Tiebreaker tourney ahead?

What happens if the Astros, Cubs, Marlins and Phillies finish with identical records? Then it gets really wild.

Originally Published: September 23, 2003
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

They've made 23 coin flips. They've issued a five-page release detailing what happens if the season ends Sunday and the Marlins and Phillies tie, or the Cubs and Astros tie, or the Red Sox and Mariners tie.

So you can't say Major League Baseball isn't ready for many different kinds of scenarios next week if 162 games aren't enough to settle who makes the playoffs. But some of those scenarios would make us all grateful that Prilosec is now sold over the counter.

What happens, for instance, if the Cubs, Astros, Marlins and Phillies all have the same record? You don't want to know.

Three days' worth of tiebreaker games. That's what happens. Here is how that would go, according to Rob Manfred of the commissioner's office:

  • DAY ONE -- The Cubs play the Astros in Chicago to decide the NL Central. Winner advances. Loser enters the wild-card tiebreaker playoff.

  • DAY TWO -- Two of the three remaining teams play. Who plays where still depends on the outcome of the Phillies-Marlins series. (Again, don't ask.) But assuming current records against each other don't change significantly, if the three teams left are the Phillies, Marlins and Cubs, the Marlins would get to choose if they want to play one road game or two home games to determine their fate. If it's the Phillies, Marlins and Astros, the Astros would get that choice. At any rate, two of those three would play -- somewhere.

  • DAY THREE -- The winner of the first wild-card game would play at home against the third team.

  • DAY FOUR -- Gentlemen, start your Division Series.

    If the Dodgers somehow are also tied after Sunday, then you really don't want to know what happens, because MLB's current plan for a five-way tie is: Pray it doesn't happen.

    But regardless, here is what this could mean, if all worst-case scenarios actually happened: The Astros could play Sunday in Houston (last game of the regular season), Monday in Chicago (NL Central playoff), Tuesday in Florida or Philadelphia (wild-card playoff), Wednesday in Houston (final wild-card playoff) and Thursday in either San Francisco or Atlanta (first game of NLDS).

    Yep, that's five straight games in five days, in different cities every day. And if that happens, is it good news (they made the playoffs) or bad news (jet lag -- yes, frequent-flier miles -- no)? Aw, get back to us Thursday.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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