What happens if multiple teams tie for MLB playoff spots?
While the possibility of a crazy five-team tie seems less likely than it may have a couple weeks ago, there are still some scenarios that could cause MLB headaches in the first season of the multiple Wild Card era.
In the old days — last year — teams would play a one-game playoff to determine a playoff berth, but not seeding (i.e. the Twins and Tigers tied for the 2009 American League Central title; the Twins won the one-game playoff that ensued). If two teams tied for a division title and the Wild Card at the same time, they assigned the team with the better head-to-head record the division championship, and the other team the Wild Card because there wasn’t a significant advantage as to how a team earned a playoff berth, just that it was in the field.
But with the Wild Card teams now facing a significant disadvantage, an extra playoff game would be necessary if the top two teams in the AL East (New York and Baltimore) tie for those positions.
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If more than two teams tie for a position, the division titles are determined first via a one-game playoff. Then, the loser of that divisional playoff would play a third team for the Wild Card berth.
If there are three teams tied for one position — either a division title or a Wild Card — teams are first seeded based primarily on head-to-head games. The team with the best seeding will choose whether it would play two playoff games (where it would be the host for both) or play only the second playoff game on the road at the site of the first playoff winner.
Four teams for one spot? That’s easy. Two semifinal playoff games (at the higher seeds) on one day, with the winners meeting the next.
As it stood on Saturday, the most likely tiebreakers would involve a single-game playoff for the AL East title, the AL Central (White Sox and Tigers) or the second NL Wild Card (Cardinals, Dodgers or Brewers). If the Orioles and Athletics tie for the two Wild Card spots, there will be no tiebreaker, just the regularly scheduled Wild Card playoff game at Oakland, because the A’s won the season series 5 games to 4.