With Monday night’s 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins, the Cleveland Indians find themselves five games back of the second Wild Card spot; the furthest they have been from the playoffs since September 15. Time has seemingly been running out for the Tribe since May, but now they have only six games to make up those five games and attempt to stumble into the playoffs. Can it be done? Sure. Will it? Ehhhhhhhhhhhh.
There are essentially three ways the Indians make into the playoffs at this point: The best case scenario (where the Tribe win out and get a lot of help), the worst case scenario (where the Tribe lose one and still get a lot of help), and total insanity (where it’s totally insane).
Best case scenario: Indians win out, everyone else loses
This best-case scenario is straightforward. If the Indians win out, and the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, and Los Angeles Angels all lose the rest of their games, the Indians best hope is to win a makeup game against the Detroit Tigers on October 5, or a tiebreak game against the Astros. Even with winning their next six games while the other three have a total, simultaneous collapse, the Tribe would get into the playoffs by only one game at best. By season’s end, the final standings would be the following:
- Cleveland Indians (83-78)
- Houston Astros (83-79)
- Los Angeles Angels (82-80)
- Minnesota Twins (81-81)
The Tribe would need to play the Detroit Tigers on October 5 as a makeup game for their postponed September 12 bout. If the Indians lost that game against Detroit, they would be tied with the Astros, which would mean a single tiebreak game would be played between Houston and Cleveland. If the Indians beat Detroit, they are in.
Even in this best-case scenario, at most the Astros can only one win game over their final five remaining. If that happens, the Indians and Tigers would have to play that makeup game, but with more at stake. If the Indians win, their record would be tied with the Astros and they would again need to play in a tiebreak game to advance. If the Indians lost, they would be out.
At most, for the Tribe to still make the playoffs, the Twins and Angels could each win two of their last six games. The Twins going 2-4 over their last six would put them at 83-79, requiring the Tribe to play their makeup game against Detroit. If the Twins and Indians records are tied, a tiebreak game would be played, but if the Indians win their makeup game against Detroit, they'd finish with an 84-78 record -- one better than the two-win Twins. So it would be a win and you’re in for the Indians against the Tigers.
Conversely, the Indians have a 4-2 record against the Angels, so if the Angels win two more games and finish with an 84-78 record, the Indians would have a similar scenario, wherein they play the Tigers in an attempt to tie the Angels record and hope to win a tiebreak game.
Worst case scenario: Indians lose one, still require a lot of help
In this worst case scenario where the Indians still make the playoffs, they could drop one game against the Twins or one in their final series of the season against the Boston Red Sox – that’s it. And Houston would still have to lose all six of their games.
If the Indians lose one more against the Twins, they would need the Twins to lose their remaining five to keep their record as low as 82-80. Such an outcome would require the Indians to play their makeup game against Detroit. If they win, they're in with a record of 83-79. If they lose they'd be tied at 82-80 and forced to play a tiebreak game against the Twins.
No matter which team the Indians lose one against, they still need the Astros to lose out, and they would still need to play their makeup game against Detroit to tie the Astros record and play in a tiebreak game.
That is how tight this thing is. Even with all the help in the world, even if the other three teams go a combined 1-17 over their last six games, the Indians can only afford one loss from here on out.
Total Insanity: Everyone ties, fire rains from the sky, stock market crashes, Browns win the Super Bowl, moon explodes into a thousand pieces, Shadow the Hedgehog emerges from a dormant volcano to enslave humanity
So here is the fun scenario. Assuming the Astros lose out, the Twins go 2-4, the Angels go 1-5, and the Indians go 6-1 (including a win over the Tigers in their makeup game), we enter total insanity territory. That would leave four teams tied for the final Wild Card spot and give us a final day of the regular season that would rival 2012’s legendary Day 162.
Take a deep breath, grab a pen, and get ready to double check some things, because this is about to get confusing.
For starters, each team would need to put into A, B, C, and D designations, according to MLB’s rules for a four-team tie. This is fairly straightforward; it goes by the win/loss record of each team among the four teams, with the highest winning percentage choosing their designation first. Here win/loss records, for each team (assuming the Indians win their next three against the Twins for the sake of simplicity and because I am allowed to optimistic):
- Indians (18-14)
- Angels (16-16)
- Astros (15-17)
- Twins (15-17)
Oh, great. The Twins and Astros are tied among games between these four teams. Now we have to go deeper, which in this case, means looking at the intradivisional records of the Twins and Astros.
The Twins are 40-36 against the AL Central (remember, they lose the final three against the Indians in my personal wonderland, and they’d also have to win two out of three against the Kansas City Royals in their final series for the four-way tie to happen), and the Astros are 37-39 against the AL West (assuming they lose the next two against the Seattle Mariners). This means that the Twins get to choose their designation.
From here, each club gets to choose their A/B/C/D designations in this order: Indians, Angels, Twins, Astros. In MLB's four-team tie scenario, Club A hosts Club B, while Club C hosts Club D. This means, most likely, the Indians would choose to be Club A and the Angels would choose to be Club C in order to ensure they both get home games. That would leave the Twins choosing which team they would rather play. If they want to play the Indians, they choose to be Club B, if they want to face the Angels they choose Club D. The Astros would be left with whatever designation the Twins do not choose.
Getting back to the Indians, this means that they would have to beat the Twins or the Astros, and the winner between the Angels and either the Twins or the Astros (whichever one the Indians do not face). The good news is, thanks to their excellent record among these four teams, the Indians would have home field advantage throughout this mini-playoff. Of course, the MLB has never had a three-team tie, let alone a four-team tie, so this scenario is far out there,to say the least, but it's still an option.
Then, after all this, the Indians would have to compete in the actual playoffs, starting with a one-game Wild Card against the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. Good luck.