Minnesota Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla is mobbed by his teammates after driving in the winning run and defeating the Detroit Tigers 5-4 to win the American League central division championship at the Metrodome. Credit: Leon Halip-US PRESSWIRE
MLB has allowed only one off day between the end of the 2012 regular season and the new wild-card play-in games. What happens if they need to break ties?
Baseball's moguls and players have agreed that they'll expand the postseason by adding two extra wild-card teams, starting this year; the two wild cards from each league will play a winner-take-all game, with the winner moving on to the Division Series as it's been constituted since 1995.
You know all this from Friday's announcement. However, there's one possibility that could cause quite a bit of trouble, and it's summed up here by Jayson Stark:
Wed., Oct. 3: Last day of regular season.
Thurs., Oct. 4: Off day (left free for tiebreakers, weather makeups, etc.).
Fri., Oct. 5: Wild-card games in each league.
In 2013, when the leagues realign, they are presumably going to leave more than one day for "tiebreakers, weather makeups, etc." But because the 2012 schedule was set last fall, they are attempting to cram these new wild-card games into a very tight time frame.
The new system is designed, in part, to make winning your division more important. As part of this system, ties will no longer be broken by things like "winner of season series"; they'll all be played out on the field.
This could be a problem. A big problem, and twice in the 17 years of the current setup it would have taken more than one day to decide all the postseason participants.
SABR member Jim Rygelski has helpfully laid out who the second wild card teams would have been if this system had been in place since 1995. On a couple of occasions, baseball has had the sorts of tiebreaker nightmares they'd surely want to avoid this year.
In 1996, the Mariners posted the fifth-best record in the American League, at 85-76. But the White Sox and Red Sox both finished 85-77; thus, the Mariners would have been required to make up a game that had been rained out against the Indians at Cleveland. If they won it, they'd have been the wild-card team at 86-76, no problems. But if the Indians won? Then you'd have had a three-way tie for the second wild-card spot. How do you play that off in less than two days?
In 2009, the Tigers and Twins tied for the AL Central title at 87-75 and played a memorable 12-inning tiebreaker. All well and good under the old system, but under the new, you'd have a problem, because the AL West's second-place Rangers also finished 87-75. They'd have a claim on Wild Card Spot No. 2, so presumably if this happened under the new system, a team in that position would then play the loser of that divisional tiebreaker to decide Wild Card Spot No. 2.
You see the issues here, I think. On three other occasions since 1995, MLB has simply declared one of two teams that tied for a division title the division winner and the other the wild card, based on season series record (2000, Athletics and Mariners; 2001, Cardinals and Astros, and 2005, Yankees and Red Sox). All of those would also have to be played off under the new system. Three other times besides the 1996 example above, there would have had to be a playoff for Wild Card Spot No. 2: Dodgers/Mets (1997), Red Sox/Mariners (2002), Tigers/Mariners (2007).
And in 2010, baseball came within one game of its first three-way tie for two postseason spots -- had the Padres defeated the Giants on the season's final day, those two teams and the Braves would have all finished 91-71.
And none of this takes into account weather makeup games; in 2008, the White Sox had to play a makeup game against the Tigers the day after the season ended (and win it) to force an AL Central tiebreaker with the Twins, which they also won, putting them in the playoffs.
Maybe none of this will happen and all 10 postseason spots in 2012 will be decided neatly, with no rain-out makeups needed and no teams tied.
But if any of the above weather or tiebreaker scenarios come to pass -- and with more teams involved, they very well might -- baseball's carefully planned 2012 postseason schedule could wind up stretching into November.