Yesterday, the San Francisco Giants beat the Los Angeles Dodgers by a final score of 2-0.
The St. Louis Cardinals also beat the Colorado Rockies by a score of 10-5, and the New York Mets lost a close one to the last-place Atlanta Braves for the second straight night.
The result: a three-way tie for the NL Wild Card.
With just eleven games left in the regular season, there is currently a three-way tie for the National League Wild Card between the Cardinals, Mets, and Giants (one from each division, that’s fun). Each team has exactly 80 wins and 71 loses with under two weeks to go, which means there’s an outside shot that the season might end with a three-way tie.
In that scenario each of the three competitors will have to play at least once* before the actual one-game Wild Card playoff is held. And if that (admittedly unlikely, but completely plausible) scenario bears out, there will be one very happy Theo Epstein in Chicago.
At CSN Chicago, Patrick Mooney discussed the potential and desirability of a one-game playoff before the Wild Card game and Theo Epstein was quite clearly rooting for that outcome. “We hope there’s a three-way tie — and then there’s about a 20-inning game to decide who plays on Tuesday (Oct. 4). And then the Tuesday game goes about 30 innings. And rain delays to push (the Wild Card and) make it a Thursday game.”
In other words, “Yes, please.”
And his logic is fairly sound. A one-game Wild Card already requires a team’s best starter (not to mention the bullpen), assuming he’s made available for that do-or-die game, just before a five-game set. The added stress and logistics of rearranging your rotation for two (or three*) one-game playoffs, just before a five-game set will definitely give the advantage to your opponent (in this case, the Chicago Cubs). And while you might argue that a team’s ace might then get the chance to pitch in game 2 (instead of game 3) of the NLDS, asking him to go out again in game 5 will be a tall order.
In that scenario, he’d be pitching on October 4 (game 163), October 8 (Game 2, NLDS) and October 13 (Game 5 NLDS) – three starts in nine days is not something many pitchers can do at all, let alone successfully.
There are some light disadvantages to a three-way tie, however, one of them being scouting. According to Epstein the Cubs are well down the road in the advance scouting process for the playoffs, but obviously two teams is easier than three. I have no doubt the Cubs have the personnel and infrastructure to cover any or all of the three teams at once, but narrowing it down to two can only help.
In addition there’ll roster implications to consider, but then again, the Cubs won’t know who they’re playing until the night of the Wild Card game anyway, so there’s not too much rush in that regard.
However things may ultimately shake out, there’s no question that a three-team tie is the most desirable outcome for the Cubs. Tiring out the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, or Carlos Martinez as much as possible before a five-game series can be hugely important.
Hopefully, then, each team stays course.
*(From Brett: The relevant tiebreaker rules here basically say that the “top” team among the three Wild Card possibilities hosts the second team for a one-gamer, with the winner advancing to THE Wild Card Game. The loser then heads to the home of the third team, where they play a one-gamer, with the winner advancing to the Wild Card Game. So, at a minimum, all three teams would have played at least once before the Wild Card Game, itself, and it’s possible that one of them would have played twice.)
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