Like 'Who's on first?', game fields confusion Wild-card scenarios get complicated

September 21, 1995|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

$TC The baseball world used to be a relatively simple place, where the best team in each division won -- with the possible exception of the Minnesota Twins in 1987 and '91 -- and the progress of each division race easily could be tracked on the out-of-town scoreboard.

It was so simple, in fact, that baseball owners even could understand it, and they quickly understood that they weren't getting all of the bang out of their late-season buck. So they realigned into six divisions and added a couple of wild-card playoff berths and basically left baseball fans so confused that several thousand still are showing up at Milwaukee County Stadium to cheer the Brewers into the postseason.

That was the whole idea. The addition of a wild-card race was intended to enhance attendance and broadcast revenues around the league by keeping a handful of marginal teams in the hunt throughout September. It really didn't seem very complicated -- the second-place team with the best record joins the three division winners in the playoffs -- but try telling that to anyone who's looked at the possible playoff pairings.

The wild-card winner in each league will play the division champion with the best won-lost record, but only if they don't play in the same division and the pairing does not conflict with the rotating system for determining home-field advantage.

For example, if the season had ended Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners would have won the wild-card berth, but could not play the team with the best record, the AL Central-champion Cleveland Indians.

A wild-card team can't have the home-field advantage, and the AL Central champ isn't scheduled to have the advantage this year, either. So the Mariners would play the first two games of the best-of-five series at home against the AL East-champion Boston Red Sox, and the Indians would face the AL West-champion California Angels.

That's what would have happened if the season were over, but after the crucial series that begins Monday between the slumping Angels and soaring Mariners, the Angels could be in second place and the Mariners could be the division champion, which would send the Red Sox to California and the Indians to Seattle.

And if the New York Yankees emerge as the wild card, they would play the Angels or Mariners, setting up an early showdown between the Red Sox and Indians.

Figure in 11 more days of regular-season play and several more wild-card possibilities in each league, and it's about as easy to explain as the last ownership luxury-tax proposal.

In Seattle, the situation is even more complex. Fans watching Tuesday night's game against the wild-card rival Texas Rangers also had to keep an eye on the California-Oakland Athletics score, monitor results of the King County stadium referendum and stay alert lest some Japanese company kidnap Ken Griffey and force him to accept $12 million per year to play for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

The two leagues tried to sort things out on Monday by determining the sites and matchups for every possible tiebreaker combination, but AL president Gene Budig and National League president Len Coleman had to perform so many coin tosses -- 20 -- that they both could be candidates for rotator cuff surgery.

The NL playoff picture is less clouded. The Braves and Reds are in, and all of the late-season suspense is coming from the NL West, where the Rockies and Dodgers will go head-to-head in a three-game series starting Monday.

The NL West titlist does not have home-field advantage for the divisional series, so it cannot play the wild card, but the Braves are all but assured of finishing with the best record in the league. They almost certainly will play the wild-card team, unless it's the long-shot Phillies, and the Reds will play the NL West champion.

If you're still confused, wait a week, and it all should clear up.

Playoff outlook

American League

If the AL wild-card team is the:

* New York Yankees, they would open at home against the West champion, and the Cleveland Indians would open against the Boston Red Sox.

* Kansas City Royals, they would open at home against the Red Sox, and the West champion would open at Cleveland.

* Seattle Mariners, they would open at home against the Red Sox, and the West champion would open at Cleveland.

* Texas Rangers, they would open at home against the Red Sox, and the West champion would open at Cleveland.

* California Angels, they would open at home against the Red Sox and the West champion would open at Cleveland.

National League

If the NL wild-card team is the:

* Los Angeles Dodgers, they would open at home against the Braves, and the Colorado Rockies would open at home against the Cincinnati Reds.

* Colorado Rockies, they would open at home against the Braves, and the Dodgers would open at home against the Reds.

* Houston Astros, they would open at home against the Braves, and the Dodgers or Rockies would open at home against the Reds.

* Philadelphia Phillies, they would open at home against the Reds, and the Dodgers or Rockies would open at home against the Braves.

Schedule

Date Time Network

Oct. 3 8 p.m. NBC

Oct. 4 8 p.m. NBC

Oct. 6 8 p.m. ABC

Oct. 7 7 p.m. ABC

Oct. 8 7 p.m. ABC

Note: Games will be televised regionally.

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