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Major League Baseball tie-breaking procedures

Because inclusion in the Major League Baseball postseason is based upon the teams' regular-season records, procedures exist to break ties between teams.

In common parlance, the Major League Baseball postseason is described as "the playoffs", for consistency with the nomenclature of other professional leagues (i.e. NFL Playoffs, NBA Playoffs, etc.). However, the term "playoff" is only used by Major League Baseball to describe tie-breaking games that determine postseason berths. Games after the regular season are officially referred to as postseason games.

Ties between two teams

Two-way tie for the division or wildcard

Main article: One-game playoff

One-game tiebreakers are played between teams tied for a division championship or a league's second wildcard berth. These games are to be played the day after the season is scheduled to end. Home-field advantage is determined using the rules listed below ("Breaking Ties Without Playoff Games").

From the implementation of the wildcard in 1994 to the end of the 2011 season, a different rule was in place. Two teams tied for a division did not play a tiebreaker if their records were better than all non-division winners in their league. Instead, such a tie was broken using the rules listed below ("Breaking Ties Without Playoff Games"). This scenario happened in the 2005 Major League Baseball season when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox tied for first place in the American League East. The Yankees were awarded the division title on account of a better head-to-head record against the Red Sox, while Boston received the wildcard berth.

With, however, the adoption of a second wildcard berth and a wildcard game beginning in the 2012 season, the non-division winner with the best record in the league faces possible elimination on the first day of the postseason. As a result, the tie-breaking rules were changed so that two teams tied for a division championship must play a tie- breaking game even if both teams have already qualified for the postseason. The team losing the tie-breaking game will now qualify for a wildcard berth only if its regular-season record is among the league's two best records for non-division-winners. If that team is tied for the second wild-card spot, a second tie-breaking game would then be played.

If, on the other hand, two teams are tied for the first wildcard slot, no tie-breaking game is played. Rather, the two teams simply play against each other in the wildcard game, with home-field advantage awarded using tie-breaking rules described in the next section.

Breaking ties without playoff games

  1. The team with the best record in head to head play.
  2. The team with the best overall record in intradivision games.
  3. The team with the best overall record in intraleague games.
  4. The team with the best record in the final 81 games of the season, ignoring interleague play.
  5. The team with the best record in the final 82 games of the season (provided the game added is not between the tied teams), extending backward until the tie is broken (Interleague games are skipped and ignored in this process.)

Ties between two division winners

If two champions from separate divisions have the same record, the tiebreaking procedure listed above is used to determine playoff seeding. No additional games are played.

Ties among multiple teams

Playoff games for multiple-way ties

Tied teams are designated as A, B, C, and D. Choice for one of these designations is first given to the team winning the tie-breakers (listed below). While A is usually the "best" designation, there are some scenarios where C has a different path to the postseason. If a division title is up for grabs, then those divisional teams will select from the first designations (A, B,...).

On Day 1, A will host B and C will host D (if there is no fourth team, C will be considered to have won this game). Games on Day 2 may occur as follows:

  1. If the teams are all competing for 1 playoff spot then the A/B winner will host the C/D winner for that spot.
  2. If 3 teams, not all tied for the same division lead, are competing for 2 playoff spots, C will host the A/B loser for the second spot.
  3. If 4 teams were competing for 3 playoff spots, then the A/B loser will host the C/D loser for the final wild-card spot.
  4. If 2 teams, tied for the same division's lead, both win on Day 1, then the A/B winner will host the C/D winner to determine the division title. The loser of this Day 2 game will earn any remaining wild card spot.

Determining team designations

The order in which teams pick their designations (A, B, C, D) will be determined by the following 5-step tie-breaking system. If there is a tie for both wild card and division title spots, then the first designations will match teams competing for their division title.

  1. Winning/Losing every series against each of the other tied teams
  2. Winning percentage among all tied teams
  3. Winning percentage in intradivision games
  4. Winning percentage in the last half of intraleague play
  5. If still tied, the next most recent intraleague game is added into this winning percentage (skipping games between tied teams) until not all teams are tied.

If at any given step some, but not all, teams remain tied, then those teams that are still tied revert back to Step 1.