2005-10-01

After 161 games ...


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Well, we ventured into the nether-regions of Major League Baseball's post-season selection and tie-breaker rules.

I had been mistakenly assuming that the Yankees and Red Sox were going down to the wire regardless of what happened with Cleveland. They split the last two and they play a one-game playoff for the Division Title, or so I thought ...

After painstaking research, ummm, I could find nothing definitive on this at an official MLB site, so I had to settle for a seeminly well-informed article over at Baseball Prospectus.

Here's how it works:
A playoff game is not played if two teams tie for their division title, but both have records such that one will be the Division Champion and the other will be the Wild Card. In this case the team with the better head-to-head record (and there are a bunch of other tie-breakers down to a coin flip) becomes the Division Champion.

When three teams tie; two for their Division and the best other non-Division Champ, a playoff game is played because the two Division leaders are not both guaranteed to be in the playoffs. They play first to determine the Division Champ, and then the loser plays the other non-Champ for the Wild Card.

Interestingly, prior to 2003, in such a case, the two Division teams played a one-game playoff, but the game counted toward their season record thus eliminating completely, the loser as they would be a percentage point or so behind the third team with which they had finished the regular season tied. Thankfully that has been changed.

So, the Yankees win and Cleveland's loss gives New York a two-game lead over the Tribe and guarantees that there won't be a three-way tie. If Boston wins tomorrow, the two teams would finish one game ahead of Cleveland - New York would win the East by virtue of having won their season series against Boston and Boston would be the Wild Card. If New York wins, they take the division outright.

After a torrid comeback to within a couple games of the White Sox, Cleveland's sudden stall not ony kept them from winning the AL Central, it has also left them in dire straights for the Wild Card. They must win and have the Red Sox lose tomorrow to gain a one-game playoff for the Wild Card. To make matters worse, with the East crown wrapped up, the Yankees are likely to put in a weaker pitcher tomorrow. But Cleveland still has this hope: it is hard to imagine New York ever totally laying down for the Sox.

In short ... Another episode of Boston v. New York for the AL Pennant is a strong possibility.

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