Race for second NL wild card could be wild

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
11:40
AM ET
As you stare at the National League standings Wednesday morning, you can have only one thought:

Bud Selig is a genius.

And why is that? Because there is only one race that's saving this entire league from being declared by the surgeon general to be officially irrelevant. And guess which race that is:

Why, it's the race for that newfangled second wild card. Of course!

The Reds lead the NL Central by 10.5 games. The Nationals lead the East by 7.5. The Giants lead the West by 6. And if MLB had only one wild-card team advancing to October, the Braves would hold a 5.5-game lead for that spot.

Ah, but add in that second wild card, and it transforms the interest level in this league's stretch drive from, "When's the season premiere of 'How I Met Your Mother'?" to "Wow, this wild-card race is awesome."

Five teams within four games? Six teams within five games? The Brewers and Phillies back from the dead? You just can't beat that, ladies and gentlemen.

And it's all because the commissioner pushed every button on his all-powerful "I'm the commissioner" remote to make this happen THIS year instead of taking the advice of, oh, every other single human in baseball and waiting a year.

So Bud, thanks. Thanks for the fun.

But now this important message ...

In three weeks, we might not be proclaiming the commish to be quite the visionary genius he appears to be at this precise moment in time.

In three weeks, you see, we might be looking at the first week of the postseason and asking, "Holy schmoly, what was Bud thinking?"

That's because those tiebreaker possibilities are mounting. And if any of them actually happens, a total scheduling fiasco would ensue.

In last week's Rumblings and Grumblings, we laid out the mess that even a two-way tie between the Cardinals and Dodgers could splatter over the October landscape. But now, as the Cardinals (4-10 in their past 14 games) and Dodgers (5-10 in their past 15 games) keep plummeting back toward the pack, it's time to consider the wildness that just about any three-way tie would create.

Let's lay out just one potential scenario for you.

Say the Cardinals, Dodgers and Brewers all tie. Thanks to rules way too convoluted to run through here, the Brewers, at least for the moment, would get to pick the format of a three-way tiebreaker. They could choose to play two home games to decide that spot or one road game. And we'd guess they'd opt to play once, not twice. So ...

On the day after the end of the season (Thursday, Oct. 4), the Cardinals and Dodgers would play a tiebreaker game. That game, for now, would be played in Los Angeles (because the Dodgers lead that season series 4-3 heading into the four-game series between those teams in L.A. this weekend).

So that would set up this potential schedule:

Thursday: Cardinals at Dodgers

Friday: Brewers at Cardinals, or Brewers at Dodgers

Saturday: Winner of tiebreaker at Braves

Sunday: Wild-card survivor hosts Reds or Nationals

But wait. That's just the schedule that baseball would LIKE to see happen. But because of the absurd travel that could be involved, there's an excellent chance that schedule wouldn't be permitted to happen by the proper authorities.

For instance, if the Cardinals play a night game in St. Louis on Wednesday to finish the regular season as currently scheduled, they would then have to play a night game in L.A. on Thursday. So if they win, the powers that be wouldn't allow them to travel all night and play the Brewers later that day in St. Louis.

And that means the Friday tiebreaker game would get pushed back to Saturday. And the wild-card game (which was supposed to be played FRIDAY) then wouldn't get played until SUNDAY. And the Division Series (which was supposed to start Sunday) then wouldn't begin until MONDAY.

There would be a similar fiasco if the Dodgers win that Thursday game. They would then host the Brewers on Friday. But would MLB then force them to fly 2,220 miles and play that wild-card game in Atlanta on Saturday? Doubtful. So that, too, would result in a Sunday wild-card showdown.

But hang on. It gets more complicated. Remember, nobody would know what city that Division Series would start in until the wild-card game was over -- meaning the No. 1 seed, the Nationals or Reds, would have to sit around Sunday, potentially not knowing whether they were playing Game 1 in the Eastern time zone (if the Braves win) or the Pacific time zone (if the Dodgers win) THE NEXT DAY.

And because the schedule would already be so massively backed up, it's possible the Division Series then might have to be played with no travel days, meaning teams might have to use all five of their starting pitchers. Beautiful.

Now, not every three-way-tie scenario would get quite that complicated. But under any circumstances, trying to jam multiple tiebreaker games into an overcrowded schedule would not be pretty.

Here, for entertainment purposes, are some other possibilities:

Cardinals-Dodgers-Phillies tie

The Dodgers (9-5) have the best head-to-head record, for now. So here's the most likely schedule if these teams tie:

Thursday: Cardinals at Phillies

Friday: Dodgers at Cardinals-Phillies winner

Saturday or Sunday: Winner at Braves

Cardinals-Dodgers-Pirates tie

The Dodgers (10-4) have the best head-to-head record among these teams. So here's their most likely scenario:

Thursday: Cardinals at Pirates

Friday: Dodgers at Cardinals-Pirates winner

Saturday or Sunday: Winner at Braves

Cardinals-Pirates-Phillies tie

The Phillies (8-6) win the head-to-head battle. So their most likely schedule:

Thursday: Cardinals at Pirates

Friday: Phillies at Cardinals-Pirates winner

Saturday: Winner at Braves

Cardinals-Phillies-Brewers tie

The Phillies (10-4) are the head-to-head winner. So here's how these three would be likely to line up:

Thursday: Brewers at Cardinals

Friday: Phillies at Cardinals-Brewers winner

Saturday: Winner at Braves

We could go on here. But you get the idea. If there's any kind of two-way tie, the schedule makers would be scrambling. But if there's any potential three-way tie, there won't be enough Tylenol in the world to get them through that mess.

And what if there's a four-way tie? Or a five-way tie? Or a six-way tie? Aw, what the heck. We're still guaranteed to get the World Series over with before Thanksgiving.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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