If baseball’s new tiebreaker rules had been in place years ago, Bucky Dent and Bobby Thomson probably wouldn’t be household names.
With the postseason expanding to 12 teams this year, if two teams end up deadlocked for a division title or playoff spot, there will no longer be a one-game playoff to break those ties. Instead, head-to-head record from the regular season is used to determine the winner – with other tiebreakers possible if head-to-head can’t separate the teams.
The new system made for a suspenseful weekend in Atlanta as the Braves and New York Mets jockeyed not only for first place in the NL East, but for supremacy in their season series. Atlanta swept three games from the Mets to take a two-game lead in the division – and edge New York 10-9 in 19 head-to-head matchups.
So the Braves are now in a commanding position to win the division and knock New York down to a wild card. Atlanta has a two-game lead with three to play – and would still be the NL East champ if the teams end up even.
It’s a similar situation in the race for the final wild card in the National League. Philadelphia leads Milwaukee by two games with three to play, but the fact that the Phillies hold the tiebreaker makes them an even heavier favorite to hold on.
”It does work into our favor,” Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said. ”The rules are the rules. If I were on the flip side of this, it would be a little tough to take, to tell you the truth.”
Eliminating tiebreaker games removes some of the scheduling uncertainty between the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason, but it also takes away the drama of one game with everything on the line. If the Brewers and Phillies finish tied, they won’t face each other for the right to make the playoffs. Instead, that will be determined by games they played against each other in April and June.
It’s anticlimactic compared to Dent’s home run, which helped the New York Yankees defeat Boston in a one-game playoff for the 1978 AL East title. In 1951, the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers tied for first in the National League. A best-of-three playoff broke that deadlock, with Thomson hitting a pennant-winning homer for the Giants.
Still, there are arguments in favor of the new rules that go beyond scheduling convenience. If two teams finish tied, what’s a better way to separate them – using one game at the end of the season, or a bunch of games they played against each other already?
”You don’t have to have an individual game to decide it,” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said before his team secured the tiebreaker over the Mets. ”If it’s an in-division opponent, you’ve played them 15 to 20 times or whatever, so kind of let that be the determining factor for who deserves the nod.”
If those 1951 and 1978 races had been decided with head-to-head tiebreakers, who would have won?
LINE OF THE WEEK
Another phenomenal season for Shohei Ohtani is drawing to a close, and he is still making the most of his opportunities to amaze. On Thursday night, Ohtani took a no-hitter into the eighth inning as the Los Angeles Angels beat the Oakland Athletics 4-2.
Ohtani ended up allowing two hits and striking out 10 in eight scoreless innings. He also extended his hitting streak to 14 games that night.
COMEBACK OF THE WEEK
Although the week ended in a sour fashion for the Mets, it could have gone even worse. They trailed the Miami Marlins 4-0 in the seventh inning Wednesday night when Eduardo Escobar rallied them.
Escobar hit a two-run homer in the seventh, a two-run single in the eighth and a single in the 10th that gave New York a 5-4 victory.
The Dodgers would have won the 1951 pennant by virtue of a 13-9 record against the Giants, and the Yankees would have won the AL East in 1978 by going 8-7 against the Red Sox.
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich and George Henry contributed to this report.
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