New format makes for complicated playoff scenarios, but not for Tigers

Nick Laham - Getty Images

New rules make the American League playoff picture complex for many teams, but the Tigers' task is simple. Win the division.

Significant changes were made to the playoff format under the MLBs new collective bargaining agreement, which goes into effect for the 2012 season. A second wild card team has been added in each league. Two teams from the same division may now play each other in the wild card game, or in the first round of the playoffs.

But for the Detroit Tigers, none of that matters. With just seven games left in the regular season, the Tigers must either win the American League’s Central Division, or there won’t be any playoffs. The Tigers have virtually no chance of finishing second and being a wild card entry.

Should Detroit finish in a tie with the Chicago White Sox after 162 games, Detroit will host game 163 in a do-or-die tie-breaker to determine the division champion. The AL Central winner will almost surely be the No. 3 seed in the playoffs.

The Tigers are also very unlikely to finish with the league's second-best record, since they are presently five games behind the east leading Yankees, with just seven games to play. That would give the second seed the "home field advantage" in the league division series, but Detroit couldn’t have picked a better season to give that "advantage" away.


A temporary change, which only impacts the 2012 schedule, is that the third seed (likely Detroit or Chicago) will host the first two games of the league division series against the division winner with the second best record in the league. The final three games, if necessary, would then be hosted by the second seed in one best of five series. In the other series, the team with the league’s best record will travel to the home of the wild card showdown winner for the first two games, then return home to finish the series.

The change this year was necessitated by the fact that the playoff schedule had already been drawn up, and more importantly, television broadcast schedules were in place, before an agreement was finalized with the players’ association to add the second wild card team. In 2013, MLB will return to the standard 2-2-1 format for the division series.

If the standings remain as they are, Detroit would host the New York Yankees, who lead the east division and have the league’s second best record, but are just one game behind the west leading Texas Rangers. The Tigers have eliminated the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs in both 2006 and in 2011.

Another quirk in the schedule has the possible fifth and deciding game of the league division series being played the day before the league championship series begins. Since the winner of that game features the top seed vs. the wild card team, the winners of the series between the 2 and 3 seeds will have to wait to see where they will travel or if they will travel to play a critical game one of the league championship series the following day.

For the Detroit Tigers, all of these quirks are out of their control. They need to just win the division, and host the first two games of the playoffs, not worrying about the best team in the league or the wild card team unless and until they win the first round, best of five series.

Under the new format, the tie-breaking formula is used to determine the location of a playoff game, but not to determine whether a team makes the playoffs, nor to determine whether one team is a wild card and the other a division winner. Those matters must be settled on the field. Gone are the days of a coin toss to determine home field, and that’s a good thing. All division titles must be settled before the wild card seeds are chosen.

The playoffs begin, after any tie breakers, with the two wild card teams playing a one game showdown for the right to host the team with the league’s best record. As of today, the Baltimore Orioles have a half game lead over the Oakland A’s and they hold the two wild card spots. The A's lead the Los Angeles Angels by two games. There will be no tie breaker game to determine who gets the home field advantage in the event of a two way tie for the two wild card seeds. Home field is determined by tie breaking criteria, starting with head to head record.

The Oakland A’s hold the tie-breaking advantage over both the Angels and the Orioles. The Angels hold the tie breaker over Baltimore, in both cases because of a better head to head record. This means that the Orioles would have to travel to California to play a wild card match unless they can beat out the Yankees for the AL East title.

Should there be a tie for the Eastern Division title, the Orioles hold the tie breaker and would have home field advantage over the Yankees by virtue of a better record within their division. They also hold the tie breaker over the Tampa Bay Rays by virtue of a better head to head record (9-6), but there are three games left to play in Tampa.

In the event of a three-way tie for the two wild card playoff berths between the A’s, Orioles, and Angels, there would be a two game tie breaker, with the A’s almost surely choosing a bye, while the Angels host Baltimore, and the winner hosts Oakland for the right to host the league’s best team in the first round of the league division series.


Looking way ahead, the Tigers would only have home field advantage in the league championship, best of seven series if the wild card team should upset the top seed. The format for the LCS is 2-3-2. The National league holds the home field advantage in the World Series because of their win in the All Star game, and the fall classic also uses a 2- 3-2 format.

In the National League, the scenarios are much cleaner. The Cincinnati Reds have clinched the central division, and the San Francisco Giants have clinched the West. The Washington Nationals hold a commanding four game lead over the Atlanta Braves in the east, and are one game up on the Reds for the league’s best record. In all likelihood, barring a mini collapse, the Nationals and Reds will finish with the best records and have home field advantage to open the playoffs.

The Braves have also clinched a playoff berth, and will likely host the St. Louis Cardinals in the National league's wild card showdown. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers are still alive, 3-1/2 games behind the Cards, while the Arizona Diamondbacks are five games out, and the Philadelphia Phillies are 5-1/2 games out.

Here is a link to the Major League Baseball Playoff schedule. Should the Tigers win their division, they would very likely host the second seed on October 6 and 7, then play the rest of the series on the road October 9, 10, and 11.

American League Home Field Advantage Chart

Home Team Away Team Tiebreaker
Detroit Chicago Head to head 8- 4
Baltimore New York Division record
Baltimore Tampa Bay Head to head 9-6*
Tampa Bay New York Head to head 10-8
Oakland Los Angeles Head to head 10-9
Los Angeles Baltimore Head to head 7-2
Oakland Baltimore Head to head 5-4
Oakland New York Second half AL record
Three Way Tie Oak > LA > Balt Head to head, above
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