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What happens if 3 (or more) teams tie for a playoff spot?

The Yankees, Orioles, Angels and Athletics are all within two games of each other. What if they all wind up with the same record? Trust us, it'd be a mess.

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Stark: Three-way A.L. ties would make travel mess

We are getting close to the end of the season, and we still do not have a single playoff berth clinched in the American League. The Yankees lead the Orioles by 1½ games in the American League East; the Orioles and Athletics are sitting on the two wild-card spots (with the A's having played one fewer game), and the Angels trail that pair by just two games.

ESPN's Jayson Stark examines what would happen if three or four of these teams tied for the three spots in question, and the results aren't pretty. There's quite a bit of detail in Stark's article, too much to quote at length from here, but the gist of it is this: because two of those teams are located on the East Coast and the other two are on the West Coast, most of the scenarios involved would have a team that wins one of these spots likely having to make cross-country flights on consecutive days, possibly playing in the East one day, the West the next, and then back to the East to play the third day.

Oh, what the heck. It's long, but here's one of the possible scenarios, a four-way tie:

The Yankees and Orioles would have to play off in Baltimore on the day after the season (Thursday, Oct. 4) to settle the AL East. Meanwhile, the Angels and A's would kick off the wild-card tiebreaker festivities by facing each other Thursday in Oakland. The winner of that game would be considered "the first wild-card team."

The loser of the AL East showdown would then live to play another day -- by facing the loser of that Angels-A's game somewhere or other, for the final wild-card slot. But where? Nobody would have any idea.

If the Orioles lose to the Yankees, they'd have to climb onto a plane, cross three time zones and play in either Oakland or Anaheim on Friday, because they got crushed in the season series against both the A's (1-8) and Angels (0-6).

But if it's the Yankees playing that wild-card game, it works the other way around. They would host either the Angels or the A's. So either way, both tiebreaker games would have to be day games Thursday, just to leave time for all the coast-to-coast travel possibilities -- and because nobody would even know which COAST Friday's game would be played on until after the Thursday games.

What a mess. You can imagine Bud Selig praying every day for this to not happen.


Stark: Wild-Card Ties Could Cause Postseason Mess

This season has produced tight wild-card races in both leagues. But because extra wild cards, and thus two wild-card play-in games, were added to the schedule after it was already released, that leaves just one day to play off any potential ties.

It’s even messier than you think. What would happen, for example, if the Cardinals and Dodgers tied for the second NL wild card, with the Braves winning the other wild-card spot? Jayson Stark explains:

So let’s just say the Cardinals and Dodgers do indeed finish tied for that second wild-card spot. And let’s just say the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in the tiebreaker game to nail down that spot.

Under the current schedule, the Cardinals would theoretically have to play Wednesday night in St. Louis, Thursday night in Los Angeles and Friday sometime-or-other in Atlanta. Well, guess what? That ain’t happening.

“Under no circumstances,” said one source familiar with these schedule issues, would MLB force the Cardinals to play Wednesday night in St. Louis, then fly to L.A. and get in at 3 or 4 a.m. on Thursday, play a game that night, then jump on another flight to Atlanta, arrive there at 7 or 8 next morning and play the wild-card game that night.

The result, Stark says, is that division series could be pushed back from their already-tight schedule — and that’s not even taking into account the possibility of a three-way tie. Consider this scenario:

Let’s say the Yankees, Rays and Orioles all finish with the same record. Their first order of business would be to decide the AL East champ. That would take two days.

If nothing significant changes in the next few weeks, the Rays (who have the best head-to-head record against the other two teams) would get to decide whether they want to play two home games to break that tie or let the other two teams play and face the winner on the road.

Once the division is decided, if the AL East “losers” were tied for the second wild-card spot, they would have to play again to break that tie. So it’s possible the Orioles, for instance, might have to play Wednesday in Tampa Bay, Thursday in New York, Friday in Baltimore, Saturday in Oakland/Detroit/Anaheim/Chicago and (depending on game times and logistics) Sunday in Baltimore. Some fun!

What a mess. Stark says this will (mostly) be accounted for in 2013; the schedule has been arranged so that multiple tiebreaker days will be available.

But this October? If there are multiple ties, it could cause a real headache for Bud Selig & Co.


Three-Team Wild-Card Tie: At Least Two Days To Play Off

Major League Baseball’s postseason schedule, announced Thursday, leaves very little margin for any unusual event — either weather, or a multiple-team tie for the two wild-card spots. For the latter event, baseball has allowed just one day between the end of the regular season (Oct. 3) and the date planned for the two wild-card play-in games (Oct. 5).

Based on these tweets from Jon Morosi, a multi-team tie for the wild-card spots would mess up that tight schedule:

So it’s actually two days of playoffs to determine who plays in the wild-card game, and then the third day mentioned by Morosi would be the wild-card game itself. Seeding in such an event would be determined by head-to-head records.

Don’t ask what happens if all the head-to-head records are tied. No one’s said anything about that, and Bud Selig’s head is already about to explode.

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