Four charter jets will await on tarmacs, destination unknown. Clubhouses will be filled with suitcases and packing tape – the former to launch into an October playoff jamboree, the latter in case they must scatter for the winter.
As for pitching plans? Hah. Tough to dope out a week when the possibilities include four games in five days, or maybe a two-day break before a wild-card game, or the saddest scenario of all – see you next spring.
With the National League West mercifully boiled down to a simple scenario – the 105-win San Francisco Giants have a magic number of two over the 103-win Dodgers – the American League wild card offers glorious disorder:
Four teams, separated by three games, playing for two spots.
The drama is guaranteed to last through Saturday night’s Game 161. Here’s what each team needs to get in – and the wild scenario that may await them next week:
Yankees (91-68): Win and you’re in
Fitting that a club that produced a 13-game winning streak and a seven-game losing streak within days of each other would have a skittish and heart-pumping final week. The Yankees came from behind Thursday night to defeat Toronto and claim two of the three games at Rogers Centre, imperiling the Jays and all but wrapping up a playoff spot.
A big but, though: New York closes with three games against Tampa Bay, which has nothing to play for but boasts perhaps the greatest organizational depth in baseball, and will be playing hard with three days off before their AL Division Series.
What it takes: Two wins will clinch a playoff berth, as will one win and a loss each from Seattle and Boston.
A sweep will guarantee home field advantage for the wild-card game, as will two wins and a Boston loss, or one win and a Mariners loss should the Mariners claim the No. 2 wild card. New York would be best served to wrap it up by Sunday, with projected starter Jameson Taillon still hobbled by a foot injury. If they’re truly desperate, ace Gerrit Cole could pitch on three days’ rest.
Can the Yankee season end on Sunday? Yes – if they are swept by the Rays and the Red Sox and Mariners sweep their respective series.
Pitching matchups at Yankee Stadium: Nestor Cortes vs. Rays’ Shane McLanahan, Friday, 7:05 ET; Jordan Montgomery vs. Rays’ Shane Baz, Saturday, 1:05 ET; TBD vs. Rays’ Michael Wacha, 3:05 ET.
Red Sox (89-70), Mariners (89-70):
A case of the Mondays?
If you’re hungry for a Game 163, these may be your guys.
The Red Sox have been in playoff position – or tied for it – after 152 of their 159 games this season, while Mariners couldn’t make that claim since April 22.
Until Thursday night, when the listless Red Sox lost for the second time in three nights at Baltimore, enabling the idle Mariners to slide into a tie with Boston – the closest they’ve come in two decades to breaking their playoff drought.
Both teams close with sub-.500 opponents – the Red Sox at Washington, the Mariners home to the Angels, who are expected to sit, rather than start, Shohei Ohtani on the mound Sunday.
What it takes: While little can be assumed this time of year, the Red Sox and Mariners have the most eminently sweepable matchups. Should both go 3-0, they could overtake the Yankees should the Yankees get swept by Tampa Bay and meet in Tuesday’s AL wild card game.
A 1-2 Yankees weekend plus Seattle-Boston sweeps would create a three-team playoff for the two wild card spots (more on that below). But two or three Yankee wins plus Seattle-Boston sweeps mean the two clubs would settle on the field – a one-game playoff Monday at Fenway Park (the Red Sox hold the tiebreaker, 4-3), with the winner shuttling south for Tuesday’s wild card game at Yankee Stadium.
Stay nimble, folks.
Pitching matchups at Nationals Park: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Nationals’ Josh Rogers, Friday, 7:05 ET; TBD vs. Nationals’ Josiah Gray, 4:05 ET; Chris Sale vs. TBD, Sunday, 3:05 ET.
Pitching matchups at T-Mobile Park: Marco Gonzales vs. Angels’ Jose Suarez, Friday, 10:10 ET; Chris Flexen vs. Angels’ Jhonathan Diaz, Saturday, 9:10 ET; Tyler Anderson vs. TBD, Sunday, 3:10 ET.
Blue Jays ( 88-71): Help me if you can
Toronto may forever rue (Ryu?) the two games it lost to the Yankees this week, unable to survive a fusillade of long balls and clutch relief pitching. Now, it must try to feast on a team that’s hardly laid down despite already losing 107 games – while needing help from the Angels, Nationals and perhaps the Rays. Yikes.
The Blue Jays are 11-5 this season against Baltimore, but the Orioles are playing loose and also playing hard, as the Red Sox found out.
What it takes: A sweep, essentially.
Anything less, and Toronto must rely on both the Angels and Nationals taking two of three against Seattle and Boston, which would create a three-way tie for the No. 2 wild card. The Blue Jays can only catch New York if they sweep and the Yankees are swept – and that’s no defense against Boston and Seattle sweeping their own series and leapfrogging everyone into a wild card game.
They’re still alive. But the postseason hopes likely died Thursday night.
Pitching matchups at Rogers Centre: Steven Matz vs. Orioles’ TBD, Friday, 7:07 ET; Alek Manoah vs. Orioles’ John Means, Saturday, 3:07 ET; Hyun-jin Ryu vs. Orioles’ TBD, Sunday, 3:07 ET.
Tiebreakers: Let’s go crazy
OK, enough nail-biting. Let’s briefly explore just how weird things could get this weekend (and next week).
Four-way tie if…: Yankees go 0-3, Red Sox/Mariners 1-2, Blue Jays 3-0.
Now, a note about head-to-head and common records. Head-to-head records break two-way ties, while records among all common opponents breaks three- and four-way deadlocks. Who has priority in that scenario?
The Red Sox.
So, what happens if New York, Boston, Seattle, Toronto tie for two wild card spots? Teams choose A, B, C, D designations in order of winning % amongst themselves.
Here’s how those records stand today:
BOS — 24-21 (.533)
TOR — 22-21 (.512)
NYY — 21-23 (.477)
SEA — 9-11 (.450)
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) October 1, 2021
The Blue Jays and Red Sox would get home games and the Yankees would then choose which team it wants to play, with Seattle going to the fourth team. (Do the Yankees want to face Nathan Eovaldi or Jose Berrios on the road?).
The winners of each game then meet Tuesday in the wild card game, at the site of the team with the best record.
So imagine this travel scenario for the Mariners:
Sunday: Home for Game 162.
Monday: Game 163, at Boston.
Tuesday: Back to Seattle for wild-card game against Blue Jays.
It’s highly unlikely. But it’d be 6,000 worthwhile miles traveled for the Mariners.
Three-way tie if: Yankees 0-3, Red Sox/Mariners go 2-1, OR Yankees 1-2, Red Sox/Mariners 3-0, OR Yankees 0-3, Red Sox/Mariners 2-1/1-2 or worse, Blue Jays 3-0.
Once again, the common opponent record would determine seeding priority and the Red Sox hold the advantage in almost any permutation. For the uninitiated, a three-way tiebreaker would look like this:
Monday: Team B at Team A (team with best common-opponent record). Winner advances to wild card game.
Tuesday: Monday’s loser at Team C (team with worst common-opponent record). Winner advances to play Monday’s winner in wild-card game, with head-to-head records determining home field.
So, see you Monday?
Perhaps. And don’t say you haven’t been warned.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB playoff picture: AL wild-card tiebreaker could be four-way
Source: Yahoo Sports