Currently, the St. Louis Cardinals lead the National League Central by two games over the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. Due to the latest turn in Uncle Bud’s Wildcard Ride, all three teams are guaranteed to make the playoffs, but only the division winner will automatically advance to the NLDS. The other two will play in a single Wildcard game to reach the division series. With the division coming down to the wire, everyone wants to talk about the worst-case scenario–or the best case scenario if you’re a Braves or Dodgers fan–a three-way tie that forces the NL Central teams into a brutal series of single game showdowns.
I have a better idea for resolving this potential problem. I think that everyone can agree that the Braves and the Dodgers are the real bad guys here, so how about we show some Central solidarity and solve this problem with some creativity.
One game. Three teams.
How is this possible? Well, to quote the classic 1997 film Air Bud, “Ain’t no rules say a dog can’t play basketball.” Each team will face both of their opponents in a single game. Each team will get a full nine innings on either side of the ball. It just won’t be at the same time.
Instead of halves, each inning will be divided into thirds. Home field and batting order will be determined by record against the other two teams. Best record plays at home, bats last. Second best record will bat in the middle third of the inning. Worst record will bat first.
Currently, the Cards have a .526 record against the Pirates and Reds, the Pirates have at .514 record against their opponents and the Reds have a .457 record. So the game would take place in St. Louis, Reds would bat first, then Pirates, then Cards. The Pirates pitchers would throw to the Reds batters in the first third of the inning, the Cardinals pitchers would throw to the Pirates batters in the middle of the inning, and finally the Reds pitchers would face the Cardinals batters. This way, each team faces one another. The team pitching would always bat in the following third of an inning, and then get a third of an inning to rest.
Winner of the three team game takes the division, then the team with the second most runs gets home field advantage for the play-in game. Given that each team has to outscore the other two to win the division, everyone will be equally motivated, even though each team’s batters are facing a different opponent than their pitchers. The only problem that could theoretically come up is if in the bottom of the ninth the Pirates are winning, the Cards are batting, and the Reds are pitching to preserve the Pirates lead with no interest in the outcome of the final third of the inning because they’ve already lost the division.
In this very unlikely situation, the Pirates will just have to hope that the Reds pitcher will be sufficiently motivated to become the first player to record a save for an opposing team because, hey, that’s pretty historic.
So let’s do it. Save some time. Three teams. One game. Twenty seven half innings. Baseball.