Major League Baseball introduces a new wild-card format in 2012. Previously, the non-division winner with the best record automatically became the wild card in each league. This year, each league will host a one-game playoff between the two non-division winners with the best record.
Not only will this add extra teams to the postseason mix, but it will also toss a whole new set of tiebreakers in as well.
We'll see if we can untangle the web of "what ifs."
Note: All tiebreaker scenarios were verified using the official site for Major League Baseball.
The wild-card round will be identical for both the National League and American League. The two teams with the best non-division winning records will face off in a one-game playoff. Of the two teams, the team with best regular-season record (or first wild card) will serve as the home team. Both leagues will play these games October 5.
The first tiebreaker would be a head-to-head comparison. If the teams split their season series, the tiebreaker would then become the team with the highest winning percentage in games played inside its own division. If the teams are still deadlocked, the tiebreaker becomes winning percentage during the last half of the season -- but excluding interleague play. If the two teams are still tied, then starting at the halfway point, they add one game at a time until the tie is broken.
Two team tiebreaker scenarios
The tiebreaker formula is used for all tiebreaker scenarios. The scenarios can get a little more complicated, so let's look at the possibilities involving two first.
If both wild-card teams finish with the same record: The team who wins the tiebreaker formula gets home field in the one-game playoff.
If two teams tie for second wild-card spot: The winner of the tiebreaker formula will only be awarded home-field advantage for a play-in game on October, 4. The winner of the play-in game will then face the first wild-card team.
Three team tiebreaker scenarios
Major League Baseball has a contingency plan for as many as four teams to finish with the same record. In these scenarios, the tiebreaker formula does not actually give a predetermined home-field advantage. Instead, teams are allowed to choose a letter designation (A, B, C, and D if needed). These letter designations each have a possible strategic advantage that will be explained below.
If three teams finish with the same record:The tiebreaker formula will determine who recieves first choice. The tiebreaker formula will then be used to determine who gets the next choice. Obviously, the third team will get the remaining available designation. On October 4, Team B will travel to Team A. The winner of the A-B game would host Team C on October 5 to determine the wild card.
Strategy will be at a premium in this scenario. Team A is guaranteed at least one home game. Team C gets an off-day, but will not be able to host a game in the wild-card round. Team B will be the toughest spot. Team B has to win a game on the road, and then beat a rested Team C.
Four team tiebreaker scenario
The tiebreaker formula will also be used to determine the order of choice in a four-way tie. Once teams have chosen from A, B, C, and D there will be two games played on October 4. Team B would travel to Team A, and Team D would travel to Team C. The winner of A vs. B would then host the winner of C vs. D on October 5.
What if three or four teams tie for the second wild card?
If three or more teams finish with the same record that qualifies for the second wild-card spot, then the same formulas and dates would apply from the three-team and four-team tiebreaker scenarios. The difference would be that the team that comes out on top would still have to face the first wild card in a one-game playoff.
Other bumps in the road
All game dates are considered as tentative. All wild-card scenarios are technically tentative because the division races have to be decided first. It is possible that one or more teams could finish tied for their division lead and tied with one of the wild-card spots. If that happens, the division crown would take precedent and push the wild cards back.
I hope this has simplified the process. Even more, I hope these formulas will not be needed this year.
Christopher Beheler is a Georgia native. He attended his first Atlanta Braves game at the age of 4, and has been a fan of the Braves and baseball ever since.