The wild card race in the National League seems to be an open and shut case. While neither the Chicago Cubs or Pittsburgh Pirates have mathematically eliminated any other NL teams going into play on Monday, Sept. 7 (although a loss by the Philadelphia Phillies or a win by the Cubs on Labor Day would make Philadelphia the first team to be eliminated from wild card contention in 2015), the gap between those two NL Central teams and the rest of the NL is significant. Barring a meltdown by both/either team(s), that figures to be the NL wild card matchup, at this point to be played in PNC Park, although the Cubs’ three-game deficit could be surpassed yet this season to put the game in Wrigley Field instead.
The American League wild card race is a completely different story, however. Six teams are within 10 games in the standings with less than 30 games to play for all six. It’s unlikely – but not impossible – that all six of these teams could finish with the exact same overall winning percentage after 162 games.
If that unlikely scenario should arise, the 2015 postseason could have one of the most exciting starts to it in the history of Major League Baseball. Honestly, it would be a situation that MLB is not quite prepared for. MLB.com does not list a specified policy for a six-way tie for two wild card spots.
If the Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers all finish with the same record after 162 games and none of them are in a tie for first place in their respective divisions, we could be looking at as many as six elimination games to determine who would play in the one-game AL wild card playoff.
There is a structure set up for determining a ranking between those six teams. The club with the highest winning percentage among the six teams in the tie would have first choice at their designation of A, B, C, D, E or F. Then, the team with the second-highest winning percentage would have second choice, and so on. Once all six teams had their designations, there would be three games in which A would host B, C hosts D, E hosts F.
What would happen after those games is not clearly laid out, however. There are several ways that MLB could go.
MLB could simply designate the team with the highest winning percentage among the three remaining teams as the No. 1 wild card team and the team with the second-highest winning percentage among the three remaining teams as the No. 2 wild card team.
In the event that two squads have identical winning percentages between the trio of winners, MLB would have to get more creative. If the teams hail from the same division, MLB could use winning percentage in intradivision games to eliminate one. If they are in different divisions, they could use winning percentage in AL games to eliminate one.
If all three teams who won the first round of games have identical winning percentages in games between the trio of squads, then MLB could simply designate the team out of the three with the highest winning percentage in AL games as the wild card host and the second-best team in AL games as the wild card visitor.
Should all three game winners have identical winning percentages in common games and in AL games, MLB would probably narrow that down to just the last half of intraleague games to determine which team would host, which team would play the visitor role and which team would be eliminated.
In the extremely unlikely scenario that two such teams would still be tied after all those tiebreakers were employed, there would likely be another elimination game played between them, with the winner advancing to either host or travel for the AL wild card game.
In the even more extremely unlikely scenario that all three teams were still tied after all those tiebreakers, MLB would have a decision to make. They could give the team whose original winning percentage – the one used all the way back at the beginning to determine who got to choose their designation first – a bye and have the other two teams play another game. The winner of that game would then play the team who received the bye to determine which team would host the wild card game. Those two teams would then play each other again in the AL wild card game, hosted by the team who won the previous game.
A more costly but intriguing method would be to set up a double elimination tournament between the three teams, where the first team to lose twice would be eliminated and the team with the best record in those games would host the wild card game.
Most likely, two of these six teams will finish their 162-game regular season schedules with better records than the other four and all of this will never happen. The fact that this chaotic cluster is still possible on Labor Day, however, is kind of exciting.