These are crazy times, extraordinary times, disorienting times. Times when you struggle to believe or comprehend what you're reading and seeing, and every new development is more baffling than the last.I am, of course, writing exclusively about the National League standings.Sure, there's a lot of baseball yet to be played,
These are crazy times, extraordinary times, disorienting times. Times when you struggle to believe or comprehend what you're reading and seeing, and every new development is more baffling than the last.
I am, of course, writing exclusively about the National League standings.
Sure, there's a lot of baseball yet to be played, but right now the Senior Circuit is threatening to push MLB's established tiebreaking procedures to an unprecedented -- and, frankly, awesome -- extreme.
Entering play Thursday, the Cubs had the NL's best record at 72-53, and the Dodgers have the eighth-best record at 67-61. That's a separation of just 6 1/2 games (eight in the loss column). The gap between the top NL Wild Card spot (Cardinals) and the "fifth-place" (in NL Wild Card pecking order) Dodgers is just 3 1/2 games.
What if we're headed toward some kiss-your-sister chaos, a smorgasbord of sudden-deaths the likes of which has never been seen?
Well, today is Aug. 23. Looking back through the Wild Card-era standings on this date, the only more chaotic comparable we've seen to the current situation also occurred in the NL -- in 2001, back when there was still only one Wild Card spot available per league.
These were the NL standings as of Aug. 23, 2001:
Team: Record (GB)
ARI: 73-53 (--)
HOU: 73-54 (.5)
SFG: 72-55 (1.5)
ATL: 70-56 (3.0)
CHC: 70-57 (3.5)
STL: 69-58 (4.5)
LAD: 69-58 (4.5)
PHI: 68-58 (5.0)
By Sept. 23, 2001, they looked like this:
Team: Record (GB)
HOU: 89-60 (--)
STL: 85-65 (4.5)
ARI: 84-66 (5.5)
SFG: 82-68 (7.5)
CHC: 81-68 (8.0)
ATL: 80-69 (9.0)
PHI: 80-70 (9.5)
LAD: 80-70 (9.5)
In other words, these things have a way of sorting themselves out over time.
That's what MLB is currently banking on. Many, many tiebreaking procedures are covered in MLB's official postseason rules, but those procedures don't really go any further than a four-way Wild Card tie.
If MLB found itself in a situation not covered by the existing rules, it would be up to the Commissioner's Office -- likely with input from the Competition Committee -- to determine the best course of action. If the standings after Labor Day look similar to what we're seeing right now, then those conversations will likely begin in earnest.
For now, we've yet to have even a three-team tiebreaker in the dual-Wild Card era, let alone a five-team tie, so this doesn't rate as a pressing matter just yet.
But what if 2018 is just … different?
It sure feels different. The eight teams in question -- Cubs, Braves, D-backs, Cardinals, Brewers, Rockies, Phillies and Dodgers -- all have at least a 41.5-percent chance of reaching the postseason, per FanGraphs' projections (heck, even the Nationals, mid-punt, are still given a 12.5-percent chance) .
This is a year in which the largest NL divisional lead at any point was six games (by the D-backs in the NL West) -- and that was way back on May 1; a year in which the gap between the place-holder in the second Wild Card spot and the next-closest club has never been larger than 2 1/2 games.
Don't get me wrong: The American League has some provocative possibilities as well, what with the A's and Mariners disrupting expectations in the AL West. But here, we're going to focus solely on the entropy that could envelop the NL if teams don't start separating themselves soon.
Let's explore three such possibilities in order from most to least likely.
Scenario 1: The five-way NL Wild Card tie
What if the divisions were decided but, say, the Cardinals, Brewers, Rockies, Phillies and Dodgers were all tied for two Wild Card spots?
MLB's tiebreaking possibilities operate around letter designations for clubs involved. The club with the highest winning percentage in games among the tied clubs chooses its designation first, the next-highest winning percentage in those games chooses second, etc. If by some chance all four have identical winning percentages in those games, then intradivision record is the next level of tiebreaker, followed by winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games.
The established procedures cover four-way ties, but not five-way. In a four-way tie, the winner of a tiebreaker between Club A and Club B hosts the winner of a game between Club C and Club D to determine who advances.
But a five-way finish would obviously disrupt that relatively straightforward formula.
In a three-team tiebreaker, the club that chooses the C designation has the first "round" off, and would travel to face the winner of Club A vs. Club B. But you can't give a team the option of abstaining from two rounds in a five-team tiebreaker. And in the name of expediency (we don't want the division winners sitting around any longer than they have to, and we need to keep travel to a minimum), a round-robin in which each team plays the others at least once just isn't feasible.
The best option here might be to have a two-day tournament that includes a three-team doubleheader. In the first round, the Cardinals could host the Brewers (I'm just randomly assigning A, B, C, D and E designations here) while, over in Philadelphia, the Phillies and Rockies could duke it out, with the Dodgers facing the winner in the nightcap. The winner of Cardinals-Brewers could travel to face the winner of the three-team extravaganza the following day in what would be labeled the actual NL Wild Card Game.
And the winner of that game gets to move on to the NL Division Series, at which point it might be necessary to ask if any fans are available to pitch.
Scenario 2: A three-way division tie and a tie with three other clubs outside the division for the two NL Wild Card spots
Let's say the D-backs, Rockies and Dodgers are all entangled atop the NL West at the end of the regular season, and they are also tied with the Cardinals, Brewers and Phillies for the two NL Wild Cards.
Here's a modest proposal (and please understand it is merely that… a proposal): The three NL West clubs get the A (let's say D-backs), B (Rockies) and C (Dodgers) designations and the three other clubs get D (Cardinals), E (Phillies) and F (Brewers) designations.
On Day 1, the D-backs host the Rockies and the Cardinals host the Phillies. Let's just say the D-backs win the first game and the Phillies win the second.
On Day 2, the D-backs host the Dodgers, the Phillies host the Brewers, and the Rockies host the Cardinals. Let's say the Dodgers, Phillies and Rockies win those three games. The Dodgers are declared the NL West champs and advance to the NLDS.
On Day 3, the Rockies host the Phillies in the NL Wild Card Game.
That's probably about as tidy as that mess is going to get.
Scenario 3: Eight-way anarchy!
Could you imagine an eight-way tie atop the NL in which all three divisions and both Wild Card spots would have to be settled in a matter of days before the NLDS?
If you're the incendiary sort who dreams about these kinds of things, here are the remaining records it would take for eight NL teams to all finish at, say, 90-72 this year:
Were this to actually happen, you'd have to imagine MLB would prioritize sorting through the division titles, first and foremost.
In the NL East, it would be a simple one-game tiebreaker between the Braves and Phillies (winner of the season series gets home field). In the NL Central and NL West, the three-team, two-day tournament -- featuring our beloved A, B and C designations -- would be in order.
That would leave us with three division winners and five cast-offs, at which point we'd have to revisit the proposal from Scenario 1 (the five-team NL Wild Card tie).
All told, the whole thing would take four days to complete (Monday through Thursday), if and only if we can do it with no travel days. The NLDS round, currently slated to begin on Thursday, would have to be pushed back to Saturday, and the NL Championship Series would quite likely be pushed back a day or two, as well. We'd be riding those two built-in off-days between the NLCS Game 7 and Game 1 of the World Series for all they're worth.
And what if it rains?
Uh, whaddaya say we just sort all this out before Oct. 1, NL?
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.