• Explaining possible tiebreakers for postseason
That's where we come in, making things a whole lot easier to understand with a team-by-team primer for Sunday's games with playoff implications:
Astros (Current record: 86-75)
Let's start here, because Houston is the linchpin of several key scenarios that could play out Sunday.
Houston has not clinched a playoff berth, but it still could do so in two different ways. The Astros beat the D-backs on Saturday, keeping them alive for a Wild Card spot with a one-game cushion over the Angels. So if they beat the D-backs again on Sunday, they will finish the season at 87-75 and will at least qualify for the Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser.
But, if the Astros lose on Sunday and the Angels beat the Rangers, then Texas wins the division and Houston and Los Angeles would play a one-game tiebreaker on Monday at Minute Maid Park, with Houston earning home-field advantage in that scenario by virtue of a 10-9 advantage in the season series between the two teams. The winner of that game would advance to the Wild Card Game.
Houston also remains alive for the AL West division title. The Angels' stunning ninth-inning rally to beat the Rangers on Saturday not only kept Los Angeles alive for a Wild Card, at 85-76; it also made it possible for the Astros to tie the Rangers for the division lead if the Astros beat the D-backs on Sunday and the Rangers lose to the Angels again to also finish at 87-75. If that happens, the Astros and Rangers would play a one-game tiebreaker on Monday in Arlington (by virtue of Texas' season 13-6 record over the Astros) to decide the AL West champion. The loser of that game would play the Yankees in the Wild Card Game.
If the Astros lose Sunday, but still earn a spot vs. the Yankees, the Wild Card Game would be played at Yankee Stadium. But, if the Yankees lose to the Orioles on Sunday and the Astros win, the teams would have the same records (87-75) and the Wild Card Game would be played in Houston because the Astros beat the Yankees in the clubs' season series, 4-3.
The Rangers can make things easier by winning on Sunday. If they simply beat the Angels, they'll close out the AL West and wait to see whether they play the Blue Jays or the Royals in the Division Series. Texas will play whichever club does not clinch home-field advantage through the AL Championship Series.
And the Rangers can also win the division even if they lose to the Angels, but they would be dependent on the Astros losing to the D-backs on Sunday for that to happen.
If the Rangers lose on Sunday and the Astros win, Texas, by virtue of its 13-6 season record against Houston, will host the Astros in the one-game tiebreaker on Monday to determine the division champ. If the Rangers lose that tiebreaker game and finish with the same record as the Yankees, Texas would host the Wild Card Game by virtue of its 5-2 season-series advantage over New York.
The Angels pulled off a miraculous rally to beat the Rangers on Saturday with a five-run ninth inning, and it bought them a meaningful game on Sunday. The Angels must beat the Rangers again if they are to have any chance of making the postseason, and they'll need help from the D-backs. If Houston beats Arizona on Sunday, then Los Angeles will be eliminated from contention, even if it beats Texas.
As previously stated, if the Angels win and the Astros lose, the Rangers will win the division and the Angels will travel to Houston on Monday for a one-game tiebreaker to determine who plays the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game. Even if the Angels win that tiebreaker, they will play on the road in the AL Wild Card Game, because they cannot finish with a better season record than the Yankees.
The Yankees will help themselves quite a bit with a win, because they would finish the season at 88-74 and guarantee home-field advantage for the AL Wild Card Game, for which they've already qualified.
If they lose to the Orioles on Sunday, the Yankees run the risk of playing the AL Wild Card Game on the road, because they lost the season series to the Rangers (2-5) and Astros (3-4). In that case, the Yankees would have to travel to Houston for the Wild Card Game if the Astros beat the D-backs to clinch their Wild Card spot and the Rangers beat the Angels to clinch the AL West.
If the Astros and Rangers end up tied atop the AL West, and play a tiebreaker for the division on Monday, the loser would go to the AL Wild Card Game to face the Yankees. Should New York finish the 162-game schedule with the same record as those two clubs, it would have to travel to either Texas or Houston for the Wild Card Game, since the Rangers and Astros both hold the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Yankees.
Note: Even though a Monday tiebreaker game counts as a regular season game for statistical purposes, it does not affect the standings as far as tiebreakers go. So, for example, if the Rangers, the Astros and the Yankees all finish 87-75, and the Rangers and the Astros had to play a tiebreaker game on Monday for the AL West title, the loser of that game would still host the Wild Card Game by virtue of its head-to-head record against the Yankees, even though their record in the standings would be 87-76, seemingly a half-game behind New York.
Royals (94-67) and Blue Jays (93-68)
The Royals have won the AL Central. Now they're playing for home-field advantage in the ALCS and to determine who they play in the first round.
So, if the Royals beat the Twins, they will finish with a record of 95-67 and earn both home field in the ALCS and the top seed in the first round, where they will play the winner of the AL Wild Card Game, regardless of what the Blue Jays do on Sunday.
If the Royals lose and the Blue Jays beat the Rays, both teams will finish with records of 94-68, and the Blue Jays would earn both home field in the ALCS and the top seed in the first round, because they won the season series over the Royals, 4-3.
Pirates (97-64) and Cubs (96-65)
The Pirates could have locked up home-field advantage for Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser against the Cubs if they had beaten the Reds or if the Cubs had lost to the Brewers on Saturday, but the Pirates lost and the Cubs won, so the same situation applies for Sunday.
If Saturday's results repeat themselves and the Pirates lose Game No. 162 while the Cubs win, then both clubs would finish the season with records of 97-65, and the Cubs would host the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game by virtue of winning the season series between the two clubs, 11-8.