Coin flips no longer used as tiebreaker

Coin flips no longer used as tiebreakers

For better or worse, the Giants this week at least determined one significant issue if they tie the Rockies after 162 games in the race for the National League's Wild Card berth.

By virtue of winning the season series, 10-8, they will host a one-game Wild Card playoff game on Oct. 5 at AT&T Park. After a 4-3 loss on Wednesday night at San Francisco, the Giants trail the Rockies by 3 1/2 games.

For the first time this year, tiebreakers are in and coin flips are out.

"That was a general managers' recommendation, as you know," Commissioner Bud Selig said, "and it was a good one."

Other playoff spots could be affected as well: The Red Sox and Rangers, if Texas can claw its way back into the American League Wild Card race, the Tigers and Twins, if Minnesota can close the gap on Detroit in the fight for supremacy in the AL Central. Even the Marlins, Braves and Cubs are still on the fringes of the NL Wild Card tussle.

But that all will be decided by on-field tiebreakers from this year forward.

The traditional and historic practice of using coin flips to determine which team hosts a one-game playoff for a division title or a Wild Card berth has been left in the past.

On the recommendation of the collective general managers, the owners voted this past January to end the practice and replaced it with a series of on-field tiebreakers, beginning with head-to-head records.

The GMs made the decision at their meetings this past November at Dana Point, Calif., and asked Major League Baseball executive vice president of baseball operations Jimmie Lee Solomon to draft a report with the alternative. He did so and presented the change at the Winter Meetings this past December in Las Vegas, Nev., to the GMs, who approved it. The owners then followed suit.

The custom had always been to flip coins throughout September to determine which teams might host a possible one-game playoff. But now that host will be decided by a series of on-field tiebreakers, beginning with head-to-head records. If that's tied, the next is highest winning percentage within your own division, followed by the highest winning percentage for each team in intraleague play during the second half of the season.

The rule is now exactly the same as the one that determines playoff seedlings if two teams finish tied for the division title and both are going to the playoffs -- one as the division winner and the other as the Wild Card winner. In that case, there's no playoff game.

It's a far-sight better than conducting a series of what usually turns out to be useless coin flips, Solomon said.

"It has streamlined the whole process," Solomon said when reached by phone in New York this week. "Of course, this is the first time we're going through this, but everybody so far seems to be happy with it. There's been no criticism at this point. I think everybody agreed that it was a lot better to decide this on the field, between the lines."

As far as the closest current races are concerned, take a breath. The host of a Rox-Giants Wild Card berth has been decided. So too has the Rox-Dodgers, and pretty much the Giants-Dodgers if those should be the Wild Card combinations. The Dodgers, though, hold a comfortable five-game lead in the division race over the Rox, and a 8 1/2-game bulge over the Giants. The Dodgers and Rockies finish the season against each other in Los Angeles on Oct. 2-4.

If somehow those two teams are tied for the Wild Card at the end of 162, the Monday playoff game would be at Dodger Stadium because the Dodgers have blown out Colorado, 12-3, in the season series thus far. If the Rox win the division and it's the Giants and Dodgers who are tied for the Wild Card, right now the Dodgers would have the upper hand to host that one-game playoff because of a 9-6 record against San Francisco, with three games left to be played between the two teams.

The Red Sox have opened a 6 1/2-game lead over Texas for the AL Wild Card. In the event that Texas can come back and tie Boston after 162 games, the Rangers handily won the season series, 7-2, and would host a Wild Card playoff game at Arlington.

As far as the Twins and Tigers are concerned, since neither team is involved in the AL Wild Card race, a one-game playoff for the division title could be hosted by Minnesota, which holds a 7-4 record right now over Detroit. The Tigers lead by four games, but seven games remain between the two teams: a three-game set this weekend at the Metrodome and a big four-game series at Comerica Park from Sept. 28-Oct. 1.

There have been only eight one-game playoffs for a postseason spot in Major League history, and seven of them have come since 1969, when the multi-tiered playoff format went into existence. Home teams are 4-4 in those games.

Two of them have occurred at the end of the past two seasons. In 2007, the Padres lost the flip and had to travel to Colorado, where they lost the NL Wild Card berth to the Rockies, 9-8, in 13 innings. It was a good deal for the Rockies, who were home the final weekend against the D-backs, winners of the NL West title on the next-to-last day of that season. Last year, the Twins lost the flip and went to Chicago, where the White Sox defeated them, 1-0, to win the American League Central title.

The White Sox had to play a game rained out earlier in September at home against the Tigers on the Monday after the last day of the regular season to force the playoff game against the Twins. They won, and then defeated the Twins at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday night.

The White Sox actually had a 9-10 record against the Twins during the 2008 season and would've had to go to Minneapolis to play that game had the new rules -- head-to-head records as the first criteria -- been in effect.

The Twins complained bitterly that they had to travel after winning the season series and were the impetus behind the change. This year, hosting a one-game playoff is entirely up to them.

Only logistics were an argument about ending the long-standing coin-flip practice.

"As you can tell with our system, logistical problems are kind of a walk in the park for us because that's what we do," Solomon said when the GMs made the decision. "But I think that if you were the director of ticket sales or you were the special events coordinator for a club and you had the opportunity to either play at home or away, what would you pick?"

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.