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Thursday, August 31, 2006

What If 3 or 4 Teams Tie for Baseball's Wild Card? 


Note: Dotted line added to Phillies cap, so caps show A, B and C.

Call 'em the Wild Bunch. Eight teams are bunched within 4 games of each other in the National League's wild-card race. What if, by some juxtaposition of planets and Plutoids, more than two teams end up in a tie? As with almost everything else this side of whether to disqualify chemically aided records, baseball has rules for handling the situation.

Let's start with a four-team tie, because that's actually simpler case. "The Commissioner will supervise a draw that results in teams being designated 'A,' 'B,' 'C' and 'D,'" says Rule 33(c)(3)(C)(i). The day after the season ends, B will play A at A's park, and D will play C at C's park. The next day, the A-B winner will host the C-D survivor, unless the teams and the Commish agree to play elsewhere "to keep travel at a minimum." The winner of that game becomes the wild card team.

If three teams tie, the predicament's a quandary, because there's no fair format that will determine a winner quickly. After all, a round-robin in which each team plays the other two would take at least three days and could still wind up tied. So baseball has a two-game format, which means the wild-card winner might have to play just once.

Such a scenario would certainly get those online forums and radio talk shows buzzing.

If the three teams C have "identical records against each other," again, a draw is held. (Say the Phillies, Reds and Padres are all 6-6 against each other.) Then Day One, Team A plays B at A's park, followed by the winner hosting Team C.

Wouldn't be fair, apparently, for C to play its only game at home.

Even more head-scratching is what would happen if one team has a superior record in head-to-head-to-head matchups. That team gets to choose: Do we want to be Team C and play only one game on the road? Or would we rather face two home games as Team A? Opinions about the toughness of the opponents, no doubt, would factor into this sticky decision.

What if there's a five-team tie? Stock the fridge, and be ready to watch a lot of baseball while reaching for the earplugs to mute the droning, moaning commentary.


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