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MLB’s many playoff permutations

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Both leagues still have things left to settle.

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Just four days remain in the 2018 regular season. (Seriously, where did that time go?)

Even though some postseason spots have been wrapped up, especially in the American League, not all the matchups and locations have been set. The latter is definitely true in the National League.

Here’s a look at all the teams that have qualified already, or who can still get into the postseason dance, and what’s next for them after Sunday.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have wrapped up the best record in the major leagues, so they will have home field in all of their playoff series, including the World Series if they get there.

They’ll play the winner of the A.L. wild-card game in the first round, which will be either the Yankees or Athletics. Boston will have a say as to who hosts that game... more on this below.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians are A.L. Central champions and will begin a division series against the A.L. West champion Astros at Houston, Friday, October 5. They’ll finish the regular season in Kansas City with a three-game series against the Royals.

Houston Astros

See the note about the Indians above. The Astros, A.L. West champions, will have home field in the ALCS unless they play the Red Sox. Houston wraps its regular season with a four-game series against the Orioles in Baltimore, which doesn’t really even seem fair.

New York Yankees

The Yankees are 97-61 and lead the Athletics for home field in the wild-card game by 1½ games. The Red Sox host the Yankees at Fenway Park this weekend and would probably like nothing better than to send the Yankees on the road to Oakland for the wild-card game. The Yankees and A’s split their six regular-season games, so... here’s how they would establish home field if the teams wind up with the same regular-season record:

The Yankees will be home by virtue of winning the second tie-breaker, best intra-division record.

The first tie-breaker is head-to-head play, and nothing would be settled there because the Yankees and Athletics split their six games.

In division play, the Yankees were 40-30 in the AL East through Monday while the Athletics were 36-35 in the AL West.

Through Wednesday, the Yankees were 41-31 (and winning early in their Thursday afternoon game against the Rays) and the A’s 37-36; that clinches home field for New York if the teams wind up tied. I believe this would be the first-ever MLB tiebreaker that went past head-to-head record.

Oakland Athletics

See the Yankees note above. The A’s are off Thursday and then finish their season with a three-game series in Anaheim against the Angels.

Chicago Cubs

Well, you know the drill. If the Cubs win their final four games, they are N.L. Central champions regardless of what anyone else does. If that happens, the Cubs would host the wild-card game winner in a division series beginning Thursday, October 4, and the Cubs would also have home field in the first two rounds of the postseason.

If the Cubs don’t win all four remaining games... they will need help to be division champions. If they wind up tied with the Brewers for the N.L. Central title, there would be a tiebreaker game at Wrigley Field Monday, October 1. The winner would go on to the division series, and since both teams qualified for the postseason Wednesday, the loser would head to the wild-card game.

If the Cubs wound up in the wild-card game, they would host the Dodgers since they won that season series. If their opponent in that game is the Rockies, it’s a bit more complicated. They split the season series vs. the Rockies, so it would go to the same tiebreaker that the Yankees and A’s would use, intradivisional play. The Rockies are done with N.L. West teams and went 41-35. With four games left, the Cubs are 38-34 within the N.L. Central. If the Cubs win those four games they’d have a better record than the Rockies, but then they’d be division champions. It gets really messy from there, so I’ll just post the tiebreakers below intradivisional games:

Higher winning percentage in intraleague games.
Higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games.
Higher winning percentage in the last half plus one intraleague game, provided that such additional game was not between the two tied clubs. Continue to go back one intraleague game at a time until the tie has been broken.

The Cubs can solve all this simply by winning those last four games.

Milwaukee Brewers

See the Cubs notes for where the Brewers could wind up. They could be division champions and if they are, they’re likely to also have the best record in the league (although they could still be passed by the Braves, and theoretically, so could the Cubs). If they are in the wild-card game, they would host the Cardinals or Rockies, but be on the road if it’s the Dodgers. The Brewers, as you know, will play MLB’s final interleague series of 2019 over the weekend, hosting the Detroit Tigers.

Atlanta Braves

They’ve clinched the N.L. East and have a one-game lead over the current N.L. West leaders, the Rockies, for the right to host a division series beginning October 4. If the Braves and Rockies are a matchup and the teams finish with the same regular-season record, the Rockies get home-field advantage, as they won the season series with Atlanta five games to two. The Braves finish their regular season on the road, with one game left against the Mets and three vs. the Phillies.

Colorado Rockies

They lead the Dodgers by half a game going into Thursday’s action and have four games remaining, while L.A. has three. If the teams wind up tied, they’d play a tiebreaker game Monday at Dodger Stadium, and the loser... well, that’s still uncertain. The loser of that game could still wind up in the wild-card game, or they could go home. The Rockies wrap their season with four home games, one vs. the Phillies, then a three-game set hosting the Nationals.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals were eliminated from the N.L. Central race Wednesday, but could still win a spot in the wild-card game. They’d probably have to sweep the Cubs and get help from other teams to do that, though. If they do wind up in the wild-card game, they’d be on the road, as in that case they’d be playing either the Cubs or Brewers, both of whom have already clinched a better record than St. Louis.

Los Angeles Dodgers

They seemed to have the inside track to the division title when this week began, but losing two of three in Arizona has put them in second place. If the Rockies win Thursday, L.A. would be a full game out of first place and be facing the Giants in San Francisco this weekend, where San Francisco has a good home record (42-36). The Giants always have motivation to beat their arch-rivals, and have a 9-7 record against L.A. (4-2 in San Francisco).

It’s still mathematically possible for the Rockies, Cardinals and Dodgers to finish in a three-way tie at 90-72. For that to occur, these final-weekend records have to happen:

Rockies 2-2
Dodgers 2-1
Cardinals 3-0

Of course, we certainly hope the Cardinals don’t do that! But if that happens, the Rockies and Dodgers would play off the N.L. West title on Monday in Los Angeles, and the loser would play the Cardinals Tuesday in St. Louis for the second wild card. In that scenario, the N.L. wild-card game would be pushed back a day.

Got all that? Get ready for a wild ride this weekend.