Winning a baseball game means the same thing in the standings regardless of whether it's in April, August, or September. However, tonight's late August contest against the Cardinals means more to the Pirates than any game has meant all year. That's not to say that there won't be a more important game coming soon, but for right now we are patiently awaiting the biggest game that our hometown baseball team has played in quite some time.
The season series with the St. Louis Cardinals will be wrapped up tonight. Right now, the series is tied at seven wins a piece and the Cardinals lead the Pirates by two games in the Wild Card standings. The Reds are running away with the division and have a seven game lead on the Cardinals (which means they are nine games up on the Pirates). These two teams have only Wild Card hopes for the postseason, which means games they play against other Wild Card contenders are of elevated importance.
That's not the only reason this game is as big as it is. With the new Wild Card spot, new Wild Card tiebreaking rules came. If two teams are tied for a division lead or the second wild card berth, they will still play a one-game playoff to determine who makes the postseason. However, if two teams are tied for the first wild card spot, the tiebreaking procedures go like this:
- The team with the best record in head to head play.
- The team with the best overall record ignoring interleague play.
- The team with the best record in the final 81 games of the season, ignoring interleague play.
- The team with the best record in the final 82 games of the season, extending backward until the tie is broken (since teams in the same division play each other as many as 19 times, this step is guaranteed to break the tie. Interleague games are skipped and ignored in this process.)
If the Pirates win tonight and end up in a tie with the Cardinals for the first Wild Card spot, they will host the one game Wild Card series. That automatically makes them the favorite.
Now if there is a three way tie for the Wild Card (which very well could happen as the Dodgers and Giants are both very close to the records of the Cardinals and Pirates), there is an even more complex tiebreaking system. The three tied teams would be ranked by head-to-head record, and then the following would happen: Team A hosts Team B, winner gets first Wild Card spot, loser plays Team C the next day and the winner gets the second Wild Card spot. So having the better head-to-head record against your Wild Card competition is incredibly important.
Right now the Pirates are tied with the Cardinals, that tie will be broken tonight. The Dodgers beat the Pirates six of the seven times they played, so they would be ranked ahead of the Pirates. The Pirates and Giants are tied at 3 in the season series with no games left to play. My guess would be that the tie would be broken by the above procedures there. The Giants went 7-8 in interleague play, and the Pirates went 10-8, which would give the Giants a better record against the National League and give them the higher seed or home field advantage in an event of a tie that isn't broken by a one game playoff.
This whole new playoff system wasn't thought out as well as it probably should have been. Right now the season ends on Wednesday, October 3rd. The Wild Card game is schedule to be played on Friday the 5th. That leaves one day to break ties. In the event of a three-way tie, you'd have to play two games in one day. Ummm? Al Yellon wrote this article about some of the complications that may happen
I kind of got away from the point a little bit here, but it still stands: the Pirates would really be put in a better spot by winning tonight's game, and it goes beyond being either one or three games behind the Cardinals in the standings tomorrow morning.