With all the brave talk -- mostly by me at this very site just one day ago -- of multiple-team ties for American League playoff spots, Monday night's results in both leagues established who nine of the 10 2012 postseason teams will be. Everything could be wrapped up Tuesday night, including the wild-card game matchups. We can no longer have multi-team ties, but there still could be a tiebreaker game or two.
In American League action Tuesday night, the Chicago White Sox decided not to go out of the Central Division race with a whimper as they crushed the Cleveland Indians 11-0. That forced the Detroit Tigers to win to clinch the division title; they did so with a 6-3 defeat of the Kansas City Royals. The Tigers thus will be the No. 3 seed among A.L. playoff teams when the Division Series round begins, and will host the No. 2 seed in a series beginning either Saturday or Sunday.
When the Oakland Athletics defeated the Texas Rangers Monday night, they eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels from contention, even though the Rays and Angels also won Monday night. In addition, the A's closed to within one game of the A.L. West lead; the Baltimore Orioles, in losing Monday night to the Rays, dropped one game off the pace in the A.L. East with the Yankees' win over the Red Sox.
So, both the A.L. East and A.L. West have one-game differences between first and second place with two games remaining. If the Yankees win and Orioles lose Tuesday night, the Yankees are division titlists and the Orioles head to the play-in game. Any other Baltimore/New York permutation sends the race to the season's final day. If the teams tie for the division title, a tiebreaker game would be held in Baltimore on Thursday, with the winner moving on to the division series round, the loser to the play-in game.
If the Rangers defeat the A's Tuesday night, they will be A.L. West champions for the third straight year. If the A's win, the teams will be deadlocked with one game remaining; that would make Game 162 between them like a tiebreaker game, with the winner going to the division series, the loser to play the A.L. East second-place team in the play-in game.
Thus, apart from the Tigers being the No. 3 seed (and playing the first two games of the division series at home, in this year's weird 2-3 format where the lower seed gets the first two games at home), we don't yet know American League seeding. 24 hours from now, it could be set -- or we could go down to the final day on Wednesday.
The National League's division races are all decided, with the Washington Nationals clinching the N.L. East despite losing to the Phillies Monday night; the Braves' loss to the Pirates gave the Nats the division crown, the first for the Nats/Montreal Expos franchise in a non-strike season (Montreal won in strike-shortened 1981).
The Nats and Reds are currently tied at 96-64 for the best record in the league (and all of baseball). If they wind up with the same record at season's end, the No. 1 seed goes to the Nats, who won the season series over Cincinnati 5-2. The Giants' loss to the Dodgers Monday night eliminated any chance San Francisco had for the No. 1 seed; they will instead be the No. 3 seed and host the No. 2 seed in games 1 and 2 of a Division Series that will begin either Saturday or Sunday.
That leaves the final National League spot still up for grabs. The Cardinals clinched a tie for a spot in the N.L. play-in game Monday night by defeating the Reds. If they win Tuesday or Wednesday, or the Dodgers lose one of their two remaining games, the Cardinals will travel to Atlanta Friday for the wild-card play-in game against the Braves, who clinched the other play-in spot last week. If the Cardinals and Dodgers wind up tied, they would play a tiebreaker game in Los Angeles Thursday.
We are not likely to have a stunning Game 162 night in 2012 as we had in 2011, and Major League Baseball got lucky in not having to have multi-team ties in a year where they shoehorned extra playoff teams into a schedule that was already set when the additional teams were tacked on. (In 2013 and beyond, extra days will be built into the schedule for tiebreakers.) But we have had playoff races this year that went down to the season's final two days, and Friday we'll have a pair of winner-take-all games.
Some don't like the fact that a pair of 162-game seasons will end after a single playoff game. Personally, I like it. It guarantees baseball two winner-take-all games every year. And, as the Yankees, Orioles, Rangers and Athletics all know with one regular-season game to go: win your division and you can avoid that game.