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MLB’s Future Headache

Don’t worry though; we’ll just ignore the issue

MLB: 2019 Spring Training Media Days
Not pictured: sand to stick head into
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Quite a good many years ago, my dad and I, plus my dad’s friend and son, went to Shea Stadium for a Reds-Mets matinee. The friend’s kid, maybe 15 years old or so at the time, made note of the score of the Braves game happening concurrently and the dad went berzerk.

“Scoreboard watching? In April? You’ve lost your mind! You can’t watch the standings in April!”

While the dad was right, of course, a lifetime of feeling like April might be all that’s worth paying attention to allowed me a bit of sympathy for the young Mets fan.

Today is August 4, which in 2020 is a bit of a hybrid of early April and early August. Are we 10 games in or are there just 50 games to go? Both! And already, a vexing problem is more than evident. Note today’s standings in the NL East:

Are the Marlins, with a .667 winning percentage, in first place? Or are the Braves, three games over .500, atop the division?

Even if we reach the end of the 2020 season intact, there’s almost no way that the Marlins will make up the eight games (and counting!) they currently have in hand. And so, we’ll have teams with disparate numbers of games played by year’s end.

Option 1: Rank by games won. Advantage: gives additional credit to teams that navigated the entire season.

Option 2: Rank by winning percentage. Advantage: doesn’t penalize teams who missed games through no fault of their own (e.g., Phillies).

Option 3: Rank by games +/- .500. Advantage: best of both worlds, maybe?

With expanded playoffs set to include more than half of the MLB universe, and with so many games already postponed due to positive virus tests, this issue is almost certainly likely to be an issue come the end of September. Which makes the lack of clarity on this topic from MLB vexing, if not completely predictable.

To concoct a gamesmanship scenario is fairly easy. Pretend that the Cardinals held a slight winning percentage advantage over the Brewers for the final wild card spot heading into the final weekend. And then a positive covid test emerges for the Cards. Do they play on or declare game-off?

If guidance on this particular what-if exists, I can’t find it. If it doesn’t exist, it needs to be crafted. Just don’t summon the ghost of Bowie Kuhn when doing so.