Could The N.L. Wild Card Be Headed For A Five-Way Tie?

Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis reacts after tagging out Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

Just three games separate five teams vying for the National League's second wild card. Could they be headed for a five-way tie? Here's one scenario.

In this month of September, which is getting odder and odder, the National League appears to have four playoff spots wrapped up; the division leads are 8½ (East), 11½ (Central) and seven (West), and the Braves lead the wild-card race by 5½ games.

But oh, that second wild-card spot. Wild? After Wednesday's games, three games separate five teams. Four of them have 19 games left; the fifth (the Pirates) has 20 remaining. That's plenty of time to make up a three-game deficit. Major League Baseball has never had even a three-way tie for a postseason spot, though we got close two years ago. Had the Padres defeated the Giants on the season's last day, they'd have tied San Francisco for the NL West -- and at 91-71, would have also been tied with the Braves for the then-single NL Wild Card. It didn't happen, and so we await our first three- (or more-)team tie. MLB has contingency plans for a three-way deadlock; the team with the best head-to-head record gets to decide whether they want to host two games, or make the other two play and then play the winner on the road (hint: it's always better to make the other guy win twice).

But more than three? Does MLB even have an idea of what to do, besides embarrassed hand-wringing?

David Pinto of Baseball Musings has, for several years, kept track of what he terms the "Massive Tie Scenario". Each day in September, he posts what records would be required for teams to end up in such a tie. Here's Wednesday's post, which includes the following records required to get a five-way tie at 90 wins:

Brewers 18-1
Phillies 18-1
Pirates 18-2
Dodgers 16-3
Cardinals 15-4

That's all well and good -- but seriously, do you think all five of those teams are going to run the table like that?

So I decided to take a look at all five teams' remaining schedules and see if I could create more realistic records for them that would wind up in a five-way tie at fewer than 90 wins. There's one thing that helps here. Even though there's a large number of teams involved in this mess, there are just two series where any of them play each other: a four-game Cardinals/Dodgers set starting Thursday night, and a three-game series pitting the Pirates against the Brewers in Milwaukee beginning Monday.

Here, then, are the remaining schedules for all five teams, and what I think are realistic records they could post to create a five-way tie at 85 wins ("vs." denotes a home series) ...

Cardinals, currently 75-68: at Dodgers (4), vs. Astros (3), at Cubs (3), at Astros (3), at Nationals (3), at Reds (3)

Since the Cardinals are leading the Dodgers by one game entering their match-up, let's have the Dodgers win three of four. With the Dodgers at home, that's realistic, and would leave the teams tied after Sunday's action. The Cardinals have nine games against the woeful Cubs and Astros -- but six of them are on the road, where St. Louis is 32-39. Let's say they go 6-3 in those games, and split the six with Washington and Cincinnati. That brings the Cardinals to 85-77.

Dodgers, currently 74-69: vs. Cardinals (4), at Nationals (3), at Reds (3), at Padres (3), vs. Rockies (3), vs. Giants (3)

We've already started the Dodgers out 3-1, but then they have a tough road trip back East to play the same Nats and Reds that St. Louis has to face. I see no better than 4-5 on that trip; they come home and take two of three from the Rockies, and then beat their arch-rivals two of three to end the regular season ... 85-77.

Pirates, currently 72-70: at Cubs (4), vs. Brewers (3), at Astros (3), at Mets (4), vs. Reds (3), vs. Braves (3)

This is going to be the toughest one; Pittsburgh has lost seven straight and would have to go 13-7 down the stretch to get to 85-77. Fortunately for them, they play the Astros and Cubs, and even though those games are on the road, the Bucs are 5-2 in those cities this year. Let's have them take six of those seven this time; that means they have to go just 7-6 in the other 12 games. 3-1 vs. the Mets, 2-1 vs. the Brewers, 1-2 vs. the Reds and 1-2 vs. the Braves would do it.

Brewers, currently 72-71: vs. Mets (3), at Pirates (3), at Nationals (4), at Reds (3), vs. Astros (3), vs. Padres (3)

We have already given the Pirates a series win (above) over Milwaukee, so to get to 85-77 from there, the Brew Crew would have to go 12-4 in the other 16 games. Here's how they do that: 2-1 against the Mets, split with the Nats, take two of three from the Reds, and sweep the Astros and Padres. Milwaukee has an excellent 44-28 home record -- best in the NL -- so it's a bit of a stretch, but not that much, for them to go 7-2 in their remaining home games.

Phillies, currently 72-71: at Astros (4), at Mets (3), vs. Braves (3), vs. Nationals (3), at Marlins (3), at Nationals (3)

This would be much tougher if the Phillies didn't have the upcoming seven games against the Astros and Mets. The Phillies are hot. The Astros just lost two of three to the Cubs at home -- so I'm going to give the on-fire Phillies a series sweep in Houston. That would bring them to 76-71 and require a 9-4 mark in the remaining games to get to 85-77. That can be accomplished this way: 2-1 vs. the Mets, 2-1 vs. the Braves, a 1-2 mark in Washington against the Nats, and 2-1 over both the Nats and Marlins at home.

And we're done! A five-team mash-up, accomplished by these records in remaining games:

Phillies 13-6
Brewers 13-6
Pirates 13-7
Dodgers 11-8
Cardinals 10-9

That might be a bit unrealistic, especially for the Pirates. But even if Pittsburgh fades, the other four might wind up tied, and what would MLB do then? Most likely: have a pair of single-elimination games, followed by another single-elimination game... followed by the survivor having to play the Braves in the single-elimination Wild Card Game.

That would be great fun, actually.

Did I mention that the Diamondbacks are just four games out of that second wild-card spot?

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