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MLB Tie-Breakers Need Some Refining In The “3 Wild Card” Era

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies
“We got gifted a playoff spot because we tied them better!!!”
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

First off, before acting like it’s the off-season next week let’s acknowledge that some teams will be playing beyond next Wednesday afternoon. They are called “post-season teams” and archaeologists are hard at work trying better to understand this phenomenon.

With the new format that includes a third wild card team and “best of 3” first round series, as a way to avoid further lengthening the post-season MLB has eliminated any and all head-to-head tie breakers commonly known as “game 163”.

This is, in my ever so humble opinion, a very bad decision. I think it’s fine to use season series matchups and the like to determine who gets one wild card spot and who gets another one, but in two instances I believe it’s better to have winners determined by an actual tie breaking game and it’s quite possible both scenarios will surface this year:

One is a tie for the division crown. Currently the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets have identical records as they battle each other twice more this weekend before finishing the regular season early next week. If still tied after 162 games, sure both are in the playoffs regardless but they should let a game determine who win the division and who is relegated to “wild card status”.

However, I can see the logic in basing this decision on season series matchup, as it at least means the head-to-head games are the determining factor and a one-game playoff means extra travel and the use of a key starting pitcher before game 1 of the playoffs. Maybe a team would even prefer to just accept the wild card spot rather than have to play game 163, which is a bad look going in.

So my compromise on this one would be that division ties in which the loser still earns a wild card spot should be determined by who won the season series, but if there is a tie for the season series it should go to a one-game showdown (which determines the season series winner, not to mention breaking the tie in season records).

But where I feel a one-game tie breaker is absolutely essential is in the event that a tie occurs between two teams fighting the third and final wild card spot — in that scenario the loser goes home and misses the playoffs. Those teams deserve a game to earn a seat at the dance, and also are marginal enough that the penalty of travel and using your best available SP are natural consequences of failing to win a spot outright.

This tie could still happen in the National League where the Phillies and Brewers are neck and neck for the third wild card spot. Currently the Phillies are 84-72, the Brewers 84-73, and if they finish with identical records the Phillies will be anointed the victors based on their 4-2 season series win.

That means you can give Philadelphia an extra one-game lead in the standings, as they are as good as 1.5 games up right now rather than 0.5. Less drama, less integrity, when all that is needed is to hold Thursday ready for a quick showdown ahead of the wild card series.

The Phillies could host it based on their season series win but should not knock out the Brewers entirely just because they won a game on June 9th but couldn’t fare any better over 6 months.

If you’re wondering, the Mets lead the series with the Braves 9-8 going into the weekend. The most likely basis for identical records after 162 comes with the teams splitting the final two games Saturday and Sunday, in which case the Mets will hold the tie-breaker. So Atlanta most likely needs to win today and tomorrow in order to have a decent chance at the division crown.

Sunday’s game is the ESPN 4:00pm (PDT) special and it should be worth watching as it represents one of the few battles still raging. Though it would be raging more if the tie-breaker system included the chance for a game 163 — which is also riveting baseball (unless you’re Zack Britton, in which case you just kind of sit there).

Curious about your thoughts around tie-breakers. Are you at peace with every possible tie being broken through analysis of past results? Or do you agree there are instances where a new game is needed, and if so which instances? And yes, these are “first world” problems the 2022 Oakland A’s do not enjoy.


When should a tie go to a head-to-head "game 163"?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Any tie should be broken by a game between the 2 teams
    (31 votes)
  • 17%
    Ties between possible division winners and possible 3rd wild card winners
    (22 votes)
  • 7%
    Only ties between possible division winners
    (10 votes)
  • 24%
    Only ties between possible 3rd wild card winners
    (31 votes)
  • 27%
    Never (the current actual rule)
    (35 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now