Looking at some crazy tiebreaker scenarios

September 16th, 2019

Life is filled with unanswerable questions: If God made us, then who made God? Is there other life in this or another universe? Are all living beings capable of love? What happens if five or more teams tie in the Wild Card race?

Clearly, the last of those questions is the most important. Major League Baseball’s official tiebreaker procedures cover all scenarios between two, three and four teams. Since the advent of the dual Wild Card playoff setup in 2012, it hasn’t been necessary for the league to utilize even the three- or four-team tiebreakers.

Mathematically, it’s unlikely to be an issue this year. But as we enter the penultimate week of the regular season, it is, at the least, a mathematical possibility in the National League. And we would be doing a disservice to our readers if we didn’t wildly speculate on what would occur if a six-way tie actually occurred.

Our 2019 tiebreakers piece covers various scenarios like two-way division ties and three- or four-way Wild Card ties that could still happen. But we’re reserving this space for the ultimate October appe-tie-zer – the five- or six-way-tie possibilities still on the table.

Consider this your Chaos Compendium, albeit with a necessary disclaimer that the tiebreakers that follow are our own creation and not actual MLB protocol. There is no formal protocol for five- and six-way ties as of yet, and those will be determined if the scenarios are still in play closer to the final day of the season.

Scenario 1: The six-way tie for two Wild Card spots!

Technically, it could happen in the NL. It would require the Nationals to stumble and the D-backs to surge. Let’s set the bar at 85 wins at season’s end. In that scenario, here’s how the six teams would need to fare the rest of the way:

Nationals: 3-11; Cubs: 4-9; Brewers: 5-8; Phillies: 9-5; Mets: 8-5; D-backs: 9-3

If that happened (Spoiler: it won’t, but we’re trying to have fun here), MLB would certainly want to keep travel to a minimum and prevent division winners from sitting around any longer than necessary. So a round robin in which each team plays the others at least once unfortunately wouldn’t be practical.

An alternative would be to expand the established procedure for a three-team tie (for one spot) and, basically, double it. No, it wouldn’t be especially fair for all involved, but that’s why you shouldn’t get yourself into this mess!

The six clubs would choose an A, B, C, D, E or F designation, with the order of the “draft” based on their records vs. the five other clubs. As of today (the Nats and Phillies still play each other five times), the Brewers would have first choice, Phillies second, Cubs third, Nats fourth, Mets fifth and D-backs sixth. Without knowing how any of these clubs would pick, let’s just take an educated guess and line them up like this: A. Cubs, B. Mets, C. Brewers, D. Nats, E. D-backs, F. Phillies.

The three-day extravaganza could unfold as follows:

Monday, Sept. 30

Mets at Cubs

D-backs at Nats

Tuesday, Oct. 1

Brewers at Mets/Cubs

Phillies at D-backs/Nats

Wednesday, Oct. 2 (NL Wild Card Game)

Phillies/D-backs/Nats at Brewers/Mets/Cubs

Scenario 2: The five-way tie for two Wild Card spots!

Let’s imagine the Nationals relinquish their top spot but the D-backs aren’t able to keep pace. To mix things up, we’ll raise the bar here to 87 wins:

Nationals: 6-9; Cubs: 7-7; Brewers: 8-6; Phillies: 11-4; Mets: 10-4

This time, we’d probably have to use some amalgam of the three-way and two-way tie procedures. The head-to-head records currently dictate the following “draft” order for designations: Brewers, Phillies, Nats, Cubs, Mets. Best guess, based on the proposed plan below, is that the chosen designations would be: A. Mets, B. Cubs, C. Brewers D. Nats, E. Phillies.

Monday, Sept. 30

Mets at Cubs

Tuesday, Oct. 1

Nats at Phillies

Brewers at Mets/Cubs

Wednesday, Oct. 2 (Wild Card Game)

Brewers/Mets/Cubs vs. Nats/Phillies*

*To be as fair as possible, home-field priority for this game should go to the Mets or Cubs if they advance, and to the Nats/Phillies if the Brewers advance.

Scenario 3: The five-way tie for one Wild Card spot!

Let’s say the Nats hold on to the top spot, but the other five clubs mentioned above end up knotted up. We can rehash what we used above and have the bar at 85 wins:

Cubs: 5-9; Brewers: 6-8; Phillies: 9-6; Mets: 8-6; D-backs: 9-4

The key here would be whether MLB would want to try to keep the tie tournament to a three-day maximum to avoid upsetting the rest of the postseason schedule (the NLDS is currently scheduled to begin on Thursday, Oct. 3) or whether it would be willing to bump the start of the NLDS back a day.

If it’s the latter, you just take the five-team tournament proposed above, except the winner of Wednesday’s game advances to the Wild Card Game at Washington on Thursday, instead of advancing directly to the NLDS.

In a relative sense, that’s actually sort of ... simple? And it would probably best preserve everybody’s sanity. This time, the current draft order would be: Brewers, Phillies, Cubs, Mets, D-backs. And based on the proposed plan, the designations chosen would probably be: A. D-backs, B. Mets, C. Brewers, D. Cubs, E. Phillies.

Monday, Sept. 30

D-backs at Mets

Tuesday, Oct. 1

Cubs at Phillies

Brewers at D-backs/Mets

Wednesday, Oct. 2

Brewers/D-backs/Mets vs. Cubs/Phillies*

*To be as fair as possible, home-field priority for this game should go to the D-backs or Mets if they advance, and to the Cubs/Phillies if the Brewers advance.

Thursday, Oct. 3

Winner of Wednesday’s game at Nationals

But what if MLB would want the tie sorted out in two days so that the Wild Card Game could be played on that Wednesday? How do you fairly resolve a five-team field in two days?

The answer: Put everybody in the same building and go nuts!

In order to do this fairly and squeeze it all into two days without rendering pitching staffs totally devastated, we’d need:

• A round robin

• Shortened games

• A neutral site where neither weather nor other postseason action is not a factor (hello, Marlins Park!)

To make it happen, every team involved would need to play four seven-inning games in two days. Perhaps we could even reassemble the home run sculpture to appropriately accompany the following craziness:

Monday, Sept. 30 at Marlins Park

10 a.m.: Brewers vs. D-backs

1 p.m.: Phillies vs. Mets

4 p.m.: Brewers vs. Cubs

7 p.m.: Mets vs. D-backs

10 p.m.: Phillies vs. Cubs

Tuesday, Oct. 1 at Marlins Park

10 a.m.: Brewers vs. Mets

1 p.m.: Cubs vs. D-backs

4 p.m.: Brewers vs. Phillies

7 p.m.: Cubs vs. Mets

10 p.m.: Phillies vs. D-backs

Any two-team ties are resolved by who won the game between those two teams. Three-, four- or five-way ties are resolved by looking at each team’s total run differential in its four games played.

(I might add, though, that if all five teams go 2-2, maybe it’s just a fact that the baseball gods never want any of this to be resolved. I will also add that I have absolutely no idea how you have five teams share two clubhouses during this event, although there is a YMCA just 1.4 miles north of Marlins Park that I’m almost positive would be willing to lend its locker rooms for a couple days.)

Wednesday, Oct. 2 at Nationals Park

Nationals vs. Winner of the Round Robin

So if you’re scoring at home, in the most extreme scenario, if the Mets, whose last off-day in the regular season is this Thursday, Sept. 19, were to advance to and win the Wild Card Game, they would have played 15 games in 13 days ... and still not have a day off before the NLDS begins!

Just saying: If you’re a fan of the Mets – or any of these teams – it might be wise to keep your phone handy in the coming weeks. You could be called upon to pitch.