Expanding the MLB Playoffs: Why not let everyone in?

November 18, 2010 | Thyrl Nelson

How are fans supposed to react to MLB’s plan to add an extra wildcard to the playoffs?

Let’s start with the obvious, adding one team to 4-team format seems, right out of the gate to be the kind of “bass ackwards” move that we should have come to expect by now from Major League Baseball. After all, baseball may have proven to be the one sport where time off usually works against you. Part of what we as fans love about baseball is that it’s an everyday proposition, and recent history has shown, that teams who have qualified for the World Series well ahead of their counterparts from the other league (the ’06 Rockies and ’07 Tigers come to mind) and had to wait as a result, haven’t fared well once it was time to start up again.


So, in addition to either having to begin baseball season even earlier, or having it run into mid-November, or shortening the 162-game schedule (which will never happen), you also have to figure out how to seed a 5-team bracket on each side of the ledger, without leaving anyone idle for too long.


It would seem that the only real options in that regard would entail leaving the 3 divisional winners idle while the two wild cards went at it, with the winner ultimately getting into the next round, under the same circumstances that the current wildcard enjoys now. So do you make it best of 1? Best of 3? Although I, like most, am a sucker for a one game playoff it sure seems to trivialize the 162-game season.


So best of 3 it is? So after the season ends on a Sunday, presumably everyone would have off the next day (Monday). They’d have to be, adding a 5th team on each side would have to increase the likelihood of the single game tie-breakers that MLB already employs, also known as the 163rd game. Remember that had things broken differently on the last day of the 2010 season, we could have had a 1-game playoff between the Padres and Giants to decide the NL West, with the loser possibly having to play the Braves the following day for the wildcard. So maybe we’d have to clear that Tuesday for everyone too.


Next question, what’s the format? Do you go 2-1, 1-2, or 1-1-1? If the 4th and 5th seeds were tied, would you forego the 1-game playoff and flip a coin for home field advantage? Talk about trivializing. So now, the earliest that you could get he divisional winners back on the field is Saturday, and that’s presuming a three game series in 2 different cities on Wednesday through Friday, with no off days for travel, and then having to turn the winner of the wildcard “play in” again on no rest to travel to the #1 seed’s stadium and begin their series the following day.


On both sides of the proposition, that seems like a bad deal. Divisional winners would have to sit idle, and cope with the inherent rust that’s bound to result, but would certainly have the advantage of setting up their pitching staffs. Wildcards would play through the week after the season, possibly as many as 5 games in 5 days, and wouldn’t be able to set up their pitching staffs, but may benefit from the momentum of continuing to play, and win.


At the end of the day it would seem that baseball is simply saying (without saying) that they’re nowhere close to being able to push economic parity, and instead will offer a bone to those whose teams have routinely been also rans in recent history.


So who benefits? Well presumably the pocketbooks of MLB of course. Adding a wildcard has been wildly successful in terms of keeping teams in the hunt. By nature, it seems that most baseball teams rarely stray very far away from a .500 record, one way or the other. Last season, the 5th seeds in each league would have been the Red Sox (89-73) and Padres (90-72). Meaning that any team that finished at or near .500 could reasonably count themselves in pennant races into August and September, meaning increased interest and more ticket sales in the minds of MLB execs I’m sure. In 2009 the 5th seeds would have been Texas and Florida, with 87 wins each, that’s awfully close to .500 in my estimation. In ’08 it would have been the Yankees and Mets with 89 wins each.


Here’s my suggestion, as I’m sure you’ve been dying for it if you’re still reading at this point. Since we’re trivializing it anyway, why not leave the Monday and Tuesday following the season for a 2-day tournament? You could include either every team that didn’t win their division, or every team that finished at .500 or better. Putting the bracket formulas together would be a piece of cake. There could be a first round on Tuesday morning, to pare down to 8, 4 games on Tuesday night, 2 more on Wednesday afternoon, and a championship on Wednesday night. The winner would be the wildcard, and could start their series on Friday, and the second and third seeds in each league could begin their series’ on Thursday.


If you’re going to make it a circus, you might as well send in all of the clowns right? And take it on the road too of course. They could move it from city to city in All-Star game fashion. My bet is that it’d draw more attention than the playoffs themselves, or at least provide a healthy and enticing lead in, and reason to believe that anyone could have a chance in Major League Baseball. There’s nothing more fun than a 1-game playoff.


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