. All in a span of six leisurely days. Can't beat that for aeronautical fun.

If the Astros and Angels tie

Where they'd play: These teams just finished a tense three-game series in Houston, and they'd head right back there for the Oct. 5 tiebreaker.

Why they'd play there: The Astros won the season series, 10-9, thanks to Dallas Keuchel's win over the Angels on Monday. But for Keuchel to pitch that tiebreaker game, he would have to come back on three days' rest, because he's currently lined up to start the wild-card game the following day. Doubtful they'd push him up a day, since the wild-card game is as much a must-win as that tiebreaker game. Right?

Potential travel madness: Even though this game would be in Houston, the Angels would actually face less inconvenience than the home team, since they finish the regular season on the other side of Texas, in Arlington. We've documented the potential ridiculousness the Astros could face. Just substitute Houston for Minneapolis in that goofy itinerary above and you'll get their picture.

If the Angels and Twins tie

Where they'd play: These teams just played each other four times in Minneapolis. Since the Angels won three of four, they would host the tiebreaker game.

Why they'd play there: The Angels wound up winning the season series, 5-2. And here's an interesting tidbit: One of the two games they lost was to Ervin Santana -- who isn't eligible for the Twins' postseason roster because of his PED suspension, but who would be eligible to pitch a tiebreaker game, since it's considered a regular-season game. The Twins' current rotation wouldn't put him on schedule to start that game, but just sayin'.

Potential travel madness: Since the AL wild-card game almost certainly will be played in New York, both of these teams would find themselves eating a lot of airline food. The Angels might have to go from Texas to Orange County to New York, to either Kansas City or Toronto, all in a span of about 60 hours (with three huge baseball games in between). The Twins could find themselves doing the Minneapolis-to-Anaheim-to-NYC-to K.C./Toronto shuffle in the same time frame. So they might want to start contemplating this now: Would they prefer those little peanut packages or the delicious mini-pretzels?

If there's a three-way tie (Astros, Twins, Angels)

Where they'd play: Sorry, can't answer that yet. It's complicated. Of course it is. But most likely, we'd be looking at Twins-Astros in Minnesota the day after the regular season ended, then the winner would host the Angels the next day.

Why they'd play there: I'll try to explain this without making you regret that you never did get a Ph.D. in mathematics at Stanford. Here goes: Thanks to their comeback win Wednesday in Houston, the Angels finish with a better record against the other two teams (14-12) than Houston (13-12) or Minnesota (5-8). So the Angels get to choose. They could play two tiebreaker games at home or just play once on the road. We'd guess they'd opt to play one game instead of two. If they did, the Twins and Astros would play in Minnesota, based on the tiebreaker rules above. Then the winner would host the Angels the next day. Got it?

Potential travel madness: The Twins would have the easiest schedule, even if they keep winning, because even though they would have to play three games in three days against three different teams, all of them would be in beautiful downtown Minneapolis.

The Astros, on the other hand, could be looking at a game in Phoenix on the last Sunday of the season, Minneapolis on Monday, Houston on Tuesday and New York on Wednesday. Add in those trips to/from Seattle on one end and K.C./Toronto on the other, and they could potentially fly 9,900 miles in a week.

But the Angels wouldn't be much better off. They would finish the season in Texas and not know whether their next game would be in Houston or Minneapolis. So they could either fly home and wait, hang out in Texas, or just get on a plane and sit on the runway, the way the Giants did a few years ago in Cincinnati. Either way, they'll have plenty of time to contemplate why they didn't win 96 games, like they did last year, so they wouldn't have to worry about any of this.

If there's a three-way tie (Rangers, Astros, Twins)

Where they'd play: Uh-oh. Now we're into a whole different realm of messiness, because here we'd have three teams in a tie for two spots (AL West and wild card) instead of one. So the Astros and Rangers would play a tiebreaker game in Arlington the day after the season to decide the AL West. Then the loser would play the Twins in Minnesota the following day to decide the final wild-card spot.

Why they'd play there: The Rangers have whomped on the Astros so far in the season series, 12-4. So the good news for the Astros is that if they sweep the three-game series against the Rangers this weekend in Houston, they'd make the Rangers' three-game lead in the division disappear. The bad news is, the Rangers would still win the season series, so they'd host a tiebreaker game. And why would the Twins host the game the next day, even though they split their season series with both of those teams? Better record within their division, of course. (See above if your head just exploded.)

Potential travel madness: The Astros would win the all-time travel-nightmare trophy if it plays out this way: Sunday in Phoenix, Monday in Arlington, Tuesday in Minneapolis, Wednesday in New York, Thursday in Toronto or Kansas City. Yep, they could play five games in five days in five different cities, three time zones and maybe even two countries. And that's their reward for winning.

If there's a three-way tie (Rangers, Astros, Angels)

Where they'd play: OK, let’s get this straight from the outset. This is impossible. The Rangers still have games left against the Astros and Angels. So we’re just guessing. On pretty much everything. But for now, our best guess is: Rangers hosting Astros the day after the season, with the winner hosting the Angels the day after that. Unless they don’t.

Why they'd play there: As of this minute, the Angels have a slightly better record (19-15) against the other two teams than the Rangers (17-14). So if that holds, once again, they’d probably choose to play one road game instead of two home games. But that could change if Texas pulls ahead. Then the Rangers would no doubt opt to play the single road game over two home games. But now here’s what makes this even more insane: We might not know until after the final game of the season whether the Angels or Rangers will finish with the best head-to-head record. So you know all that stuff you just read? As the sun is setting Oct. 4, you might have to get back to us, merely so we can tell you: Never mind.

Potential travel madness: The same Astros travel nightmare is on the table, with details to be filled in later. Just depends if these three teams tie only for the AL West title or whether there’s also a wild-card spot on the line. Either way, it would save a lot of time if they could just let the airplane land and take off in the stadium parking lot. Anybody out there have a number for the FAA?

If there's a four-way tie (Rangers, Astros, Twins, Angels)

Where they'd play: Please. We beg you. Don't ask. If the Rangers, Astros, Twins and Angels all finish with the same record, we'd have a three-team tie in the AL West, plus a wild-card spot up for grabs. So don't hold us to this, but most likely, the Angels would host the Astros, and the Rangers would host the Twins the day after the regular season ended. If the Twins win, they automatically become the wild-card team and the winner of Angels-Rangers wins the division. But if the Twins lose and there are still two AL West teams alive, they would play yet another tiebreaker game the following day. The winner is division champ. The loser is the wild card. Make sense? Um, don't answer that!

Why they'd play there: Have we mentioned this is complicated? These teams aren't even through playing each other, so all of this could change. But as of right now, the Angels would own the best head-to-head record, so they would get to choose where they would play their division tiebreaker game. Good bet they'd opt to play at home. The Rangers would choose second. Then the Astros. Then the Twins.

We can only guess that the Rangers would also want to play at home, because they'd have no way of knowing if they'd also have to play the next day. If there's an Angels-Rangers game that Tuesday, they would play that one in Orange County, because the Angels have clinched that season series. If it's Astros-Rangers, that game is in Texas for the same reason. Everybody on board with this? Ehhhh, again, don't answer that!

Potential travel madness: You know that Astros road trip from hell we outlined above? This is their alternate version. Their potential schedule under this scenario: Sunday in Phoenix, Monday in Anaheim, Tuesday in Texas, Wednesday in New York, Thursday in Kansas City or Toronto. There might be astronauts who haven't flown that many hours.

Other possible ties

Indians: They practically have to win out to force a tie with anybody. But for what it's worth, they would host tiebreaker games with the Astros and Angels but not against the Twins.

Orioles: They also pretty much have to run the table. But even if they do, they have a rough road ahead. Literally. They would be home for a tiebreaker with Cleveland, even though the chances of that are minuscule. But they went 5-15 against the Astros, Angels and Twins, so not much home-field advantage in the Orioles' tiebreaker future, assuming there is one.

Four-way tie for the wild card: Sorry, we're not even going to try to run through who would play whom and where at this point. We never were that good at jigsaw puzzles, and that's what this is. But if this somehow happens, we'd have two tiebreaker games the day after the season, with the winners facing each other the next day somewhere or other. Then the survivors would get to jump back on the next charter to New York. With maybe another fun-filled flight to Kansas City or Toronto if they win the wild-card game. Ridiculous.

AL West ties: If the Astros do catch Texas (but none of those other three-team or four-team tiebreaker scenarios occur), the Rangers would host a tiebreaker game because they've clinched the season series, no matter what happens in Houston this weekend.

NL Central ties: If the Cardinals and Pirates tie for first place, they'd play a tiebreaker game the day after the season ends. And the team that wins their three-game series next week in Pittsburgh would host it (since they're 8-8 in the 16 games they've played so far). The loser would then head for the wild-card game, while the winner would be the division champ. But if the Cubs and Pirates finish with the same record and the only thing in question is wild-card seeding, the wild-card game would be in Chicago because the Cubs have already clinched that season series.

AL East tie: If the Yankees can make up their 3½-game deficit with 11 to play, they'd be looking at a tiebreaker game in Toronto, because the Blue Jays pummeled them in the season series, 13-6. The winner would take the division. The loser plays in the wild-card game.

NL East tie: Not much chance of the Mets and Nationals finishing in a tie at this point. But if they do, the Mets would host the tiebreaker game, because they'll win the season series even if the Nationals sweep them in the final three games of the season in New York. But at least that would be convenient, since they'd just play the next day at Citi Field, too.

NL West tie: The Dodgers and Giants have four games left. The Giants need to sweep those four next week at home to have any chance to win this division. If they do, they'll also win the season series, which would earn them the right to host the tiebreaker game. Not to mention they'd also be 10-0 against the Giants in San Francisco this season. I'm guessing none of that will wind up happening. But if it does? Hey, you heard it here first.