There have been 12 single-game tiebreakers in MLB history. Each of them brought the nerves and anticipation of a playoff matchup, even though they were played as regular-season games — but game No. 163 is now a thing of the past.
With an expanded playoff format launching this October, MLB decided there wasn’t enough room on the calendar to break ties in that extra-game manner anymore. Instead, a set of tiebreaking rules will now decide not only seeding but also who gets into the postseason altogether if 162 games aren’t enough to determine the 12-team field. This means that the series your favorite team played way back in the first half could have a huge impact on its playoff hopes.
“It’s going to become a big deal when everyone [the fans] wakes up and realizes what’s going on,” Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell said last month.
Counsell’s team could be impacted directly, as Milwaukee is currently on the outside of the last wild-card berth in the National League, chasing the San Diego Padres for that final postseason spot. But the Brewers will have to make up a little extra ground this year since they lost their season series to the Padres 4-3, meaning if the teams finish with the same record, San Diego is in and Milwaukee is out.
“We finished games against them in … early June,” Counsell said. “We were aware of it at the time, but there’s 110 games left at that point. There’s not much to be done.
“We knew the rule,” Counsell said. “Everyone knew it …They felt fitting a tiebreaker game into the schedule wasn’t feasible.”
The league understands some of the angst that could exist if a team is eliminated by a season series played around Memorial Day but says the trade-off of more teams in the mix for a playoff spot is worth it.
“We are excited that more of our fans will get to experience postseason baseball this year as part of the expanded playoff format,” Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball operations, said. “Due to the increased number of postseason games, we had to ensure that the regular season would end on time.”
Though the postseason format is spelled out in the recently signed collective bargaining agreement, there is discretion when it comes to the specifics of the tiebreaker rules that will allow the league to examine the impact and make changes if needed. As players and teams realize the stakes, the new rules could also lead to a further emphasis on head-to-head matchups.
“If they beat us, more than we beat them, it should go to them, so I’m totally fine with the rule,” St. Louis Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “Our job is to not lose, so if someone did that better than us, then you go home.”
That will be highlighted more starting next year when each team will play only 13 games — down from 19 — within its own division. And the results in the first year of the new format already show the added importance of beating other teams with playoff hopes in head-to-head intraleague matchups.
“When we played the Padres, it was not like we put more of an emphasis on winning those games versus any other games,” Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said in an email. “However, after we won the series, we did discuss how big this series could become.”
The Phillies are just ahead of the Padres in the NL wild-card race, and though both teams might get in, their seed will be determined by the tiebreaker system if the two teams have the same record after 162.
Philadelphia won its season series against both San Diego (4-3) and Milwaukee (4-2), so it would win any tiebreakers between either of those NL teams. The Brewers now understand the task at hand: Beat the opponents above them by at least a game to take the tiebreaker out of it. Otherwise, it’ll be a heartbreaking end to their season.
“You are treating every game as an important game, but there’s a game the next day and the next day and the next day,” Counsell said. “You have to manage with both concepts in mind every day.”
What the new tiebreaker rules look like
With the new procedures already affecting this season’s homestretch, here are the five rules that govern tiebreakers:
Head-to-head record: Self-explanatory. And if more than two teams tie, then the team with the best combined winning percentage against the other teams wins the tiebreaker.
Intradivision record: If the head-to-head records are tied — this would happen only between wild-card teams that played an even number of games — then the best record within their own divisions determines the winner.
Interdivision record: If the first two tiebreakers don’t settle it, then the next one rates teams’ records within their own leagues but not including their own divisions.
Second-half intraleague games: If teams are still tied by this point, a winner will be determined by the winning percentage of each team within its own league over the final 81 games of the season.
Second-half intraleague games plus one (or more): If teams remain tied after the first four tiebreakers, then a winner will be determined by working backward from the final intraleague game of the first half until the tie is broken.
It should be noted, there are extreme scenarios, such as five-team ties, that the league doesn’t have an exact answer for. In these instances, there’s a clause that kicks in that would call for “commissioner’s discretion.” In other words, Rob Manfred might be choosing which team makes the postseason and which team doesn’t — though the scenario is far-fetched.
What does it all mean for this season’s races?
There are many close races this season, so there’s a chance that the tiebreakers could come into play. That being said, there is little to no chance of needing to use more than the first tiebreaker in any scenario this year. Either way, let’s take a look at how the new procedures impact some of the more exciting playoff and divisional races.
National League East: The New York Mets lead the season series over the Atlanta Braves 9-7. If the Braves sweep the final three games against New York, they’ll win the tiebreaker; otherwise, the Mets will come out on top. The winner will be the likely No. 2 seed and will get a bye. The loser will host a first-round playoff series.
NL Wild Card: As stated above, the Brewers lose a tiebreaker to both the Padres and the Phillies, while Philadelphia wins one over San Diego.
The White Sox currently lose tiebreakers to both teams, but they still have a chance to flip that script. They’ll need to sweep the Guardians this week in Chicago to win that season series, while they’re 6-7 against the Twins this season with six games left to play.
Cleveland has already won its season series with the Twins, so Minnesota would have to win one more game than the Guardians to beat them out for the division title.
AL Wild Card: This is where a tie has the best chance of occurring. The Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays are neck and neck for all three wild-card spots. The two bottom teams of a tiebreaker won’t get a home game in the best-of-three first round.
The Mariners win a tiebreaker with the Blue Jays but lose one against the Rays. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay leads the season series with Toronto 8-7 with four games remaining between the teams.
The new system — and the elimination of game No. 163 — is bound to create some headlines if head-to-head records bounce someone from the playoffs or deliver a bye to a division winner. This year still has all the possibilities.
Georgia’s Bennett arrested for public intoxication
Former Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to their second straight CFP National Championship earlier this month, was arrested on a misdemeanor public intoxication charge in Dallas on Sunday morning.
In a statement to ESPN, a Dallas Police Department spokesperson said officers responded to a report of a man banging on doors in the 1600 block of Tribeca Way at 7:10 a.m. ET on Sunday.
“The preliminary investigation found when officers arrived, they located the man, Stetson Bennett, 25, and determined he was intoxicated,” the police statement read. “Bennett was taken into custody, transported to the City Detention Center and charged with public intoxication.”
Bennett left the detention center Sunday morning, but he could not be reached for comment.
Bennett, who started his college career as a walk-on, was a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season, after leading the Bulldogs to a 15-0 record and SEC championship. He passed for 4,127 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for another 10 scores.
Bennett was named the offensive MVP in both of Georgia’s victories in the CFP, a 42-41 comeback win against Ohio State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and a 65-7 rout of TCU in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T.
Bennett, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, is considered a potential selection in April’s NFL draft. He recently won the Manning Award, which is given to the top quarterback in the FBS by the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Sources: Ex-Buffs QB Shrout picks Arkansas St.
Shrout visited Arkansas State over the weekend and his commitment looms as a significant win for Butch Jones, who is entering his third season as Arkansas State’s head coach.
Shrout will graduate from Colorado this spring and plans to enroll at Arkansas State in May, according to sources. He has one year of eligibility remaining and potentially a second if he gets a medical redshirt after missing the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL.
Shrout most recently played at Colorado in 2022, where he threw for 1,220 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions and delivered the game-winning touchdown pass against Cal in overtime in Colorado’s lone victory of the season. He started seven games at Colorado and had one start during his three seasons at Tennessee (2018-2020).
Shrout is one of three Buffaloes quarterbacks who have entered the NCAA transfer portal since the school hired Deion Sanders as head coach. Sanders has made it clear that his son, Shedeur, will be the starter next season. He introduced him at his opening news conference by saying, “This is your quarterback.”
According to sources, Shrout was attracted to the potential opportunity at Arkansas State, including playing in offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf’s West Coast-style offense. Shrout also had some teammates at Tennessee who played for Jones, and sources said the former teammates endorsed Jones both as a person and a coach.
Arkansas State (3-9) ranked No. 118 in total offense last season and No. 85 in scoring offense. The Red Wolves open the 2023 season at Oklahoma on Sept. 2.
Sources: Harbaugh, Broncos meet but no deal
Broncos owner Greg Penner and University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh met last week in Ann Arbor to discuss Denver’s head-coaching position without any deal materializing, league sources told ESPN.
Although Harbaugh two weeks ago announced he was staying at Michigan, Penner did his due diligence and still traveled to Ann Arbor to meet with the coach in person, like he’s done with seven other candidates during the Broncos’ head-coaching search.
The follow-up conversations were part of the process for both Denver — led by Penner with general manager George Paton — and Harbaugh. The face-to-face meeting came after Harbaugh’s initial video interview with Denver, after which he pulled his name out of contention and reaffirmed his commitment to Michigan.
“I love the relationships that I have at Michigan — coaches, staff, families, administration, president Santa Ono and especially the players and their families,” Harbaugh said in his statement Jan. 16. “My heart is at the University of Michigan. I once heard a wise man say, ‘Don’t try to out-happy, happy.’ Go Blue!”
The Broncos moved on as well, continuing their discussions with several other candidates. Denver has interviewed former Saints coach Sean Payton, former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell, former Stanford coach David Shaw, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and their own defensive coordinator, Ejiro Evero.
Harbaugh now has met with the Vikings and Broncos in back-to-back years. While one source wondered how many more chances Harbaugh would get, another league source said “The league is likely to be interested in Jim as long as he is successfully coaching. He’s proven at every level including the NFL. That’s a hard resume to match.”
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