Having clinched the NL Central last night, but having failed to catch the Braves, the Cubs have locked in the number three seed for this year’s odd playoff format (eight teams, eight seeds, 1 plays 8, 2 plays 7, etc.). That means they’ll play the 6th seed, which will be the second place finisher among the three divisions with the worst record.
We know that isn’t going to be the Padres, but what about the second place teams in the NL East or NL Central? Well, we know that the Marlins will finish in second place in the East, and they can finish at 30-30 or 31-29, depending on whether they beat the Yankees today.
The Central, though? It’s really tricky.
Let’s start with the easy scenario: if the Cardinals win today, the Cubs will play the Marlins in the opening round.
Here’s why: The Cardinals (29-28) and Reds (30-29) are functionally tied, but the Cardinals do have an incrementally better winning percentage. And since the Cardinals have to play their make-up doubleheader against the Tigers tomorrow *only* if it would decide the teams that make the playoffs or the teams that get home-field advantage, that means if the Cardinals win today, that’s it for them. They finish second in the Central at 30-28, they’d have a slightly better record than the Marlins, and thus the Cubs would play the Marlins in the opening round.
But what happens if the Cardinals lose to the Brewers today?
Well, ultimately, I’m saying it’s still likely to be the Marlins for the Cubs, but getting there is super complex.
In the case of a Cardinals loss today, the Reds could slide into second place with a win, and the Cardinals would have to play their doubleheader tomorrow only if it means the difference between them having a shot at a Wild Card and not (which I think would require the Giants to win today?). But if that happens, and the Cardinals then sweep the doubleheader, they’d finish tied with the Reds. And the Cardinals have the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Reds, so they’d suddenly move right back into second place at 31-29. In that scenario, if the Marlins had won today to also finish at 31-29, then the Cardinals hold the intradivision record tiebreaker over the Marlins, so the Marlins would once again finish with the “worse” second place record, and the Cubs would get them in the opening round.
How about if EVERYBODY loses? Cardinals, Reds, and Marlins? Well, that means all of those teams – plus the Brewers – finish at .500. The Giants, fighting for a Wild Card, could also finish at .500. So it’s a shitload of tiebreakers at that point, and the three teams in the Central would each hold tiebreakers against each other in head-to-head records, which I BELIEVE would give second place to the Reds based on their record in their last 20 games. And theirs is also better than the Marlins, so I think that would mean the Reds finish ahead of the Marlins, and thus, again, the Cubs get the Marlins in the opening round.
This stuff is (1) new, (2) complicated, and (3) once-in-a-lifetime, so I could absolutely be wrong about the interplay of some of these “five teams are tied” tiebreakers.
But I’m pretty sure, in the vast majority of scenarios, the Cubs wind up getting the Marlins in the opening round as the three and six seeds. If you want that match-up (I do), and if you want things to be simple, then just root for the Cardinals today? I guess?