Good news, bad news, weekend madness

The Mariners were off today, so all eyes in Mariner Nation were on scoreboard-watch duty. Or other-game-watch duty, in my case; I watched the Yankees defeat the Blue Jays, which while beneficial to the Mariners was disappointing to me because, you know, Yankees.

Anyway, there was good news on the scoreboards today: The hapless, pathetic 107-loss Baltimore Orioles pulled off a win against the Boston Red Sox, giving Boston an identical record to that of Your Seattle Mariners. Both teams now share the lead for the second Wild Card berth. Which, given the Mariners' offense all year, is truly astounding. Three games left to play and the M's are holding a playoff position.*

There was also bad news: The Houston Astros beat the Rays to clinch the division and eliminate the Mariners from the American League West race. It's the latest point in the season that the M's have been eliminated from the division race since 2000, when they finished ½ game behind the A's and rules of the day didn't allow for the possibility of tying Oakland for the division title and the Mariners were instead named the AL's Wild Card team.

So the fantastical notion of somehow tying Houston for the division title and playing a 1995-like Game 163 for the AL West crown is no more, but the scenarios for the Wild Card are still very, very much in play as we go into the final weekend of the season.

Here's where we stand right now:

AL West division   AL Wild Card 
3 left to play W L GB   3 left to play W L GB
Houston 93 66   New York 91 68 +2
Seattle 89 70 4   Boston 89 70
          Seattle 89 70
          Toronto 88 71 1

It no longer matters what the Astros do in their final series with Oakland; all Houston is playing for is home field in the AL Division Series against the White Sox. (Which is a side bit of interest—the ALDS will be a rematch of the 2005 World Series, when the Astros were still a National League team.) All suspense is now relegated to the Wild Card race. Boston will be on the road, playing in DC against the Nationals. The Yankees will be home against Tampa Bay. Toronto will host the Orioles. And the Mariners, of course, are home playing the Angels.

So many potential outcomes here! All four teams could win one of their final three games, or two, or three, or none! Should all four teams post identical records over the three days, come late Sunday afternoon, we'll end up where we are now (more on that later). Otherwise, any possible combination could result! Any of the four could be the first Wild Card and any of them could be the second. We could get a four-way, three-way, or two-way tie. It boggles the mind!

Team Opp. ’21 record vs.
BOS WAS 0-0 (—)
NYY TB 7-9 (.438)
SEA LAA 10-6 (.625)
TOR BAL 11-5 (.688)

If I have the math right (and I may not, I'm a little tired), there are 64 potential final standings among the four clubs. The most fun would come into being if the Blue Jays sweep the Orioles and the Rays sweep the Yankees this weekend. That would give Toronto and New York 91 wins while Seattle and Boston could each have anywhere from 89-92. If the Yankees win any of their three games, then they're assured of at least a tiebreaker, so, you know, go Rays. A Mariners sweep of the Angels guarantees them at least a tiebreaker game; same goes for the Red Sox against the Nats.

My favorite of these possibilities would come to pass if the M's sweep the Angels, the Blue Jays sweep the Orioles, the Rays sweep the Yankees, and the Nats sweep the Red Sox. That gives Seattle the home field in the Wild Card game and forces the Yankees to play a Game 163 in Toronto first. But the potential for a tiebreaker game on Monday for someone is huge. 

The various tiebreakers are laid out thusly:

  • If two teams tie for the second berth, that would beget a Game 163 to be played between the two teams in question on Monday at the home field of whichever team has the better head-to-head record. The M's would be on the road for any of those as the only possible opponents are New York and Boston (Toronto's ceiling is 91 wins, which the Yankees already have).
  • Should three teams tie for both berths, then by virtue of their winning percentage against both other teams, one team would get to choose to be designated either Team A, B, or C. Presumably they would choose A—that way they have two chances to win—leaving the others as B and C. A would then host B on Monday; the winner would be the top Wild Card team. The loser would then host C in a game on Tuesday, the winner of which would be the visiting team in the official Wild Card game the next night.
  • If we get three teams tying for the second berth, it's the A-B-C routine again with winning percentage in games between the teams involved determining who's who. Teams A and B play Monday, the winner hosts Team C Tuesday for the honor of playing the Wild Card game Wednesday.
  • The four-way tie scenario has head-to-head records in play again, with Boston getting to choose their slot. Toronto would get the next choice, then New York. Presumably, Boston would choose to be Team A and Toronto Team C, since that means they'd play at home; the Yankees would pick which team they'd prefer to play, leaving the M's with whomever is left. These two games would be played Monday, then the winners of the two games would be given first- and second-Wild Card designations based on (yep) head-to-head records.

Couldn't have asked for a better final weekend. Especially considering the uncertainty surrounding the Mariners as the season began. Bring on the Angels!

* I still have difficulty accepting the idea that the Wild Card game itself is part of the official playoffs. I mean, it's a play-in. If you win it, great, celebrate making the postseason tourney. If you lose, well, how is that really any different than losing a Game 163 ala 1995? No, even though I like the current Wild Card setup with the do-or-die game, I'll consider the Division Series to be the real start of the postseason. I don't want to see a banner up in the ballpark celebrating a loss in the play-in game...