MLB Purists Should Appreciate 10-Team Playoff: More Value in Winning Division
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MLB was once the purest of sports—a 162-game battle for the division championship and the right to compete for baseball's biggest prize in October.
Starting in 1903, only one club from each league would earn that right, ensuring that the world champion was a pure champion—champion of their division, champion of their league, and champion of the world.
In 1969, MLB expanded the playoffs to include an LCS for each league which upped the total participants to four teams.
Then in 1995, Bud Selig broadened MLB's horizons to include a wild-card team in each league coinciding with the expansion, upping the total to 8 teams. This meant that for the first time, a non-division-winner would have a shot at the World Series crown.
Baseball purists were sickened.
It was bad enough the new system created a three-round playoff, but a second place team could now win it all.
And that's the way it's been ever since.
Some purists have come to appreciate the wild-card, as it resulted in entertaining battles for the last playoff spot among teams who otherwise would be out of hope. In many ways, it has added excitement to the regular season and intensified the playoff race.
However many more purists continued to despise the wild-card. I can only imagine how these individuals felt with the recent announcement that Selig was again expanding the playoffs, this time to include four total wild-card teams—two from each division.
To these baseball purists, I say that two is better than one.
If there are to be wild-card teams, having two come from each league brings the game closer to its purist form, even though the potential exists for a third-place team to win the World Series.
The reason is that it places more value on winning the division.
Before, winning the wild-card was not so much different than winning the division, outside of home-field advantage.
Now winning a wild-card slot is very different.
The two wild-card teams must face each other in a one-game playoff for the right to face the team with the best record in the Division Series.
This means that most likely these teams will expend their ace in the process before facing the best team in the league. The wild-card winner will only be able to start their ace once in a five-game series, out of sync with the two starts from their opponent's ace.
In other words, the best bet is to win the division.
No longer will two teams in the same division wrap up a playoff spot through the wild-card and remain content.
The wild-card teams face an uncertain future in an anything-can-happen one-game playoff, and an uphill battle already down an ace and facing the best team in their league.
Although baseball purists will never be completely satisfied as long as third-place teams have a shot at the World Series, they can take solace in the increased difficulty of wild-card teams making it deep in the playoffs, and that winning the division has suddenly become more important than ever.
That's good old fashioned baseball.
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