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Inside the MLB Rules: Division and Wildcard Tiebreakers PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Saturday, 02 October 2010 17:42

MLBMajor League Baseball is an amazing thing. For all the talk of there being too many games, year in and year out, sorting out who will make the playoffs often times boils down to the last day of the season.

And sometimes, beyond.

With the NL West and the National League Wild Card a dogfight between the Giants, Padres, and Braves, we could see ties that would trigger tie-breaking scenarios.

In terms of trivia, we haven’t had two wild card play-in games, both featuring National League clubs (Cubs-Giants in '98, and Reds-Mets in '99 according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark).

But, how do MLB’s rules work on the ties we might possibly see when the season ends? Can you believe there are coin-flip scenario? Here’s what the official rules have to say.

Wild Card

The Wild Card

If two or more Clubs in a League are tied in determining the Wild Card Club with identical winning percentages at the conclusion of the championship season as originally scheduled, including all rescheduled games and discounting additional games to determine the Division champion, as set forth in Rule 33(c)(2), the Commissioner shall determine the Wild Card Club as follows:

(A) Two-Club Tie. If two Clubs are tied for the Wild Card designation then the championship season shall be extended to include one additional game between such Clubs. Such game shall be played the day after the conclusion of the championship season as originally scheduled. The site of the game may be determined by mutual agreement among the Clubs and the Commissioner to keep travel at a minimum. In the absence of such an agreement, the Commissioner shall determine the site of the additional game between the tied Clubs by one toss of a coin. The Commissioner shall declare the winner of the additional game to be the Wild Card Club.

Where it can really get crazy is with all the scenarios in a Division tie. Here’s the how the tiebreakers work:

2010 NLDSThe Division Championship

(A) Two-Club Tie. If two Clubs are tied for first place in a Division with an identical winning percentage at the conclusion of the championship season as originally scheduled, including all rescheduled games, the Commissioner shall award the Division championship as follows:

(i) If the winning percentage of the two Clubs tied for first-place is higher than the winning percentage of each of the second-place Clubs in the same League, then the Commissioner shall award the Division championship

(aa) to the tied Club with the higher winning percentage in head-to-head competition between the two tied Clubs during the championship season; or

(bb) if the Clubs remain tied, then to the tied Club with the higher winning percentage in intradivision games during the championship season; or

(cc) if the Clubs remain tied, then to the tied Club with the higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games during the championship season; or

(dd) if the Clubs remain tied, then to the tied Club with the higher winning percentage in the last half plus one of intraleague games during the championship season, provided that such additional game was not a game between the tied Clubs.

If the Clubs remain tied, then the procedure described  in Rule 33(c)(1)(A)(i)(dd) of adding the immediately preceding game played by each Club, provided that such added game was not between the tied Clubs, and then considering the winning percentages of the tied Clubs over the period from that game through the end of the championship season, shall be continued until one Club emerges with a better winning percentage in that span of games, and the Club with such better winning percentage shall be awarded the Division championship.

In any event, if a tie is broken pursuant to this Rule 33(c)(1)(A)(i), the tied Club that is not awarded the Division championship shall qualify for a Division Series as the Wild Card Club.

(ii) If the winning percentage of the two tied Clubs is equal to or lower than the winning percentage of at least one of the second-place Clubs in the same League, then the championship season shall be extended to include one additional game between the two Clubs tied for first-place in their Division. Such game shall be played the day after the championship season as originally scheduled. The site of the game may be determined by mutual agreement among the Clubs and the Commissioner to keep travel at a minimum. In the absence of such an agreement, the Commissioner shall determine the site of the additional game between the tied Clubs by one toss of a coin. The Commissioner shall award the Division championship to the winner of the additional game.

All that said, even with the season ending tomorrow, we might wind up with no ties. It will all playout in the next 48 hours… And if we have ties, maybe longer.

Here's how it all breaks down now that Saturday's games are in the book:

  • If the Giants beat the Padres on Sunday, San Francisco is the NL West champion. If the Giants win and Atlanta beats Philadelphia, the Braves win the wild card.
  • If the Giants win and the Braves lose, San Diego and Atlanta tie for the wild card. There would be a one-game tiebreaker Monday in Atlanta for the wild card.
  • If the Padres win and the Braves lose, San Diego wins the NL West and San Francisco gets the wild card. The Braves would be eliminated. The Padres get the division title because they won the season series against the Giants.
  • If the Padres win and the Braves win, San Diego, San Francisco and Atlanta all finish 91-71. The Giants and Padres would play a one-game tiebreaker for the NL West title Monday night in San Diego. The loser would then go to Atlanta for a one-game playoff for the wild card on Tuesday night (the Braves would host either the Padres or Giants because Atlanta won the season series against both teams).

Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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