Just as extra innings are sometimes required to resolve games, extra games are sometimes required to resolve regular-season races.
It hasn’t happened often, even in the dual-Wild Card era in which more teams are in the late-season mathematical mix. Since Major League Baseball went to the dual-Wild Card format in 2012, there have been just three tiebreaker games -- deciding the American League’s second Wild Card slot in 2013 (Rays over Rangers), the 2018 National League West (Dodgers over Rockies) and the ’18 NL Central (Brewers over Cubs).
So we’re due for some tiebreaker madness one of these years. Maybe 2021 will provide it.
Here are the realistic tiebreaker possibilities remaining and how they would be resolved, per the MLB rules.
Scenario: Two teams tie for the division
Sometimes 162 is not enough to determine a division winner. That could be the case in the NL West this year, with the Giants and Dodgers keeping it close. Were they to finish in a tie, they would play a one-game tiebreaker on Monday, Oct. 4. Home-field advantage would go to San Francisco, by virtue of the Giants’ 10-9 record in the head-to-head season series, which is complete. The winner of this game would advance to the Division Series round, while the loser would host the NL Wild Card Game (both teams are far enough out in front of the rest of the pack to qualify as the top NL Wild Card).
*Note that when the head-to-head matchup is a draw, home-field advantage in all scenarios listed below goes to the team with the superior intradivision record or, failing that, the team with the better intraleague record.
Scenario: Two teams tie for best record in Wild Card
This would not involve any extra games. If, say, the Red Sox and Yankees were the only two clubs in AL Wild Card position at season’s end and had identical records, they would not play an extra game to determine who gets home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game. It would go to the team with the better head-to-head record (in that case, Boston).
Scenario: Two teams tie for the second Wild Card spot
If, for example, the Red Sox and Blue Jays tied for the second AL Wild Card spot, they’d have to play each other Monday, Oct. 4, for the right to advance to the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday, Oct. 5. Home-field advantage would go to the team with the better head-to-head record (Red Sox, 10-9).
Scenario: Three-team tie for two Wild Card spots
If the Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox were all tied, with no other non-division winners in the AL ahead of them, the three teams would choose/receive A, B and C designations. Club A would host Club B. The winner of that game would be one Wild Card club, while the loser would then play Club C on the road to determine the other. The winners of the two games would face each other in the Wild Card Game.
The three designations are decided by head-to-head records. The Red Sox went 10-9 in each of their season series against the Blue Jays and Yankees, so they would have the first pick of designation. The Blue Jays are also 11-7 against the Yanks, as of this writing, so they would pick second. The Yankees would get whichever designation is left over. The first selection comes down to a choice of playing up to two games (Club A) or taking your chances as the home team in a single elimination game (Club C).
Scenario: Three-team tie for one Wild Card spot
If, for example, the Yankees were in the top Wild Card spot and the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Mariners were all tied for the second spot, the three tied teams would choose/receive A, B and C designations. Club A would host Club B on Monday, Oct. 4. The winner of that game would then host Club C on Tuesday to determine the second Wild Card spot. The AL Wild Card Game would be pushed back from Tuesday in this scenario.
Scenario: Three or four teams tie for one Wild Card spot
Now we’re talking. And as of this writing, this is still a possibility in the AL.
In the three-team tie, we’d have to have the three teams choose/receive their A, B and C designations, with Club C traveling to face the winner of the game between Clubs A and B to determine who advances to the Wild Card Game.
In a four-team tie, we’d have to add a D designation to the mix. Club A would host Club B and Club C would host Club D, and the winners of each of those games would then face each other in the home park of the winner of the game between Club A and Club B to determine who goes to the Wild Card Game.
Scenario: Four teams tie for two Wild Card spots
Oh baby. As of this writing, this is still mathematically feasible in the AL. If the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Mariners were to all wind up tied for those two spots, we’d have a mini-tournament on our hands. The clubs would choose/receive their A, B, C and D designations. On Monday, Oct. 4, Club A would host Club B and Club C would host Club D. The winners of those two games would be the Wild Card teams and would face each other in the ballpark of whoever had the superior head-to-head record.
Scenario: The two World Series teams have the same regular-season record
In case you forgot, World Series home-field advantage is tied to regular-season records. Whoever has the best record is home for Games 1, 2, 6 and 7. If the Dodgers and Rays, for example, were to have a World Series rematch and had identical regular-season records, the first tiebreaker for home field would go to the club with the better head-to-head record in 2021. Because those two clubs have not met in 2021, the second tiebreaker would be division record. If that were also a tie, the tiebreaker would be intraleague records (the NL club’s record vs. NL teams and the AL team’s record vs. AL teams).