MLB is staring a huge problem right in the face -- simultaneously smiling, as a plan to increase interest in the final two weeks of the season proves correct, yet feeling a bit of dread about what could be a colossal logistical problem. Six teams in the American League are competing for two Wild Card spots and just 3½ games separates them. It is theoretically possible the entire group could be tied at the end of the season, as unlikely as that is. However, it does seem realistic that more than two teams are tied at the end of the year. Free baseball!
Right now, this is what we're looking at:
American League Wild Card Standings
The Indians have the easiest path to the playoffs -- they face the Astros four games, beginning tonight. That certainly helps their odds (55 percent from CoolStandings). The Rays seem as if they'll do enough to stay in, and stand at 63 percent. But you can't count out the Rangers (48 percent) or Orioles (17 percent). The Yankees and Royals are obviously long shots at this point, but you can't rule it as an impossibility.
Someone with more diligence than me can likely lay out a path to a six-way tie but it's got to be easier to find a four-way possibility.
By the way, according to the MLB, this is the tie-breaker in that scenario:
Four-Club Tie for Division Championship & One Wild Card Spot:
After Clubs have been assigned their A, B, C and D designations, Club A would host Club B and Club C would host Club D on Monday, Sept. 30 (tentatively). The winners of each of those games would then meet on Tuesday, Oct. 1 (tentatively), hosted by the winner of the game between Club A and Club B, to determine the Division Champion. The loser of the game would be declared the Wild Card Club.
As for how clubs get their A, B, C and D designations, you'll have to click that link because it requires 327 words of explanation. A five- or six-way tie may require a doctorate to interpret.
All three division leaders in the AL lost, leaving the Red Sox a day closer to clinching home field advantage. Boston had a chance to clinch a playoff spot -- and their magic number is 3 for the AL East. But the Sox fell in extra innings to Baltimore. Oakland and Detroit both have magic numbers of 5 to clinch their divisions, but both lost as well. The A's lead the Tigers by one in the loss column. Due to the season series, the Tigers have to pass them in the standings in order to earn home field in the likely ALDS meeting.
The NL has its playoff teams pretty settled at this point. None have clinched -- though the Dodgers had an opportunity to win the NL West on Wednesday night and the Braves' magic number is 2 -- but all five teams have a likelihood of 99 percent or better of making the playoffs.
The NL Central is where the fun is. The Cardinals, with a magic number of 9, lead the Pirates by 2 games and the Reds by 2½. All three are playoff teams. St. Louis does not play either of the other contenders, while the Reds and Pirates still have six games remaining against each other. As long as neither team takes five or six of the games, St. Louis ought to be sitting pretty for the division title. As for NL home field advantage, the Braves and Cardinals are within a game of each other with the Dodgers three games back. So that one is still too early to call.
So, it's a jumbled mess -- and could potentially lead to a headache if the AL Wild Card is still not settled after 162 games. But MLB got what it wants -- September is most definitely interesting for nearly half its fan base.