With the Dodgers sporting what I would call a muscular 11 1/2-game lead in the National League West (and a magic number of 16 with 26 games to play) after their second consecutive 2-1 victory over San Diego, I’m finding it nearly impossible not to speculate about potential postseason matchups.
Even if all three teams from the National League Central make the playoffs as a division champion and the two wild cards, there could be an extra playoff game that might delay Los Angeles, if it goes on to win the division, learning who its first postseason opponent is.
Based on MLB rules changes that came in with the creation of the second wild-card spot in each league, if two teams tie for first place in the NL Central, they would have a playoff game to determine the division champ and first wild card. Presumably, that game would take place Monday, September 30, the day after the regular season ends. (If it’s between Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the Pirates would host that game, based on having won the season series with the Cardinals.)
The loser of that divisional playoff game – or without such a game, the top wild-card finisher, would host the second wild-card team in the one-game showdown on Tuesday, October 1.
The winner of the wild-card game will then travel to the home of the team with the best record in the league for a best-of-five NL Division Series that would probably begin on Thursday, October 3. Unlike last year, the division series will be in a 2-2-1 format.
The NL Division Series between the division champs that don’t have the best record in the league would probably begin on Wednesday, October 2.
The Dodgers currently hold the No. 2 spot in the NL. Though they have closed within two games of Atlanta, they actually need to make up three games to pass them, because head-to-head records will serve as tiebreakers for playoff seeding. Here’s how the Dodgers have fared against their fellow playoff contenders this year:
Arizona: 5-7 with seven games to play
Cincinnati: 3-1 with three games to play
St. Louis: 4-3
If all three contenders in the NL Central finish the regular season tied, with the division champion and two wild-card slots at their disposal, that’s when it gets really interesting. Head-to-head records would be used to determine placement of the three clubs, and then there would be two playoff games.
The loser of the first game would be a wild-card team. The winner of the first game would play the remaining contender from the division in the second game. The winner of the second game would be the division champion, while the loser of the second game would be the other wild card.
For more insight, you can look at last year’s MLB postseason tiebreaker guide.