Red Sox

Here’s what happens if the Red Sox end up in an AL wild card tie

The Red Sox are still fighting to sew up an AL wild card berth with four games to play. Can they do it without having to play a tiebreaker?

Red Sox
Boston Red Sox's Rafael Devers (11) reacts with Xander Bogaerts after they both scored on a double by J.D. Martinez against the Orioles Wednesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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Get ready to book your tickets to the Heart Attack Hotel, Red Sox fans. These last few games are going to really stress out your cardiac health.

The Sox aren’t operating with a lot of room for error as they hold a tenuous one-game lead for the final AL wild card spot coming into Thursday’s action. After dropping what almost felt like it should’ve been a gimme Tuesday against the Orioles, the Sox got back on track in Baltimore Wednesday night with a 6-0 win behind J.D. Martinez’s hitting and Nathan Eovaldi’s pitching.

They needed that win, too, because this wild card race has reached almost unnecessarily levels of stressfulness with four games to go.

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Right now, the New York Yankees and Red Sox hold the two wild card spots in the American League. But literally everything about those standings can change in the next few games with four teams — the Yankees, Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners — all sitting within two games of each other.

The Yankees could fall out of the top spot and out of the race entirely with a few bad games to finish out their series with the Blue Jays and their upcoming three-game set with the AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays.

On the other hand, the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Mariners all get to close their seasons against losing teams, leaving the door open for all to play well and either solidify or move up in the standings.

With things so close, one very intriguing question has arisen: what happens if there’s a tie?

Having two teams knotted for a final spot playoff spot has been rare — single-game tie-breakers have only happened 12 times in MLB history. But it’s actually occurred several times since 2000. Three consecutive seasons from 2007-2009 ended in a Game 163 to determine a playoff berth (the Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins won them, respectively).

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The 2018 season even saw two tie-breakers in the National League, with the Los Angeles Dodgers (the Red Sox’ 2018 World Series opponents) claiming one of them to win the NL West.

Breaking down the scenarios

So what happens if two teams tie in the wild card standings this year? That depends on where the two squads end up.

If, say, two teams seized the two AL wild card spots with the same record, the point is basically moot: they’ll face off just as they would otherwise, with the team holding the tie-breaker in head-to-head meetings playing at home.

However, ESPN notes there’s still a solid chance of a two-team tie for the second wild card spot, which would trigger a Game 163 to see who gets to play in the actual wild card game.

After that, things get crazy.

There could conceivably be a three-way tie for two wild card spots, which would trigger a scenario where teams could choose to be Club A, B or C to determine matchups. (Club A and B are guaranteed two games, though A gets to play the first one at home. Club C only gets one chance to win into the wild card but gets to play that game at home).

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Assuming the Red Sox are one of those teams, they would have the first choice of whether to be Club A, B or C as they hold head-to-head tiebreakers over all the other teams. So Boston could be guaranteed two chances to get into the wild card and would host the first game at Fenway Park if they chose to be A. All they’d have to do is win once and get in in that case. If they lost, they could go on the road to face Club C with a shot to win into the wild card game.

If the Sox ended up in a three-way tie for the second wild card spot, however, things get more complex. Being Club A or B would mean having to win two games to advance while Club C, despite having to go on the road, only has to play and win once. With a 40-37 record away from Fenway Park, Boston might be tempted to take those odds.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of a four-way tie for two spots is much less likely at this point and also much more straightforward. In this case, there would simply be a standard playoff (e.g., Club A vs. Club B, Club C vs. Club D) with the two winners playing in the one-game wild card. Again, Boston could get an advantage in a tie situation because of its head-to-head success with each team.

Again, the Red Sox just have to focus on winning as many of their last four games as possible. Right now, they control their own destiny. As long as they take care of business against the Orioles and Washington Nationals, they’ll have their shot to make the playoffs.

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