MLB Playoff Format 2013: Do-or-Die Implications of Wild Card Should Excite Fans
There's nothing quite like October baseball.
Which is why, on the surface, adding a fifth playoff team to the American and National league format in 2012 seemed like a smart move by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
But the move was met with resistance—change in baseball usually is across the board—and opinions still vary as we find ourselves in the second year of having the AL and NL Wild Card representatives take part in a one-game playoff to determine the Divisional Series' complete participant list.
Mike Cardillo of TheBigLead.com took an impassioned look at that idea on Tuesday morning, drawing various quotes and stances on the issue from ex-players and analysts in his piece. His consensus? The format is far from perfect.
The atmosphere in Pittsburgh begged to differ on Tuesday night.
Hosting a playoff game for the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds in front of a packed PNC Park in the NL Wild Card Game. Between cheers, jeers and the thrill of victory, baseball fans everywhere enjoyed the vibe normally associated with Game 7 of the World Series on Oct. 1.
The immediacy of the Wild Card format is in plain sight. It's win or go home, and unfortunately the Reds felt the brunt of that system by losing to the Pirates. Their silver lining is simple: In 2011, Cincinnati wouldn't have even had the chance to lose the game in identical circumstances.
Baseball's new Wild Card setup allows for more drama. It adds excitement to the end of the regular season. It opens up doors for teams who wouldn't have previously only stood on the porch and gazed in through the window.
Sure, the Pirates' long playoff absence added to the level of intrigue Tuesday. So did the fact that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are division rivals. But at its core, the game would have had a do-or-die feel to it with or without those factors in place.
As noted by MLB's Twitter account, the intensity at PNC Park was overwhelming:
Fans of other #postseason teams, you're on notice: You'll have to bring it to match tonight's intensity. Nothing like October.— MLB (@MLB) October 2, 2013
ESPN's Jayson Stark and Fox Sports' Dan Bell also commented on the scene in Pittsburgh:
Game is over. But thousands of people show no interest in leaving. Watching highlights on the board. Trying to freeze the moment. Way cool— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 2, 2013
MLB fans should be loving what the Wild Card format is doing to the chase for the Commissioner's Trophy. It's not just in the NL; the AL playoff picture has been one of the most entertaining sports topics to watch for the past month.
Coming down the wire, Kansas City, Baltimore and New York all had chances to close the gap. Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Texas traded places quite frequently, and 162 games wasn't enough to determine which two of those clubs deserved to move on.
The Rays beat the Rangers in the play-in game to get to the play-in game, a matchup that had all the feel of the postseason without the actual designation. When you're adding games to the schedule before the playoffs begin, something is going right in your sport.
Now, the Indians will host the Rays in the second and final Wild Card Game of 2013. In a similar situation as the Pirates, Cleveland will look to put a long playoff drought behind them by fending off a pesky Tampa Bay lineup.
Do you like baseball's current playoff format?
The game should have all the same desperate vibes collected in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
Personally speaking, baseball could make improvements to the playoff format. In a sport where 162 games decide your fate, it's ironic that Wild Card teams only get one to prove their worth. A three-game series might be more beneficial in the long run.
But for now, fans shouldn't have anything to complain about. Totally fair or not, the excitement attached to these Wild Card matchups has been off the charts. Wednesday's Cleveland-Tampa Bay clash should be firmly planted on fans' minds until first pitch.
It's an exciting time to watch professional baseball. Enjoy October, and enjoy the final Wild Card Game of 2013.
We might not see anything like it until a Game 7 occurs.
*For a complete 2013 MLB postseason schedule, visit MLB.com.
Ethan Grant is a Featured Columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team. Follow him (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.
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