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3-team tie? 4-team tie?! Chaotic playoff scenarios, explained


As we head toward the end of the regular season on Sunday, several postseason races are poised to come down to the wire, and there are a number of absolutely chaotic scenarios still in play.

When two teams finish in a tie for one spot, be it a division title or Wild Card berth, the tiebreaker rules are fairly straightforward. But the rules are a bit more complicated if more than two clubs are tied.

Here’s a breakdown of the possible three- and four-team tie scenarios we could see involving the AL West title, the AL Wild Card and the NL Wild Card.

4-way tie scenario (for 3 spots)

Scenario: Astros, Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays tie
Result: Mariners, Astros, Rangers IN; Blue Jays OUT

If all four of these teams finish with the same record, ties would be settled in the following order:

When there is a three-team tie, if one team wins the season series against both of the other clubs, that team gets the tiebreaker. However, that tiebreaker would not be in play if all three AL West clubs ended up tied. The Astros won their season series against the Rangers but lost to the Mariners. The Mariners won their season series against the Astros but lost to the Rangers. And the Rangers won their season series against the Mariners but lost to the Astros.

As a result, the tiebreaker would go to the team with the best combined winning percentage against the other two clubs. In this case, it would be the Mariners coming out on top and claiming the AL West title. (Important note: The Mariners have not actually clinched this three-team tiebreaker, but in order for the three AL West teams to tie with 89 wins, the Mariners need to win four of their final five games, which are against the Astros and Rangers. And if that happens, at that point they will have clinched the best record in games among the three clubs.)

The same steps would be used to determine the winner of the second AL Wild Card berth between the Blue Jays and the two remaining AL West clubs. Because none of these three teams won their season series against both of the other two clubs, this tiebreaker would also go to the team with the best combined winning percentage against the other two. In this scenario, the Astros would prevail and claim the second AL Wild Card spot. (With no remaining head-to-head games between the Astros, Rangers, and Blue Jays, this one has already been decided.)

The tie between the Blue Jays and Rangers for the third AL Wild Card spot would then be settled using two-team tiebreaker rules, starting with head-to-head record. The Rangers won their season series against the Blue Jays, 6-1, so they’d prevail in this tiebreaker scenario and claim the third AL Wild Card berth.

3-way tie scenarios (for 2 spots)

Scenario: Blue Jays claim 2nd Wild Card; Astros, Mariners, Rangers tie
Result: Mariners and Astros IN; Rangers OUT

If the three AL West clubs finish tied with worse records than the Blue Jays, Toronto would win the second AL Wild Card spot. The tie for the AL West title would be settled first using the same three-team tiebreaker steps mentioned above (Mariners win). The tie between Houston and Texas for the third AL Wild Card spot would go to the Astros, who won their season series against the Rangers, 9-4.

Scenario: Astros win AL West; Mariners, Rangers, Blue Jays tie
Result: Rangers and Mariners IN; Blue Jays OUT

In this scenario, the Rangers would claim the second AL Wild Card spot because they won their season series against both the Mariners and Blue Jays. The third AL Wild Card spot would go to the Mariners because they have a better intradivision record than the Blue Jays. (Seattle and Toronto split their season series, so the head-to-head record tiebreaker is not in play.)

Scenario: Rangers win AL West; Astros, Mariners, Blue Jays tie
Result: Mariners and Blue Jays IN; Astros OUT

In this scenario, the Mariners would win the second AL Wild Card spot by virtue of their superior combined winning percentage against the Astros and Blue Jays (none of the three clubs won its season series against both of the other two). The Blue Jays would win the third AL Wild Card spot over the Astros after defeating them 4-3 in the season series.

4-way tie scenario (for 2 spots)

Scenario: D-backs, Cubs, Marlins, Reds tie
Result: Marlins and Reds IN; D-backs and Cubs OUT

There are four teams vying for the remaining two NL Wild Card spots. The second Wild Card spot would go to the team with the best winning percentage against the other tied clubs. That is the Marlins at .611, better than the D-backs (.550), Reds (.538) and Cubs (.346).

The third Wild Card would then go to the Reds because they own a winning record against the Cubs (7-6) and D-backs (4-3).

4-way tie scenario (for 1 spot)

Scenario: Cubs, Marlins, Reds, Padres tie
Result: Padres IN; Cubs, Marlins and Reds OUT

Since none of these teams have a winning record against each of the tied clubs, the tiebreaker here is based on winning percentage against the tied clubs. In this scenario, the Padres make the playoffs as their .579 winning percentage against the group is better than the Marlins’ (.542), the Reds’ (.531) and the Cubs’ (.394).

3-way tie scenarios (for 1 spot)

Scenario: Marlins claim the 2nd Wild Card; D-backs, Cubs, Reds tie
Result: Reds IN; D-backs and Cubs OUT

The Reds would claim the third Wild Card because they own a winning record against the Cubs (7-6) and D-backs (4-3).

Scenario: D-backs claim 2nd Wild Card; Cubs, Marlins, Reds tie
Result: Marlins IN; Cubs and Reds OUT

Although the Marlins and Reds each won their season series vs. the Cubs, they split their six head-to-head games, meaning the third Wild Card would go to the team with the best winning percentage against the other two tied clubs. In this scenario, the Marlins would claim the third Wild Card because their .583 winning percentage against the tied clubs is better than the Reds’ (.526) and Cubs’ (.421).

Scenario: Cubs claim 2nd Wild Card; D-backs, Marlins, Reds tie
Result: Marlins IN; D-backs and Reds OUT

Since the Marlins and Reds went 3-3 in their season series, we must again consider head-to-head winning percentages to determine who grabs the third Wild Card spot. In this scenario, the Marlins (.583) make the postseason over the Reds (.538) and D-backs (.385).

Scenario: Cubs, Marlins, Padres tie
Result: Padres IN; Cubs and Marlins OUT

The third Wild Card would go to the Padres in this scenario since their winning percentage against the other two tied clubs (.538) is better than the Marlins’ (.500) and the Cubs’ (.462).

3-way tie scenarios (for 2 spots)

Scenario: D-backs, Cubs, Marlins tie; Reds eliminated
Result: Marlins and D-backs IN; Cubs OUT

In this scenario, the Marlins would earn the second Wild Card because of their 4-2 records against the D-backs and Cubs. The third Wild Card would go to the D-backs, who were 6-1 vs. Chicago.

Scenario: D-backs, Cubs, Reds tie; Marlins eliminated
Result: Reds and D-backs IN; Cubs OUT

The Reds would earn the second Wild Card in this scenario to their winning records against the D-backs (4-3) and Cubs (7-6). The D-backs would earn the third Wild Card by virtue of their 6-1 record against the Cubs.

Scenario: D-backs, Marlins, Reds tie; Cubs eliminated
Result: Marlins and Reds IN; D-backs OUT

The Marlins (.583) have the highest winning percentage against the tied clubs in this scenario, so they would get the second Wild Card. The Reds would get the third Wild Card because they won their season series vs. the D-backs, 4-3.



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