To our grave personal and cultural diminishment, tiebreaker games are no longer a part of Major League Baseball. Yes, the very thing that gave us that Shot Heard 'Round the World and Bucky Expletivin' Dent is no more. This was the case prior to last season, when we were deprived of a Mets-Braves tiebreaker to decide the NL East title, but it's worth lamenting all over again as the 2023 regular season winds to a close.
Thanks to postseason bloat – others will call it postseason expansion – tiebreaker games fell victim to the overcrowded October calendar, and now ties for seeding and even playoff berths are not decided on the field. One supposes it's time we talk about this moral failing in further depth as it applies to this year's contending fray.
First, the races that have already been decided will not require mathematical tiebreakers to be wielded. At this writing, that applies to the NL East and NL West. The rest, though, is still in play.
Here, then, are how ties are broken whether it be for a division title, wild-card berth, or seeding for the playoffs. These are the exact steps for determining who's on top between two teams with the same record at the end of the regular season.
- Head-to-head record. If that's tied, then you go to …
- Intra-divisional record, or each team's record within its division. If that's tied, then you go to …
- Inter-divisional record, or each team's record versus opponents from outside its division. If that's tied then you go to …
- Record over last half of intra-league games, or a team's record across the back half of its games versus opponents from the same league. If that's tied then you go to …
- Record over the last half of intra-league games plus one, which means you keep adding games, one by one, to the second-half total of games against opponents in the same league until the tie is broken.
It would be pretty rare to get past step No. 2 in that sequence, but one is free to believe in miracles.
With all that laid out, let's tick off the various and sundry races and note the tiebreakers currently in force. We'll do this on a team-by-team basis, which means there will be a bit of repetition.
The D-backs hold wild-card tiebreakers over the Giants and Cubs. They lose them to the Marlins, Phillies, and Reds.
They've clinched the NL East title. They hold the tiebreaker over the Dodgers for top seed in the NL.
The Orioles hold the tiebreaker over the Rays for the AL East title and top seed in the AL. The Orioles have already clinched a postseason berth.
In the wild card, the Cubs hold the tiebreaker over the Giants but they lose it to Reds, Marlins, Phillies, and Diamondbacks. In the all-but-over NL Central race, their season series with the Brewers is tied up at 5-5 with three head-to-headers remaining.
As just noted, the Reds in the wild-card race hold the tiebreaker over the Cubs, and they also have the edge over the Diamondbacks. They lose the tiebreaker to the Phillies and Giants. They'll likely lose the tiebreaker to the Marlins. Their season series ended in a tie, but the Marlins will very likely finish a superior intra-divisional record.
In the AL West race, the Astros win the tiebreaker over the Rangers but lose it to the Mariners. On the wild-card front, they lose the tiebreaker to the Blue Jays, and their tiebreaker to the Rays will come down to intra-divisional record.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have already clinched the NL West title. In the unlikely event they catch the Braves for top seed in the NL, they'd lose the tiebreaker.
The Marlins in the wild-card race would win tiebreakers against the Phillies, Cubs, and Diamondbacks. They lose a tiebreaker with the Giants. The Brewers hold a 3-1 season series lead over Miami with three head-to-head games left. Their season series with the Reds ended in a 3-3 tie. The Marlins, however, are likely to have a better intra-divisional record and thus likely to win any tiebreaker over Cincy.
The Brewers will almost certainly win the NL Central. Just in case, they hold the tiebreaker over the Reds. Their season series with the second-place Cubs is tied at 5-5 with three games still to play.
In the unlikely event that Milwaukee falls into wild-card position, they'll hold the tiebreaker over the Phillies but lose it to Diamondbacks and Giants. They have the lead in their season series with the Marlins by a count of 3-1 with three to play.
With an eye toward the No. 2 seed in the AL bracket, the Twins hold the tiebreaker over the Astros and Rangers but lose it to the Mariners. Minnesota is on the verge of clinching the AL Central title.
In the still-very-crowded NL wild-card scrum, the Phillies hold the tiebreaker edge over the Cubs, Reds, and Diamondbacks. They would lose any tiebreaker to the Marlins, Giants, and Brewers.
San Diego Padres
The Padres are longshots to make it, but they hold wild-card tiebreakers over the Giants, Marlins, and Reds. They lose wild-card tiebreakers to the Cubs and Diamondbacks.
San Francisco Giants
They win any wild-card tiebreakers over the Phillies and Reds but lose them to the Cubs and Diamondbacks. Their season series is tied with the Marlins, but at the moment they have a better intra-divisional record so are likely to win that tiebreaker.
In the AL West race, the Mariners hold the tiebreaker over the Astros. Against the Rangers, they're down 1-5 in the season series, but they have seven head-to-head games remaining.
On the wild-card front, the M's hold the tiebreaker over Toronto but lose it to the Rays.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Orioles hold the tiebreaker over the Rays for the AL East title and top seed in the AL. The Rays hold the tiebreaker edge over the Blue Jays by one game, but they have six head-to-head games remaining. The Rays have already secured a spot in the playoffs.
The Rangers hold a 5-1 edge over the Mariners on a head-to-head basis this season with seven head-to-head games to go. They lose an AL West tiebreaker to the Astros. In the wild-card race, Texas would win a tiebreaker against the Rays or Blue Jays.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Rays hold the tiebreaker edge over the Blue Jays by one game, but they have six head-to-head games remaining. The Jays hold the wild-card tiebreaker over the Astros but would lose a tiebreaker to the Mariners or Rangers.