How could the baseball gods have done this to us? The Indians and White Sox lock up for a three game series with three games separating them starting tomorrow.
That's a classic setup, right? It's a long shot, but we all imagine the Indians sweeping the series and setting up one-game playoff to decide the division champ Bucky Dent style.
Well, we'd be wrong.
The tiebreaker rules that have been imposed since the advent of the not-so wild card establish that the Sox are the champs.
If the Indians were to sweep and thereby tie the White Sox in the standings, both teams would make the playoffs since the second place team in the East could not have a record as good as the Central co-champs.
Both the Indians and Chisox would be 96-76. The best the second-place team in the East could do would be 95-77 (both the Red Sox and Yankees would be tied with this record if Boston wins two of three in their series).
Given that both teams would make the playoffs, baseball simply uses their head-to-head record which the Sox lead 11-5 and would still win, 11-8, after the sweep. The Sox would then win the division. Who cares if we cut short an historic pennant race?
So what about the other playoff scenarios? If the Yankees win the final series with the Red Sox (either 2-1 or 3-0), then it's simple. They win the division. The Sox have a shot at the wild card if they have a better record than the Indians. If Boston and Cleveland tie, then it's a one-game playoff.
OK, let's say the Red Sox sweep the series, that too is easy. The Red Sox win the division, and the Yankees fight it out for the wild card with the Indians.
The one scenario that gets a bit wacky is if Boston takes two of three from the Yankees. In this case, the two teams would be tied for the division lead. This would lead to a one-game playoff. The loser of the playoff would make the playoffs if they had a better record (including the playoff) than the Indians.
It gets a bit sticky if the Indians take two from Chicago, resulting in a three-way tie. The Yanks-Sox playoff would still happen with the winner taking the division title and the loser out of the playoffs. The Indians would get in automatically even though they would be tied with the two other teams prior to the playoff.
The NL is a bit simpler with the Phils needing a sweep of the Nats to guarantee a wild card spot. If the Astros win two or more games in their final series, they take the wild card. Two Phillies wins coupled with one Astro win or one Phils win and all losses for the Astros result in a one-game playoff.