This day is what MLB executives hope for, even if it’s terrifying for fans of the teams involved.
But only one of the N.L. spots is certain at this writing. The Braves have clinched the N.L. East title and will begin a division series Thursday. They don’t yet know who they’ll be playing — or even where they will be playing:
In the event of a tie for the second seed in the NL, the Rockies or Dodgers would be awarded the second seed by virtue of winning the season series with the Braves, 5-2. If the Braves win on Sunday and both the Rockies and Dodgers lose, necessitating a tiebreaker between Colorado and Los Angeles for the NL West title, Atlanta will have home-field advantage over the winner of the tiebreaker in the NLDS.
There are several ways this day could end for the N.L. Central’s two top teams.
The Cubs’ best-case scenario
Defeat the Cardinals while the Tigers defeat the Brewers. If that happens, the Cubs are outright N.L. Central champions and would host the winner of the wild-card game Thursday at Wrigley Field, and the Brewers would host the wild-card game Tuesday at Miller Park.
Fit to be tied
Both the Cubs and Brewers win... or both lose. If this happens, the teams would play a divisional tiebreaker game at Wrigley Field Monday at 3 p.m. CT... or maybe at noon CT. More on this below. The loser of that tiebreaker game would then host the N.L. wild-card game Tuesday.
The Cubs’ nightmare scenario
This would come about if the Cubs lose and the Brewers win. That would make the Brewers outright N.L. Central champions and push the Cubs into the wild-card game Tuesday at Wrigley Field. Try not to think about this.
The reason I said “more on this below” is that the Cubs and Brewers aren’t the only teams tied for a division lead going into the season’s final day.
The Dodgers and Rockies are both at 90-71, tied for the N.L. West lead. The Dodgers finish up their season against the Giants in San Francisco. The Rockies host the Nationals to complete their 2018 regular-season schedule.
If those teams wind up tied after Sunday, they would play a tiebreaker game Monday in Los Angeles at 3 p.m. CT. That time won’t change even if there are two tiebreaker games Monday; only a potential Cubs/Brewers tiebreaker could have its time changed, with that game moving to noon CT if there are two tiebreakers. See the note above for where the winner of the N.L. West would open a division series Thursday against the Braves. The other team, either the Rockies or the Dodgers, would be the road team in the N.L. wild-card game, Tuesday in either Chicago or Milwaukee.
Got all that? Since 2015, MLB has had all its teams play at (essentially) the same time on the last day, so no one has an advantage with games ending earlier than others. Here’s the schedule for the four teams still having to set playoff spots.
2:05 p.m. CT: Dodgers at Giants, Rich Hill vs. Andrew Suarez
2:10 p.m. CT: Tigers at Brewers, Spencer Turnbull vs. Gio Gonzalez
2:10 p.m. CT: Nationals at Rockies, Erick Fedde vs. Tyler Anderson
2:20 p.m. CT: Cardinals at Cubs, Jack Flaherty vs. Mike Montgomery
Those are the facts. If you’re a baseball fan and not a fan specifically of one of the four teams involved in games that could create potential tiebreakers, you’re probably loving all this. As Cubs fans (and fans of the three other teams involved), it’s a tense, nervewracking day about to come.
Later this morning, BCB’s Sara Sanchez will have more on these potential tiebreakers and why MLB’s postseason schedule could put all these teams at a competitive disadvantage. And today’s game preview will post at 12:30 p.m. CT.