Breaking down a three-way tie in the NL Central

Stephen Lam

What happens if the Reds, Pirates, and Cardinals finish with the same record? You probably don't want to know. (But it's awesome.)

The Reds and Cardinals began a four-game series on Monday. The Pirates began a three-game series against the Brewers, after which they travel to St. Louis for three games. There's a chance that those first three teams could be within a half-game of each other by the end of the week.

This means it's time to start thinking about tiebreaker scenarios. They're … kind of intense. And complicated. And they hurt brains. They don't make a lot of sense, but they have to exist. The scenarios for an NL Central tiebreaker are especially complicated because the losers are almost certainly also the wild cards. Let's dive in!

Most of this is based on an article from last year, but nothing has changed. It all still applies.

The first thing that needs to happen in a three-way tie is to put "A, B, C designations" on the team. The A team gets to pick which tiebreaker game they're a part of. The B team gets to choose after that. The C team doesn't get a choice. These teams are based on head-to-head records between the teams involved. Now, the linked article includes passages like this, but don't read it:

If Club 1 has a better record against Club 2, Club 2 has a better record against Club 3, and Club 3 has a better record against Club 1; OR Club 1 has a better record against Club 2, Club 2 and 3 have identical records against one another and Club 3 has a better record against Club 1; OR Club 1 and 2 have identical records against one another, Club 1 has a better record against Club 3 and Club 2 and 3 have identical records against one another, then:

Don't read that yet! Now you're high. Great. I'll get you some orange slices, hold on …

But before we try to parse that, let's see what the likely scenarios are in the Central with head-to-head records.

Pirates
10-6 vs. Cardinals (three remaining)
7-6 vs. Reds (six remaining)

Reds
6-10 vs. Cardinals (three remaining)
6-7 vs. Pirates (six remaining)

Cardinals
6-10 vs. Pirates (three remaining)
10-6 vs. Reds (three remaining)

So what we know for sure:

  • The Pirates will have a better head-to-head record against he Cardinals
  • The Cardinals will have a better head-to-head record against the Reds
  • The outcome of the Reds/Pirates season series is very much in doubt

This means in the event of a three-way tie, the remaining Reds/Pirates series would mean everything.

If the Pirates win the season series against the Reds and there's a three-way tie: Pittsburgh would get to choose a) if they would prefer to host two tiebreaker games, needing both to win the division, or b) if they would want to play just one tiebreaker on the road to win the division. The Cardinals would then choose between the alternatives left over by the Pirates' decision. The Reds would go where they are told.

If the Reds win the season series against the Pirates and there's a three-way tie: MLB would use the combined winning percentages as a tiebreaker. As in, the Reds' total winning percentage vs. the Cardinals/Pirates would match up against the Pirates' total winning percentage against the Reds/Cardinals. Whoever has the highest total winning percentage would get to choose if they wanted two tiebreaker play-in games at home or one on the road.

Simple!

Except, a lot can change before the end of the season. Here are the combined winning percentages so far:

Pirates
17-12 vs. Cardinals/Reds (nine games remaining)

Cardinals
16-16 (six remaining)

Reds
12-17 (nine remaining)

The odds currently favor the Pirates holding that tiebreaker, too, although if they have to go to this one, that means the Reds won the season series against the Pirates, which means the Pirates lost at least four out of their last six games against the Reds, which …

Giphy_medium


Sorry, I just wanted to take a break from the nonsense and include something that makes more sense.

The shorter explanation: If there's a three-way tie in the Reds-Cardinals-Pirates-winning-percentage standings, the team with the higher winning percentage in the last half of their games against National League opponents would get to pick which tiebreaker game they play in.

There. Those are pretty much all of the possible scenarios in the event of a three-way tie in the Central. How do you feel?

Original_medium


Pretty much. Long article short: If there's a three-way tie in the NL Central standings, there would be a tiebreaker game, with the loser becoming a Wild Card. Then there would be a tiebreaker game with the winner of the first tiebreaker against the team that hasn't played a tiebreaker yet. The winner of that game would be the Central champ, and the loser would play a wild-card game against the other loser.

Chaos.

So, we're rooting for chaos.

If you can't get enough of the playoffs, here's a way to get two extra games. A three-way-tie would be outstanding. Extra games, extra chaos. And we'd all watch, completely enraptured.

Original_medium


Like that, but trippier. Here's hoping …

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