MLB playoff scenarios, tiebreakers heading into final regular-season weekend



Every game on the final scheduled day of the MLB regular season starts at 3 p.m. on Sunday, with the hope that some sort of crazy, compelling scenarios play out, similar to what happened on the final day of the 2011 regular season. 

That certainly is possible in 2021. Fingers crossed. 

Let’s take a look at the playoff berths/hierarchy still in play heading into the final three days of the regular-season schedule. 

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National League West

Before we talk about scenarios for the NL West, we have to talk about WHY winning the division is so darn important. The division winner moves directly to the best-of-five NLDS, which begins Oct. 8, and will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The West runner-up will be the first NL wild-card team, meaning they host the win-or-go-home one-game wild-card “series” on Oct. 6. If they win that one, they’d move to the NLDS against … the NL West winner, which will be the team with MLB’s best record. And if they win that series, despite that they’d have a much better regular-season record than either Milwaukee or Atlanta, they wouldn’t have home-field in the NLCS because they’re a wild-card team. 

The one-game wild-card series is a scary thought, and it’s hardly a fair reward for a team that’s been one of the very best in baseball all season. Maybe “fair” is a poor choice of words. But the truth is this: The Giants and Dodgers have the best two records in baseball, but one of them could very well be eliminated on Day 2 of the 2021 postseason. What kind of playoff system is that, where a 102-win team goes directly into a do-or-die game and a sub-90 win team (the Braves) gets the cushion of playing a best-of-five series? That they’d have to play a Cardinals team that just rattled off a 17-game winning streak to clinch the second NL wild-card spot isn’t exactly appealing, either. 

Now, on to the scenario, which is pretty basic. Here are the records:

SFG 104-54, —
LAD 102-56, 2 games back

Both teams are playing great right now — they’re both 8-2 in their past 10 — as they have all season. The Giants finish at home with three against the Padres, who are just playing spoiler after a disastrous past month; the Dodgers finish with three at home against the Brewers, who are already locked into the No. 2 seed in the NL playoffs. 

The team with the best record wins the division, obviously. If they’re tied, they’ll play a tiebreaker contest, a Game 163 that will count as a regular-season game. That game would be Oct. 4, and the Giants would host, thanks to their 10-9 advantage in the regular-season series against the Dodgers. 

So, yeah. The Dodgers need the Giants to lose two games against the Padres to have any shot. One win guarantees the Giants a tie, two guarantees the division title. 

AL wild card

As of Friday morning, with three games each remaining for the four teams still in play for the two AL wild-card spots, there are 24 different scenarios still in play — including a four-way tie at 91-71 (though that’s far from likely). The reason for so many scenarios is this: None of the four teams plays each other, so all four could go 3-0 or all four could go 0-3 or any combination in between. 

There are no tiebreakers in determining actual playoff berths; if two (or more) teams are tied for the last spot in the postseason, there will be a tiebreaker game (or games). Now, if two teams tie for the No. 1 wild-card seed, both are in and home-field advantage for the wild-card game is determined by head-to-head record this season. 

First, here are the standings …

NYY 91-68, +2
SEA 89-70, — 
BOS 89-70, — 
TOR 88-71, 1 back of second WC spot

So the Yankees are currently WC1, with the Red Sox and Mariners tied for WC2. 

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The Yankees are obviously in great shape, as they should be after going on the road and sweeping the Red Sox, then taking two of three in Toronto in another huge series. They host Tampa Bay — the Rays have already clinched the AL’s No. 1 seed, but at 98 wins they have a shot at 100 for the first time in franchise history, and they aren’t going to roll over — in the final three games, and even one win guarantees the Yankees at least a spot in a potential tiebreaker game. If the Yankees go 2-1, they’re in as the top wild-card team. 

The Red Sox are in the process of giving away their seat at the table. They’re tied with the Mariners for the second wild-card spot, but it sure feels like they’re not making the postseason. Getting swept at home by the Yankees was bad enough, but to follow that up by going to Baltimore and losing two of three to an Orioles team that has 107 losses this season? That should damn near be disqualifying by itself. The Sox finish with three at the Nationals, another team long since out of contention, but even the Bad News Bears would give Boston trouble right about now. 

On the other side of the coin, the Mariners are playing great baseball, having won 10 of 11 — including seven Ws against the A’s, which knocked Oakland out of the playoff picture — to climb into a tie for the second wild-card spot. Not gonna lie, that felt like an impossibility for most of the season. But here they are, and they finish with three at home against the Angels. They’ll have face Shohei Ohtani, the hitter, but he won’t take the mound in the series. Considering that he’s allowed two or fewer runs in nine of his past 11 starts, that’s probably good for Seattle. The Mariners, as you probably know, haven’t made the postseason since 2001, the longest current streak in baseball. 

The Blue Jays had the most opportunistic final-week schedule, hosting a team they were chasing (the Yankees) and then hosting the AL’s worst club. But they lost two of three to New York and pretty much have to sweep the Orioles, then hope the Yankees, Mariners and Red Sox stumble. 

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios — not all 24 because who has time?

First, let’s say the standings after Game 162 look exactly like the standings do now, with the Yankees on top, the Mariners and Sox tied and the Jays a game back. Toronto’s eliminated, of course, and the Yankees are WC1. The Mariners and Red Sox would play a tiebreaking Game 163 in Boston; the Sox get homefield advantage because they won the season series, 4-3. Easy enough. 

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In our next scenario, let’s say the Yankees lose two of three to the Rays and the M’s and Sox both sweep, so those three teams are tied at 92-70. Let’s just take it straight from MLB.com.

The three teams would choose/receive A, B and C designations. Club A would host Club B. The winner of that game would be one Wild Card club, while the loser would then play Club C on the road to determine the other. The winners of the two games would face each other in the Wild Card Game.

The next one we’ll look at seems maybe the most plausible. In this one, the Yankees finish with the best record, and the M’s, Sox and Jays all finish tied. Again, directly from MLB.com.

The three tied teams would choose/receive A, B and C designations. Club A would host Club B on Monday, Oct. 4. The winner of that game would then host Club C on Tuesday to determine the second Wild Card spot. The AL Wild Card Game would be pushed back from Tuesday in this scenario.

And, because everyone loves chaos, let’s say the Yankees are swept by the Rays, the Jays sweep the Orioles and the Red Sox and Mariners both go 2-1. Everyone would be 91-71. You know how this works … straight from MLB.com.

If the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Mariners were to all wind up tied for those two spots, we’d have a mini-tournament on our hands. The clubs would choose/receive their A, B, C and D designations. On Monday, Oct. 4, Club A would host Club B and Club C would host Club D. The winners of those two games would be the Wild Card teams and would face each other in the ballpark of whoever had the superior head-to-head record.

Wouldn’t that be fun? 



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