Baseball’s tiebreakers and how they impact the Royals

The Royals hope the celebrations continue well into October.
The Royals hope the celebrations continue well into October. The Kansas City Star

There is a wonderful, complicated problem for Royals fans these days: determining playoff positioning.

The American and National leagues each have five playoff seeds (three division winners, two wild cards), and with a little more than a week to go in the season, the Royals could finish anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 — or out of the playoffs.

The division winners automatically advance to a best-of-five division series, while the wild-card teams play a one-game playoff for one of the four division series spots in each league. The No. 2 seed plays the No. 3 and the No. 1 seed awaits the wild-card winner. The top two seeds have home-field advantage (playing host to games one, two and, if needed, five).

This much we do know: the Royals can’t overtake the Angels for the top spot in the American League.

But if things go really well (and the Baltimore Orioles tank badly), the Royals could be the second seed.

Realistically, as the Royals open a big three-game series Friday against the Detroit Tigers, KC’s best chance is the AL Central title and the No. 3 seed that (probably) would go with it.

The Royals, 83-69, trail Detroit, 85-68, by 1 1/2 games in the Central and the A’s, 85-69, by a half-game for the top wild-card spot. Seattle, 83-70, is a half-game behind the Royals for the second wild-card spot.

Whew. That’s a tight race, with four teams fighting for three spots and just two games separating all four.

It is entirely possible that the Royals will play a tiebreaker — or even two — after their 162nd game.

The potential exists, although it’s highly unlikely, that in the near future the Royals could play five games in five different cities in one week or less.

Let’s start this with that nightmare scenario.

Suppose the Royals and Tigers each win 90 games and, say, the Mariners win 90 as well, creating a tie atop the AL Central and for the second wild card (For this exercise, we’ll say Oakland is the first wild card with 91 wins).

First off, the Royals and Tigers would play a one-game tiebreaker (tentatively set for Sept. 30) at the stadium of the team that won the season series (Detroit has already clinched, so it’d be Comerica Park).

If the Royals were to lose that game, they would travel to Seattle to face the Mariners in another one-game tiebreaker (rules say the team in the other division is the host) on Oct. 1 (again: tentatively). Should the Royals win that game, they would be in the playoffs as the second wild card and then go to Oakland for the AL wild-card game, probably on Oct. 2.

Win that game, then it would be off to Anaheim, Calif., to face the Angels in the AL Division Series.

So that scenario would mean games in Chicago (regular-season finale on Sept. 28), Detroit, Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim on consecutive days.

OK, that’s the doomsday outline, although the Royals advancing to the ALDS wouldn’t be that awful, right? But it would certainly be the hard way.

Here are a couple of other things to keep in mind:

▪ If the Royals and Tigers would tie atop the AL Central with 90 wins, but the Mariners were at 89 wins, then it’s simple. There would be a one-game tiebreaker, in Detroit (that season head-to-head record, remember?), and the winner would be the division champ and the loser would be a wild card.

▪ Should the Royals win the division outright and have the same record as the Baltimore Orioles, which team would host the majority of games in the ALDS? The Royals, because they won the season series 4-3.

▪ If the Royals tie Oakland for a wild-card position, they would hold the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 5-2. However, the Mariners own the tiebreaker on the Royals. Seattle went 5-2 against Kansas City this season.

\To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to pgrathoff@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @pgrathoff.