Major League Baseball tie-breaking procedures

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Because inclusion in the Major League Baseball postseason is based upon the teams' regular-season records, procedures exist to break ties between teams.

In common parlance, the Major League Baseball postseason is described as "the playoffs", for consistency with the nomenclature of other professional leagues (i.e. NFL Playoffs, NBA Playoffs, etc.). However, the term "playoff" is only used by Major League Baseball to describe tie-breaking games that determine postseason berths. Games after the regular season are officially referred to as postseason games.

Ties between two teams[edit]

Two-way tie for the division or wildcard[edit]

Main article: One-game playoff

One-game tiebreakers are played between teams tied for a division championship or a league's second wildcard berth. These games are to be played the day after the season is scheduled to end. Home-field advantage is determined using the rules listed below ("Breaking Ties Without Playoff Games").

From the implementation of the wildcard in 1994 to the end of the 2011 season, a different rule was in place. Two teams tied for a division did not play a tiebreaker if their records were better than all non-division winners in their league. Instead, such a tie was broken using the rules listed below ("Breaking Ties Without Playoff Games"). This scenario happened in the 2005 Major League Baseball season when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox tied for first place in the American League East. The Yankees were awarded the division title on account of a better head-to-head record against the Red Sox, while Boston received the wildcard berth.

With, however, the adoption of a second wildcard berth and a wildcard game beginning in the 2012 season, the non-division winner with the best record in the league faces possible elimination on the first day of the postseason. As a result, the tie-breaking rules were changed so that two teams tied for a division championship must play a tie- breaking game even if both teams have already qualified for the postseason. The team losing the tie-breaking game will now qualify for a wildcard berth only if its regular-season record is among the league's two best records for non-division-winners. If that team is tied for the second wild-card spot, a second tie-breaking game would then be played.

If, on the other hand, two teams are tied for the first wildcard slot, no tie-breaking game is played. Rather, the two teams simply play against each other in the wildcard game, with home-field advantage awarded using tie-breaking rules described in the next section.

Breaking ties without playoff games[edit]

  1. The team with the best record in head to head play.
  2. The team with the best overall record in intradivision games.
  3. The team with the best overall record in intraleague games.
  4. The team with the best record in the final 81 games of the season, ignoring interleague play.
  5. The team with the best record in the final 82 games of the season (providing the game added is not between the tied teams), extending backward until the tie is broken (Interleague games are skipped and ignored in this process.)

Ties between two division winners[edit]

If two champions from separate divisions have the same record, the tiebreaking procedure listed above is used to determine playoff seeding. No additional games are played.

Ties between three teams[edit]

Three-way tie for the division or wildcard[edit]

The three teams will be designated as "A", "B" and "C". A two-game elimination format will ensue. In Game 1, A will host B. The following day, in Game 2, the winner of Game 1 will host C. The winner of Game 2 advances to the postseason.

The designations for teams A, B and C will be determined by the applicable scenario below.

1. If the three teams have identical records against each other in the regular season:

  • Club with highest winning percentage among three tied clubs in intradivision games chooses its designation, followed by the team with the next highest winning percentage in intradivision games. If any two of the clubs have identical winning percentages, then the two-Club tiebreak rules will break that tie. If all three Clubs have identical winning percentages, then;
  • Club with the highest winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games chooses its designation, followed by the team with the next highest winning percentage in intraleague games. If any two of the clubs have identical winning percentages, then the two-Club tiebreak rules will break that tie. If all three Clubs have identical winning percentages, then;
  • Club with the highest winning percentage in the last half plus one intraleague game, provided that such additional game was not between any of the tied Clubs, chooses its designation, followed by the team with the next highest winning percentage in the last half plus one intraleague game. Continue to go back one intraleague game at a time until the tie has been broken.

2. If the three teams do not have identical records against one another, the team designations are determined as follows:

  • If one team has a better record against both other teams, and another team has a winning record against the final team, the first team shall get the first pick of their team designation, the second team gets the second pick, and the last team is assigned the remaining designation.
  • If one team has a better record against both of the other teams, and the two other teams have the same record against each other, then the first team gets the first pick for team designation, and the other teams would follow the two-team tiebreak rules to break their tie to pick the next designation. The last team would be assigned the remaining designation.
  • If two teams have the same record against each other, and both have a better record than the last team, then the first two teams would follow the two-team tiebreak rules to break their tie to pick the first designation, with the loser of the tiebreak choosing their designation second, and the last team team being assigned the remaining designation.
  • If Club 1 has a better record against Club 2, Club 2 has a better record against Club 3, and Club 3 has a better record against Club 1; OR Club 1 has a better record against Club 2, Club 2 and 3 have identical records against one another and Club 3 has a better record against Club 1; OR Club 1 and 2 have identical records against one another, Club 1 has a better record against Club 3 and Club 2 and 3 have identical records against one another, then:
a. The Clubs will be ranked by their overall winning percentage amongst the other Clubs combined. The Club with the highest overall winning percentage in that group chooses its designation, followed by the team with the next highest overall winning percentage.
b. If two of the Clubs have identical winning percentages, then they would follow the two-Club tiebreak rules to break their tie to pick their designation.
c. If all three teams have identical winning percentages, then the tiebreak rules above (No. 1) for three clubs having identical records against one another should be followed.

"Mixed" three-way tie[edit]

The situation may arise that two teams from the same division are tied for the division championship, but they are also tied with another team from a different division, with that team not having the best record in their division, but having a better record than all of the other non-division winners.

In this case the two teams in the same division play a one game playoff, with the winner declared the division champion. The loser of the first game earns the #2 wildcard slot, and travels to the stadium of the team outside their division for the wild card game.

Three-way tie for two Wild Card spots[edit]

When there is a three-way tie between non-division winners and no other non-division winner has a better record claiming wild card 1, a tiebreaker eliminating 1 of the 3 teams will follow. The team with the best head-to-head record among the three teams is designated Team A, the team with the second-best record is designated Team B, and the remaining team is designated Team C. Team B will travel to team A. The winner wins wild card one. The loser will go to team C. The winner of that game wins wild card two. After those two games, wild card teams one and two will play each other in the wild card round; this could be an "A/B rematch." This information was provided by the MLB Commissioners office.

Three-way ties among division winners[edit]

If there is a three-way tie among all division champions, the team with the best record against both of the other division champions is given the top seed with the remaining teams seeded as follows:

  1. Head to head record between other 2 division winners.
  2. Best overall record in the regular season ignoring interleague play.
  3. The team with the best record in the final 81 games of the season, ignoring interleague play.
  4. The team with the best record in the final 82 games of the season (providing the game added is not between some of the tied teams), extending backward until the tie is broken (with interleague games skipped and ignored in this process.)

If neither team has a better record against the other teams, immediately go to above tiebreaker.

Ties among four teams[edit]

The four teams draw lots, as teams A, B, C, and D. On the first day team B plays at team A and team D plays at team C. The next day the winners of these games play each other at the ballpark of either team A or B (depending on who won the game).

References[edit]