With all six of MLB’s divisional races already wrapped up with ten days to go, all of the playoff drama is falling on the Wild Card races, and boy are they a couple of doozies.
Things are still pretty complicated in the American League Wild Card race, where six teams (Blue Jays, Tigers, Orioles, Astros, Mariners, and Yankees, barely) are fighting for the two spots. But in the National League, we have a clear picture, and yet it still could end in a complete mess.
Prior to Thursday night’s games, all three teams in the NL Wild Card race — the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals — were tied for the two Wild Card spots.
According to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, prior to Thursday’s games, there was a 10% chance that those three teams would finish the season tied.
So what happens if the Mets, Giants, and Cardinals do finish tied for both Wild Card spots? The best way to describe it is “chaos.” But there is a method to the madness.
There would be two play-in games that would almost certainly look like this:
- Game 1 : Mets at Cardinals on Monday — The winner is in the playoffs and would host the Wild Card Series game.
- Game 2: [the loser of Game 1] at the Giants on Tuesday — The winner is in the playoffs and would be the road team in the Wild Card Series game.
Jayson Stark of ESPN broke down how we end up at this scenario. It goes like this:
First we need to determine who plays when. Based on tiebreakers, the teams get to choose which scenario they want. So there is some strategising to be done.
The two teams in the first game actually get two shots to advance. If they lose the first game, they get to play in Game 2. Meanwhile, the third team just gets the one game.
However, the third team does get the advantage of having a game at home, with an extra day of rest, and possibly a lesser opposing pitcher. The road team in the first game may get two games, but they would have to play both games on the road on back-to-back days.
Next up is determining tiebreakers to decide who gets to pick their scenario first:
- According to Stark, the Cardinals hold the tiebreaker over the other two teams, based on head-to-head record with the Giants and better divisional record than the Mets (the Cardinals and Mets split their season series).
- The Mets hold the tiebreaker over the Giants based on winning the season series.
This means that the Cardinals get first dibs on which scenario they would want and the Mets would have first choice of the two that are left over.
- As Stark notes, it makes sense for the Cardinals to choose to be the home team in the first game. This way they have a home game and they get the fallback of having a second game if they lose.
- The Mets would then presumably choose to be the road team in the first game. Homefield advantage in MLB is not that big. Mathematically, it is more likely to go 1-1 on the road than 1-0 at home.
- This would leave the Giants to host the second game in a winner-take-all contest.
It is not out of the question that the Mets would choose to host the second game over playing two games on the road. Depending on how the pitching matchups line up, they may feel it is better to get a day of rest and play at home with a better pitching matchup, over the possibility of playing three games in three days in three cities.
Things can get hairy because of these games. Stark paints one scenario where the Mets could end up with a lot of travelling depending on how the games break down. It would start with their regular-season finale against the Phillies and ends with Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cubs.
“It’s possible they could play Sunday (Oct. 2) in Philadelphia, Monday in St. Louis, Tuesday in San Francisco, Wednesday in St. Louis and Friday in Chicago. That’s five games in four cities, with none of them in the same locale two days in a row.”
That sounds painful. But I’m sure the Mets would take it.